Myself

The Second Marie Kondo post

This is a followup to my first Marie Kondo post, and is meant to serve as a thought-dump of what I took from the book, and how it has affected my life. I am well aware of the risks of sounding vaguely faddish — like people that can’t stop talking about their cross-fit classes or that new vegan diet that has changed everything and why you should take them up too, because life is meaningless otherwise, darling.

Uh-huh. The context here is that I have, for a while, been wondering about specific things regarding my lifestyle. The only thing that moved with me to LA from India, were my collection of books. These are books that have (mostly) been bought from 2002 onwards, ever since I graduated from college, and have moved with me from apartment to apartment, city to city. The ones bought before 2002? Most were transferred to my parents’ place in Assam. A lot of those have ended up in the library in my mother’s school, or have gone to her students who seemed interested in reading.

Over the last few years, I have been curating the books that stay on my shelves, which is to say that the ones on display in the living room are the ones that I *love* to own. Now a bulk of these books are comics and manga, and while I have quirks related to those (case in point: at one point, Watchmen was present in my shelves as the original 12 issues, a trade paperback, a 10th anniversary trade paperback, and an Absolute Edition. Right now, I just have the Absolute Edition and the original 12 issues), the comics get read and reread frequently. I cleared out a couple of shelves before moving to LA, and last year, a chunk of comics that I never read went to the local comic-book store. But despite my occasional cleanup, I still had way too many books. And the sad thing is — it’s not like I reread any of them. They were all just there, as a function of my taste and what was available in bookstores in the last decade. You have to remember, that was a time when e-readers did not exist, and neither did Flipkart or Amazon. If I saw a book at a used bookstore and did not pounce on it, I had no idea if I would ever see it again. So yeah, I bought everything, because I was earning enough and I could. My buying habits changed over the years, and it’s no longer about going nuts during a discount sale or bidding on random deals on eBay,

The best thing of Marie Kondo, in my opinion, is that she does not talk of minimalism — which right now is an -ism that encourages a competitive zeal in lowering the number of possessions you own. Ms Kondo’s techniques help enable a certain kind of mental freedom in evaluating your possessions. You do not need to disown everything, she says. All you have to do is to find the things that bring you joy. Which meant that the question she asked was not “what do you want to throw away?”, it was “what do you want to keep?”

One fine day last week, I did what the KonMari method prescribed. Which is to tackle one kind of item at a time — in this case, books — and piling them all in one place; and without being distracted, to sort them one by one into two categories: the ones that spark joy and the ones that don’t. At first, I was too lenient. Of course, I loved my Terry Pratchett paperbacks, and the Tom Sharpes, and the Robert Heinleins and the Andrew Vachsses. They were not getting out of my sight. Why on earth would I want to get rid of my Harry Potter first edition hardcovers? Or the Kamala Subramanium Mahabharata and Bhagavata Purana that I bought so many years ago? Those books were memories for me, and it seemed criminal to get rid of them.

Except, if I took away my projected feelings for them, they were just semi-yellowed, well-thumbed blocks of paper, most of which hadn’t been opened in years. My Stephen King Dark Tower books were still waiting to be read since 2005 or thereabouts. The Richard Burton Arabian Nights volume, pretty as it was, had never been opened in the United States. I reread some Vachss and some Pratchetts every now and then. But not the books I owned; I would just download them on my Kindle when I wanted. The more I thought about it, the more I realized the books weren’t really bringing much of value to my life, they were more fetish objects than the ideas they represented. Once that switch flipped in my head, it became easier and easier to understand what I should keep, and what should go.

I ended up with 9 boxes of books that I no longer wanted, after 2 nights of sorting. I took them all to the local charity shop. The books that still remain fit one shelf; there is another shelf that I will refer to as a ‘probation area’; I have left the books that I may put up on eBay, or give away as gifts, or are novel enough to merit their presence. I could not get rid of the first edition of Gods, Demons and Others, as much as I thought I would; nor could I let the Diana Wynne-Joneses go. But I have given myself 3 months – if the books on the probation area still remain untouched and unread, they all go.

One might think that there is an addendum where I reminiscence about the emptiness the missing books have left in my life, but on the contrary, I feel happy. And free, in a way. Is that a two-thumbs-up vote for the KonMari method? I guess. I still feel like I cheated because I did not do anything about my comics, but you know, I am okay with that. My comics have always sparked joy in my life.

In addition to what I did above (and I did that with my clothes a few weeks ago, which was easier), I have been doing specific things that Ms Kondo recommends in her book.

