Saturday, December 31, 2016

A year gone, a year to come

Since I did not write or review much this year, I thought I would at least end the year with a post on one of my favourite literary genres—classical poetry. Fittingly, a poem about New Year's Eve or New Year.

There was plenty to choose from. I read Alfred Lord Tennyson's The Death of the Old Year, Thomas Hardy's New Year's Eve, Christina Rossetti's Old and New Year Ditties, Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne, Helen Hunt Jackson's New Year's Morning, D.H. Lawrence's New Year's Night, Sylvia Plath's New Year on Dartmoor, and John Clare's The Old Year.

I liked them all.

A lot of people look at the old year with sadness, regret, and emotion. And a lot of writing, and especially poetry, reflect those feelings. We remember it mostly as just another year when we grew old and where we could have done so much more, personally and professionally. Fortunately, our minds are trained to conveniently hide unhappy memories, if not erase them completely. Every passing year brings in its anguished wake a new year filled with renewed hope, optimism, and purpose of life, where we dream of doing better than we did in the previous year, and where we truly believe—"This is going to be my year. And I am going to make things happen for me and my family."

Of all the beautiful poems I read, the one that resonated with me this evening, hours before New Year, was The Year by American author-poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919). I thought it was realistic and balanced. I liked the way it bids goodbye to the Old Year and ushers in the New Year, depending on how you read it. And it rhymes very well too.

What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our prides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of a year.

Ella Wheeler's most famous poem was Solitude which gave us the equally famous opening lines:

Laugh, and the world laughs with you
Weep, and you weep alone.
For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth
But has trouble enough of its own.

I sincerely hope you will have lots of reasons to laugh in 2017 and beyond. I wish you a joyous New Year filled with health and happiness.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, 1905

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied."
— Opening lines of the story

The Gift of the Magi is one of American writer O. Henry's most famous short stories. It is often read at Christmas time. It is also told to children as a lesson in love, giving, sacrifice, and morality. Basically, that which is good in people.

Jim and Della are much in love and happy in their marriage. The couple live in a small apartment, lead a simple life, and have just enough money to get by. In spite of their poor situation, they decide to surprise the other with Christmas gifts—by giving up their most important possessions.

On Christmas eve, Della sells her beautiful knee-length hair and with the money buys a lovely pocket watch chain for her husband. Jim sells his gold watch, a family heirloom, and uses the money to buy hair accessories for his wife.

As you might have guessed, both end up buying gifts that neither of them can use.  

The Gift of the Magi—an allusion to the Wise Men who brought gifts for the new-born Jesus—is a feel-good story even if somewhat poignant and sentimental. Jim and Della discover something more priceless than expensive gifts—their love for each other. Can there be a better Christmas gift?

O. Henry reminds me of two other great storytellers, Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant. All three authors are known for their very affecting stories—about ordinary people and their destinies, their lives and relationships—which usually end with a twist. My feeling is that O. Henry was wittier of the three. There is subtle humour in this story.

I thought this was the perfect story to read and review in the spirit of Christmas and the goodness and simplicity of life. I first read it a long time ago, probably in school, as my wife reminded me. It is a true classic and very relevant in our times. 

O. Henry, who was born William Sydney Porter, first published the story as Gifts of the Magi in The New York Sunday World, December 10, 1905. Apparently, he wrote it in one of New York's oldest bars called Pete’s Tavern. A year later, it appeared in the O. Henry Anthology The Four Million. The story has been adapted to various cultural forms including film and television.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen releases new novella

Award-winning Danish author Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen has announced the release of her second Tora Skammelsen novella, Miller's Cottage, which is about the curious writer from Thy, the north-western corner of Denmark. Dorte, who writes and reviews crime and mystery, lives in this beautiful region.

"The story can be read as a stand-alone, but for readers with an interest in Tora’s private affairs it may be a good idea to read North Sea Cottage first," Dorte says on her blog djskrimiblog.

In the nearly 100-page novella, "Tora buys her home near the North Sea, but village life does not quite live up to her expectations. Soon she develops a keen interest in the activities of her peculiar neighbour Margrethe. Why does the widow try to hide the fact that a man is living with her? Besides there is Rune, the charming sales rep at the Old Mill Inn, who all but sweeps Tora off her feet while her friend, Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren, is preoccupied with a bank robbery."

