What I Read in March

Children’s Books

Picture Books

The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers

How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

The Great Paper Caper by Oliver Jeffers

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers

This Moose Belongs to Me by Oliver Jeffers

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

Edwina the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems

Consider Love by Sandra Boynton

Early Chapter

Alien Invasion! by Michael Morpurgo

Middle Grade

Vanamala and the Cephalopod by Shalini Srinivasan

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (Audio Book)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (Audio Book)

No. 9 on the Shade Card by Kavitha Mandana

Anne of Windy Poplars by L. M. Montgomery (eBook, read the Project Gutenberg edition here)

Anne’s House of Dreams by L. M. Montgomery (I read the paperback but you can find the Project Gutenberg edition here)

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett

Five Go To Demon’s Rocks by Enid Blyton

Adult Fiction

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

*

All the picture books (except the last one – Consider Love) were devoured during a visit to my favourite Mumbai bookstore two weekends ago.  I sat down on the floor of the children’s section, reached into the lowest shelf and picked out all the Oliver Jeffers books I could see, added a couple of Mo Willems books to the pile, then sat on a pouffe, ignored all the confused looks (I did not have a child to read out the picture books to) and laughed along with every single one.

 

A Famous Five Adventure – Off to the Lighthouse!

Ever since I read Five Go To Demon’s Rocks many years ago, I’ve had a fascination for lighthouses. Enid Blyton tends to have that effect on me – I’m also similarly determined to picnic on a conveniently located deserted island, go camping in a caravan, be overfed by a kindly farmer’s wife, find treasure buried under a seemingly innocuous  field, live with a bunch of charming and eccentric circus folk and climb a tree whose top gets stuck in magical faraway lands. I realise some of these dreams are more practical than others.

When we visited Mamallapuram during our December vacation, I had no idea that I had a lighthouse to look forward to. The moment I spotted it, however, I knew I had to make at least one of my Famous Five fantasies come true.

When I finally made my way inside and up to the top, a jolt of nostalgia shot through my veins. I could just imagine Julian, Dick, George, Anne and Timmy lurking in every corner.

I’m not eight anymore (Julian doesn’t seem frightfully grown-up either) but I still sat down and devoured Five Goes to Demon’s Rocks over the weekend.

Suddenly Tinker spoke up.

know where we could go – and we’d jolly well have some fun, too!” he said.

“Oh – and where is this wonderful place?” asked George disbelievingly.

“Well – I was thinking of my lighthouse,” said Tinker most surprisingly. And then, as no one said anything, but merely stared at him in astonishment, he nodded at them. “I said my lighthouse – don’t you know what a lighthouse is?”

“But, Tinker dear – you can’t possibly own a lighthouse,” said Aunt Fanny, smiling.

“Well, I do,” said Tinker quite fiercely. “You see, my father had some very special work to do, that couldn’t be done on land – so he bought an old empty lighthouse, and did his work there. I went to stay with him – my, it was grand there, with the wind the waves crashing about all the time.”

“Well, I’m blessed!” said Julian. “Here’s old George owning an island given to her by her mother – and Tinker owning a lighthouse given to him by his father! I wish my parents would present me with a volcano, or something really thrilling!”

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“We’ll soon be off again together, all the Five – and two more to keep us company,” said Julian. “It will be quite an adventure!”

“An adventure?” said Tinker, surprised. “But you can’t have adventures in a lighthouse – it’s out on the rocks, all by itself, as lonely as can be! There aren’t any adventures to be found there!”

Ah – you wait and see, Tinker! You don’t know the Five! If there’s any adventure about, they’re bound to be right in the middle of it!

“And I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

It was very exciting making plans to go to the lighthouse. Tinker told them all about it, time and time again. “It’s very tall, and there’s an iron stairway – a spiral one – going from the bottom up to the top. And at the top is a little room for the lamp that used to flash to warn ships away.

“It sounds smashing,” said George.

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“Oh look – is that the lighthouse?”

