----

----
Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr., 1924

A Holiday to Matheran

As we left our holiday cottage, to return home in the city, my wife said, "Look over your shoulder before you leave so that we come back again." Read about our recent trip to Matheran, the forest on the head, and the smallest hill station in India, at B+ve.

December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

May 2013 bring laughter, fun, peace, joy, bliss, and contentment in your life.


"You can lead a horse to water, but a pencil must be lead."
― Stan Laurel ―


“Laughter is the stubborn reward of grim times.” 
― Buster Keaton ―


In the end, everything is a gag."
― Charlie Chaplin ―


"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, 
I go into the other room and read a book."
― Groucho Marx ―


"Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!" "Nyaaaaaahhhhhhh!" "La-la-la, la-la-la..." 
"HRRRRRRMPH!""Rrrowf! Rrrowf!"
― Curly Howard ―

December 29, 2012

Books I read in 2012

I read fewer than 50 books in 2012. Slow reading, personal and professional preoccupations, lack of discipline, and too much non-fiction, including current affairs and political commentary, both print and online, is no excuse for not reading more novels this year.

The 50 books include physical books and ebooks but not the many short stories, comic-books, poetry, anthologies, and journals and magazines I read.

Again, of the 50 books I reviewed less than 20, most of them for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog, Pattinase, in what was an informative and fun-filled challenge. It is with renewed enthusiasm that I look forward to participating in FFB and Tuesday’s Overlooked Films at Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom, in 2013.

Looking back, there were quite a few books I enjoyed reading, though I didn't review all of them. I have put together a list of 20 books that I liked for various reasons including cover and originality.


Western
01. Saddle on a Cloud, 1952, by Frank C. Robertson
02. The Lone Deputy, 1960, by Wayne D. Overholser
03. Gun Man, 1985, by Loren D. Estleman

Mystery
04. The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock, 1895, by Anna Katharine Green
05. The Secret Adversary, 1922, by Agatha Christie
06. The Murder on the Links, 1923, by Agatha Christie
07. The Case of the Gilded Lily, 1959, Erle Stanley Gardner

Thriller
08. Cape Fear (The Executioners), 1957, by John D. MacDonald
09. Run, Mann, Run!, 1975, by James Keenan
10. The Ninth Configuration, 1978, by William Peter Blatty

Espionage 
11. A Fine Night for Dying, 1969, by Jack Higgins
12. A Prayer for the Dying, 1973, by Jack Higgins
13. The Payoff, 1973, by Don Smith
14. Atlantic Scramble, 1982, by Don Pendleton and Gar Wilson
15. Journey Toward Death, 1983, by Amos Aricha
16. Black Dice: Mack Bolan, The Executioner, 1987, by Don Pendleton

Drama
17. A Prairie Infanta, 1904, by Eva Wilder Brodhead
18. Beyond the Black Stump, 1956, by Nevil Shute
19. The Summer Man, 1967, by Jory Sherman

SF & Fantasy
20. Tarzan at the Earth’s Core, 1929, by Edgar Rice Burroughs

My reading of western, mystery, and sf/fantasy is badly in need of overhaul. I simply need to read more books in these spellbinding genres. Apart from this 
I have only one other challenge, one other resolution, for 2013: to read a hundred books which, hopefully, will include fiction by non-Western authors. About this time, next year, I’ll do a similar post and let you know whether I breasted the finish line and set a new record. Fingers crossed. 

December 28, 2012

BOOK REVIEW 

Atlantic Scramble (1982)
by Don Pendleton and Gar Wilson


For the last Friday’s Forgotten Books of 2012 at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase, a look at a fast-paced all-action paperback about a small band of combatants fighting America’s dirty war.  

The US Navy is carrying contraband for Jeddah.” 

In Atlantic Scramble, the third novel in the action-packed Executioner series Phoenix Force, Mack Bolan’s five-man army takes on Libyan terrorist Khader Ghazawi and his ruthless killers who steal America’s super-weapon, the Dessler Laser Submachine Gun, and make off with it in a recommissioned subchaser, the U.S.S. Beaumont.

The Arab terrorists, who belong to an outfit called Red Anvil, a spin-off of Jeddah, incapacitate the Pentagon’s Red Bluff Arsenal, a secret installation at Odessa, Texas, drug its personnel into zombie-like creatures, kill and maim dozens of soldiers, and escape with the deadly weapon—all under America’s nose though not without inside help.

But, with Mack ‘The Executioner’ Bolan’s nameless, faceless and fearless warriors close at hand, the Pentagon and the CIA have little to worry about. The five mercenaries led by Yakov Katzenelenbogen, a French-Israeli commando, lose no time in zeroing in on the US vessel cruising at high speed through the Atlantic in the dead of night and later taking the fight to an old Russian diesel U-boat.