In North Sea Cottage, Book 1 released in June 2014, "Tora Skammelsen...retreats to her aunt's cottage to get away from it all. Here, on the Danish North Sea coast, she tries to make sense of her life and rid herself of the ghosts of her past. When the old stable catches fire leading to the discovery of a skeleton, Tora is faced with ghosts that go even further back, to the time of World War Two. Now she must uncover her own family secrets, but will she learn the truth in time to save herself?"

I like the thought of reading about a young writer dealing with family secrets on the picturesque North Sea coast. It sounds mysteriously haunting.

Dorte has also written two short stories featuring Tora — The Woman Behind the Curtain and Football Widow. Here's what these stories are about.

The Woman Behind the Curtain describes one week in Tora's life. "(She) returns home to her parents to unwind after her harrowing experiences in volume one, but life in the sleepy suburb seems tedious and repetitive—until the morning when a neighbour does not draw her bedroom curtains."

In the second story, "A football star is injured and returns to Thy after a glorious international career. His wife revives her friendship with Police Inspector Thomas Bilgren. Soon she asks Thomas and Tora for a lift home from the sports centre. An ugly surprise is waiting for them in the couple's kitchen."

This is the order of the four Tora Skammelsen novellas and short stories for Amazon Kindle.

1. North Sea Cottage — Book 1, June 2014
2. The Woman Behind The Curtain — Book 2, December 2014
3. Football Widow, Book 3 — May 2016
4. Miller's Cottage, Book 4 — December 2016

The 3Cs has previously featured blog friend Dorte and her books here and here. Readers can buy her books at Amazon and read her blog at djskrimiblog.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, 1969


The eerie moan rolled out across the valley in the twilight.

My copy of the book.
These are the best opening lines I have read so far this year. If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought the lines belonged to a horror or fantasy novel.

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is the tenth book in the original 43-book ‘The Three Investigators’ series and one unpublished title. Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews—who operate out of a house trailer inside a salvage yard in Rocky Beach, California—come to the Crooked Y Ranch on a vacation. The ranch, owned by the Daltons and located near Santa Carla along the Pacific coast, is straight out of a Western novel minus the crooked foreman and rustlers.

Instead of enjoying their holiday and working as ranch hands, the plucky investigators find themselves in the thick of an exciting adventure-mystery—investigating the source of a moaning sound coming from one of the caves in the belly of Devil Mountain.

The sheriff has made no headway in the case. Locals believe the eerie sounds are coming from legendary bandit El Diablo’s cave. Worse still, the people, including a historian and friend of the Daltons, think that Diablo must be alive. Never mind if that makes him almost a hundred years old.

Jupiter, Pete and Bob explore Devil Mountain in Moaning Valley with little more than flashlights and get more than they’d bargained for. The boys lose their way inside dark caverns, get ambushed and walled in, meet two shady old prospectors and a mysterious stranger with an eye patch, stumble upon a secret naval exercise, and finally confront the bandit himself.

So, what—or who—is making the moaning sound? Is it man-made or is it a natural occurrence? Or is it linked to the old diamond mine inside the mountain? 

The Mystery of the Moaning Cave is packed with suspense and surprises, and some tense moments. Although targeted at young readers, it can sit well alongside adult crime and mystery fiction. While the characters of the three investigators are amateurish, in the mould of Frank and Joe Hardy, they look for clues, take undue risks, and pursue the case like seasoned detectives. Jupiter’s “logical mind,” Pete’s “athletic skills,” and Bob’s “research and data keeping” eventually helps them solve the mystery of the Moaning Valley.

In terms of style and story, there are obvious parallels with the Hardy Boys, which I enjoyed reading in school. The book held up for me even after more than three decades because I didn’t think of it as YA fiction. I read it like I’d any other mystery. There is often a thin line between YA fiction and adult fiction.

Source: Wikipedia
About the author

My Armada (later Fontana Books) edition of the tenth novel says The Mystery of the Moaning Cave was written by Robert Arthur Jr (1909-1969), who created the series and wrote many of the early stories. But Arthur wrote only books 1 to 9 and 11. So there is some confusion. He believed using a celebrity name, like Hitchcock, would help popularise the series among young adults. Most of the novels involve baffling events and strange phenomena.

