Category Archives: Reading

Rest in peace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, really

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Death often catches you unguarded – I’m not talking about the people who die because I think (unless the death happens due to murder or accident) they have an inkling beforehand – I’m talking about people who are left behind. There I was worrying about what article to write, where should I send another pitch and where I should do a follow-up, which single-page websites I should set up for Steve, how to spend some time with my daughter, and then suddenly, I saw this message on my Twitter timeline “R.I.P Garcia”.

Which Garcia? I thought. It can’t be THAT Garcia. It took me some time and a quick search on the Internet to find that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is dead.

While looking at his picture on my computer monitor my daughter came in my room, looked at the photo and asked, “Who is he?”

When I tried to tell her, I couldn’t. I realised I was choking. I rapidly swallowed the lump that was rising in my throat and blinked my eyes to hold back my tears and then explained to her that he was my favourite living writer and he just died so I’m feeling very sad. When I told her how old he was, she tenderly touched my shoulder and said, “That’s all right, old people die, even I will die when I grow old.”

It hit me how fast time flies. Many years ago I had taken a resolve that I would meet him in person someday, and then forgot about that resolve, and now, he is dead. With every passing day, with every passing week, with every passing month, life goes by and then one day you realise, there were so many things that you wanted to do, and you just got distracted by the world around you.

Love in the Time of Cholera was accidentally left behind by my cousin who was visiting us from Canada. I remember she was one day pointing at the book and telling me that if I read books, I must read that one but sadly, she said, she had to take it back.

English books those days were not easily available especially when I couldn’t physically scour through various bookshops and had to solely depend on my mother and other people to visit bookshops for me and then use their own discretion. So my exposure was the British classics of Charles Dickens and Emily Brontë types, or Russian books that you would get in the book fair at Pragati Maidan. Love in the Time of Cholera with explicit sex was a totally new experience for me, especially the protagonist Florentino Ariza having wild sex with his teenage niece at the ripe old age of 75 (if I’m not forgetting). But then, only Garcia could pull off a love affair that spanned decades while remaining, sort of unrequited.

“I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”

You can’t imagine how many nights I must had spent trying to think how Fermina Daza looked.

Whether one agrees with the inherent value system represented in the book (and in his other books), the extraordinary writing style made a deep impression on me and I desperately wanted to read more from him. I’m pretty sure that my best writing (literary, not professional) came under his influence. I don’t remember how I came across One Hundred Years of Solitude but this is a book that I have read thrice, although, initially I didn’t want to read it because, what sort of book would it be that starts with an execution?

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Those days – the time between the college and trying to set up my own business – I had no concept of magical realism. I realised that his characters existed in the realms of reality and unreality and there were many things happening in his books that you couldn’t pinpoint weather they were real worldly or supernatural. As a young boy he spent lots of time with his grandmother and she used to tell him all sorts of fantastical tales and many of her characters were a mix of real and unreal.

Later I found many writers, including Salman Rushdie adopted magical realism to create captivating narratives.

My wife often says that it’s very easy to create unreal characters and then weave stories around them and it is very difficult to weave stories on real-life characters. For some time I had started believing that because I had forgotten how Garcia wrote. I think when you write well, you just write well, it doesn’t matter if you are writing stories around surrealistic characters or some rickshaw puller dying of hunger.

That was the way he wrote. I have read a few Nobel prize winning writers and I firmly believe that in contemporary times Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the most deserving. He never wrote to receive awards and you can clearly see that in his writings. Even if he wrote one word, it genuinely came from him and not from some aspiration to prove something. That was his strength.

His death has given me a small jolt today. In the flurry of everyday activities you begin to believe that life is infinite. While growing old, somehow you forget that your idols are also getting old. People whom you would like to meet one day are also getting old and if you don’t hurry, they may die before you meet them.

You saw lots of turbulence Gabriel Garcia Marquez, physical, intellectual, emotional and worldly. Rest in peace. Thanks for enriching our lives with your beautiful words. Thanks for making solitude charming. You have left the world richer.

You will actually be able to consume books

Book Capsules

Recently I came across an article (I’ve lost the link) that talked about the near-future possibility of you being able to “swallow” information, such as books, theories, research papers, and even stories and novels, as pills and capsules, instead of having to go through them page by page.

It may seem quite far-fetched at this moment, but in terms of biology there is nothing extraordinary in this possibility. Brain, after all, stores information by arranging and rearranging brain cells and imprinting electro-magnetic impulses. There are already hellucinogenic drugs that can alter out perception of reality. What if the information can be sent through our blood streams instead of using sensory inputs? Artificial limbs can already tell whether the fingers are touching different temperature and different sensations. People can reach orgasm via cyber sex. This is not the issue.

I’m just wondering, do we read books for the experience, or get the information into our brains? Is knowledge just about knowing, or is it a collection of our physical and emotional expepriences that we go through while acquiring that knowledge?

The article said you will be able to learn a language by popping a capsule or you will be able to read War and Peace by simply taking a pill. This basically means that along with printed and digital versions, you may also get “capsule” versions of the books.