Yakov and his four men—Gary Manning, the incredibly strong Canadian explosives engineer; Keio Ohara, the unusually tall and deadly Japanese martial arts expert; David McCarter, a rude, rugged and ruthless former SAS operator and pilot; and Rafael Encizo, a Cuban survivor of Castro's prisons expert in underwater warfare—are loyal to their one-armed leader and care for each other. Together, they make short shrift of the entire mission which is carried out in top secrecy and without the official stamp of the American establishment, as is usually the case with such covert operations.

The five Phoenix Force warriors, first introduced in Argentine Deadline, work for Stony Man, a secret anti-terrorist organisation formed by Bolan and run by Hal Brognola, its project director, with the occasional involvement of ace pilot Jack Grimaldi. Phoenix Force and Able Team are two spin-offs of The Executioner series created by American writer Don Pendleton. These books have been published by Gold Eagle since 1982.

The initial 30-odd Executioner novels showcasing the daring, and sometimes unimaginable, exploits of Mack Bolan were written by Pendleton himself while most of the latter stories, including those in Phoenix Force and Able Team, have been written by various authors under the popular pseudonym Gar Wilson.

Author Thomas P. Ramirez © Allied Authors
The initial Phoenix Force novels, including Atlantic Scramble, were ghostwritten by Thomas P. Ramirez who authored more than 100 erotic novels and contributed stories for several magazines like Boy’s Life, American Mercury and American Heritage. Aside from Don Pendleton himself, Ramirez is one of the master storytellers of the Executioner series, acquiring a distinct and engaging style of his own.

There is never a dull moment in Phoenix Force novels. Most of the stories that I have read defy reality unlike the authenticity of the plots in, say, a Tom Clancy or Len Deighton novel. The five battle-hardened men are so armed, in a technologically advanced scenario, as to give the impression they are about to start World War III and they usually are, in a limited war theatre, the outcome of which is explosive with plenty of death and destruction. When Phoenix Force rages, “Hunt the bastards down!” they really mean it.

I’m going back for more…

December 25, 2012

FILM REVIEW

Chickens Come Home (1931)

If anything guarantees laughter, it’s Laurel & Hardy, and here’s one to ring in the Christmas season for Overlooked Films and Television at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. 

Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are rarely funny by themselves. They are funny when they are together, like Asterix and Obelix, Tintin and Haddock, Tom and Jerry, Calvin and Hobbes, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Garfield and Odie, Abbott and Costello, and Mutt and Jeff, to name some of the greatest comedy couples ever in films and comics.

Of course, there’s Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd, Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor and actors like Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short who have paired with one another, but their comedy is nowhere near as hilarious as that of the comic duos mentioned above.


I know you can’t put comic actors and comic-book characters in the same basket but when it comes to comedies and double acts I see no distinction between the two. Their comedy act, in film or print, with dialogues or speech bubbles, means the same to me.

And yet, no comedy pair is funnier than Laurel and Hardy. In fact, they are the masters of innocent comedy, even slapstick comedy.


In Chickens Come Home, written by Hal Roach and H.M. Walker and directed by James W. Horne, Laurel has a hard time keeping Hardy’s ex-flame (Mae Busch) from coming over to his best friend’s house and blackmailing him in front of his wife and their high-society friends. Hardy is running for mayor and the last thing he wants is his ex-girlfriend brandishing an old photograph in the middle of a party. If Hardy’s wife (Thelma Todd) is domineering and suspicious of her husband, Laurel’s wife (Norma Drew) is worse. She catches Laurel wrestling with the ex-flame in his desperate effort to keep her out of Hardy’s way and goes after him with an axe. 


Can you imagine anyone taking an axe to Laurel, of all the people in the world? The lengths Laurel goes to, to keep Hardy out of trouble, must make many a disgruntled spouse green with envy. For Laurel and Hardy are more than friends, they are like husband and wife, sticking up for each other more than they do for their wives, even when they are not married in their films. 


Laurel and Hardy’s innocent lives are filled with hardships but they wade through it all with optimism in their outlook, compassion in their hearts, and a smile on their faces.

The perfect Christmas movie…you can watch it below.



December 23, 2012

BOOK PREVIEW

Anna Märklin’s Family Chronicles 
by Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

© Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen

“So far I have published a cosy mystery in English, but though they are fun to read and write, I prefer crime fiction which is a bit more serious so the next one will be a psychological mystery,” Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen, a Danish teacher and crime-fiction writer, told fellow author Linda Rae Blair in an interview on Linda's blog earlier this year.