“Yes. That’s it,” said the driver. “You get a good view of it now, from the hill. Fine one isn’t it, for an old one? Ah, they could build well in those days. That one’s made of stone.

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Anne gazed at it. It was sturdily built and seemed very tall to her. Its base was firmly embedded in the rocks below it. Dick thought that the foundation must go very deep down into the rocks, to hold the lighthouse firmly in the great gales that must blow in bad weather. A gallery, rather like a verandah, ran round the top, just below the windows through which the lighthouse lamp once shone. What a view there would be from that gallery, thought Anne.

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They all climbed up the spiral stairway, Timmy rather slowly, for he found the winding stairs difficult.

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The lamp-room was a high room with big windows all round it. It was very bright, for the sun shone steadily into it. The view was magnificent!

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Anne gave a shout of wonder. The lighthouse was so high that the children could see for miles and miles over the heaving dark blue sea.

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They went all around the lamp-room, looking in every direction.

“Look! There’s a door here!” cried Dick, “Does it open on to that little balcony, or gallery, or whatever it is that runs all around this room?”

“Yes. The gallery goes completely around the lamp-room,” said Tinker. “You should see it sometimes when the weather’s rough., and the gulls go seeking somewhere out of the storm. They perch on that gallery by the dozen! But you can’t go out there except in calm weather – you might be blown right off! You’ve no idea what it’s like when there’s a storm. Honestly, one night when my father and I were here I thought I felt the lighthouse rocking!”

“This is about the most exciting place I’ve ever stayed in,” said Anne, her eyes shining. “Tinker, I think you are the luckiest boy in the world!”

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“What a pity we can’t light the great oil-lamp at the top of the lighthouse,” said George. “That must have been the lighthouse keeper’s greatest moment – lighting up the lamp to warn ships away. I wonder who first thought of a lighthouse – someone whose folk sailed, and might be wrecked on rocks, I suppose?”

“One of the first great lighthouses was built ages ago on an island called Pharos at the mouth of the Nile, not far from the great port of Alexandria,” said Julian.

“What was it built of – stone, like this one?” asked Tinker.

“No. It as built of white marble,” said Julian. “I thought of it today when we went up the spiral staircase here – because the Pharos lighthouse had one too – much, much bigger than ours.”

“What was their lamp like?” asked Tinker.

“I don’t know if it had a lamp,” said Julian. “It’s said that an enormous fire was built each night on the top of the lighthouse, whose flames could be seen by ships a hundred miles away!”

“Goodness – it must have been a pretty high lighthouse, then, this Pharos!” said Dick.

“Wellm it was supposed to be about 180 metres high!” said Julian.

“Whew! I wonder the wind didn’t blow it down!”

Tamil Nadu 469The only thing missing in the lighthouse was a room for me to set up home in.

 

Long Reads Pick of the Week: March 29, 2014

I couldn’t decipher the photographs at first.

They arrived linked in an e-mail from a friend, with a tagline that read: Amazing. They were color portraits, shot recently, seemingly of old men who’d lived a little. At least that’s what the evidence suggested: They were dressed as old men, and the camera seemed to regard them as old men, if from another time, like the ’40s or ’50s. But there was something in the eyes, and sometimes the hands, even the carriage of bones—a softness that made me wonder.

The more I gazed upon the photographs, the more I noticed something else. In image after image, the faces possessed an otherworldly quality. That’s as close as I can come to it: Their eyes seemed to look steadily, unabashedly at the camera—or up at the sky, as if they might float away.

These were burrneshas, the text read, or women who dressed and lived as men, in isolated regions of northern Albania, a land of ultraconservative mores. There were strict rules and reasons for this transformation, ones that had been established some 500 years earlier, as part of a medieval canon of laws known as the Kanun. Today possibly only a few dozen burrneshas still exist—and the tribe is fast dwindling.

In The Mountains Where Women Lived as Men, we learn of an unusual tradition in the Albanian Alps where women with limited options in life pledged to be burrneshas - in their conservative society, they took the oath to live like men, with all the burdens and liberties that entailed.