Of course people have different notions of what an experience is. More and more people are preferring digital books (Kindle, Nook, Play Books) despite the fact we all miss that feel of holding an actual book, feeling and smelling its pages. You can carry an entire library in your palm and I’m pretty sure within the foreseable future the concept of visiting libraries and scouring through books is going to be a thing of the past and in fact, we may no longer have the book shelves in our homes and offices. This is natural, evolutionary process, whether we like it or not.

People read books for two reasons: to entertain themselves, and to educate or inform themselves. You can’t entertain yourself by suddenly coming to know of the contents of an entertaining book. Suddenly knowing Mcbeth isn’t the same as reading its lines individually, halting for thinking, engaging in mental debate and feeling the anguish of the characters. The Mcbeth capsule may simply reveal the story to you, it even may make it easier to recall certain pessages and dialogs, but it doesn’t make you a part of the story, which is why we normally read stories. We develop an empathy, or an aversion towards characters and circumstances when we need a novel or a play, that won’t be there is we simply swallow it.

When it is not advisable to use something like Kindle reader

A Kindle reader is certainly not an all-solution reading device at least in its current avatar. I don’t mean to say that there should be social features or there should be multimedia or other such fancy features. But if you want to recommend a device for students as well as people for all ages, a tablet is far better than a Kindle reader.

First of all, images and graphics don’t look good in a Kindle reader. They are black-and-white first of all. And even the rendering is not as good as it is on tablet screens, especially higher end Android devices as well as the iPads.

Another problem is that if you want to make lots of notes the keyboard is not as good as the one you get with a tablet especially when these days you easily get virtual keyboards with swiping facilities (you simply drag your fingers on the keyboard instead of tapping individual alphabets or numerals). People may not realise it right now, the ability to swipe instead of tap is a very big deal especially when you do lots of typing on the screen.

Am I advising you not to use the Kindle reader or another such device? Not at all. It is definitely a great reading experience because one, you almost feel like reading off a paper and two, there are practically no distractions. The device is just for reading and nothing else and this is a big plus. For just reading text my choice will always be an e-ink reader. But if there are lots of images (for instance, a book for my daughter) or if I need to make lots of notes (for instance, one needs to make notes to review the book later), the tablet would be my first choice.

Reading books on Kindle reader or a tablet – What’s your choice?

These days I have lent my Kindle reader to my wife as she sometimes prefers to read while our daughter is playing in the park or when she’s waiting in the music school during our daughter’s class. So these days I’m reading Pompeii on my Samsung Galaxy tab. For two years I read books – including War and Peace by Tolstoy – on my tablet without encountering major problem.

They say that once you start reading books on a proper e-book reader like Kindle or Nook you totally understand why you don’t want to read books on usual tablets. I don’t have such extreme views maybe because I’m not brand or devise loyal. These days I’m reading on my tablet and I have no problem. It depends on your environment which device you prefer. I lent my Kindle (she strongly protested when I suggested that we should purchase another e-ink reader, maybe a Nook this time) to my wife so that she can read in the sun. I read in the evenings, in my well-lit room, whether I’m reading on Kindle or the tablet.

Reading under the sun’s glare can be a problem when you read from a tablet so that is ruled out with current display technology I think.

Prolonged exposure to the screen’s glare can pose a problem, but this can be countered if you sit in a properly-lit environment. For instance, avoid reading in the dark if you want to use your tablet in order to read long text. You can also go to the display settings and reduce the brightness of the screen. The Kindle software for Android (I’m sure this feature must also be available on other operating environments) allows you to reduce the brightness from within the software interface rather than reducing the brightness of the gadget itself.

There are many benefits of doing serious reading on your tablet such as more tweaking-features that are normally not available in the actual Kindle device. Compatibility with multiple file formats is a big plus – for reading in Kindle you need to convert every file to the appropriate format but since you can install multiple e-book reading applications in a tablet you can read multiple formats from multiple sources. You can use different fonts and even different page colors (a feature that is lacking in the reader). Then of course, you can see colors that you cannot see, at least at the moment, in a typical e-ink reader.

There are many benefits of reading from a dedicated e-book reader. Although it is not as near to reading a paper book but it is almost there. You can read under the sun and the Kindle reader that I have got can be backlit so you can also read in dark.

This is a problem of self-control and not the problem of the device, but when you’re reading on your tablet you have to encounter many distractions, especially when you also use your tablet as a phone like I do. You will get phone calls, you will get SMS messages, you will get Twitter and Facebook notifications and whatnot. Of course you can turn everything off but then turning everything off and on repeatedly becomes kind of a hassle so it’s best to use a dedicated device if you are a serious reader. Many people say that there is no eyestrain when you read from an e-book reader and there is lots of eyestrain when you use a tablet but then again, it is a problem of the environment and not particularly the gadget you are using.

So should you use a tablet or a dedicated e-book reader if you want to do some serious reading? I have got both and I have used my tablet for almost 2 years reading some great books, so I don’t have very strong biases. If you already have a tablet, whether it is an Android device or something like an iPad, and if it doesn’t strain your eyes, and if you read around one book in a month than your current device should do just fine. School and college books that may have lots of diagrams and images look far better on an iPad rather than on an e-ink display. People say that they can even read on their iPhones for that matter, and I do believe them. The screen resolutions of tablets and phones are improving remarkably and they can give you a great reading experience provided you are not using a cheap device which can harm your eyes irreparably if you do lots of reading.

Reading off a dedicated e-book reader like Kindle is an altogether different experience, so I won’t say don’t buy it if you’re planning to buy it. The text is as clear as reading from a printed paper and yes, there is no strain no matter what lighting condition you are reading under. The greatest advantage is you can read under the sun or in a bright environment. It is extremely light (at least the device that I have) so your wrist doesn’t hurt even with prolonged holding. There are no distractions. Various vendors are trying to introduce e-book readers with social features but I think this defeats the entire purpose and they may end up creating another version of tablets. They should keep electronic book readers as simple as possible while improving the existing experience of reading books.

When should you invest in a Kindle or a Nook or a Sony book reader? Mostly when you are planning to do lots of reading under various lighting environments, especially under the sun. You want to feel as if you’re reading an actual book devoid of all human as well as technological distractions. It’s just for reading books, and this is why I like it.

My new Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite

I was writing the review of “The Remains of the Day” when I realized that if I really wanted to write a good review, I should have taken down some notes. Up till now I had been using the Android Kindle app on my tablet as well as on my computer to not just read the books, but also search through various texts while writing the occasional reviews that I publish on this blog. But recently I purchased Kindle Paperwhite – the actual digital book reading device that I had been planning to purchase for the past two years but always managed to come up with excuses for not buying it. Well, now I have bought it.

I must’ve already mentioned that ever since I started reading digital books, the number of books I read every six months must’ve increased by 10 times if I’m not exaggerating. There used to be years before I would actually pick up a book and read it completely. That was before I started reading digital books. For the past three years, I think on an average I read 10 full-fledged books every year. I know compared to many it may not be a good record, but personally, it is a great achievement considering for 2-3 years I wouldn’t even read a single literary book.

With the purchase of the new Kindle Paperwhite, I think my reading is going to increase significantly. Last weekend I finished reading “The Remains of the Day” and this weekend I’m pretty sure that I’m going to complete “The Book Thief”. Reading on my Android tablet was quite convenient, but it is easier on the Kindle reading device simply because it is much lighter and, well, you may already know this, the text appears just like normal paper.

The convenience of reading a particular book for me is not just a matter of luxury, but it can decide whether I can read a book or not at a particular place. For instance, due to my disability, with conventional books, I couldn’t read without a table, and whenever I read, I always needed to be in the sitting position. Using a device such as my Android tablet and now Kindle Paperwhite enables me to read while I’m lying on my bed. The benefit of using Kindle Paperwhite is that I can read my books under any sort of lighting condition. This was a problem with the tablet – one cannot read under the natural outdoors light. Even indoors, after a while, it begins to strain your eyes. This is not the case with the Kindle reader. You feel as if you are reading a paper book, just with the convenience of a digital device.

While reading books on your Kindle Paperwhite you can highlight particular portions and insert notes for later reference. Once you have created multiple notes, all you have to do is tap the top portion of screen and on the extreme right hand side there is a drop down menu and within that menu you can find a link to your existing notes. This is great when you need to retrieve text while writing reviews. This was a mistake I committed when reading “The Remains of the Day”. The same mistake I have committed while reading “The Book Thief” but I will certainly remember to insert some notes while reading my next book.

You may think why I have purchased a Kindle device when I was already conveniently reading books on my Android tablet. Frankly, I have been using a tablet to read books since December 2011 but then I was reading like, during weekends, not like now when I normally read everyday for 60-80 minutes. It not just causes strain to the eyes it also becomes cumbersome, and of course, full of distractions. I have a Samsung Galaxy tablet and it also acts as my phone and my means to checking my Twitter updates. In fact, from making and receiving calls to maintaining my schedule in Evernote to interacting on Twitter, I do basically everything on my Samsung Galaxy tab. Book reading is something I had always wanted to keep separate and incurring the cost just for that was worth it.

But that’s not the only thing. My space for reading has increased manifold. Now I can read everywhere, no matter where I am. The lighting around me is not going to restrict me. I’m always going to keep my Kindle Paperwhite in the bag that I have tied to my wheelchair. Whenever I get some time, I’m going to take out my Kindle and start reading. This is, for me, the greatest advantage – the ability to steal moments of reading whenever I can.

And of course, it is quite light. I can just hold it in my hand and read a book for hours without my wrist getting tired.

The things that I’m going to miss are the colors, and the ability to use the swipe keyboard. Pressing individual keys for typing seems so archaic now, and so is, using a black-and-white display. This was one of the reasons why I was still waiting – I was hoping that soon we would get a color display.

But anyway, the more important thing is the ability to read as and when I like. This is what I’m getting from my Kindle Paperwhite. Thank you technology, for making reading so much easier.