You can view the entire Vacation Guide here.
A few of us at T5E bring you our picks of the books, movies and other interesting sources of information you could check out over the vacation. Have fun!
The Wind from the Sun, Arthur C. Clarke — I don’t care what Isaac Asimov fans say. Arthur C. Clarke is the colossus of science fiction. As good as his novels are, his short stories are even better. They have a wistful, contemplative quality that is hard to describe in words.
The eponymous story of this stellar anthology ends with the following:
”And his would be the first of all man’s ships to set sail on the long journey to the stars.”
If you grew up with Carl Sagan and daydreamt of the Voyager probes, you’ll know what that means.
In contrast to many others, Clarke wrote hard sci-fi. Meaning that if he wrote about a comet roaring towards the inner solar system from the frigid outer reaches of the Kuiper Belt, he actually calculated the orbit. His account of a transit of Venus across the Sun, seen through the eyes of a doomed man on Mars, is spellbinding. That, is science fiction. Science isn’t sacrificed at the altar of fantasy.
For me, his best novel is Rendezvous with Rama. Not for him the scrupulous adhering to Western nomenclature. Here was a man of the world, full of life. And so capable, in the words of an NYT reviewer that:”…we experience that chilling touch of the alien, the not-quite-knowable, that distinguishes science fiction at its most technically imaginative.”
If none of this appeals to you, stick to your Three Laws of Robotics.
Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel — a gripping account of Tudor England. The setting is the court of Henry the Eighth, and Mantel captures the mood of the times perfectly, chronicling the rise of Thomas Cromwell- a commoner and a city lawyer, who rose to the position of the king’s most trusted advisor, and who engineered England’s break from the Pope and Rome. Wolf Hall’s prose is spare but evocative, and brings alive the violence of the age (complete with methods of gruesome deaths and torture), the corruption of the Church and fascinating portraits of the king, Anne Boleyn, St. Thomas More, and Cromwell- a grand figure whose infamous image the novel attempts to revise.
For a lighter read, I’d suggest Manu Joseph. His writing is lucid, warm and always witty, and of course, the setting is closer home. Sample this: ““The Boy will not be a failure. Mythili knows. She has seen the generations before. The boy will make it. As his father has said, he does not have the option of failure. He will crack at least one entrance exam, and he will one day have a nice house in a suburb of San Francisco,or in a suburb of a suburb of San Francisco. He will find a cute Tamil Brahmin wife and make her produce two sweet children. He will drive a Toyota Corolla to work. And there, in the conference room of his office, he will tell his small team,with his hands stretched wide in a managerial way,’We must think out of the box”.
Joseph is also an insightful observer of Indian politics, and writes often for the NYT.
Carrie, by Stephen King — I’m going to cheat and sneak in a bit of a Stephen King fan rant here. ‘Carrie’ is just your short gateway drug into his work, really — in a nutshell, high school prom goes spectacularly, horribly wrong. The 1976 movie is also highly recommended (stay away from the recent adaptation if you can). If you’ve been that kid who conjured up monsters out of the shadows in our room at night, you’ll love every one of his horror thrillers. Even for more ‘serious’ readers, or lovers of the craft of writing, his writings yield insights into the more sordid aspects of the human psyche — horror on a whole new level. Spanning genres from pure horror (IT, Pet Sematary, ‘Salem’s Lot) to thrillers (Misery, Cujo) to dystopian fantasy (The Stand, The Dark Tower Series), getting a taste of his inimitable brand of fear is a great way to spend some time this vacation. Before you dismiss King as ‘one of those popular writers’, give it a try.
Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer — A haunting novel about the legacy of the Third Reich, this work employs a peculiar style of writing that makes it a must-read. Black humour and surrealism veil a pervading sense of sadness and loss, and the collective memory of unspeakable horrors.
Do you technically support feminism (“Of course everyone is equal”) but wonder what’s up with all those slut walks and kiss of love protests? Do you wonder why we need feminism at all? (“Please. We educated people are emancipated and free from biases.”) Are you a passionate feminist on the lookout for good books to read? Or are you interested in learning more about feminism and would like to know where to start? You need to check out this list. All of you, men and women alike, will find something in these books to shake up your old beliefs and convince you that feminism is indeed for everybody. And yay, they have a part two as well.
Everybody Loves a Good Drought, P. Sainath — If I had the power to do so, I would make this mandatory reading. Sainath, formerly the Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, reports what most other reporters and media outlets do not, catering as they do only to what he derisively calls the “aspirational class” — people like us. In this book, you’ll find what really goes on in the name of development and reform in our country. “Development is the strategy of evasion,” as he memorably puts it.
The Trouble with Physics, Lee Smolin — An insider’s account and perspective of the ongoing cultural war at the frontiers of theoretical physics. Smolin is very well-placed to comment on this, having worked on both string theory and alternative approaches to unification. Also doubles as an engaging account of recent advances. Caused a stir when it was published. If you read this book, you’ll be more careful when you hear breathless accounts of how string theory will explain everything.
The Guns of August, by Barbara W. Tuchman — An account of the stupendous errors committed in a single month by men who should have known better, leading to the First World War and the long, bloody impasse on the Western Front.
