Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Search for a purpose: The first effort

One day I decided I could not live on any longer without a purpose. Unlike the ambitious lot, I do not have a long term purpose of making it big. This makes my daily existence solely and totally dependent on self decided short term purposes. Last year it was learning tennis, then making a football team. Lately time and extreme mobility don't offer me the luxury to pursue those dreams. But, I decided, things could not go on like this.

So after a great deal of thought and analysis (not resulting in getting myself psyched up for a change); I figured a way out. Getting back my reading habit and occupy myself with books. Then again, choice of books also presents another dilemma. Recommendations, highly rated, referenced, less famous works by favorite authors, popular, random picks from the bookshop; too much to decide. I decided to give this quest a direction too, inspired from the chase for the IMDb top 250 movies.

I researched for lists of most critically acclaimed novels and zeroed in on 2 of them: the TIME magazine list and the Modern Library list. I know the subjectivity of this method, but I figured out there was hardly any harm in reading a few famous books at the least. Snooty as it may sound.

The reading list was made by extracting the common books out of the two lists, consisting of 100 books each (thank you, my limited excel skills). That left 44 books in the common list. An initial assessment revealed that I had managed just 5 out of the 44, a figure reminiscent of my college maths marks. *Sniff*

You can find the lists in the Excel sheet here.

It was not easy to find those books too, in the priority order that I had made after reading a synopsis of each. However, I just managed to finish the first book in the quest and will put my reading experience and perspective in this space (I hate calling it review, hardly qualified to review such stuff).

The first book in this list was "Brideshead Revisited" by Evelyn Waugh.

It is indeed a strange experience to find an author come just short of trashing his own creation in the prologue and then go ahead and read the book. But, then, it also acts a disclaimer. When the writer himself, in retrospect, brands the language "rhetorical and ornamental" and the content focusing on splendors of the past and infused with gluttonous references to good food and wine, there is little you can add to that. And then there is the deep underlying theme of religion, which I have never come to appreciate much in literature or cinema.

All said and done, it was a wonderful book; probably because I could relate to the predicament (a judgmental word) of Sebastian, a dear friend of the protagonist and first person narrator Captain Charles Ryder. The book itself is written in retrospect, a drift down the memory lane triggered by a chance visit by a now captain in the army to a place he had been associated with all through his past. A place where he did not belong, but was always in awe of. A place where his blue blooded friend Sebastian belonged to, but chose to refer it as "a place where my family stays" rather than his own home. Brideshead.

The entire novel is the story of how Charles, an ordinary college going adolescent, gets acquainted to a prodigal and disillusioned Sebastian which leads to an initial infatuation with the royal life style. As Charles gets to know more of his friends reason for disillusionment, and erratic behavior in the front of the family, he himself finds himself distant from that world and in search of his own.

If the story centered around Sebastian and the reasons for his disengagement and disinterest, I would have liked the novel much more. Instead, in my opinion, it ends up presenting a most dishonest perspective of the narrator, probably intentionally so. The first person tone and assertiveness grew stronger towards the end, so much so that it presented the narrator as an unparalleled apostle of self righteousness and devoid of any human emotions and feeling. If such was the intention, then it was a perfect way to achieve it.

So much for this book. I have moved on to the next one, which I will discuss soon hopefully.

Much has happened in between, in terms of experiences and I must finish those unfinished drafts to have them in print. I'll get back to doing that then.