According to Wikipedia, Arthur wrote crime and speculative fiction, and was also known for his work with The Mysterious Traveler, a radio series (and a magazine and a comic book). He was honoured twice by the Mystery Writers of America with an Edgar Award for Best Radio Drama. He also wrote scripts for television, such as The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock's TV show, Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Arthur has also written short stories and has been credited with editing collections attributed to Alfred Hitchcock.

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Drubble #1: A story in 25 words

I have written 50-word Dribbles and 100-word Drabbles. For the first time, I tried my hand at a 25-word story that might just come true someday. I'd like to call it a Drubble. The inspiration was a near-miss with a porter—or coolie as they're still known—at the suburban railway station where I get off. In fact, I've had several near-misses. Porters and deliverymen carrying their burden on their heads and shoulders are a common sight at most railway stations in India.

I saw a porter with a load on his head and ducked.
Then he saw an overhead cable and stooped.
And knocked me out cold.

Friday, November 11, 2016

‘Flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity’

Guest Post by Margot Kinberg, academician, writer, and blogger. She recently released her fourth novel, Past Tense, in her acclaimed Joel Williams series. Margot also writes short stories and flash fiction, and regularly blogs about crime fiction at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist...

© Margot Kinberg
Writing is a lot like any other skill: it needs to be honed. And that means writing on a daily basis. One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through flash fiction.

One thing I love about flash fiction is that it allows the writer to play with ideas without the commitment to a long story or a novel. And that allows for all sorts of experimentation and exploration. To put it another way, flash fiction makes the daily discipline of writing a lot more fun. And it can spark real creativity.

Flash fiction is also really versatile. For example, my host, Prashant, is quite skilled at 100-word stories called Drabbles. That structure encourages the writer to use powerful language that tells a story in just a few words. You can even try a shorter format – the 50-word story that author and fellow blogger Rob Kitchin has called the Dribble. Both formats help the author to reduce a story to its essentials, and convey quite a lot with a few well-chosen words. That’s got much to recommend it.

Those micro-stories aren’t for every writer. Some writers choose slightly longer flash fiction stories. Those allow for a little more atmosphere and character development, and they can be really helpful for the writer who’d like to work on those skills. Again, it’s an effective way to some vital daily practice.

Because flash fiction is flexible, that means the writer can try different voices, different genres, and so on. It also means that established authors with a continuing series can ‘test the waters’ with new characters and settings.

The benefits of flash fiction go beyond helping the writer hone skills. Flash fiction also helps to build (or keep) a reading audience. Publishing flash fiction on one’s blog or other website introduces the author to readers. Then, when there’s a forthcoming book, readers are more likely to be interested. The same may happen for editors or agents who are looking for new talent.

Flash fiction can also provide interesting opportunities for publication. Sometimes, magazines or other journals open up to submissions of flash fiction. There are also flash fiction competitions. All of those allow the author the chance for wider recognition.

Sometimes, an idea that comes from a flash fiction story can develop into something more substantive. Just one element of a shorter story can inspire something longer – even a novel. For example, in one of my flash fiction pieces, Planting Season, a body is found buried at a landscaping site. It got me to thinking about how remains might be discovered, and that’s just what I needed for a novel I was writing.

That novel turned out to be Past Tense, which has recently been released. In Past Tense, construction workers uncover a 40-year-old set of remains that turn out to be connected with a missing person case from 1974. My protagonist, former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, works in tandem with the police to find out the truth behind that death.

Admittedly, the main plot of Past Tense isn’t very similar to the plot of Planting Season. But the idea from that flash fiction piece helped me put together a plot element that I needed. And that ‘fed’ the novel. I got other little bits of ideas for the novel from other flash fiction I’ve done.

And that’s the thing about flash fiction. Not every piece will lead anywhere. Lots of mine don’t. But you never know when one or another piece might fill in a plothole, give you an idea for a character, or add a touch of atmosphere to something larger you’re writing. Some pieces might even evolve into a novel.

Thank you very much, Prashant!

Here’s more about Past Tense

A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones.

© Grey Cells Press
For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site…

When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time.