The Man Who Knew Infinity, by Robert Kanigel– A brilliant account of Ramanujam’s life by a wonderful writer who taught science writing at MIT for many years
A Princess Remembers: The Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur, by Santha Rama Rau — Maharani Gayatri Devi was a remarkable woman — she shot her first panther at 12, stands listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having won an election by the largest margin ever, appeared in Vogue as one of the most beautiful women in the world and married the prince of Jaipur after a protracted, whirlwind romance. The story seems like a cliched fairytale, yet this book will stay with you as a fearless, honest account of one woman’s extraordinary life, cloaked in an ordinary style of writing that seems to speak directly to the reader, without pretense or a sense of elitism — quite a rarity. In addition to providing a close look at the lives of Indian royal families, the book provides a great sub-narrative of the events of the Emergency (Gayatri Devi having been imprisoned by Indira Gandhi at one point) and the sense of rich history that it exposes you to (through detailed narratives) is worth looking out for.
— Shilpa Menon
The Lou Stories – So romance is not my thing. And I know many who feel the same. If you’re tired of the same old formula, I suggest unconventional romances like ‘Harold and Maude’, ‘Leon the Professional’, ‘Love Me if You Dare’ and ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, where the protagonists are far, far from your typical limpid-eyed lovers. Also try ‘Romeo+Juliet’– Baz Luhrman’s (The Great Gatsby, yes) typically extravagant and mad adaptation of the Shakespearean classic.
Coming-of-Age – This is one genre with so many immensely popular and likeable movies that it deserves a list of its own. My personal favourites are ‘Almost Famous’ and ‘Napoleon Dynamite’. You could start with the classic ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Out’ and check out ‘Rushmore’, ‘Terri’ (see Parallel Cinema), ‘Thumbsucker’ (Parallel Cinema yet again) and ‘Superbad’ (beware: Apatowian humour is not for the prudish). Careful ,though: it’s easy to make mistakes like ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ (as popular as this one is, I wasn’t particularly enamoured of a scrawny and dishevelled Depp looking perpetually constipated–but watch out for a show-stealing young DiCaprio as the autistic younger brother). If you haven’t started wondering whether girls ever do come of age, do so now–this genre seems to have a definite bias. ‘Fish Tank’ (the Parallel people do love the whole ‘growing up’ deal, methinks) is a nice change, but once again, a caveat: this is an explicit movie about the seedy, welfare-supported side of life in UK.
Parallel Cinema– This is a touchy topic. Most mainstream moviegoers tend to stay away from this sort of filmmaking, but some of the best movies, in my opinion, fall in this category. I’m not talking about movies where some bloke balancing a pot on his head while humming is sold to people labelled ‘metaphysical symbolism’ or some such thing–those are an acquired taste at best, and at worst, shams. There are art films that surprise us by being accessible, and remind us gently of our narrow definitions of entertainment, art and life in general. As much as we all love Spielberg, a great movie doesn’t necessarily need sweeping panoramas and soaring music and a budget that could feed a small nation. Now that I’m done with my rant, you may wish to watch movies like ‘Paper Man’, ‘The Classroom’ (French ‘Entre les Murs’), ‘Fish Tank’ (see Coming-of-Age), ‘Terri’ (‘obese kid learning to accept life’ sounds clichéd, but this one is worth a watch) and ‘The Kid with the Bike’. Finally: ‘Sita Sings the Blues’– this one will leave you tickled that such an ‘unorthodox’ film could be so much fun.
Old-School-This isn’t a genre, really: there are all sorts of great movies that we miss out on simply because they’re ‘old’. I, for one, took some time to get used to the black and white picture. Start with Chaplin classics like ‘Modern Times’ and ‘The Kid’, wait until you fall in love, and then go on to explore other genres, like screwball comedy (‘Some Like it Hot’, ‘His Girl Friday’), romance (‘Casablanca’), dramas (‘Citizen Kane’, ‘On the Waterfront’) and if you dare, black comedy (‘The Ladykillers’). Two movies that blew my mind are ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’.
Movies After Which You’re Scared to Go to the Loo Alone– This, mind you, is a generic label for movies ranging from gory ‘Saw’ to creepy, retro ‘House of the Devil’. There are, of course, the classics, like ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Blair Witch Project’’ and ‘Poltergeist’, but movies like ‘The Vanishing’ (Dutch-French), ‘The Exorcism of Emily Rose’, ‘Let the Right One In’ (Swedish), ‘The Orphanage’ (Spanish), Kairo (Japanese) and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ will change the way you look at fear and the supernatural.
More (Read: Sites which make you feel productive)
Aeon Magazine provides an eclectic collection of brilliantly written articles on everything from philosophy to physics.
Nautilus Magazine releases monthly issues on topics like ‘Time’ and ‘Genius’. Science, culture, and everything in between.
The Paris Review is the online version of a magazine which features prose, poetry, criticism and author interviews.
Tasveer Journal hosts some fine examples of photojournalism in India.
Open Magazine has very good writers offering commentary on politics, national news, books, cinema and even the latest gadgets.