Last week, Dorte published her 2011 Scandinavian mystery Anna Märklin’s Family Chronicles in English—a psychological mystery set in Denmark and Sweden. “This one is neither cosy nor hard-boiled, and I think ‘psychological mystery’ is the best way to describe it,” the noted Scandinavian author says on her blog djskrimiblog.
 

In Dorte’s words, “Anna Märklin’s Family Chronicles is the story of a young Danish woman, whose life is in a rut. Anna Storm is unemployed, her father is seriously ill, and her best friend and neighbour receives mysterious threats. Anna is a very ordinary antihero, so even when her friend dies unexpectedly, she keeps burying her head in the sand. 

“Then she finds her Swedish grandmother's old notesbooks, however. Anna is spellbound by the beautiful drawings and the sweet story of her grandmother's everyday life. Finally, she has found a worthy project to engage in. As she reads her grandmother's words, it dawns on her that the books are not suitable for children at all, but that the sinister story which is hidden between the lines may give Anna a much needed push. Anna wakes up—but is it too late?

“For readers of my Knavesborough series: please note that this book is not a cosy mystery, and I do not recommend it for children.”


Dorte has a broad taste in crime, from the traditional and historical to police procedural and amateur detectives. “When I write crime, I also stick to the soft or middle part of the spectrum so you won't see hard-boiled or noir fiction from my hand,” she told this blog in an email. “Besides, the environment and the characters are as important to me as the suspense, and I don't care much for Hemingway's taciturn heroes.”

By Knavesborough series, Dorte—who reads and writes crime fiction in English and Danish in her spare time—is referring to her stories based in the fictional village of Knavesborough and revolving around constable Archibald Penrose and his fiancé, the librarian Rhapsody Gershwin, who feature in her most popular story The Cosy Knave, a humourous mystery set in Yorkshire.
 

In The Cosy Knave, also published as Murder deLight, “The vicious attacks begin when the prodigal son of Knavesborough returns to the sleepy village after forty years in Argentina with fame and fortune. No wonder that spiteful Rose Walnut-Whip is killed, but when the violence escalates, Constable Penrose knows he needs help from his fiancée, librarian Rhapsody Gershwin.”

Other Penrose and Gershwin mysteries include The Charity Shop, a humourous short story of crime and suspense, and Christmas in Knavesborough, which features four Christmas crime stories. Two of these stories also appear in her collection Candied Crime, in turn a collection of 13 humourous flash fiction stories. There is also Liquorice Twists, another compendium of 20 flash fiction stories that Dorte says are “a bit darker.”

There’s more from Dorte: in the four crime stories in The Red Shoes, she promises “high level of toxic humour and loose limbs (including tongues in cheeks).”


Her bestseller is the romantic ghost story Heather Farm, a suspense plus romance in the Dunes near the Danish west coast.

The range and variety of Dorte Hummelshøj Jakobsen’s fiction will delight readers, both young and old, and you will find them all at Smashwords and Amazon. You can also read her insightful interview with author Linda Rae Blair here.

December 20, 2012

Ten vintage books on Christmas

A few vintage book covers on Xmas for Friday’s Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

From Christmas Roses
Christmas is one of the quietest and most peaceful religious festivals or holidays in India. Most other festivals are loud and noisy, killing the spirit and sanctity of the occasion. In keeping with the tranquility of Christmas, my favourite time of the year, I am going to say very little in this post. Instead, I am going to leave you with 10 mostly forgotten, mostly illustrated, books and novellas that will delight both kids and grownups with their stories on and about Yuletide. All the books are by women authors. I haven’t read any of them but if you’d like to then you will find them at ManyBooks, Project Gutenberg and Archive.

Merry Christmas to you all! Be well, be happy!!


Christmas Roses by Lizzie Lawson and Robert Elice Mack, 1886


A Christmas Posy by Mary Louisa Molesworth, or Mrs Molesworth, 1888


Christmas with Grandma Elsie by Martha Finley, 1888


A Versailles Christmas-Tide by Mary Stuart Boyd, 1901


The Little Colonel's Christmas Vacation by Annie Fellows Johnston, 1905


On Christmas Day in the Morning by Grace S. Richmond, 1905 


The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown, 1910


The Upas Tree: A Christmas Story for all the Year
by Florence L. Barclay, 1912


The Romance of a Christmas Card by Kate Douglas Wiggin, 1916


Christmas Holidays at Merryvale by Alice Hale Burnett, 1916


Last year, on December 22, I celebrated Christmas with Comics.

