Books From A to Z – X

Fifteen-year-old X thinks she is going to die. Shacked up in the cellar of an old farmhouse, she starts a journal to document her last few days. Much less than a few days if the things outside manage to get in.

X is a fantastic short story. The author manages to pull you into the world of X, a young girl documenting the last days of her life as she lives through a zombie apocalypse . Not my usual kind of read, but it was very well written and left you wanting to know more about the girl and her her situation.

 

 

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We’re taking part in the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

Amy, My Daughter

Amy, My Daughter
Amy, My Daughter

Title: Amy, My Daughter
Author: Mitch Winehouse
Publisher: Harper Collins
ISBN13: 9780007463893
Genre: Biography

With her unique voice and her musical genius, Amy Winehouse, became an instant celebrity when her debut album Frank was released in 2003. She soon became a musical icon with a huge fan following.

Her musical career was cut short when she died on July 23, 2011, she was mourned by fans not just for her outstanding musical talent but also her generosity. However, Amy’s death wasn’t quite a surprise. For years she had been, very publicly, struggling with alcohol and drug abuse.

In this book, using exclusive extracts from his own personal diaries, Mitch Winehouse talks openly about his daughter’s early childhood, way into music, her successes and her relationships and her struggles with her addictions.

Mitch Winehouse throws light on Amy’s stubborn behavior as a child, how she supposedly reacted to his leaving her mother, her relationship with her brother and her special relationship with her paternal grandmother who he credits for Amy’s musical genius.

A large part of the book is about Amy’s struggles with addiction and Mitch’s part in trying to save her from her self-destructive behaviour. No book written by a parent of a child who died so tragically can be completely objective, however, Mitch’s admiration for his daughter’s genius, ability to love with all her heart and her generosity with strangers comes of as being genuine.

Mitch Winehouse tells of his pain and that of the loved ones of many addicts very poignantly in these lines:

Perhaps the most difficult thing about loving and helping an addict, which most people who haven’t been through it don’t understand, is this: every day the cycle continues is your new worst day. When looked at from the outside it seems endless, the same thing over and over again; but when you’re living it, it’s like being a hamster on a wheel. Every day there’s the chronic anxiety of waiting for news, the horrible rush when it turns out to be bad, the overwhelming sense of déjà vu – and the knowledge that, despite your best efforts, you’ll probably be here again. Even so-called good days are not without their drawbacks. You enjoy them as much as you can, but in the back of your mind there’s the lurking fear that tomorrow you could be back to square one again, or worse.

Amy comes across as being a very lonely woman, who despite her genius, struggled with self-acceptance and sought her escape in drugs. Mitch does try to pin the blame for her addiction on her ex- husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, but it’s clear that her psychological problems started way back in her childhood.

Overall, I found the book  fascinating in parts and boring in others.

I received an ARC of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a review.

 

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I’m blogging through the 31 Days of October (grab this button from the sidebar if you are too).

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Zulu Principle

African maskZulus, as the world knows, were fierce warriors from southern Africa. They fought valiantly against the British, before being defeated by a force that was better armed and trained.

Undoubtedly, this proud race of people who were dominant in southern Africa before the arrival of the white man on the continent,  subscribed to some principles, which held their people together. What were these principles, might be of interest to some, though not all of us.

But this post is not about the Zulus or their principles. Rather, it is about specialising. The term ‘Zulu Principle‘ was coined by Jim Slater, an investment banker who first shot to fame as the sponsor of the 1972 World Chess Championship chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, held in Raykjavik, Iceland.

Slater subsequently published a book articulating his approach to investing and called it The Zulu Principle. According to him, the idea of the name occurred to him when he found that his wife knew more than he did about the Zulus, after reading a four page article in the Reader’s Digest on the subject. It struck him that

“if she had then borrowed all the available books on Zulus from the local library, she would have become the leading expert in the county. If she has subsequently been invited to stay on a Zulu kraal (by an unsuspecting chief) and read about the history of Zulus at Johannesburg University for another six months, she would have become one of the leading experts in the world.”