  • The most important thing is that of mentally assigning things in their right place, at home. She advocates figuring out where every item you own belongs, so that the amount of clutter is minimized, and also you think more about where something new should go, when you think of buying it.
  • Clearing the space around the kitchen sink, the bathroom shower and wash basin. It helps a lot, both in terms of aesthetics and mental calm.
  • Folding my clothes the right way and stacking them horizontally, not vertically; that’s one of the smartest moves ever. I did that with everything, including socks, underwear, hand towels, pocket squares and t-shirts, and it really serves its purpose well.
  • In general, using the ‘spark joy’ method is a great way to figure out if you want to do something, anything at all. An invite to a dinner party? A choice between reading this book or that book or not reading either of them? If it’s not making me happy, why should I be doing it all?
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Books

Pop Culture Update: Books

I haven’t really been writing much about things that matter, like books and comics and things that make me want to run around my room shrieking with happiness. This post tries to fill that gaping void in your life.

There are a lot of shitty fantasy trilogies around, but Hunger Games is not one of them. The books were recommended to me by a librarian who sat next to me at a Neil Gaiman show. The movie trailer came out a little while ago, and no doubt I would have dismissed it as another of those post-Twilight teen-angst bubbles. But hey, librarian-recommendation. So I read book 1, and was blown away, and finished books 2 and 3 the same week. It’s hard to read when you’re on vacation, but these were just that good.

What’s the series about? If you’ve read/watched Battle Royale or The Running Man and The Long Walk by Stephen King, you will understand that Suzanne Collins takes familiar tropes, at least in the first book, and then takes those to their logical conclusion in the sequels. The protagonist is a girl that plays with metaphorical fire, and kicks up a political hornet’s nest of epic proportions. The cast of characters features a gruff Mentor-figure, a star-crossed relationship , a Diabolical Villain (who does not even make a proper appearance until the beginning of the second book – well-played there, Ms Collins), a Faithful Confidante, and surprisingly, the most awesome Fictional Fashion Designer you’ve ever seen. The three books work beautifully well together, and I loved the way how the storyline unraveled the world’s back-story slowly, the characters acquiring voices of their own. The books brought me on the brink of tears multiple times, and made me skip a healthy regime of sleep just so that I get my pulse-rate back to normal.

I read Max Brooks’ World War Z: An Oral History Of The Zombie War on a recent flight. Had heard good things about the book on Joe Hill’s Twitter Geek list, even though I had known of Brooks as a parody guy. Expectations were low – how much more can this whole zombie fad be milked anyway? Turns out it can, and wonderfully at that.

Brooks looks at the zombie outbreak as an actual worldwide event and examines its sociopolitical implications. He presents it like a documentary-style set of interviews with survivors, soldiers, politicians, inventors, people from all over the world – much unlike traditional zombie media, where the focus is on a small band of individuals. The interviews lay out the timeline of the “war”, from the time the zombie outbreak caused society to break down, the slow and eventual return to some form of normalcy, and finally, the climactic showdown. In the process, it covers how every aspect of society is changed as a result – from racism to film-making, military strategy to everyday slang, how certain countries take the lead in containing the social meltdown, and how society mutates to keep up. The interviews lead into one another, jumping across continents, showing just how random events on one side of the globe affect other countries.

The book has tonnes of disturbing moments – a traumatized young girl’s account of a zombie attack, political shenanigans that lead to loss of lives, a zombie vaccine that turns out to be a marketing placebo, the build-up to nuclear war between unlikely enemies. And it has moments of stunning epicness – I refer to them as F!$* Yeah Moments. The Japan arc, for example, blindsides you completely, with two unlikely “protagonists” undergoing their own trials against the zombies. Pay close attention to the real-world nudge in the South Africa arc – where a plan concocted during the apartheid years to contain race mobs is resurrected to contain the zombie attack.

The movie is in production right now, but with stars like Brad Pitt attached to the movie, I have a feeling that the everyday aspect of the book will be abandoned in the favor of focusing on specific individuals. This book offers the refreshing view that human society as a whole can be heroic, somehow I do not see Hollywood subscribing to that utopian ideal. Oh well.

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This and that

I had never thought I would be so enchanted by someone mutilating books. ( link via Eddie Campbell)

Had the most awesome experience last night when I saw, for the first time, a 20-minute video of Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts performing along with singer Mai Yamane live in Tokyo. Must have been the best audiovisual experience for me since Bjork: Live at Royal Opera House. There are videos of the Seatbelts floating around on youtube, but I had resisted watching them, bad audio-visual quality being part of the reason. Yamane, by the way, is the singer most associated with Ms Kanno’s compositions, her distinctive voice the hallmark of tracks like ‘The Real Folk Blues’ ( WHAT? You haven’t heard it? Go check out my mixtape already. Track 13, to be precise), ‘See You Space Cowboy’ and my personal favourite, ‘Rain’.