December 18, 2012

FILM REVIEW

Detour (1945)

A classic noir film by Edgar G. Ulmer is my contribution this week for Overlooked Films and Television over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.


Ever since TCM went off the air in India in September this year, I have been like a fish out of water or, more precisely, like a vintage film buff starved of old black-and-white classic movies. In spite of sitting at my computer and laptop nearly 10 hours a day, it never occurred to me that I could watch films on the internet, if not at work then at least at home.

Finally, last week I saw a few online beginning with Laurel & Hardy, with the entire family, a couple of musicals, and a noir film called Detour, a lucky draw.

While I had no problem watching the comedies and musicals, Detour, true to its name, took me round the bend, the streaming and buffering stretching the 67-minute long film to nearly two hours. But it was worth every minute of the film.

I usually watch movies through a narrow prism: my impressions restricted to the storyline, the acting, and the direction, which rarely goes beyond the tame, “Oh, it’s a Steven Spielberg film! You must see it!!” Or “It’s James Cameron at his best, terrific stuff!”

And then you watch a film like Detour and you realise why some films are better than the best, why some directors are more supremely gifted than others, and why filmmakers like Edgar G. Ulmer leave you hungering for more.

Method is what you are thinking, method in everything that you see and hear and feel, from the time Al Roberts (Tom Neal), a down-on-his-luck nightclub pianist from New York, walks into a roadside inn, orders a drink, smokes a cigarette, gets into an argument with a fellow drinker, chafes at the loud music, and settles down to a quiet sulk, brooding over the cruel blow fate has dealt him. 


“That’s life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.” 

Ulmer, a native of Austria, keeps us in the present for about ten minutes or so and then takes us back in time to tell us how fate tripped our grim-faced hero with the day-old stubble and a hat.

Al Roberts, the narrator of this film, plays the piano at a New York nightclub where his girlfriend Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake) sings. One day she decides to move to Los Angeles and make it big in Hollywood. Al is distraught: he wants the two of them to continue performing in the “dump” of a nightclub and eventually get married. But Sue, much as she loves Al, leaves for the west coast.

Unable to live without his girl, Al decides to follow her. He sets out on a rainy night. With barely any money in his pocket, Al hitches a ride all the way to Hollywood, in the car of a rather sleazy but generous gambler, Charles Haskell, Jr (Edmund MacDonald), who pays for their food but then dies mysteriously on a barren stretch of the road. 


"The one way I could cross the country was thumb rides but even after hawking everything I only had enough money to eat...money. You know what that is, the stuff you never have enough of. Little green things with George Washington's picture that men slave for, commit crimes for, die for. It's the stuff that has caused more trouble in the world than anything else we ever invented, simply because there's too little of it." 

In frantic desperation, Al assumes Haskell’s identity and after dumping his body behind some bushes makes off in his car, with his driving licence and nearly a thousand grand. However, his luck runs out when he stops at a gas station. Our hero, a well-meaning fellow, spots Vera (Ann Savage) thumbing a ride and offers to take her to Los Angeles. What Al doesn't know is that Vera has been with Haskell in his car before. She accepts his offer and life is never the same again for Al Roberts.

Austrian-American director Edgar G. Ulmer
For the next one hour or so of flashback, Edgar G. Ulmer shows us the vamp-ish and venomous side of Vera as she threatens and blackmails Al into passive submission to her demands, till she forces Al’s hand in an unexpected climax.

Cut back to the present, to the highway restaurant where Al is still sitting morosely, nursing his drink…

“Yes. Fate, or some mysterious force, can put the finger on you or me for no good reason at all.”

The moment you see Detour, superbly directly by Ulmer, you’ll know at once that it’s a cult film. The ‘B’ movie was made with a shoestring budget and a watertight script in just over a few days. The entire cast numbers fewer than a dozen assorted characters like props in a studio. The characters of Sue and Haskell flitter in and out in their guest roles. That leaves us with the lead pair of Al and Vera, one quiet and subdued, the other fierce and shrill—their wretched lives entwined in a bizarre situation that neither sees coming at first—essayed well by both Tom Neal and Ann Savage. The on-screen chemistry between the two erupts no sooner Vera gets into the car and glowers at Al, who, sitting behind the wheel, suspects nothing initially.

As narrator of the film, Al mouths some fine lines both aloud and to himself. Ann has been given her share of good dialogues too, most of them aimed threateningly at Al. Like the time she tells him, "I'd hate to see a fellow as young as you wind up sniffin' that perfume Arizona hands out free to murderers!" You can actually feel Al's utter sense of helplessness.