What Slater suggests in his book is that a small investor focuses on or specialises in a particular sector or company, especially if it is neglected or out of favor with the market. This will give the small investor a competitive advantage over other larger players in the market, who will take much longer to assimilate and factor in news that affects the sector or company.

Whilst there is no gainsaying the  utility of this approach to investing, particularly for a small investor with limited funds at his disposal, I believe that it has universal applicability. Particularly in situations involving a career or a hobby or interest.

Zulu Principle
Zulu Principle

For example, in almost any organization there are some jobs that are considered glamorous because of the high visibility or perks. But the competition for these posts is intense, with the high fliers jostling for the limelight. Simultaneously, the price of failure is very high.

On the other hand, there are certain jobs that are not so exciting or glamorous. For someone who is not a high flier, per se, it may make sense to voluntarily opt for such a low profile job and master the nuances of it. So that, in course of time, a situation evolves when others beat a path to the door of the expert.

I have observed the benefit of this approach and can vouch for its efficacy in real life. A friend of mine who was a middle- level executive in a nationalized insurance company was being recruited by one of the new private sector insurers.

At the interview he was offered a job which also involved marketing. Wisely, he declined as he did not have a flair for marketing. Instead, he opted for a job as an underwriter, which involved fixing of the rates and terms of the insurance and where he leveraged his strengths. This despite the fact that the marketing job offered a better compensation package.

When I last met him he had been promoted and was transferred to the head office of the company in a very senior position. I believe that unknowingly, he had applied the Zulu Principle and landed on his feet.

As you look around, you will see the Zulu Principle being applied, consciously or unconsciously, in so many different areas. For example, Sachin Tendulkar is now concentrating only on Test cricket in an attempt to prolong his career. In a similar vein, there are many examples of aspiring actors or models who, realising that intensity of the competition to be in front of the camera,  have transitioned to roles behind the camera, with great success. Even in the world of blogging, the Zulu principle is widely applied.

As blogger don’t we all specialise in some genre of blogs? For one, it may be humour. For another, it may be food. And for a third it may be travel. Or maybe, just photos. Some even write only for competitions, irrespective of the topic. The list is endless.

Actually,  even in this Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, some of us have used the Zulu Principle. We have formed this sub-group of bloggers who, for the period of this challenge,  have committed to following and commenting on each others blogs. In this manner, we have focused our attention on just a few blogs and in the process made new friends.

For Corinne and me, this challenge was fun, though a bit strenuous.  Of course, we really can’t complain because we had Pablo to assist us by pitching in with a few posts. 😉

Today we’re on Z of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Amity and Sorrow

Amity & Sorrow: A Novel
Amity & Sorrow: A Novel

Title: Amity and Sorrow
Author: Peggy Riley
ISBN: 0316220884 (ISBN13: 9780316220880)
Publisher : Little Brown and Company
Available on Amazon here.

One of the most riveting reads for me this year, Amity and Sorrow would have seemed far-fetched to me if I hadn’t recently read about sister-wives and the certain cults that exist in the US.

Here’s how the story begins: Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car. Amity and Sorrow. Their hands are hot and close together. A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist.

Their mother, Amaranth, is driving at a crazy speed to get away from their father, the leader of a cult.  She manages to pull out her teenage daughters from a suspicious fire and escape with them in a battered car. The girls have never seen the world outside and Sorrow is tied to her sister to prevent her from running away.  Amaranth, driving for four days with almost no sleep, crashes the car somewhere in rural Oklahoma, leaving them stranded outside a gas station.  A downtrodden farmer, Bradley and his adopted son, Dust come to their aid.

The women take shelter in the farmer’s porch and thus begins Amaranth’s attempts to give her daughters a somewhat normal life. Until now, normal for these girls meant living in a cult where their father had 50 wives and 27 children! Their fascination with and fear of the ordinary things and relationships in the outside world is told very well.

The story is told from Amaranth and Amity’s perspective, but a large part of it about the unwillingness of Sorrow to accept the reality that her father is not God and she is not the Oracle.  Amaranth, who as the first wife of  the cult’s leader, was an active participant in its creation, battles with her own guilt and fears, while being determined to ‘normalize’ life for her girls.  Amity, the more open and positive of the two sisters too struggles with a mixture of a burden for her sister’s well-being and a fascination for the ‘new world’ she is now exposed too.