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed? As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Innocent Justice

A short story by Prashant C. Trikannad

The old proprietor of the country liquor shop dropped the coins in the drawer and handed Kiaan a bottle of hooch wrapped in newspaper.

"Now you be careful with that, kid," he said, leaning over the counter and pulling the young boy's raincoat together.

Kiaan nodded without looking up.

"Tell your father I said hi."

"He's not my father," the boy said.

"Uh, okay. You take care," the barman said. "The rain gods are in a foul mood tonight."

Kiaan gripped the bottle by the neck and went out into the night. Rain was falling hard and the narrow bridge leading to the other side of the creek where he lived was deserted. His shoes made a sucking sound as he walked through muddy water.

The night was eerily quiet.
The storm had taken out the street lights. Another kid would have shivered with cold fear. Not Kiaan. All he felt was a burning anger towards the man who beat his mother every night and had made life hell. He shook involuntarily and his fingers tightened around the bottle of cheap Feni. Tonight would be the last night his stepfather sent him out to fetch the bottle. As he walked across the bridge, he looked at the ghostly shapes of trawlers bobbing in the distance where the creek joined the sea.

His father had died when he was six. Four years later, his mother had married his father's school friend. She'd told him she took the step for his sake, because he needed a father figure in his life. His stepfather turned out to be a violent alcoholic whose physical abuse of his mother started almost immediately after they returned from honeymoon. Night after night the boy hid under his blanket to drown out the loud sounds from the other room and cried himself to sleep.

*          *         *

Kiaan crossed the creek, turned into a dark lane, and stopped. The rain was coming in torrents. Lightning and thunder rent the air. He looked down and found himself in knee-deep water. It felt cold against his skin. He waded through long shadows of dilapidated buildings on either side. Suddenly, he gave a startled cry when he felt something crawl across his legs and crawl back again. Terrified, he ran, splashed, ran as fast as he could through filthy water and floating garbage, clutching the bottle to his chest. 

When he reached the end of the lane, he turned left, clambered up the uneven footpath and entered a building. Light from a ceiling bulb danced in the pool of water on the floor. Flecks of yellow paint peeled off the walls. An ‘out of order’ sign hung on the metal-caged lift. Pigeons cooed in the ventilation above the doorway. And the storm cut through the stillness in the dingy hallway.

The kid pushed back the hood of his raincoat and carefully removed the bottle from the newspaper wrapping. He went back to the entrance, dipped the bottle into the water, and smashed it as hard as he could against the wall. It broke on the third blow. When he lifted it again, he was holding the neck of the bottle with jagged edges dripping blood and water. Tears rolled down his face as he pulled out a piece of glass from his hand. He wiped his face on the sleeve of his wet raincoat and hurried inside. 

He waited at the bottom of the stairs, his eyes searching for movement. Finding none, he began to climb, one step at a time — holding the bottle away from him, like a blood-stained knife after a murder.

*          *         *

Kiaan stood outside his door at the end of a dimly-lit corridor. He was breathing heavily and his heart was racing. Just like it did every time his stepfather returned home reeking of cheap liquor and stale smoke, and went after his mother. For the first time since he'd left the bar, he was frightened. He knew what awaited him on the other side of the door. What he didn't know was what would happen after he went in.

With tears in his eyes and a shaking hand, he inserted his key in the lock and turned it slowly when the door opened and slammed against the wall. Kiaan pulled back with a start and dropped the bottle. The storm drowned out the crash of splintered glass. No doors opened. He stood there, frozen.

His stepfather was just inside the door, swaying on his feet. He was clutching his throat with one hand. Blood, the colour of dark red cherry, oozed through his fingers and trickled down his arms and bare chest.

“Kiaan, my dear boy!” he croaked, like a raven, and fell on his face at the boy’s feet.

At that moment, lightning flashed through the living room. At first he thought he was seeing a ghost. Then he saw it was his mother, in an avatar he'd never seen before.

“It’s over, Kiaan, It's finally over,
She said and reached out with both her hands. "I love you so much.

Trembling, the boy backed away till his hands found cold wall. He began to weep.

