Friday, September 23, 2016

Book Review # 15: The Writer's Diet

My rating: ●●●●
Helen Sword
The Writer's Diet: A Guide to Fit Prose
US: University of Chicago Press, 2007
88 pp. 1200
ISBN: 9780226351988

Summary: The Writer’s Diet is going to help everyone who’ll refer to it develop healthy writing habits and see their words with new eyes. It’s going to help prep your prose without losing your sense of style. With the help of plenty of examples, the concepts would get clearer along the way and you’ll able to certify a writing as flabby or fit.

What really clicked? The title and my need to improvise as a writer.

My take: There are certain important takeaways from the book that they rather be noted down here for future, quick reference.
1. Favor robust, specific action verbs over vague, lazy ones.
2. Limit use of be-verbs (is, am are, was, were, be, being, been).
3. Anchor abstract ideas in concrete language and images.
4. Illustrate abstract concepts using real-life examples (Show, don’t tell).
5. Limit use of abstract nouns, especially nominalization.
6. Avoid using three prepositional phrases in a row, unless you do so to achieve a specific rhetorical effect.
7. Vary your prepositions.
8. Do not allow a noun and its accompanying verb to get separated by more than 12 words.
9. Let concrete nouns and active verbs do most of the descriptive work.
10. Employ adjective and adverbs only when they contribute new information to the sentence.
11. Avoid overuse of academic ad-words (with suffixes able, ac, al, ant, ary, ent, ful, ible, ic, ive, less, ous).
12. Use ‘it’ and ‘this’ only when you can state exactly which noun each word refers to.
13. Avoid using ‘that’ more than once in a sentence or three times in a paragraph, except to achieve a specific stylistic effect.
14. Beware of sweeping generalization that begin with ‘there’.

Also, Writer’s Diet helps determine the overall fitness rating of any write up based on the components they are composed of – verbs, nouns, prepositions, ad-words, waste words (it/this/that/there). Four stars because plenty of examples from Shakespeare’s texts sound out of course and, thus, aren’t much useful.

Final word: The book should now be my favorite reference book; I am already so conscious about how I'm writing that I'm compelled to look back on each sentence at least twice. Amazing help book, The Writer's Diet should be a compulsory reference for all the writers and editors, no matter at what level they are.

Book Review # 14: Dollar Bahu

My rating: ●●●
Sudha Murty
Dollar Bahu
India: Penguin, 2007
142 pp. ₹250
ISBN: 9780143103769

Summary: There’s a difference between spoilt and rightly bred, need and want, loved and possessed, enough and excess and, lastly, real and pretender and Sudha Murty has tried to bring this to light through her book, Dollar Bahu. A clear-cut fiction with no real plot twists, predictable story and easy language all make it a rather bland read.  

What really clicked? The title. I was expecting way more than what it has actually offered.

My take: Bheemanna (one name that comes handy to the author) and Gouramma have three kids: comfortable-with-life Girish, overambitious Chandru and greedy-as-wolf Surabhi. Chandru, on one of his business trips to a small village, Dharwad, falls in love with Vinuta, but never gets to express his feelings. Working up his way up the corporate ladder, he gets a lifetime chance of working in the US and puts Vinuta off his priorities.   

Back in India, Bheemanna leads a frugal but content life with his family – a son and a daughter and a wife who always dreams of counting herself in the elite club of the society. In fact, she looks up to her son, Chandru, for fulfilling all her desires, as her other son, Girish, is more like his father, happy-in-little. Bheemanna fixes marriage of Girish with Vinuta, who now works as a teacher in a government school. Chandru, being busy in corrupt ways of getting a green card, sends money as a compensation for his absence.

The story progresses, Chandru comes to know about Vinuta and Girish and finds the reality hard to grasp. He ends up marrying Jamuna, who is a spoilt daughter of a filthy rich businessman. Gouramma, weighed down by money and gifts, can’t stop praising Jamuna and completely ignores all the efforts put in by Vinuta. Jamuna follows Chandru to US and, hence, aptly claims the title of the book, Dollar Bahu.

The author has tried to highlight the contrast in life people face when they go to US from India for the first time and how life becomes bland after some time. She also describes India as “swelling crowds, dustier, dirtier streets, hectic construction activity all round… Pollution in the air, in the water, in the food…” when compared with the US.

The story moves on to making stark revelation in the lives of people living in the US and earning in dollars and their roles in their families living in India. It also hurriedly closes down to talking about random people coming into the picture just to talk about their stories. Gouramma, having spent close to one year in the US and realizing the true colors Chandru and Jamuna misses home, her husband and Vinuta. On her way back home from the airport in India, she comes to know that Bheemanna has sent Girish and Vinuta to live in Vinuta’s hometown so that they be spared by Gouramma’s constant comparisons and harsh taunts. Gouramma is left with a deep remorse for her behavior towards Vinuta all this while and she expresses her desire to meet them at the earliest.

