Monday, April 25, 2011

The Armchair Travelogues : Paris

The more that you read, the more things you will know, The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.
-         - Dr Seuss

When Mr Kafkatokindergarten and I got married, all those gazillion years ago, we had plans to travel around the world and visit a new country each year. We did, for a few years anyway. Then came job changes, house changes and diaper changes and travelling got shoved onto the back burner. We do intend to start wandering about the globe again as soon as my little tyke reaches the stage where he can be bribed/coerced/tricked into sitting still for whole minutes at a time. Until then, books satiate the wanderlust.
The Armchair Travelogues is a new series that I hope to do once a month, focussing on one city, region or country at a time.  I don’t intend this to be a review of travelogues and tourist brochures. All that information is available easily enough on the net. I’m interested in books that capture the essence of a place and its people.  I have always loved to go on a trip armed with a book set in my destination. Long before the Da Vinci Code made book related tours famous. And if you can’t go on any trips at all, reading a book can be an equally exciting and memorable adventure. Not to mention trouble free and way cheaper.
     So pack your bags and don’t forget to bring that beret. Today we set off on our maiden voyage with a tour of Paris. Not just the shimmering and chic Paris of today but also the sombre and shaken Paris of the revolution era and the bohemian and hedonistic Paris of ages past.
Paris has played muse to several literary giants like Emile Zola, Guy de Maupassant and Alexander Dumas. Since the city of lights continues to tantalize the imagination of modern day writers, there are any number of novels set here. These are but a few of my personal favourites.

1.       The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris is a most beautiful monument with its Gothic architecture and eerie gargoyles. However, it owes much of its romantic mystique to The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. A great review of the book here.  We trudged up winding, steep, stone stairs to the very top of the cathedral. The view and the atmosphere at the top were worth every wheezing breath. Here did Quasimodo push Frollo to his death.
While the Paris it looks down at may have changed beyond recognition, The Notre Dame still stands today as it stood then.

2.       Moulin Rouge by Pierre la Mure
Moulin Rouge by Pierre la Mure uses the famous cabaret as a backdrop to tell the story of celebrated painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.  The artist painted many posters for the Moulin Rouge and many of his paintings depict scenes of the music hall’s nightlife.  The current revue is more dazzling and spellbinding than it must have been in the 1800’s besides being more respectable.  Besides the cabaret itself, Moulin Rouge paints a vivid picture of the bohemian and artistic Montmartre.

3.       A Tale Of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

So begins Charles Dickens’ epic love triangle set in London and Paris. The grim, tense Paris of the Revolution Era is so far from the shimmering, stylish Paris of today. Yet, the French revolution and its ghosts provide an interesting context with which to view the city today.

4.       Inspector Maigret by Georges Simenon
The Inspector Maigret Mysteries are a more contemporary and upbeat guide to Paris.  Georges Simenon churned out an amazing number of novels and short stories featuring the Commissaire, so you would visit a lot of Paris if you just followed him around.

That’s my two cents on books set in Paris. Any other great ones I’m missing? Which of these books do you think paints the best picture of Paris?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Book Blogger Hop and Question of the Week

Book Blogger Hop

The Book Blogger Hop is a weekly book party hosted by Its a great way to find new blogs and connect with other book bloggers and book lovers. It features a question every week to break the ice and get everyone talking.

This week's question is from Christina who blogs at The Paperback Princess. She asks:
"If you find a book you love, do you hunt down other books by the same author?"
My answer: Absolutely. Infact, I tend to go on a reading spree of all the books by the author, hunting them down rather obsessively. I think the last time this happened was when I stumbled upon Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. For the next month or so, hubby and I went through an armful of Murakami's books until we both started talking to sheep and saw fish dropping from the skies. Kidding aside, Its great to find an author whose writing connects with you and then discovering all his/her other work. Sometimes the subsequent works may prove disappointing but more often than not, its the start of a brand new love story between me and the author.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday's Favorite Five

Back from a whirlwind holiday, a long weekend is just what I need. Waking up my brain with these:

  1. Clever cover design  Caustic Cover Critic: Philip Belger's Scandals.
  2. An online exhibit of diaries at The Morgan. Charlotte Bronte , Nathaniel Hawthorne and many more prolific diarists featured here. Thanks to the lovely Nina Sankovitch for pointing this out.
  3. Deanna Raybourn discusses the concept of MacGuffins.
  4. I'm a dog person myself, but for all the cat lovers out there, here's some gorgeous cat art.
  5. For amateur photographers like myself, here are some easily understandable rules for better photography.
Happy weekend and a very Happy Easter to you all.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Rose and The Yew Tree – Mary Westmacott

 I should state right off the bat that I’m no Romantic fiction snob. I’ll lap up a Mills and Boons sap fest as readily as I would savor a Jane Austen (Although I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the Twilight books yet. What can I say; vampires just don’t do it for me.) Perhaps you will feel differently about the Rose and the Yew tree if your standards are higher than mine. It will still be fairly easy on the sensibilities.

          Mary Westmacott is Agatha Christie’s literary alter ego. She adopted this pseudonym to write non crime novels that wouldn’t be burdened by her formidable reputation.  While I grant that The Rose… is a completely different genre, it has many elements that are what may be termed the essence of Agatha Christie. The impeccable character sketches for one. You feel quite sure that you’d know these people anywhere. There is also that strange edginess that springs up when u least expect it. Even when everyone is acting true to form, there is an undercurrent of something that is faintly unsettling.