© Prashant C. Trikannad, 2016

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Drabble #9: A story in 100 words

I used earthworms as bait to catch tiny crabs. I dug them out of wet earth, dropped them into a bottle and ran to the jetty. I put a hook into a wriggly worm, leaned over the side, and lowered the line past a million barnacles. A dozen crabs crawled out of nowhere and clawed at the dangling bait. When one got lucky and held on to its lunch, I pulled him up and checked him out. I let him have the worm and lowered him back into Mandovi river. He ate it without getting impaled. Fishing sure was fun.

Note: For previous Drabbles, click here

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Witty acceptance speeches by British actors

A peek at some Witty acceptance speeches by British actors for Tuesday’s Overlooked Films, Audio and Video over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom.

When Peter O'Toole walked on to the stage to receive a well-deserved Honorary Oscar from Meryl Streep in 2003, there must have been an air of expectation among his celebrity audience who were probably eager to hear his rich and distinctive voice, and laugh at his wit and intelligent humour. It was a short speech but I'm sure he didn't disappoint them.

After greeting Streep and accepting the Academy Award from her, Peter O'Toole said after the extended standing ovation, and I quote him verbatim:

“Meryl Streep, members of the Academy, distinguished guests, viewers, ladies and gentlemen. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride—my foot! I have my very own Oscar now to be with me till death us do part.

“I wish the Academy to know that I am as delighted as I am honoured. And I am honoured. The magic of the movies enraptured me when I was a child. As I totter into antiquity, movie magic enraptures me still. Having already bagged this baby, as it were, and so spared uncertainties prior to the opening of an envelope, I'm able to think. I think of our colleagues, our old friends, now gone, who played their parts in this ceremony. I think of the sumptuous talents alive and well and with us now. I think of the astonishing young, the gifted and able young men and women who I meet practically every time I go to work and from whom I grab energy in handfuls. I think of the United States and of the loves and friendships I've known here for more than half a century, and of how much the nation has given to me both personally, privately and professionally. And I am deeply thankful. And now, at this last, you have given me this delightful shock. You're very good. Good night and God bless you.”

Years later, when I watched that Oscar night on YouTube, I marvelled at the renowned British-Irish actor's choice of words which evoked instant mental imagery and laughter. At one point, when O'Toole said, “As I totter into antiquity, movie magic enraptures me still,” his compatriot Michael Caine laughed out loud, and I couldn't help laughing with him.

It was a good acceptance speech, the kind of speech whose lines you remembered long after they were delivered.

Over the years and until his passing in December 2013, Peter O'Toole was no less hilarious in his television interviews. He once rode in on a camel on David Letterman's The Late Show, reprising his famous role in Lawrence of Arabia, and proceeded to regale viewers and spectators with his disarming charm and humour. Except, he wore a suit and smoked a cigarette through a holder.

O'Toole comes from an impressive roster of British actors who are as witty in real life as they often are on screen—actors like Michael Caine, Hugh Laurie, Daniel Day-Lewis, Julie Walters, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Stephen Fry, Maggie Smith, John Cleese, Kate Winslet, Rowan Atkinson and Jim Broadbent, who deliver their lines with deadpan humour, be it in a speech or an interview.

In 1998, Caine had the audience in splits when he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor–Musical or Comedy for Little Voice, 1998. He opened his speech with this gem—“Oh, what a shock. My career must be slipping. This is the first time I've been available to pick up an award,” as if the awards were there for the asking. The rest of his speech was peppered with funny lines, which included the confession that he didn't work a lot without producer Harvey Weinstein. The Miramax co-founder was beside himself with laughter.

Colin Firth showed his funny side when he took home the Oscar for Best Actor for his role in The King’s Speech, 2011.

He said, “I have a feeling my career has just peaked. My deepest thanks to the Academy. I'm afraid I have to warn you that I'm experiencing stirrings. Somewhere in the upper abdominals which are threatening to form themselves into dance moves. Joyous as they may be for me, it would be extremely problematic if they make it to my legs before I get off stage.” Firth remained impassive throughout his speech which made his appearance that much more hilarious. Don't they feel like laughing too? They are, of course. masters of their craft and I suppose they can hide their emotions. Or, maybe, they don't mean to be as funny as we think they are.