The story is left open-ended for the reader to conclude it in a way they find appropriate. The story not only puts forth the natural behavior Indians have towards dollars, but also towards the people who live in the US and earn them. All the characters, except for Gouramma and Jamuna, do not have a significant role to play in establishing the story. The book, more or less, rests on random accounts of people who live abroad. There isn't a point to prove per se, but Sudha Murty tries to highlight how we shouldn’t blindly look over people’s behavior towards us and eulogize the ones with more money. The cover, too, speaks aloud how the one who has more money gets to hold the ‘golden’ keys of the home.

Final word: This would probably be the first Sudha Murty book which lacked the enthusiasm that holds the content together. In fact, the content gets too cluttered, confusing and hurried up towards the end. True, the book more looked like a fable with only shades of black and white, leading to a conclusion left open-ended for the reader to cook up. The brief read would surely compel you to put it down after initial 50 pages giving in to the predictable end, but love for the author might drag you to the last page.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Review # 13: House of Cards

My rating: ●●●●●
Sudha Murty
House of Cards
India: Penguin, 2013
288 pp. ₹150
ISBN: 9780143420361

Summary: Love isn’t on the face; it is deep in the skin. The protagonists, Mridula and Sanjay are brought together by fate but they decide to call it ‘love’. Sailing through humble beginnings, when Sanjay decides to work in a government hospital, Mridula becomes a solid rock to not only support the house but also Sanjay. What forms the rest of the story is their journey on the road to success, their love in the meanwhile and the lube called trust. Mridula has been portrayed as a very strong character, who knows the good and the bad. A very touching, emotionally liberating read, which leaves you utterly satisfied and happy in the end.

What really clicked? The author! She’s my favorite.

My take: House of Cards by Sudha Murty revolves around two strong characters – Mridula and Sanjay. Spread across 29 chapters, the story, narrated by the author, unfolds step by step, taking you on an emotional journey of love, trust, infidelity and self-respect.

Mridula is a teacher in Aldhahalli, a very small village in Karnataka, while Sanjay is practicing in KEM hospital in Bombay. They are brought together by fate, first during a wedding and, second, in Bombay during one of her school trips. Mridula happily accepts Sanjay in her life despite his deformity by birth. She is touched by his clean feelings and a clear soul.

Mridula gets shocked meeting her mother-in-law, Rantnamma, who is extremely stringent and business-minded. Rantnamma runs her small shop close to a temple and prioritizes it over her recently married daughter-in-law. While being just the way she is, she teaches Mridula an important life lesson, i.e., to save money. Her sister-in-law, Lakshmi is equally cunning and money-minded.

Mridula, being the strong character that she is, not only adjusts to a new town after marriage, but also wins a battle over language and culture differences. She supports Sanjay all through his post-graduation course by becoming the sole breadwinner for the family. Sanjay is badly dejected when he's not able to evade a transfer he’s been given as a result of some office politics. That’s when he decides to open his private nursing home with the help of a friend, Alex. Things change from here and the-once-middle-class family, now, starts pacing towards a much prosperous life. What changes during this journey is the relationship between Mridula and Sanjay and of them with their son, Sishir.

Mridula doesn’t find enough words to console Anita, wife of Alex, who ends up finding condoms in Alex’s drawer. She suspects him of infidelity. Walking on the same lines, Mridula comes across serious revelations of his husband not trusting her with the money decisions and taking severe major decisions in favor of his sister, Lakshmi, without taking her in confidence. Mridula is left dejected and lost in life. She feels her husband had forgotten how they had begun the journey together, leaving her stranded in the middle, claiming it an infidelity of trust.

The rest of the story is about her making her mind again to live to the full, getting her self-confidence back and taking charge of what happens in her life. The ending shows how she defines happiness for herself and learns to enjoy life to the fullest, exactly how it was meant to be. Her getting together herself and her mind also leads to several changes in the attitudes of people around her, especially Sanjay. This also brings us towards a happy ending which leaves us with a very strong message that nothing really matters; you have to live without any bondage and with a free mind. You’ve got to spend every minute of the day fruitfully, because every day is to be lived to the fullest and every beautiful minute to be enjoyed

Final word: There are a certain books which keep bringing you back to basics, putting together the definition of simplicity and clearing up life for you - House of Cards is, indeed, one of them. It is all the knowledge, the wisdom and the experience of the author which talks through her words. The protagonists, Mridula and Dr Sanjay, are reluctant to fall in love but let destiny have her say; together, they witness the ups and downs of their lives, with Mridula being a solid rock of the house. They see it all, the bad's and, lately, the great's but what really changes the contours of the story is their reaction towards it. What an amazing read, with the same guiding principle (also mentioned thrice throughout the book) ruling Mridula's life.
Mridula was not like everybody, she was different. She had enormous enthusiasm for life and unlimited energy. She wanted to spend every minute of the day fruitfully. It seemed the sun rose for her and the rainbow colours were meant only for her. Every day was to be lived to its fullest and every beautiful minute to be enjoyed.
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