          All the above mentioned qualities make her mystery novels such a phenomenon. However I find that in a Romantic novel, or rather a “crimes of the heart” novel, the constant atmosphere of menace and foreboding works against it. I don’t mean that there is anything wrong with a thread of suspense running through the entire book, but I felt the Ending did not justify it. This is really the only thing I have to say against the novel and even this is really just nit picking.

          Overall the book has some memorable characters, some interesting insights and a peep into the political attitudes of that era (how accurate it is, I couldn't say). It is nowhere as great as any of her mystery novels, but in saying that I only negate the very reason Agatha Christie used a pseudonym in the first place. Judged on its own merit, without the mystery queen’s enormous shadow hovering over it, The Rose and the Yew Tree is an engaging and interesting, if not memorable book.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friday's Favorite Five

The weekend cannot get here soon enough for me. I have so many fun things planned. Meanwhile, here's what i'm loving on the web this week:
  1. I've been reading about Ines de la Fressange's new release, "Parisian Chic" all over the place, but here's my favorite review of it. I guess I wont be shelling out any cash for this one but will be happy to give it a once over if I find it in my local library.
  2. My boy would've loved this cake on his birthday. Who am I kidding? I want it for my birthday.
  3. 101 cookbooks has long been my favorite food blog. Heidi Swanson, the lady behind the blog, comes out with her new book Super Natural Everyday. Read all about it here
  4. Fabulously Broke in the City discusses Amy Chua controversial theories on parenting. Quite a few interesting and opposing views here. Just reinforces my view that there isn't any right or wrong parenting method. 
  5. Saturday Jane takes us on a hilarious ride through the creative death cycle
Have a Happy Weekend y'all. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Where do you find the time to read?

I’m often asked this question and usually answer by mumbling something about naptime. Before baby I used to go through roughly 5 books a weeks. I was a fast reader and even with a day job and house work, I still seemed to have plenty of time to read.  Then the little tyke came along and suddenly all my “spare” time was taken up by other boring stuff like sleeping, eating and bathing. For almost a year, I read nothing but baby board books and the occasional instructional manual on a breast pump. Riveting though that was, I was itching to get back to books that didn’t feature Winnie the Pooh (or breast pumps). And I did. Here’s what I found helpful.

Always carry a book. Always. Everywhere.
Obviously, this works much better if you are carrying a light paperback as opposed to a hardcover, leather-bound edition of the Brothers Karamazov. Still, you might do that too and call it your workout with weights. You wouldn’t think you’d find many pockets of time when you’re out and about, but you do. While waiting for coffee at the coffee shop, while the kid is frolicking in the pool or while your hairdresser is trying to get out the stickers in your hair which your sticker happy kid lovingly applied on you earlier.
Carrying a book around isn’t a problem for me since my everyday handbag is a giant sack that holds a gazillion toddler necessities like diapers, wipes and severed heads of toy animals. If you’re in the habit of carrying tiny bags or clutches, maybe you could keep a book in the car. Or buy really tiny books.
Get used to reading in bits
I remember when I would curl up with a book on a lazy afternoon and the next time I looked up it was midnight. That was fun. But I realize that it’s impossible now. While I would ideally like to have at least an hour at a time to read, sometimes 15 mins is the only available time slot. I’ve learned to make do. As long as you get back to the story within a reasonable amount of time, you don’t lose connect with it. I’ve often heard people say that they would rather not read at all if they couldn’t read in leisure. I beg to differ, I would always rather read. Any way I can.
Unplug. Disconnect. Log off.
“A book commits suicide every time you watch {insert crappy TV show name}.” Can’t remember where I read this line but it’s a novel thought. Electronic media of any kind, be it TV or the internet or even mobile phones seem to take up way more time than we ever intend to spend on them. I haven’t watched TV in over a year now and I don’t miss it for a second. Thankfully my cell phone only has games I suck at and applications I can’t figure out so that’s no temptation either. But Lord, how the laptop beckons with its promise of easy info and pretty images. I tell myself I’ll only check my mail and before you know it, the evenings gone and the boy’s back from the park and my book lies untouched. I’m working on restricting and scheduling my laptop time, but it’s still a work in progress.
Consider books on tape
Now this is not something I have tried and quite frankly I don’t feel inclined to try it either. Largely because I don’t like being read to. I like to take books at my pace, in my style and hear it in my head in my voice. They say, a book belongs to the author only while he/she is writing it, when you are reading it, it belongs to you. I feel like it wouldn’t belong to me if someone else were to read it out. However I realise this is just prejudice, probably baseless. Some of my friends swear by books on tape as a great way to use commuting time or even treadmill time. Also as I said before, any way of reading books is better than not reading at all.

So, where do you find the time to read? Do you think ebooks and kindle-like devices help greatly? 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday's Favorite Five

This week has been a bit of a whirlwind with no reading, working out or sleeping and plenty of moping, overeating and chocolate snorting. Still, the weekend is here and things ought to get better. If you too need cheering like me,these links might help.
  1. Already Pretty, explores the concept of Vanity. Her insights never fail to amaze me.
  2. Beautiful rooms for your viewing pleasure on the Glamourai. I love the bookshelves and the naked woman pillow.
  3. Missed Connections is such a great concept with messages that are funny and wistful. However the real draw (pardon the pun) is the gorgeous artwork. If you are a fan of Sophie's work, u will love this. If you aren't, you will be.
  4. The Traveler IQ Challenge is a fun game for geography buffs. Warning: Highly Addictive.
  5. If you are one of those lucky people who actually have proper lunch breaks, here's a few fun things you could do then.  Even if you don't have lunch breaks, Yes and Yes is a lovely piece of the web.
Have yourself a happy weekend.