Divya Manian

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Book Reviews for November 2009 — Part 2

For once, I will be able to observe Thanksgiving Celebrations in the US. Scott Berkun has a great post on myths of thanksgiving. I hope to spend my long weekend looking back on what I accomplished this year and creating plans for the next. Hope you all have a great long weekend!

Here are the books I have read since the last set of books:

  • Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-creator Joe Shuster

    Joe Shuster, the creator of Superman, hit nadir during the 50s, when he lost the Superman copyright claim law suit against DC Comics. It was during this time, comic historian Craig Yoe says, he took to drawing fetish art for money. The art is exemplary, but a lot of it is quite violent. All fans of Joe Shuster’s art need to read Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-creator Joe Shuster. Not surprisingly, most of these illustrations have characters similar to those from the early works of Superman.

  • Murder Can Crash Your Party

    Please don’t waste your time reading Murder Can Crash Your Party. Not unless you are thirty and still reading Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

  • Dying Inside

    This is a great novel about what it feels like when a super-human loses his superpowers. The book details the thoughts of the protagonist as he starts losing his power of hearing what people around him think. Dying Inside uses science fiction as a prop to describe the melancholy of existence, and describes it really well.

  • The Thing Around Your Neck

    This is the latest book of short stories by my new favourite writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. A few of them, like The Thing Around Your Neck, A Private Experience, The Arrangers of Marriage, stand out. It is great to read an immigrant’s perspective on things that most of us take for granted. The Thing Around Your Neck is a must read for every Chimamanda fanboi.

  • The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan

    I had read the The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and wanted to read more about the life and times of Japan during the era when The Tale of Genji was written. The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan cites historical texts from that era to describe people, culture, religion, outlook at that time.

    It is shocking to see so many records that still exist from that era (around 11th Century CE). Ivan Morris says most of what was fashionable at that time came from China (including Buddhism). It is also interesting to note that men who had round features were considered handsome at that time (hence, most paintings feature people with cherubic faces). Anyone not of noble birth were as good as dead to those of higher birth. Most noblemen spent their lives near Kyoto (the capital at that time) and considered moving to outskirts as “exile”

    This book spends a lot of pages explaining how the Fujiwara clan schemed to gain monopoly over Japan over the course of 200 years. It is also written quite formally, so it got a bit boring towards the end.

  • A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur

    Gayatri Devi, for many Indians, epitomized the fairy tale reality of Maharanis.

    I thought A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur would be really condescending, but thankfully it is not, except for this text “we were told to treat ADCs with respect unlike servants.”

    I found it hilarious when the authors state tiger/cheetah hunts by the royals did not lead to the extinction of those animals.

    I cannot share in her lament over her financial losses. I think a lot of these princely states survived because of the British and not in spite of them. I find the sense of entitlement that pervades this book annoying. Gayatri Devi does not reveal her real feelings about the unexpected deaths of her parents, siblings, and husband. It feels like I am reading a long interview rather than a biography.

    If you are a fan of stories about Indian Kings and Queens, this book is for you. It describes, in great detail, the opulence and grandeur of the life of a Princess.

That’s all folks! If you have any recommended books, do link to them in the comments!