My Favourite Things: June 2014

My Favourite Things: June 2014

I haven’t done one of these posts in a very long time but now seems a good time as any to get back to it. So, here we go. My favourite things for June:

1. The Great Hunt

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This is the second book in The Wheel of Time series. I got into these books last month only, and already, I cannot get enough. For the uninitiated, The Wheel of Time is an epic, 15-book, fantasy series written by Robert Jordan. It’s set in a world where magic is in the form of the “One Power”, and starts with the protagonist, Rand al’Thor’s battle against the Dark One (who must not be named. I see now why JK Rowling got flack for some of her “inspirations”). This series will appeal to readers of the Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire series. Also, please note that each book is around 700-800 pages long, so you really do have to be ready to commit to take on this beast. As I mentioned earlier, I’m only making my way through Book Two right now, but I think it’s worth the investment already.

2. The Strokes – Razorblade

Does anyone ever need to explain why The Strokes make it to their list of favourites? I think not. Fans of The Arctic Monkeys, The Kooks, The Zutons, and similar bands are going to love them. But if you’re a fan of any of those bands, chances are that you’re already a fan of The Strokes. So, let this be a reminder for you to re-listen to them. I’ve chosen Razorblade here only because it’s currently stuck in my head. Special mention should go to “I’ll Try Anything Once”, their demo version of what eventually became “You Only Live Once”, which is my favourite Strokes song of all time.

3. Swimming

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If you know me personally, you’ll know that this has been my favourite activity for quite a while now. However, I’ve had to take a break recently. So, I’m very excited to get back to it regularly now. I find it hard to believe these words even as I’m typing them—me, taking health things seriously! I suppose this is a by-product of old age. You finally realise that unlike your iPhone, you’re not going to be able to trade in your body for a new one. Though, it would be very nice to be able to do that, no? I’d get one without Siri though. I have enough voices in my head already.

4. Baking Bread

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I’ve tried cinnamon rolls and mini pretzels so far. Both have not been great successes. I basically didn’t add enough sugar to either. I thought I could get away with sneaking in a bit of “health consciousness” (I blame all the health freaks on the Internet who tell me substituting honey for sugar tastes the same. It does not.). I could not. These things taste the way they do because they’re not really good for us. And you know what, I’m going back to adding sugar as per the recipe. You can cheat on food if you work out later. That’s what I’m telling myself.

On the upside (or the downside?), I put together an excellent Upside Down Apple cake a while back. I recommend this recipe.

5. OS X Yosemite Beta Sign Up

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There. I said it. I’m a little bit of a Mactard (for which I apologise), and I’m quite excited that Apple’s finally opening up Beta registrations for us “generals”, as I like to call us non-developers. I will make no apologies for my excitement. I’m genuinely looking forward to the new features of Spotlight, Safari, and iCloud Drive. I’m also pumped about Continuity. Gone will be the days when I have to actually lift my phone to answer a call when I’m on my Mac. The lazy person in me is rejoicing.

So, there you have it. Those are my picks for my favourite things for June. Let me know about yours in the comments or on Twitter @anujap.

Note: This post is a response to the Daily Post’s Writing 101 Day One Challenge

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44 Scotland Street – a relaxing read over coffee

Title: 44 Scotland Street
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Book Publishing
Price: INR 280 on Flipkart.com

44 Scotland Street is the first volume in a six-part (and counting) series of fiction books written by Alexander McCall Smith in the style of a serialised novel* for The Scotsman. Set amongst the hustle bustle of Scotland Street near Drummond Place (Edinburgh), the novel mainly revolves around Pat, a 20 year old on her second gap year.

We begin the tale as Pat moves in with Bruce, a self-obsessed, blatantly handsome realty surveyor living at… you guessed it, 44 Scotland Street! Within a few pages, Pat is already confused over her feelings for Bruce while he seems to have assumed in advance, that she will inevitably fall for him. While this love saga evolves, we also follow Pat’s neighbour, Bertie, a five-year-old saxophone-playing, Italian-speaking, latte-sipping child prodigy who is having problems at his school because, as his over-ambitious, pushy and hoity mother Irene thinks, he isn’t being given the attention he deserves by his teacher. On the floor above Bertie and Irene, lives Domenica Macdonald, a well-travelled and well-informed anthropologist who befriends Pat while giving her love advice and introducing her to Edinburgh’s art elite. As the story progresses, Smith attempts to keep the audience engaged (successfully at times, and unsuccessfully at others) by creating a miniature climax at the end of every chapter as required of a serialised novel.

He also endeavours to confer upon us a healthy dose of psychology through characters like Dr Fairbairn and Irene as they discuss Betie’s problems in relation to Klein, Freud and other psychoanalysts. Then there’s the character of Big Lou who is obviously created just to bestow the reader with the author’s views on literature and philosophy. All this is definitely interesting but quite prolonged at times when you just want to know ‘what happens next?’ It is also obvious that the author has written these chapters on days when he’s lacked inspiration to attend to the central storyline. Despite this, what Smith does best is, develop the characters in such detail and depth that you are willing to get through a few eventless chapters to see where their lives are headed next. The major plot and the sub-plots unfold at a slow and steady pace sticking to, what I presume was the author’s intentional theme, of a relaxing read over coffee. 

For those who’ve visited Edinburgh, Smith’s descriptions of the city’s various boroughs will invoke a pleasant sense of nostalgia while the uninitiated will no doubt, find themselves better acquainted with the beautiful capital of Scotland. Smith also, engagingly comments upon the various cliques and clans, from the pretentious art lovers to the tree hugging pseudo-hippies to the trust-fund babies, prevalent not only in Edinburgh, but in almost every town across the globe.

The author’s writing style is an interesting blend of humorous reflection and descriptive insight, making the book an easy and enjoyable read for a wide range of audiences. Personally, I found myself slipping in and out of Smith’s world quite effortlessly without too much involvement but always willing to return to spend a pleasant few hours at 44 Scotland Street. Overall, I would recommend the novel to those looking for a leisurely read but if you do decide to skip it, you won’t miss out on much.
* A serialised novel is usually published in daily instalments while the author develops the story in as it progress before the reader.