SQUEE moment 1: Yoko Kanno, dressed in a red trenchcoat and black top and shorts starts dancing to ‘Tank!’, the Cowboy Bebop theme, as the saxophone soloist goes wild.

SQUEE moment 2: Mai Yamane and Yoko Kanno start doing a bizarre robotic dance during ‘Want It All Back’, coordinating each other’s movements and adding to the fun of the song.

SQUEE moment(s) 3: Ms Kanno plays a plethora of Cowboy Bebop tunes on the piano, each tune effortlessly flowing into the other.

All in all, an amazing video. You can download it from most bit-torrent sites around, if you are interested.

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Which reminds me, demonoid.com has been down for more than 48 hours now. Even Wired.com takes notice and talks about possible litigation by CRAI ( the Canadian version of the RIAA ), so fingers crossed.

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Reading Barry Lyga’s Adventures of Fan Boy and Goth Girl, something that I had been on the look out for since I read the preview chapter. ( Hmm, I wonder how I got to the site in the first place…Neil Gaiman linked to it? Possibly. ) Lyga wrote some bad comics – a couple of Warrior Nun Areala in the dark-and-speculatory nineties, and this is his first novel. Falls squarely into the YA category, and managed to get my complete attention by mentioning the words “Giant Size X-Men #1 in mint condition” in the second paragraph. As it turns out, the Fan Boy in the book is the narrator and the book namedrops Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Promethea and Swamp Thing. Seems there’s also a guest appearance by Brian Michael Bendis, heh. And oh, I am “reading” the audiobook, because the actual thing isn’t really available in India.

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How to write a history of Bollywood

Buy copies of all the biographies, autobiographies and resources on Indian cinema available in the market. ( Sample: Kishore Valicha’s Kishore Kumar, Raju Bharatan’s Lata Mangeshkar ). Read and take copious notes of the interesting bits.

Read and memorise all the anecdotes in So Many Cinemas by BD Garga.

Ask Shyam Benegal to write short paragraphs on topics like Amitabh Bachhan, Raj Kapoor and Guru Dutt.

Optional: Hire a proofwriter who knows about the placement of commas in your sentences.

Optional: Get some knowledge of what it is you are writing about. Have editors who know the facts you are talking about and have basic knowledge of Hindi.

Optional: Don’t contradict yourself on two consecutive pages. ( Page 250: “He had set up Navketan and asked Guru Dutt to direct Navketan’s second production Baazi. The success of the film established Guru Dutt as a director.” Page 251: “In his early years, Dutt made crime thrillers but, after the failure of Baazi, a costume drama set on the high seas, which was panned by the critics and hated by the masses, he decided to make different kinds of movies.” )

If you are a Bengali writer writing aforementioned History, feel free to go on a trip down memory lane whenever Bengali actors, directors or composers are mentioned. Objectivity shmobjectivity.

Make sure you write a long introduction about some random adventure while writing your book which has no bearing on your book whatsoever other than driving home the fact that Indians are prudish about sex and yet like their fallen women. Make sure your account Bordes everyone to tears.

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Among the things I’ve been doing recently

– Watched the complete Firefly, followed it up with Serenity, the comic book and followed that up with Serenity, the movie.

-All of that instilled in a newfound zeal for watching TV series, so I watched half of Berserk and two seasons of Spaced. Started watching The Adventures of Brisco County Jr now.

– Five copies of this are available at MR Book stall, right opposite my office, at 250 Rs each. I have no idea how and why the book is there in the first place. Filed under “Rude-shock-of-the-month”. ( Rude because I have no money to spend. )

– I did have Walden gift coupons to spend though, thanks to a Special Hard-working Person who agreed to let me use 1000 Rs worth. I bought Ramesh Menon’s Devi Bhagavatam ( swear the guy’s writing Indin mythology books faster than I am reading them ) ( and good ones at that ) and Mihir Bose’s History of Bollywood. Reading the latter right now, periodically wincing at the lack of editorial supervision that pervades the writing. Subhash Ghia? Anupam Kher was an up-and-coming star of the nineties? Sheesh. At least the facts seem to be in order so far.

– More lustworthy releases include the two disc edition of 300. 699 Rs and way beyond my budget at the moment.

– Also drooled a bit over the new Koji Suzuki collection that seems to be available at Walden. I already have, and have read Ring, Spiral and Dark Water. Loop was there, too, but I’m holding out for the hardcover, so didn’t buy it.

– There was also the Mammoth Book of War Comics, which had, among other things, two stories by Darko Macan and Edwin Biukovic, Will Eisner’s Last Day in Vietnam, a Commando issuem, an early version of Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen and some Sam Glanzman Blazing Combat stories. 704 Rs, pass.

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