Shades Of Words


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My Dreams out in the Street

 I have been staring at the screen for the last fifteen minutes trying to find words to describe my reaction to ‘My Dreams Out In the Street’. Well, that for sure indicates that it was a good book. But did I like it? I think I am going to sit on the fence for this one.

First the plot. Rita Jackson is a 23 year old addict. She is addicted to drugs, alcohol and smoking. She is homeless. She is married but does not know where her husband is. She freelances as a prostitute when she is pennliess. And she has seen a man disposing of a dead body – someone he might have killed. And he knows that she has seen him.

 100 pages and I already gasping for air with the hopelessness of it all.”My Dreams out..” literally pulls you by your collar , from you bed into Rita’s messy world. There were moments when I had to put the book away, walk around the house to steady myself as waves of nausea hit me. My biggest challenge was my difficulty to relate to this protagonist. Even when I tried to push my boundaries and try to imagine this world and this character, something would happen that would seem so unreal and shake me. For instance, Rita having vodka for breakfast, daily. Then for lunch and then for dinner. Rita losing all her belongings once, twice and then again.

This books its not just about Rita. Its also about Gary Shepherd , a private investigater , who works in the hell holes of San Francisco trying to find justice for people just like Rita. As he walks in to a chapter, you breathe a sigh of relief. He is instantly drawn to her and provides some emotional and financial support to this deeply disturbed yet earnest woman. Once he discovers that Rita has witnessed the very murder he is investigating , he promises to protect her. Even if it means sleeping with her and cheating on his wife. A 21st century fairy god mother!!

But there is redemption for him and for her. Nothing dramatic. Maybe because this isn’t a fairytale as much as its about real people.

The writing is choppy , very new age. Sentences in your face. There is no escape in decorative literary mouldings. As I read I felt I was walking in those god forsaken alleys of San Francisco , whether I liked it or not.

 


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An Unsuitable Job for a Woman

PD James is quite popular on the blogosphere. I now know why. I was lucky enough to get a hardback edition of “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman’ for less than a dollar at my local library sale . The book turned out to be a Cordelia Gray mystery. Yay for me! I have always loved stories with strong and independent female characters since my Nancy Drew and Anne Shirley days.

The book opens on a dismal day when Cordelia walks into her dusty detective agency office to discover that her senior partner and co-owner , Bernie, has killed himself.

Cordelia has now become the sole owner of this extermely non-profitable business. However, soon enough, Sir Ronald Callander, an upcoming scientist, hires her to take a closer look at his son’s death, Mark Callander. Mark disappeared from Cambridge and took an unlikely position as a gardner with the Marklands. Within a few months he had hung himself.

That, my dear readers, is two suicides in 50 pages. ( I wasn’t very hopeful about liking the book at this stage).

Things start getting interesting from the very first interview with Ronald Callendar. Though he is curious to know why his son would kill himself, he is not very forthcoming with this information. Things start getting disturbing when Cordelia visits the cottage and decides to stay there till she resolves the case. I would not want to be in a place where someone just hung themself ! In Cambridge, she meets Mark’s bohemian friends who though very cordial are definitely hiding something.

Since its a mystery book I won’t give away too much of the plot. And though the story is complex enough to make it interesting that is not the reason as to why I liked the book so much.

For me the writing was just beautiful. Some of the conversations were pure brilliant. I think the last conversation between Inspecter Digalesh and Cordelia Gray was as nerve wracking for me as it was for Cordelia.

Verdict : Recommended for anyone who loves mysteries

PS – For a counter view , read out Zoya’s blog at http://silvermists.wordpress.com/2011/12/14/an-unsuitable-job-for-a-woman/


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Eating Out in St. Louis – I

I love eating out and though some of my favorites are chain restaurants like The Cheesecake Factory, Maggianos and Uno Chicago Grill, I am always on the lookout for small quaint one of a its kind eateries.

Shangrila Diner – No, this is not a Chinese food place. Located on the Historic Cherokee Street, this little diner serves vegetarian food and is famous for its Sunday buffet breakfast. Atleast thats what I heard.We reached there around 11.00 am on a very cold Sunday morning. Shangrila Diner scores full on ambience. Not classy at all but full marks for funky. The psychedelic themes run through the restaurant right from the celing fans to the shell curtains and colorful chairs. “Shangrila”, you realize, stands for the paradise, the kind you get when you are on dope :)!!
The food however was a disappointment – the buffet spreadout was a total of 8-10 items. It did not include juice, or sandwhiches or cake. The most tasty item on the spread was the veggie quiche. I had read absoultely raving reviews of this place and was surprised to find the food just average. Maybe we were there at the wrong time or maybe we should have ordered ala carte. Would I recommend this to anyone? Well only if you are in the neighbourhood.

Location: 2201 Cherokee Street,st. Louis Hole in the pocket : $10-$15 per person

Everest Cafe and Bar – Friends of ours are big fans of momos or what may be more commonly known as pork dumplings. These east asian delicacies are commonly found in all hill stations in India and are hence sorely missed on this side of the world.The idea of eating genuine momos was too tempting to resist. Soon we found ourselves in this little restaurant with decidely oriental theme. The menu is a mix of Nepali, Indian, Tibetan and Korean dishes. We were delighted to see that they had vegetable samosas ( deep fried spicy potato stuffings) and ordered a plate right away. We obviously ordered a portion of pork and veggie dumplings each. The veggie momos were a disaster with mashed potatoes and cheese in them. Typically they are supposed to have cabbage and carrots!! The pork dumplings were however delicious. And the samosas were perfect – I felt I was back in India. For the main course we decided to order the Nepali platter “Daal,Bhaat, Tarkaari ka Saag” – a dish comprising of lentil soup, pickles, cooked chicken and rice.
I really really liked it.
I would recommend this place to anyone looking for genuine east asian cuisine.
The menu at Everest Cafe and Bar is vast and would cater to most.  I would definitely like to try some of the Korean options next time!!

 Location: 4145 Manchester ave , St Louis : Hole in the Pocket: $40 per couple


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The Importance of Being Earnest

 

I have been waiting to catch some really good theatre since I came here – we missed a couple of good shows coz we were either out of town, or the weather was too cold or we did not have a car. Also, as the tickets tend to be on the higher side, one likes to make sure that the play is going to be worth.
 
When I saw that USML was presenting “The Importance of Being Earnst” at the Touhill Art Center I knew I did not want to miss this. This is my all time favorite play and to see it actually being performed would be something that I would always remember. Ofcourse I was a little apprehensive about the quality of the production as it was being presented by  a student company. ( plus side – it cost only 10$ a ticket!)
 
Well, it was an exteremly enjoyable performance! The theater was very small so we were all very close to the stage and it almost felt like a private perforamance.
 
The plot is a comedy of errors – Algernon Montcrieff and Jack Asbury are two close friends. Jack is the guardian of young Cecily Cardew who lives in the country. In order to present a good example to his ward, he creates an alternative identity of himself, Earnest Asbury, a younger more wicked self who is getting into terrible scrapes. Cecily, who has never met Earnest, is obviously infatuated by him.Meanwhile , presenting himself as Earnest, Jack falls in love with Gwendolyn Bracknell and proposes to marry her. Gwen accepts the proposal and is delighted that she is marrying a man named Earnest. Gwen’s mother , Lady Bracknell refuses to allow this union on account of Jack’s unknown origins. What ensues is a comedy of errors and I would be giving away too much if I write any more.
 

My favorite performer was Ben Watts as the as the slightly flamboyant and clever Algernon Montcrieff . I rather liked Sean Green as  Jack but was slightly put off by his hyperventilating nature. He did break a few things on the sets too with his passionate performence. I belive Joanna Brown as Cecily Cardrew was brilliant in the part of the dumb blonde. I laughed at almost all her lines.
 
Though Wilde’s original play was based in London and for the sake of relevance , UMSL’s production is based out of New York. The script has remained almost entirely faithfully but has been snipped in certain places in interest of time. The audience was appreciative and laughed at all the right places. Some of my favorite lines were:
I really don’t see anything romantic in proposing. It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal. Why, one may be accepted. One usually is, I believe Then the excitement is all over. The very essence of romance is uncertainty. If ever I get married, I’ll certainly try to forget the fact.
 
 Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them.
 
To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness
 
The only way to behave to a woman is to make love to her, if she is pretty, and to someone else, if she is plain.
How can one resist Wilde!! If you live in St. Louis then do check out this play which will again run this weekend in the Touhill Performing Arts Center 


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How to Read Novels like a Professor

I have loved reading ever since I can remember. If it had been possible for me at all I would have studied and taught literature. Since I did something entirely different in my life it was always a desire to study literature. I always feel that when  read I am missing stuff – the in-between the lines, the symbolism. I kinda , sorta grasp the larger and deeper meanings but not entirely. So I am always on the lookout for articles or books that help me read better. When I saw ‘How to Read Novels like a Professor’  in my library, I took it in a wink.

I really really enjoyed reading it. Thomas Foster writes in a completely engaging style not once sounding like a professor 🙂 or a textbook. I learned quite a few things – elements to recognize as you read, relationship of the writer and reader, the influences on a narrative, the changes in the form of the novel in the last three to four hundred years. I am huge fan of the victorian novels which I now realize are serialized novels with tidy endings.Foster does not seem to be fond of tidy complete endings and I almost felt defensive of Dickens ( who I believe was a genius with a masterful command of English language) whose work was proabably the most traditional victorian style of it all. However,I admit that when I read 20th century literature ,  more than the story  itself, I am always looking for unique form and structure. Because at the end of the day – its all one large human story. Novels are all about presentation.  That is the reason I loved David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and Orhan Pamuk’s My Name is Red. Its challenging and fun to keep up with writers whose narratives surprise you from chapter to chapter. I also learned something very basic – there is no right way or wrong way to read the book.

This books acts as a very good guide to anyone wanting to be a big fiction writer. Yes, its more about how to write a novel rather than how to read a novel.For me apart from the learning elements, the most fun part of the book was the references to novels while explaining his point. As Foster puts it – the books is ‘ a giant reading list’. I loved to see so many familiar names, but was also disheartened to know that I have read so few pieces of good literature.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves reading. Period.