Going back and forth between the past and the present, told in two distinct voices,  filled with dark imagery and deep emotions, the book comes off as being a struggle between good and evil, the past and the future, hope and despair. I liked the way the author has explored the relationships – mother and daughters, sisters, husband and wife, wife and sister-wives, etc.  I’m not going to give away the ending. Suffice to say, it left me with mixed emotions and made the story all the more believable for me.

I received this book in exchange for a review from NetGalley.

 

 

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Well Of Death

Unlike Corinne, who has spent her early years in different parts of India, courtesy the Indian Army, I have always lived in one city, viz. Mumbai. And I grew up in a quaint suburb, just on the outskirts of Greater Bombay, as the city was earlier referred to.

Ranwar Village - Heritage under threat *The suburb was and is called Bandra. Of course, the Bandra of my youth no longer exists except in some sepia photographs in old albums. No, I am not referring to music albums…..

Today, Bandra has merged into the city. And all the old beautiful cottages that dotted the landscape have disappeared to make way for high rise buildings. I guess it is the price of progress.

One of the highlights of any year for Bandraites, especially those who had lived there for generations, was the Bandra Feast and the accompanying Fair. The Bandra Feast is a religious occasion and is celebrated in a Basilica on a hill overlooking the sea, and referred to locally as the Mount and still attracts crowds from all religions.  The Bandra Fair,  on the other hand, was eight days of fun, music, dancing and eating.

I deliberately use the past tense because the Fair as I remember it no longer takes place. Something masquerading as a fair is still held on a road leading down from the Mount, with apartment blocks on both sides.

In the days I am reminiscing about, there were open plots of land on either side of this very same road and stalls were set up in these plots. And one of these plots had something we schoolboys looked forward to visiting and that was the Well of Death.

The Well of Death was literally a well constructed of wooden planks with a viewing gallery along the circumference at the top. You bought a ticket and climbed up to the gallery from where you could look down into the well.

At the bottom of the well were parked three or four well oiled motorbikes, brilliantly painted. Remember, these were days when Mr. Munjal was still manufacturing only Hero cycles and had not yet tied up with Honda Motors to set up Hero Honda Ltd. And those were the days when I did not even own a bicycle. Actually, I think I was still engaged in raising capital to buy one.

So our eyes used to light up to see those bikes parked there in all their glory. As the gallery filled up, all eyes would focus on a door in the wall of the well. And abruptly, the door would open and three or four young men in tightly fitting clothes with dazzling jackets would enter, in single file. Sometimes, they would be accompanied by a young lady, dressed identically.

And without much ado, they would proceed to mount the bikes, kick start the engines and then increase the revs to a crescendo, till all other sounds were drowned out. Oh, what a thrill is was for us youngsters craning our necks to get a view of the daredevils below.

2619966289_76948a024b_bOnce the crowd had been mesmerised, one of the riders would slowly roll his bike forward towards the base of the well that was slightly sloped or curved. And he would ride around the base, gaining speed with each successive lap.

And then, suddenly, without any warning, he would angle the bike upward and ride round the vertical walls of the well. In quick succession, another rider would roll his bike and after repeating the preliminary maneuvers,  join the first rider, but  traverse in the opposite direction. Our hearts used to be in our mouths anticipating a collision.

After the first pair had returned to earth, (pun intended) another pair would perform similar acrobatics on their bikes. And as a finale, all the four rides would be riding along the walls, each shooting off in a different direction and scaring us no end.

Whilst we boys would have liked to go to the shows on a daily basis, our financial position was usually quite unstable!  So we could afford to take in one or at the most two shows a year. As we grew older, I guess we just outgrew the thrill of the Well of Death. But the memories of those swashbuckling daredevils will always remain with me.

Corinne tells me that even today, in fairs in other parts of India such shows are held with lots of modern trappings, like music and lighting. Maybe I will one day revisit a Well of Death, if I get an opportunity. And hopefully the thrill will still be there.

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Today we’re on W of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.

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Photo Credit: Canis Major via Compfight cc

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