Books, Myself

Book Meme, a few more questions answered

The first part is here. These questions come from a comment that Amulya left on the post.

1. What was the last book you gifted someone?

I’ll go with three – I gave Craig Thompson’s Habibi to a friend on her birthday last year. I was surprised to find out that she had not read any of Thompson’s books, and I sort of knew she would love it. She did. So did her mom.

I gave another friend Blankets. That was because I met her in winter, and Blankets is a perfect winter book. I believe she liked it as well, though she was a little depressed.

I am supposed to send out a signed copy of Grant Morrison’s Super Gods this week, for a friend, but I have a bad feeling he may not receive it in time, so I may have to find another way to send it.

2. Conversely, what was the last book you were gifted?

On my birthday, I received a book called Erotic Comics Vol 2, by Tim Pilcher and a Romanian graphic novel called Year of the Pioneer, by Andreea Chirica. Also, the first three volumes of XIII, a graphic novel, The City of Shifting Waters by Mezieres/Christin and The Yellow M by Edgar P Jacobs.

(That’s five.)

(But let me talk about one of them.)

The book on Erotic Comics, I first saw it, the same copy, in Carturesti, Iulius Mall, Cluj in 2009. I flipped through it, wanted to buy it, but I was out of luggage space and did not want to spend any more money either. Saw it again in 2010, but I was on a book-buying hiatus. Carturesti was closed when I went there in early 2011. My friends bought it for me because they know me and were fairly sure I would like it – they were right. And I know it’s the same copy because the people at the store high-fived each other when somebody finally bought the dang thing instead of flipping through the pages. Life works in strange and mysterious ways.

3. What is your constant go-to book? Either as a fix/soul recharge?

I’ve found that I end up reading Preacher and Sandman very frequently, maybe once a year or so. Preacher reads like a beautiful love story with dollops of anti-religion and profanity thrown in. Sandman reminds me every single time that I have so much to read, and much to learn.

The Count of Monte Cristo, because the most perfect story about revenge makes for a dish that never gets cold.

The Mahabharata, in different forms, versions and retellings. Hard to believe how timeless this book is, and how fresh it always feels with every reading.

4. Name one, just one.. Okay, three books that made you tear up.

Ashok Banker’s writing makes me want to tear up his books, but I guess that’s not what you’re referring to. Heh.

Ok fine. A lot of books make me tear up, actually. Why, just reading Hunger Games the other day brought me on the verge of tears at one specific point. Off the top of my head: Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince. Ian McEwan’s Atonement. The ending of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, Garth Ennis’s Hitman and Koike/Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub. One specific chapter in the seventh Harry Potter book. A stupid coming-of-age book called Summer of 42 by Herman Raucher. Olga Perovskaya’s Kids and Cubs made me weep bitter tears at age 14, and just thinking about it makes me melancholy now. This is Too Much Information, I am sorry.

5. What is the most embarrassing book you are in possession of?

A first edition hardcover of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World. It’s embarrassing because I paid a shitload of money to buy it when it came out, thinking that it will be a “collector’s item”. 350 Rs, I think, an insane amount of money for someone in Class 10, and I still cringe at the number of excuses I gave myself when coughing up the money at the counter.

I did not even like reading the fucking thing.

6. Say there was only one library that existed in the world, with every single book ever written – and it burnt down, which three books would you save for mankind?

Ugh. I should not answer this. My brain shuts down with scenarios like this, and I cannot think of the answers right away. Even if I answer them now, somehow, tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and curse myself for not choosing that instead of this. Also, I have a feeling that I will select these books based on the assumption that I have to decide what knowledge has to be carried forward in a world sans learning, and I am not sure if that was your intent.

But ok, I will play.

The collected works of William Shakespeare. Such a world will need entertainment, comedies, drama, dramedies, tearjerkers. No one better than the Bard.

A Science book. The Origin of Species, off the top of my head, just because it has a lot of answers that can bitch-slap religious nutjobs.

A book about books. Maybe Chip Kidd’s Volume One, which makes you ache inside and long to touch a physical book.

For the record, I hate this question.

