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Showing posts from July, 2012

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka : A disgruntled whisky loving 60 year old's hunt for an elusive cricketer

Chinaman is Sri Lanka seen through the eyes of a disgruntled whisky loving 60 year old cricket fanatic. The sportswriter is on the lookout for the finest bowler he has ever seen Pradeep Matthew but no one seems to know where he is. Slowly though he finds clues and meets a lot of people. Throughout the old man regales us with tales of his life. Chinaman is genuinely funny and contains insights into the Sri Lankan way of life and does a better job of talking about Cricket than any book I have read. As you read it though you realize that a lot of it applies to every race. The cricket itself is described with great verve and a morbid attention to detail but again its the humor that really stands out. Chinaman melds fiction and fact with such deftness that you really do not know where the fiction begins and ends. Anecdotes abound. In this alternate history every cricketer who made an impact on Sri Lankan cricket turns out in some way to be indebted to Pradeep Matthew's insight.

The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford : Economics for the rest of us

Economics seems to be full of jargon, but once you get drill down to the fundamentals,  it is about who gets what.(or at least thats what Tim Harford says) The Undercover Economist is what a book about a complex subject should be. Its clear, lucid, well written and once you read it you will never look at the world the same way again. He talks about how companies price their goods(Different from how you think it works). Who gains most when Starbucks sells you a coffee near a metro station and he talks about the power of scarcity.  He takes problems and manages to distill their essence so that at once you understand how things work. He talks about why poor countries remain poor and how China became rich. He deals with why its hard to buy a good used car. There is a section on auctions that is breathtaking. Economic terms come and go but they don't fly over your head. I actually understood most of what was being conveyed. Its really an effortless read. Now that I have had a

The Islanders by Christopher Priest : A Mindbending and narrative defying read

No book has surprised me as much as The Islanders in the past six months. The review is late in coming only because I couldn't figure out how to put what I felt into words.(In case you don't know who Christopher Priest, he is the guy who wrote The Prestige out of which the gobsmackingly brilliant Nolan movie was crafted) I expected The Islanders to be a great but slow read but instead it turned out be a great page turner.  Priest builds a great narrative out of seemingly disparate strands and all his criticisms of the Clarke Award nominees seem well founded .  The Islanders is more a series of stories about different places but they connect in subtle ways and it makes for a surprinsingly cohesive whole. There is a masters hand at work here because in less dexterous hands the novel might have disintegrated into a meaningless nothing. Priest throws a line here and there that just shifts your perception, and makes you view what you have read earlier in a totally differ

Immersion by Aliette de Bodard - A brilliant short story

I just read a short story called Immersion by Aliette de Bodard and it really is an amazing tale. Its about something called immersers which disguise what you truly are and fit you into whatever culture you are currently in. The immersers are a sort of Google Goggles on steroids. They tell you what everything is so that nothing in an alien culture remains unknown. They tell you what the socially acceptable behaviors are and make you a part of the cultural setup. People get addicted to them especially the ones from the not so dominant cultures. It really is a great story, well written and the more I think about it the more it blows me away. The more you use it the more it gains control of the way you think making you dependent on it. The irony is that the inventors themselves use it at the lowest power but the buyers use it at the highest setting and this makes their addiction even worse. The writing is brilliant and subtle. Like most great work, the second reading is even mor

The Magicians by Lev Grossman : Kids who read fantasy and discover they can do magic

I  read The Magicians around an year back. At that point of time I thought it was a solid if not spectacular piece of work. Then The Magician King came around and I was hooked. All of a sudden it put the Magician in context. The two books just fit and became a great story. This is a series that is simultaneously fantasy and about fantasy. The protagonists have grown up reading fantasy. Harry Potter and Narnia are second nature to them. They discover much to their surprise that things such as magic schools actually exist and their lives changes. The characters are incredibly well realized and etched out. The narrative is dealt with panache and a sure hand. The Magician king is definitely the better of the two but reading the magicians really makes it all the more enjoyable. Ideally you should pick both and read them at a stretch. The magicians may be tough going but the Magician king makes it worth it. The Magician King is like The Dark Knight that put Batman Begins in cont