November 07, 2011

Book Review : Player One by Douglas Coupland

The book claims to be a five-hour real-time story set in an airport cocktail lounge. Five(technically speaking, its four) 'different' characters end up stumbling on each other in the lounge in what happens to be a global disaster in the 'outside world'. Coupland introduces his characters in the beginning of the book; the story is spread across 5 chapters with each chapter happening over a span of an hour. You do not feel each of the hours passing by as you read the book, but the characters do change with the course of events and exhibit their unique traits.

I had started with MicroSerfs a few days back and simply loved the plot and Doug's style of humour and storytelling. He makes the reader think from different angles towards his subject and imagine or role play his characters and leaves the final summary to be deciphered - and this is exactly how he does in this book wherein he makes his characters travel through time(over a span of 5 odd hours) in an airport lounge.

The single biggest thing about Coupland is his witticisms and the way they are spewed all around, even during times of a disaster. The characters emerges from its shell and presents interesting(and the usual) questions about life and time, albeit in a slightly different fashion.

A few of them:
..a plane trip exposes you to situations and landscapes unthinkable until recent history, moments of magnificence and banality that dissolve what few itty-bitty molecules of individuality you possess. After a plane trip, you need to rebuild your ego, to shore up your sense of being unique. Thats why religions target airports to find new recruits...
History only remembers people who invent new hairdos : Julius Caesar, Einstein, Hitler, Marilyn Monroe. Why bother with conquering Europe or discovering nuclear science when all you need is a bit of style innovation? If Marie Curie had given a bit more attention to her appearance she'd have been on the ten dollar bill.
When Donald Duck traded his wings for arms, do you think he was trading up or trading down?
The last 20-30 pages of the book contain Doug'sims which are nothing but definitions of some sesquipedallion syndromes and characteristics of the present society and way of life - these are interesting and worthy of a read(very Tyler-Durden-like).

It is not a "great" read, but does ask some of the most often asked questions on society, religion, after-life, existentialism, human-identity etc. In my honest opinion the plot was not a great read, and neither was the character-play; it was the wittiness of the author and the way he presents the questions(and some of them unanswered)  to the readers that makes this book a buy.

Book Review : Salmonella Men on Planet Porno By Yasutaka Tsutsui

What happens when Murakami meets Salvador Dali in a cafe with Kafka?

I stumbled on this collection of stories by Yatusaka Tsutsui and picked it up with an earnest interest after i sampled through a few pages in the bookstore. The book contains 13 short stories, each of which exemplifies certain mundane-ness to absurd proportions without trying to be politically correct and polite at certain instances; it also makes you laugh sometimes, if not always. During the course of reading this book, my expectation increased with every page, as Tsutsui builds up on the tempo and underscores the idiocy in the everyday life and the traits of certain people(if not all) in the society. The cultural awkwardness at some places may rejig you, but you are all the more engrossed in the story and are waiting to know the end. The climax though might seem uneventful, is what sets the style different from others. Without being too abstract, and constructing a parallel universe to juxtapose the events from Planet earth onto an equivalent set of highly extrapolated stupidity, the author takes the reader to a completely different realm.

Each of the stories is a thoroughly imagined classic in which the protagonist leads the life in another fictional world.  Be it "The Dabba Dabba Tree", in which the society's bent for eroticism is suitably characterized by the introduction of a tree in the bedroom which makes you dream, and makes the dreams and reality coexist or in the "Rumours about Me" in which he(protagonist) is constantly disdainful of all the attention that he 'might' be getting or "Dont Laugh" in which the construction of time machine is in the center of all the giggling and laughing, Tsutsui does construct a different kingdom of thoughts. The 'tourist' syndrome is aptly presented in "Farmer Airlines" and "Bear's Wood Main Line". The humour becomes pretty dark in "The Very Edge of Happiness"; and rigmarole of the everyday office life is again magnified with the help of a fictional war life situation. In the story "The World is Tilting", the author again portrays a region of land which keeps tilting and simultaneously showcases the dynamics of the people in the region. "The Last Smoker" is the story about a person who does not want to give up smoking in a land which has banned smoking, and how he has to hide and run and finally becomes 'the last smoker' and hence becomes an 'endangered specie'. "Bad for the heart" is about a person who needs pills for his life to proceed onto the next day, and how he has to face the brunt of his wife and the incompetency of the courier service which has to deliver the packet to him.

"Salmonella Men on Planet Porno" is the highlight of this book, and is the biggest story. Tsutsui is one of the masters of imagination and he constructs a parallel universe in this story, wherein things are again extremely erotic with their associated 'obscenity' according to Dr.Mogamigawa(one of the characters of this story). But towards the end it does get transformed to a planet of love, where things happen for a reason. The author gets full points in the way he introduces animals and insects on the Planet Porno - fondleweed, flatback hippos, eleventh-hour crocodiles, gugling alligators,matchbox jellyfish, forget-me-grass, itchy scratchy tree. Animals like panting hart, false-eared rabbit, grindhog, gaping hooter, collapsible cow or birds like the penisparrow or insects like the screeching cicada are there for a reason. Also, the way relic pods are introduced lends a new dimension to this paradise of love and care. Newdopia - wherein, the humanoid natives look completely like humans, but wander around nude, does introduce the weirdness in the psyche to a different level altogether; but the author does it on purpose.