7. Ever made friends in a bookshop?

Yes. A specific one that has lasted – I saw a guy in Best Book Stall, Hyderabad who had a pile of comics to sell. Asian-looking, brusque, speaking Hyderabadi Hindi like a pro. At one point, Ahmed sir, the proprietor just stood aside and let the two of us decide which ones I was buying directly off him, and which ones he would ultimately put for display eventually. The guy turned out to be the owner of the most famous Chinese restaurant in Hyderabad, Blue Diamond (if you’re ever in Hyderabad, take an auto, say ‘Blue Diamond, Basheer Bagh, near Lal Bahadur Shastri stadium’. Try the Cantonese chicken soup. The Bhutan chicken. Chicken, bamboo shoots and mushroom noodles. And tell Chun that Satya says hi, and that I’ve got some things he may get later this year). I was a semi-starving student back then, and went to the restaurant a few weekends later. He took me to his room upstairs, where I stood gasping at a pile of comics scattered around tables and shelves. He brought me some dumplings and noodles and let me be for a few hours. We occasionally call each other from random bookshops in different parts of the world and crow about new acquisitions. We are like that only.

7. a) The most interesting conversation you’ve had in a bookshop?

The one with Ahmed sir, where we talked about my buying 90 years of bound Punch magazines. It took him about 30-odd minutes to convince me that I should not pay him my money. He talked about some of his other regular customers, and how he does not want me to end up like them, buying books just to own them. Sometimes, I think he knew me better than my friends did.

8. If you witness someone else reading a book, what habit of theirs is likely to piss you off?

Seeing someone reading a book without any discernible reactions, especially when I know it’s supposed to make you laugh or react in some way. My bad habit is that if I see the person reading a book I know, I keep asking “where are you now?” and “what do you think?”. It’s almost like I take their reaction to it personally. Stupid.

9. What was the most bizarre dream you had after reading a book?

I dreamt something really terrifying after reading From Hell the first time. I do not want to remember what I saw in my dream, but it was to do with entrails, Ganesha, living cities and a coach following me through cobbled streets. Brrr.

Comics, Conventions

Going APE, part 1

I nearly did not make it to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco this Saturday, thanks to Birdy Nam Nam. The band was due to perform at a French music festival in LA on October 1, and I loved them enough to consider staying back for their show. Unfortunately, they ran into visa problems, and Etienne de Crecy headlined instead. The universe, it seems, really wanted me to be at APE. And since my name isn’t Scott Pilgrim, I do not fight the universe.

The universe also put me in a mild state of euphoria when I got off the BART at the UN Plaza/Civic Center station. I flipped through the last page of The Last Colony, the third book in the Old Man’s War trilogy that I was yapping about a few days ago. Random deus ex machina plot points aside, it was a very very satisfying finish, and it also helped that ‘Saadda Haq’ began playing on my earphones that exact same minute, acting like a closing coda to my week-long read sprint.

My primary agenda of the day was to meet Craig Thompson, he of Blankets and Habibi fame, and get a bunch of books signed by him. Entering the convention center, I tried to mark out the signing spots – the CBLDF booth said that they would have Thompson at 2:30 PM, which meant I could amble around at leisure until then. Which I did, studiously avoiding eye contact with the artists selling their minicomics and prints. No offence to anyone, but I’ve blown quarterly comic/art budgets in the first few hours of a con before, and the most I can do now is to learn from my previous mistakes. No contact = no caving in to temptation.

Until I got to the Lee’s Comics booth. Lee’s happens to be one of the most well-known comic-shops in the Bay Area. I had visited their Mountain View store in 2007, and my I-am-from-India spiel had earned me a hefty discount back then. I wasn’t too confident about pulling that off right now, but as I was gazing through their well-selected con collection, I happened to look more closely the guy Lee was talking to. And realized, with what a pulp fiction writer would call ‘a lurch’ – that Craig Thompson was in the house, yo. Craig caught my eye, called me over and said he recognized me from SDCC – I think it’s more likely he saw the fandom-lust on my face. He was talking to the creator of Zahra’s Paradise, I do not remember whether it was the artist or the writer. As it turned out, Craig was signing at Lee’s comics first, and I was technically first in line, so yeah, whoopee. I told him, as he signed and sketched in my books, how much I had enjoyed reading Habibi, and how it was ironic that Holy Terror and Habibi came out the same week – both centered around Islam, both after years of anticipation and with completely divergent world-views. (A separate post on Habibi and its joys will follow soon, I think)

Just for the record, he was totally nice about my getting multiple books signed. I also bought another book from Lee’s Comics, just to not be a dick and support those guys for getting Craig over. Even went back to the end of the line to not make others in the line wait too much.

Once that was done, I began walking through the other end of the hall. And then the second serendipitous/happy moment of the day – I came across Steve Oliff’s booth.