My first impression of Detour was this: one morning Edgar G. Ulmer picked up his camera, grabbed hold of Neal and Savage, and said, “Come on, kids, we got a film to make before sundown.” He goes out and makes one of the finest straitjacketed noir films I have seen. There are no detours in the making of this film.


Detour was written by renowned ‘B’ movie screenwriter Martin Goldsmith while the film’s appealing background score was rendered by Leo Erdody.


Next on my viewing list is Ulmer's The Black Cat (1934) starring Boris Karloff

December 17, 2012

BOOK PREVIEW

A Mind That Found Itself
by Clifford Whittingham Beers (1908)


“A pen rather than a lance has been my weapon of offence and defence; with its point I should prick the civic conscience and bring into a neglected field men and women who should act as champions for those afflicted thousands least able to fight for themselves.”

The curious title A Mind That Found Itself is what caught my eye as I browsed through free ebooks on the internet. The book was listed under Biography/Psychology. I have read biographies and autobiographies but never psychology. The closest I have come to reading about this science is Irving Stone’s The Passions of the Mind (1971) based on the life of Sigmund Freud. I never finished it. Anyway, I was about to head back when the blurb held my attention. It read: 

“In 1900, after suffering a mental breakdown, Clifford Whittingham Beers was confined to an asylum for three years. After his recovery he wrote this biography, which aroused a storm of protest and public concern about care of people with mental illness. In the eyes of many the modern mental health movement can be traced to this publication.”

It sounded like a true story. And it was.

In his 150-page life story Clifford Beers details his years of incarceration and torture in a mental hospital which forced America to sit up and acknowledge that mental patients were humans too. The publication of Beers’ memoir and his graphical description of ill-treatment at the hands of the hospital staff resulted in the founding of the mental hygiene movement whose modern-day avatar is Mental Health America.

“I am not telling the story of my life just to write a book. I tell it because it seems my plain duty to do so. A narrow escape from death and a seemingly miraculous return to health after an apparently fatal illness are enough to make a man ask himself: For what purpose was my life spared? That question I have asked myself, and this book is, in part, an answer.

Clifford Beers was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on March 30, 1876, one of five children, all of whom suffered from mental illness. Beers, himself, was afflicted with depression and paranoia. A graduate from the Sheffield Scientific School at Yale, Beers was as intelligent as he was insane. Although he recovered, Beers and his siblings later died in mental institutions. Apparently, mental illness ran in his family with his mother and an aunt also stricken with insanity, or so psychologist Norman Dain reveals in his biography, Clifford W. Beers: Advocate for the Insane.

The original Grace Hospital building on West Chapel Street,
Connecticut
, where Clifford Beers was institutionalised. He recalls,
“There was a chapel connected with the hospital—or at least a room
where religious services were held every Sunday.”
Photo: Historical Library, Cushing/Whitney Medical Library

The autobiographical account of his hospitalisation and the horrible abuses he suffered during his so-called treatment led to a storm of protest across the country and eventually resulted in sweeping reforms in the field of mental health and illness. Founded in 1909, Mental Health America is the country's oldest and largest nonprofit organisation addressing all aspects of mental health and mental illness.

“The biographical part of my autobiography might be called the history of a mental civil war, which I fought single-handed on a battlefield that lay within the compass of my skull. An Army of Unreason, composed of the cunning and treacherous thoughts of an unfair foe, attacked my bewildered consciousness with cruel persistency, and would have destroyed me, had not a triumphant Reason finally interposed a superior strategy that saved me from my unnatural self.”

Clifford Whittingham Beers died in 1943 at the age of 67, apparently, in seclusion and of a suspected brain tumour. By then, his mental illness had already led to the mental wellness of millions of Americans.






You can download the ebook at ManyBooks and read more about the author at the Clifford Beers Foundation, The Social Welfare History Project and Wikipedia.

December 15, 2012

Reading room on wheels

© www.wr.indianrailways.gov.in
Mumbai's in-famous suburban railway network comprising Western Railway (which I take), Central Railway and Harbour Line carries over 70 crore (seven million) commuters daily, the highest urban rail passenger density anywhere in the world. The locals, as these trains or EMUs (electric multiple units) are called in local parlance, operate over nearly 500 km of track from downtown Mumbai to the distant suburbs in the north of India's financial capital. In all there are 136 stations on the three networks.

The suburban railway system is Mumbai's lifeline: the day the local trains stop moving, as has happened in recent years owing to flash strikes by motormen demanding better wages, the city grinds to a halt, offices report poor attendance, and trade and businesses are hit. It is the fastest and smoothest mode of transport in the city. 

© www.westernrlyaudit.gov.in
Some 4,000 people die and several times that number are injured, annually, on the three railway networks. Most deaths occur due to track crossing, falling off overcrowded trains, and travelling on rooftops. For these reasons the suburban network is also known as hell on wheels.