The characters remain in the stories and do not attempt to break out; and i am sure,even if they try to do, they cannot, as Tsutsui has sufficiently handcuffed them in their own realities. There is a sense of claustrophobia in all his characters. All the weirdness in his tales, though at the time of reading does feel very funny, but the associated epiphany is worth notable. Would calling Tsutsui the "Master of Surrealism" in the literary world be a hyperbole? I am not sure as i have to sample a lot many more.

November 04, 2011

Chocolate Review : The Three Musketeers

Oh Life! What will I do if you(Chocolates) were not around?

There are times when you make a resolution to give a break to eating to chocolates, lose a few pounds and then re-start the adventure; but most (or all) of the times the resolutions are to be broken. And thats exactly what happened this time, which led me to stumble on 3 nice chocolates which i am going to review in this post.

Lindt Lindor White - A beautiful Milk chocolate that just melts in your mouth!
The first of the chocolates was the Lindt Milk. Needless to say this is/was one of the best smooth chocolates out there. Though not creamy(i will be reviewing Lindt's Creamy Milk Chocolate in the next post), this chocolate is so smooth that it almost immediately dissolves in your mouth. The texture reminded me of Butler's Rasberry with Milk, though the taste is pure milk in this case. It smells a little bit of the milk powder, but you are too lost in the smoothness to find it obstructing your palate. The package is neat and Lindt-like(nothing extra-ordinary) and once you break it, the next thing that comes to your mind is to break and pop it into your mouth and let the adventure start from the tip of your tongue :)

Frey's Dark Lemon and Pepper - Dark Tangy Fantasy
Though the last Frey bar that i had was a disaster, i took that as a one of case and bravely bought this. Having never tasted a chocolate with a lemon taste(closest was the Lindt-Chilly), i decided to give this a try. And the gamble was well worth it. The dark chocolate is not very sweet and the cocoa jells in very well with the lemon. You do not feel the pepper until you almost swallow the stuff. The tangy taste lends an extra dimension to the overall taste bud. Its again a smooth chocolate packaged in an unassuming cover. I will try variants of lemon chocolates for sure in the near future; the slight sourness in the chocolate is a totally different ball game if you are are always used to the caramel.

Jack Daniel's Jennesse Whiskey - The Dark Beauty with the Kicks
This Dark Beauty was a mammoth beast. It was quite sometime since i had a liquor chocolate and this time, I had to decide between the Whisky/Vodka/Gin variants. I went for the 'JD'. Each block of  this chocolate is quiet a mouthful with its core filled with the Whisky. The core breaks and the liquid fills your mouth and dissolves the chocolate and you feel the 'smell' at the top of your mouth (do NOT break chocolate outside of your mouth with a liquor based chocolate!!). The feeling is that of sitting in a small coracle and let the river take its course. A smooth chocolate with good mix of sweetness(is not too sweet though) and the cocoa, this will probably be a winner in its category. You feel the 'Thor' inside the chocolate wake up and wage a war inside you in no time ;)

November 03, 2011

iPostBox - Stamps from India and Rest of the World

I used to collect stamps and first day covers(FDC) when i was in school; though the interest in FDC soon waned, i continued to collect Stamps(usually those from India). One of my cousins also helped me increase my 'portfolio' and gave a few doubles. But with the due course of time, this hobby waned and finally became totally dormant. Though i kept my stamp collection intact, i am not sure what happened to the FDC collection. During one of my recent 'visits' to my book-shelves, i stumbled on my old stamp album and thought of giving it a nudge and developing this interest. Also, the recent visit to SriLanka helped me fuel this fire, as i got a good collection of stamps from there.

With this interest in mind, i am thinking of posting my entire portfolio online in a 'different' blog purely dedicated to Stamps and share the knowledge with others. Hence, (and thanks to a free blogger domain), i am launching iPostBox :

I will be positing a blog atleast once a week and hope to attach some nice trivia associated with the Stamp. Also, in the due course make pen-pals from different countries and exchange stamps and covers from the rest of the world. So if you are reading this post, do drop me an email so that i can share my address.

I also hope to further this interest and make a pretty reasonable collection and use it as an educational medium to teach the kids. I am not sure successful i would be, but i will definitely give this a try.

Philately or stamp collection is dying and not many are into this. With the widespread usage of emails, the days of snailmails are fast getting over. I hope to have this collection atleast as a reminder of our beautiful 'heritage' as we enter the 'complete cyber age' :)

On a side note, i find cultivating a hobby to be emotionally and mentally very peaceful. You are not *always* attached just to your work, and are on the lookout of something interesting which need not essentially have monetary benefits. Hope you too have an interesting hobby :)