I watch award shows like the Oscars, Golden Globe, American Film Institute, Emmy, and the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor only for the acceptance speeches, in the hope that some of the winners will make me laugh with their wit and wisecracks, and liven up my day just a bit.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Jack Higgins and Tom Sharpe

“Godber was murdered,” said Lady Mary. “I am fully aware that you refuse to believe me, but I know.”
— Opening line of Grantchester Grind, a Porterhouse chronicle, by Tom Sharpe (1995)

Last week, fellow readers and bloggers commended me for the restraint I exercised at the Books by Weight exhibition where I bought just four paperbacks—thank you! But that restraint lasted for all of one week, as I went back and picked up four more novels—two each by British thriller writer Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson) and English satirical novelist Tom Sharpe. What’s with me and number four, I wonder?

My wife, ever the discerning reader, bought a lovely hardback edition of The Wind in the Willows (1908), the acclaimed children's novel by Kenneth Grahame.

This time, too, I took a few pictures one of which threw up a surprise. As I noted on my Facebook wall, I completely overlooked another fine paperback of Ray Bradbury's short story collection Long After Midnight, especially after having bought The October Country the week before. I noticed it only after I returned home and scrolled through my image gallery (see below). It was like developing the family pictures in the dark and discovering a ghostly figure staring over my grandmother’s shoulder.

Higgins is an old favourite and I have several of his secondhand war and espionage fiction. Higgins was at his best from 1959, when he published his first novel Sad Wind from the Sea, through the seventies. Although he wrote almost every year after that, sometimes two to three a year, they were nowhere as good as his early novels.

Hell Is Always Today (1968) is a departure from his traditional plots revolving around the Cold War, British Intelligence, reformed IRA assassins, World War II, and Nazi Germany. This is actually a crime fiction about an escaped prisoner who stalks women on the streets of London and kills them in cold blood. Can Detective Sergeant Nick Miller hunt him down?

We’re pretty hot on on parking tickets, but not so good on maniacs who walk the streets on wet nights murdering women.

On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate Jack Higgins 9 because his stories are filled with adventure, romantic ideals, and suspense, and are uncomplicated and entertaining. I’d rate him shoulder to shoulder with that other fine storyteller Jeffrey Archer.

I grew up on a regular diet of riveting stories by popular bestselling authors of the second-half of the last century. Writers I can always rely upon to tell me a good story even now. I'm fortunate that I haven't read all of their novels.

© Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad

Saturday, October 01, 2016

A book pilgrim’s journey to Books by Weight

I was a model of restraint during my biannual pilgrimage to the Books by Weight exhibition at Churchgate in South Mumbai, last week. I picked up only four used paperbacks in mint condition. The books had a familiar musty smell, as if I’d pulled them out of a rusty trunk in the attic. I like the way old books smell. Some people religiously sniff pages of novels and newspapers before reading them. It’s supposed to bring good luck. A quaint habit and one I indulge in occasionally.

The four titles I picked up, out of a million-odd books, were Guzman Go Home by Alan Sillitoe, another of my favourite authors; The October Country by Ray Bradbury, whose paperbacks have some of the best illustrated covers; And So To Bed by William Ard, whose western novels I’ve read as Jonas Ward; and Lie Down Killer by Richard S. Prather, whose crime and mystery have been on my wish-list for a long time. See the topmost picture.

I found these in one of a dozen open boxes strewn across the floor in the large and roomy auditorium at Sunderbai Hall. There were at least two cartons filled with mid- to late 20th century fantasy, sf and horror novels mostly by authors I’d never heard of. I can’t imagine what I missed, especially since I was the only one pouring over this section. Most people were picking up popular and contemporary authors, such as, Stephen King, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Danielle Steel (still widely read in India), Jonathan Kellerman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Peter James, Mary Higgins Clark, Ian Rankin, Joanna Trollope, Ellis Peters, and J.K. Rowling, to name a handful.

Apart from the boxes, there were eight rows, each the length of a bowling alley, stacked with hundreds and thousands of paperbacks and hardbacks across several categories. The books were pressed so tightly against one another, their spines facing upward, I was afraid they’d suffocate to death. Books have life, after all.

The one carton I eyed with unconcealed glee at Books by Weight was the one that contained my most favourite writer—Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson). I pulled out many of his Book Club hardbacks only to drop them back into the box. I’d enough of his novels at home. And yet, when it comes to books, there’s never too much of a good thing.

© Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad