Tag Archives: Literature

Happy 200th Birthday, Charles Dickens

In the morning my wife pointed at Google’s latest Google-Doodle on Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday.

Charles Dickens 200th birthday

We have been really preoccupied trying to find a new place to  move to because we need to vacate our current house in a few days. With lots of uncertainty looming around coupled with an anxiety to meet professional commitments ensured that the mention quickly got forgotten. Just now while quickly checking my Facebook messages I came across this blog post dedicated to Charles Dickens, and I just thought, what the heck, Dickens is perhaps the first writer I started reading seriously and he must have left an indelible mark on the way I express myself (or at least used to  express myself a few years ago) through my writing, and I can’t even write a quick blog post on this occasion?

I have always loved his dark, gloomy and romantic narratives and unconsciously tried to imitate him. Although later on I began to find his work less impressive as I read more and more of Dostoevski, Tolstoy, and Somerset Maugham, “Great Expectations” still remains a novel I have most repeatedly read and I may still read again and again.

So before my clients say, “You have enough time to write a blog post on Charles Dickens but you don’t have time to work for us,” I must end this hurried commemoration and get back to work. Happy Birthday Charles Dickens. You have really enriched the world of literature. No matter how you were in your personal life, you were a great gift to the world.

 

My quick review of The Enchantress of Florence

I started reading The Enchantress of Florence simply because I try not to miss a Salman Rushdie book. Ever since I read his Ground Beneath Her Feet and then Shalimaar The Clown I am no longer a big fan of his writing. He is a marvellous writer, no doubt, but he is too obsessed with a particular writing style.

The central character of almost all of his novels is semi-magical. Surrealistic things keep on taking place around him or her, and predictably, the same thing happens in The Enchantress of Florence. He has a great writhing style without doubt and among the contemporaries he is my favourite writer (although I haven’t read many contemporary writers). But a great writing style doesn’t mean you have a good story at hand. Most of his time is spent trying to establish how devine his characters are, whether it’s Niccolo Vespucci or Angelica (The Enchantress of Florence). Page after page is covered on how devinely beautiful Angelica is and how different segments of the population of Florence are affected by her beauty; in fact so much that at a particular point you feel that the story isn’t going to move forward. But it does eventually, and by the time it does, you are at the last page of the novel.

Among the contemporaries he’s perhaps the best, but somehow he has gotten himself trapped in the surrealism loop — the main protagonists and antagonists have to have some strange, inexplicable powers: they can appear or disappear like ghosts, they can perform tricks that don’t fall under the realm of the natural world, good things or bad things happen to people who do good things or bad things to them, etc. It means you cannot deal with plots unless they have esoteric, preternatural characters. I’m not saying such writing doesn’t have its own intrinsic charm, but after a while it becomes a bit of a drag.

As a reading experience it is a good book, obviously, coming from Salman Rushdie, but in the end you don’t feel satisfied. At first I thought maybe before reading this book I had read War And Peace by Leo Tolstoy so my expectation was perhaps higher, but I know that even if I hadn’t experienced Tolstoy before reading The enchantress of florence, I wouldn’t have appreciated the book that much.

I wouldn’t say don’t read the book, but if you skip it, you aren’t missing much. Right now I’m reading The Great Gatsby, and I can already feel the difference.

Reading The Black Swan

Right now, frankly, I have no idea what is the theme of the book and what exactly the author wants to say (I just finished reading page 99). All I can make out is, there are events in your life that can be called "The Black Swans", and they just happen, randomly, and normally their occurrence or non-occurrence is not in your hand. The Black Swans have the ability to change your perception, your life and sometimes they change the world. He uses the discovery of the black swan in Australia as an analogy. Until the black swans were discovered, swans were always thought to be white. Hence, he says we shouldn’t base our knowledge upon the facts we know.

Of course then you start thinking whether the sun is going to come up in the morning or not. The previous history of the world says that it should, but then, who knows?

The author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, calls himself an empiricist who believes on focusing on how things cannot be done rather than how they can be done. It rather sounds like a negative attitude, but this is the perception perhaps that he wants to change. He says we live in a world defined by our experiences and the events that we remember, and this stifles our ability to see things as they are. I find myself agreeing to this philosophy, as I myself have experienced personal biases due to congealed memories of real and imagined events.

By the end of today’s reading, there’s a portion that explains how, throughout our lives sometimes, we deprive ourselves of multiple smaller happinesses in search of some bigger, elusive (The Black Swan) happiness that happens once in a lifetime. Is it worth it? It depends on how you perceive happiness. May be that bigger, once-in-a-lifetime happiness means more to you than the smaller, everyday happinesses. The problem is, that bigger happiness may or may not happen.

He explains this by terming successes of novels, books, movies, an artist or a scientific discovery as Black Swans. They may change the world, but you’re never sure of their occurrence. Their successes are unexplained. Thousands of better books never see the light of the day. Exceptionally brilliant scientists commit suicides because they are way ahead of their time. Movies that should have been super hits flop. Why? I’m still to read that portion.

This book makes you sleepy unless you’re hell bent upon stretching your reading abilities, or may be I have been simply too tired because I start reading it after I’ve already slogged for 6-7 hours. Lots of abstract philosophy and logic, lots of references to mathematicians and philosophers, their experiments and their observations. The humor sounds clichéd and hence off-putting sometimes, like repeatedly making fun of the French, the bankers and the financial forecasters. Nonetheless, I have found some worthy nuggets of wisdom and I plan to finish it in the coming days.