Who’s Steve Oliff? One of the most well-known colorists of the 80s, Oliff brought computer coloring to comics by working on what would arguably be the most renowned manga of the time, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. How did he do that? By creating color guides using airbrush, watercolor and acrylic, which were sent to the computer coloring team in his studio for reference. This was before Photoshop made pixel-pushing lens-flare junkies out of everyone in the industry, and the results were quite unlike anything being published in the market at that time. Otomo himself approved of the project, and Epic comics milked the hell out of it, making Akira one of the best-selling manga runs, ever. (Read this for more information)

I had met Steve in Super-con 2007, where I bought one of his color guides from him, and he introduced me to the work of Tony Salmons in course of our conversation. He had been a hard man to get hold of, since then. A good friend, on seeing my color guide, wanted to buy a few of his own, and none of Oliff’s online contact information worked. He wasn’t at San Diego this year (he was there as a guest this year, he said, and did not have a booth set up. Ugh!) and we weren’t even sure if he did cons any more. So yeah, meeting him, and seeing the pile of Akira pages in front of him, I chuckled to myself, thinking of my friend’s reaction when I told him that I met Steve at APE. I spent a pleasant hour there, looking through the Akira pages, marvelling at the lovely techniques, chatting with Steve about Otomo art, his experiences and comics in general. I got three pages from him, one of them for my friend, and Steve mentioned that he enjoyed working on that particular page a lot because it had a ‘mist’ effect on it.

It was 2 PM. And Kate Beaton was due to sign at the Drawn and Quarterly booth.


AR Rahman, Comics, Mixtapes, Movies, Music

Of movies, blankets and mixtapes

What really annoyed me after watcing Darna Zaroori Hai is the knowledge that RGV’s scriptwriters are so starved of scary ideas. Between this movie and its precursor, there have been five storylines involving cars on lonely roads. Hey, I know lonely roads are scary, and I understand that you guys drive to Khandala every other weekend and it’s a long frigging lonely drive, but get off it already. My point is, if you want to make a horror movie, you need to understand horror. Are you being scared by what you just wrote and translated to screen? I think you need to go out a little more, read a lot, watch a bit of Argento and Fulci and Hitchcock and Park Chan-Wook. And then maybe you will get out of this loser-level walk-up-behind-me-and-say-boo level of scriptwriting. And someone needs to take a jackhammer to Amar Mohile’s keyboards, there, that’s a horror story for you guys – loony music critic ends up with a jackhammer because the music had subliminal messages in it.

Sasi was here for all of half a day, and just because I was dying to share Blankets with someone, asked him to borrow it off me and read it in the next couple of days. I loved that book. Once upon a time, I totally hated reading autobiographies, but it’s books like Blankets that renew my faith in the fact that people can talk about themselves without laying it on too thick. The book is beautiful, romantic without being cheesy, graceful without being highbrow, poetic without being inaccessible. One of the few books this year ( Yes, I know the year isn’t even half-over yet, but I know that this statement is true, period) that I read in one sitting. And the artwork, oh my goodness, what I wouldn’t do to get ONE PAGE of Craig Thompson’s pencilled art. I had read that he was inspired not by other comic-book artists ( though there were definite Will Eisner influences on the storytelling style), but by post-Impressionist painters like Pissarro, Modigliani and Matisse, and his influences show themselves in flowing panels, full-page thoughtscapes that give me goose-pimples as I read the book.

(So what is Blankets? It’s a graphic novel, by this gentleman named Craig Thompson, an autobiographical retelling of his childhood, his relationship with his brother Phil, and his first love, a girl named Raina who he meets at Christian winter camp. He spends two weeks at Raina’s place, and a greater part of the book deals with these two weeks and their repercussions on Craig’s life. GRAAAH, I am bad at describing things like this, just go and read the Wikipedia entry already, huh?)

This would perhaps be the most beautiful book you won’t read in your lifetime, if you are in India. The steep price-tag (29.95$) ensures that even if it’s imported, the price will be high enough to dissuade people from buying it. Plus, yeah, no scanned versions available yet. It would be tough to scan this without destroying the book, it’s 600 pages. So don’t ask.

I made a mix-mp3 collection, again, part of the weekend project. I call it my Ultimate Though Slightly Biased Feel-Good AR Rahman Mix. Slightly biased because these aren’t songs that have been dubbed (and hence not part of the “national consciousness”, so no Bombay, Roja, Rangeela, Dil Se – you hear?) or are easily associated with ARR Hits package – these are the gems that lie in dormant brain-cells, songs that give me a high everytime I hear them because I have not been saturated by them at any point of time in my life. Each of them has a story, of course, and maybe someday I might get around to wearing off your collective ears with them, but for now, the songs will do. 14 tracks in one zip-file, meant to be listened to in the order in which they are arranged.

You can download the zip right here.