Things are looking up, though. The new stainless steel Siemens 12-coach rakes, as opposed to the earlier nine-coach rakes, introduced by Indian Railways on the suburban network are airier, roomier, and better looking and they have, to some extent, alleviated the plight of harried commuters. There is now talk of introducing 15-car locals, which will require extension of all the platforms, as well as AC trains, aimed at first-class commuters and car owners driving down from the suburbs.
 

Red stripes distinguish first-class from second-class coaches.  
Female commuters are a happier lot these days and deservedly so. Indian Railways has introduced 12-coach local trains exclusively for women, known as Ladies Special, during the morning and evening peak hours. These locals are beehives of activity: groups of women from all walks of life pass their time in more ways than one—singing and joking, stitching and embroidering, sharing personal stories and native recipes, and publicising and selling merchandise from cakes and pastries to craft and handicraft. These locals are also mini bazaars on wheels.

For many people, travelling by the local trains is a living nightmare. The faint-hearted prefer to commute by other modes of public transport, such as state-owned BEST (Bombay Electric and Supply Transport) buses, taxis, and autorickshaws. The black-and-yellow autos are allowed to ply only in the suburbs where drivers of the monstrous BEST buses liken them to ants because of their annoying habit of shooting in and out of traffic.
 

Inside a first-class compartment.
In spite of the constant battle for space inside the packed trains, fights seldom occur between commuters and when they do, there are sane people around to pull them apart and knock sense into them. “Why fight? We are all in the same boat, aren't we?” is the common refrain. I like it better when a voice pipes up from somewhere, as it always does: “Throw the two gents out at the next station. Let them fight it out on the platform.” The verbal abuses and inane arguments and gnashing of the teeth continue till either of the aggrieved party gets off at a station, turns around and throws a fist before walking away.

For people like me, an episode like this is a source of amusement and a welcome distraction during my 45-minute routine journey to and from work. I look forward to them. Otherwise I read books or listen to music. I manage to read about 30-40 pages during the entire 90-minute two-way trip, sometimes much less if I am not in the mood to read. Since I travel first-class, the noise is less than in the second-class coach allowing for sufficient concentration. I have finished reading many a book in the 8.57 am and 6.22 pm locals.

There are days when I don’t read a single page, preferring music instead or listening in on loud conversations. This morning, for instance, I was listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical renditions in The Phantom of the Opera (2004) starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, and Patrick Wilson. My favourite songs in this film by Joel Schumacher are Phantom of the Opera and All I Ask of You by English soprano Sarah Brightman and actor-singer Michael Crawford.

The Mumbai local train has been my reading room on wheels for more than two decades and it might well be for a few more years or at least as long as I have to travel from my suburban home to my office in south Mumbai. I intend to read as many books as I can till then.



Copyright for the bottom three photographs: Prashant C. Trikannad

December 10, 2012

Authors and books for 2013 

In 2011 I resolved to read The Philosophy of Nietzsche in 2012. Nearly a year later I have barely read 200 pages of the 1,120-page volume containing the complete and unabridged texts of Nietzsche's five famous works: Thus Spake Zarathustra, Beyond Good and Evil, Genealogy of Morals, Ecce Homo, and The Birth of Tragedy. I forgot my own reading challenge.

I hope to read another 200 pages in 2013, maybe more if Nietzsche's philosophy begins to sink in.

Shakespeare has been nudging me in the ribs to read his complete works but the venerable bard and his plays will have to wait another year, somewhere in the not-too-distant future. The hard-bound edition with yellowed pages belonged to my grandfather and has survived three generations...of silverfish and termites. If anyone loves books more, it's these vermin. 

There were other books that I picked up and read halfway, namely Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe, A Son of the Circus by John Irving, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, and Something Happened by Joseph Heller. All good books which I hope to finish reading by January 31 of next year.

I am not making any book resolutions for 2013 except that I hope to read more books by Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Agatha Christie, Tom Sharpe, Salman Rushdie, P.G. Wodehouse, Ed McBain, John D. MacDonald, Brian Garfield and John Irving, to name a few. I have many of their books already in my collection though Christie and Wodehouse dominate by over 50 books.

There are other book plans too, like acquainting myself with the e-fiction of Jack London, Charles Willeford, Johnston McCulley and Octavus Roy Cohen, and getting reacquainted with the e-works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert E. Howard, W. Somerset Maugham and Rudyard Kipling. I will be reading these authors, randomly, throughout the year.
 

