TBR for May 2017

To-be-read lists, more affectionately called TBRs, interest readers everywhere. TBRs generate high viewerships on booktube channels, next to book hauls and monthly wrap ups. While reading is a largely isolated activity, readers crave connection with fellow readers. Just look at the number of Goodread users, and the ever growing number of booktube channels and book bloggers. Perhaps it is the sheer number of hours that readers spend alone reading that makes them all the more keen to know that their experience is shared with others. Noticing that a fellow reader is about to read something I’ve previously read excites me. I am kept curious about what they might feel about it at the end of the novel. Would they like it as much as I do? Even more exciting would be when I find out someone else has the same book on their TBR as me. You know that in another place, someone else is reading the very same words and turning over the same pages as you are. Are they imagining the scenes the way I am? I have this habit of observing my friends’ expressions as I tell them to read a passage that I enjoy. I will gauge where they are on the page and will read the same line myself, and then sneak peaks now and then to see if they might crack up at the same lines that tickled me.

My whims dictate the next book I pick up, and my whims go through phases. I am currently in a science fiction/wildlife phase of my reading, so anything that roars or prowls about in the wilderness would catch my attention. Before this, I went through a gothic phase of my literary journey. The Monk by Matthew Lewis kept me up all night following the naughty adventures of monk Ambrosio as he falters in the face of Satan’s temptation. Keeping a TBR will help me identify reading themes.

My TBR for May:

  1. Whatever happened to baby Jane – Henry Farrell
  2. Melmoth the wanderer – Charles Maturin
  3. Homegoing – Yaa Gyasi

I will be writing reviews for these novels as I finish them. Stay tuned.

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Book Review: Tarzan of the apes

Title: Tarzan of the Apes

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs 

Originally published: 1912

Rating: 5/5 

It may be hard to believe, but I have not read the story of Tarzan, not even abridged versions, till now when I am 27 years of age. Neither have I watched any Tarzan movies. I have a vague idea of Tarzan and Jane living in the jungle, but that’s where the impression ends. I decided to read this book after finishing Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I am fascinated by wildlife and wanted a novel with an animal theme.

Feral child raised by another animal: is it possible? 

As I was reading the novel, I kept wondering if it were possible for another animal to willingly raise the offspring of another as its own. I ran a quick google search, and discovered that indeed, there were reports of children raised by monkeys, wolves and dogs. Kala, Tarzan’s ape mother, adopted Tarzan when he was just an infant. Kala had just lost her baby during her escape from Kerchak after dropping the baby ape from a dizzying height. It is possible that the short time between the loss of her infant and the discovery of Tarzan triggered a rebound attachment of Kala to baby Tarzan. The similarity in physical feature between a human and ape could have helped foster the bond between both of them. Owning and raising pets is a common practice among human beings. Having won the evolution race, human beings emerged as masters over the earth, with access to material excess. This luxury of having enough for oneself makes raising another pet easy, in comparison to what it would be if roles were reversed. As described in the novel, the apes lived on a subsistence basis, hunting and gathering according to their daily needs, with no thoughts of gathering and storing for future needs. To provide for a helpless defendant would be exerting twice the effort daily. In times of lack, it would be getting by with half the resources. This represents a true sacrifice for adoptive parents of feral children. 

Nature vs nurture

Tarzan, seen through the eyes of Jane Porter, represented a blended perfection of raw courage, powerful physique and inherited aristocracy. He was God-like. I loved the description of him as a man like no others since God created the first Adam. 

So how was this Tarzan created? Was it superior genes that moulded baby Tarzan into the forest God, or was it the raw instinct for survival that pushed him to become what he was? I believed it was a mixture of both. Were Lady Alice and Lord Greystoke to survive, Tarzan would in all probability grow up to be a fine noble gentleman. However, the absence of the nurtured trait of raw courage forged by an unforgiving primeval jungle would make Tarzan but just one of the many Aristocrats of England. 

However, without the supreme intellect and natural gift of gentleness he inherited, he would probably become an ape in human form, a monstrous curiosity that would send Jane running in the opposite direction. 

Brain vs brawn

There was also, interspersed within the fast-moving novel, the underlying theme of whether brain or brawn was more essential for survival. The ferocious fangs of the lion, the relentless pursuit of the leopard and the powerful limbs of the apes served to protect these forest-dwellers. In comparison, human beings with their comparatively scrawnier built and lack of any menacing physical trait, seemed unlikely to survive in such a threatening environment. But of course, we know that human beings have not only survived, but triumphed over the other members of the animal kingdom. It is brain and intellect that enthroned men as rulers. Even Tarzan, despite his superior physical prowess, depended on his intellect to survive many skirmishes with the fearsome beasts. 

I vote brain. 

Comical characters in the novel

While the novel was serious on the whole, with fitting heroes and heroines going about dangerous feats, I appreciated the existence of characters who cracked me up with their antics. Like Esmeraldo, Jane porter’s faithful nanny and servant, who fainted at all the critical points in the novel. 

Summary of my overall impression

I believe many of us has possibly not read the full version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ masterpiece , and I highly recommend this novel for an entertaining and thought-provoking weekend read. 

Book Review: The Good Earth

 

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Title: The Good Earth

Author: Pearl S. Buck

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Award/Accolades: Pulitzer Prize for Novel

Rating: 5/5

I completed my second reading of ‘The Good Earth’ by Pearl S Buck, and I would like to pen my opinion of it.

** Spoiler alert**

In brief, ‘The good earth’ narrates the life of a peasant Wang Lung, bringing us from his early days as a poor, single farmer who lived with his elderly father, through his marriage to a plain and hardworking slave, the birth of his many children, and to his latter years as a wealthy landowner. The story was presumably set in the twilight years of the Qing dynasty in China, when poor governance and widespread poverty stoked anger and rebellion throughout the country.

As an ethnic Chinese, I am amazed at how accurately Pearl S Buck, a Caucasian author, managed to bring out the Chinese way of life and thinking through her charming prose. While not all the characters were likeable, they were all believable. I have been moved to tears many times during the story, especially when O-Lan, the faithful and devoted wife of Wang Lung, had been mistreated by her husband in manners more hurting than physical abuse. When Wang Lung insulted her for coveting the two pearls she kept in her bosom, desiring to give O-Lan’s pearls to his mistress instead, I was indignant and sad. O-Lan’s quiet tears after handing over the tears speaks to the misery that women in those pre-revolutionary days.

The concept of filial piety, a deeply-embedded virtue in the Chinese culture which extends not just to one’s immediate parents but also to the elder in one’s extended family, also featured strongly. The loathsome uncle of Wang Lung, a good-for-nothing sloth, demanded and obtained a comfortable life under Wang Lung’s roof, although he did nothing to deserve it, except for this dubious status as Wang Lung’s elder.

I highly recommend ‘The Good Earth’ to everyone who is interested in an accurate historical portrayal of peasant life in China. Pearl S Buck writes charmingly, and with her words painted a heart-wrenching tale of the Chinese people. This book is the first in a three-part series. I have not read the next 2 books, ‘Sons’ and ‘A House Divided’, but would most likely do so in the next few months.