I also intend to read more westerns and classics: while the first is my favourite category of books, the second I should have read a long time ago. I have heard people say that you are not into serious reading until you have read the classics. A matter of opinion I partly agree with. A couple of books each by Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Nathaniel Hawthorne are in the works.

I haven’t read much, have I?!

What are your reading plans for 2013?

December 7, 2012

BOOK REVIEW

An Impatient Gulliver Above Our Roofs
by Ray Bradbury


It’s Ray Bradbury Week at Friday’s Forgotten Books over at Patti Abbott’s blog Pattinase.

© Wikimedia Commons
My first real exposure to space science, apart from what I had been taught in school, was the science show Cosmos: A Personal Voyage written and presented by American astrophysicist Carl Sagan. Doordarshan (Far Sight), India’s national television network, ran the 13-part series in the early 1980s. It was telecast on Sunday mornings and children and teenagers, like me, sat huddled around black-and-white television sets for Sagan’s perspective on the universe and the infinite possibilities that lay within and beyond it.

Around this time an Indian publisher of comics came out with a new comic-book titled The Black Hole in partnership with Disney Comics.


Cosmos and the comic-book along with Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. did more to enhance my knowledge of space and universe, both real and fictional, than all my science textbooks in school.

Ray Bradbury came later, much later, as did other writers of science fiction, a literary genre I wasn't quite familiar with until the early part of this century when I picked up, rather tentatively, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. I liked it a lot and imagined the end in different ways. For instance, the invisible man would not have suffered an ignominious death.

Between then and now, I have read no more than three novels and a handful of short stories by Bradbury which doesn't exactly qualify me for Ray Bradbury Week. I have, however, read more about Bradbury than by Bradbury including interviews and assorted profiles and quotable quotes. He scores high on sound bites.

I decided to review one of the few short stories I had read and selected The Million-Year Picnic (1946) for this occasion. I read it twice but finally decided against writing about an adventurous family’s rocket-propelled picnic to Mars. I need to really understand Bradbury’s fiction and writing before I review any of his work. It takes getting used to. 

November 24, 1967
Now I was aware of Bradbury’s connections with NASA, especially the fact that the US space agency, only last August, named a landing site on the red planet as Bradbury Landing. What I didn't know was that, in 1966, the renowned sf writer was sent by LIFE magazine on assignment to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, and, in 1967, he came back and wrote an article An Impatient Gulliver Above Our Roofs that won him the Aviation Space Writers Association's Award and the Robert S. Ball Memorial Award.

The article, accompanied by some brilliant photographs by Ralph Morse, a highly creative photographer for LIFE magazine, is one of the finest pieces of writing I have read this century. There is both a poetic and magical touch to Bradbury’s writing. He starts by talking about how, in 1929, at the age of nine, he was influenced by science fiction…by Buck Rogers, Amazing Stories, Flash Gordon, Sputnik, and watching John Glenn splash down in 1962…and describes Houston, Texas, as “the home you have been waiting for since 1929 when you were truly born,” the year you thought and dreamed of “impossible futures.”

Bradbury was thunder-struck by what he saw inside the Manned Spacecraft Center where he “stood agape amidst giant electric eyes and ears, watching ruby red laser beams flash down black tunnels, whistling centrifuges…” staring up at a single invention, the rocket, which, he said, was redesigning mankind.

His profound and humbling experience prompted Bradbury to declare that man would land on the moon in 1969, which he did, on July 20 of that year, and referred to his prediction of a Mars landing in 1999 in The Martian Chronicles (1950) as an event that America would beat by 20 years—“1980 would be a safe bet!” Bradbury was, obviously, emotionally overwhelmed by the visit to the space programme for he exclaimed: “Great God, I never dreamed this!”

Through over half-a-century of writing, Ray Bradbury has been telling his readers to do just that—dream on a scale as big and grand and infinite as space.

Later, accepting the two awards, Bradbury said, “I am the great-great-great-times-a-thousand nephew of dragfoot. I am the one with the bad eye and the weak arm and not so deft ankle. And I, bastard son of Ab the Caveman or Unha the Blind was sent by LIFE magazine some 17 months ago to watch the runners and jumpers, the bounders and catchers, and the bringers-back from space at Houston, Texas."



Note: You can read Bradbury's article in LIFE magazine here.

December 5, 2012

Stamp of an Actor: Judy Garland

"I was born at the age of 12 on a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot."

"You are never so alone as when you are ill on stage. The most nightmarish feeling in the world is suddenly to feel like throwing up in front of four thousand people."

"It's lonely and cold on the top...lonely and cold."

"In the silence of night I have often wished for just a few words of love from one man, rather than the applause of thousands of people."

"If I'm such a legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you, legends are all very well if you've got somebody around who loves you."

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else."

"Hollywood is a strange place—if you're in trouble, everybody thinks it's contagious."



"I wanted to believe and I tried my damnedest to believe in the rainbow that I tried to get over and couldn't. So what? Lots of people can't..."   

"On daughter Liza Minnelli: "I think she decided to go into show business when she was an embryo, she kicked so much."

"(MGM) had us working days and nights on end. They`d give us pep-up pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they`d take us to the studio hospital and knock us cold with sleeping pills... Then after four hours they`d wake us up and give us the pep-up pills again so we could work another seventy-two hours in a row."

"We cast away priceless time in dreams, born of imagination, fed upon illusion, and put to death by reality."



Note: Check out the previous 21 Celebrity Stamps (right) before Judy came along...

December 4, 2012

VINTAGE ADS

When Sony launched its portable TV

This Tuesday, I don’t have a review for Overlooked Films and/or Other A/V at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Instead, I have a television set you may have overlooked or forgotten about.

“Even people who can't get out love a Sun Set. The black screen
that gives you sharper contrast outside does the same job inside. You get
blacker blacks, whiter whites. And it runs on rechargeable batteries as well
as AC current. So if you ever do get out you can take the Sun Set with you.
Assuming, of course, it's your Sun set — SONY.”
This ad was published in Life magazine, November 24, 1967.
 

Sony launched Japan's first transistor radio in 1955, exactly a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Five years later, in May 1960, Sony came out with the first transistor TV. It was, in fact, the world's first direct-view TV and a dream come true for Masaru Ibuka, Sony founder and President at the time. 

The TV8-301 8-inch portable transistor TV (right) also launched Sony's TV business. 

Making the transition from transistor radios to transistor TVs with both sound and visual was a challenge for Sony which, as is its custom, lost no time in getting around the new device.

"Transistors with enough display power to be useful for TVs were comparably more difficult to create than transistors for radios, but Sony had perfected these special transistors the year before, in 1958, and work on developing a transistor TV was already underway," Sony observed in a short piece in Time Capsule: Revealing Sony Across Time.

When Masaru Ibuka asked a group of people representing US TV manufacturers whether they thought small TVs would sell or not, they said no in one voice. In 1962, Sony launched the TV5-303, which was even smaller than the TV8-301, and proved them wrong. The smaller than the small TV was a big hit in the US.

In 1945, Japan lost the battle of the air raids to the Allies, ten years later it rose from the debris to win the battle of the air waves.

December 1, 2012

Writers on the process of writing

This is a small, lively, and enriching collection of quotes on the actual process of writing as experienced by some of the most popular authors past and present.

“Write drunk;        edit sober.”
— Ernest Hemingway












“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another.” 
— John Steinbeck 

“The only good writing is intuitive writing. It would be a big bore if you knew where it was going. It has to be exciting, instantaneous and it has to be a surprise. Then it all comes blurting out and it’s beautiful. I've had a sign by my typewriter for 25 years now which reads, DON’T THINK!” 
— Ray Bradbury, The Writer’s Digest, February 1976

“I hate writing, I love having written.”
— Dorothy Parker 











“The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear.” 
— E.B. White in The New York Times 








“I had a closing line for Something Happened before I began writing the book. It was 'I am a cow.' For six years I thought that was good. I had it on one of my three-by-five notecards. Then I wasn't all that happy with it, and finally I discarded it. But it seemed good at the time, and besides, I can’t start writing until I have a closing line.” 
— Joseph Heller, The Paris Review

“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”
— Flannery O'Connor 















“I'm very much aware in the writing of dialogue, or even in the narrative too, of a rhythm. There has to be a rhythm with it…” 
— Elmore Leonard 




“A word after a word after a word is power.” 
— Margaret Atwood








“Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college.” 
— Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country 











“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.” 
— Jack Kerouac









“If I waited till I felt like writing, I'd never write at all. The one ironclad rule is that I have to try. I have to walk into my writing room and pick up my pen every weekday morning.” 
— Anne Tyler 


“I've always preferred writing in longhand. I've always written first drafts in longhand.” 
— John Irving














“I don't speak to Gerry (husband). I write for three to four hours, not answering the phone, not getting out of my night clothes.” 
— Alice Munro 





“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
— Stephen King,     On Writing






Note: I have tried hard to find the original source for the images of the authors used in this post but couldn’t get them all. Here are the ones I did:

Ray Bradbury: NASA/JPL-Caltech
E.B. White: The New Yorker
Joseph Heller, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood, Jack Kerouac, and John Irving: Wikimedia Commons