I’m up to 52 books for the year, which means I’ve already met my annual goal. Hooray! Here’s a look at two books I read recently.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
I feel bad about giving Bossypants a B grade, but I have to be honest. While the early parts about her youth were good, the book lost both its rhythm and its purpose as it progressed. It stopped being an amusing memoir and became a sort of random collection of funnyish things. At times Fey seemed self-effacing to the point of belittling herself, and it was a turnoff. I mean, I chose to read the book because I thought she was a comedic genius, but I guess I was wrong, because according to her, everyone else on SNL was so much funnier than she. Also, the whole Sarah Palin thing seemed to be a sore point for her, which is a shame, because those skits were the reason that some of us became fans. There were times, though, when Fey’s voice was confident and wise and funny. So, I wouldn’t say don’t read it. I would simply suggest going into it with an adjusted set of expectations.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken (A Vish Puri Mystery) by Tarquin Hall
The main character is an Indian detective named Vish Puri. Nicknamed “Chubby” by his wife, he has a passion for food, especially butter chicken. When the father of a Pakistani cricket star dies after eating butter chicken (the same chicken that Puri himself had eaten), Puri wants to investigate, and he is lucky enough to find a client willing to hire him to do just that. The clues take him all around Delhi and eventually into Pakistan, and along the way readers get a taste of modern life in that area of the world.
I thought the book was fun, but it wasn’t fleshed out enough for me. There weren’t a lot of lavish descriptions, but it seemed like just the kind of story that ought to have them. What good is an exotic locale if you don’t describe it to its fullest, right? I also don’t know much (or care much, frankly) about the sport of cricket, and that was a hindrance.
On the positive side, Vish Puri and his mother were amusing characters. What I enjoyed most, though, were the vocabulary (a partial glossary is included at the end of the book) and the history of the region. Though I knew in a vague way that Pakistan and Indian had once been part of the same country, it never occurred to me how the Partition might have been accomplished or how it might have affected the common people. This book goes into that, which made it very interesting.
My favorite passage from the book occurs just after Puri enters Pakistan. He hears the people speaking Urdu and realizes that he understands it.
And yet hearing some of the turns of phrase and enunciation took the detective back to his childhood, when he used to roam the streets of Delhi’s walled city where, after Partition, Urdu survived amongst a few old Dilli wallahs. In those days the bazaar storytellers used to gather on the steps of the Jamme Majid on Thursday evenings and the young detective would sit and listen to them recount the great Urdu epic the Dastan-e Amir Hamza. Tales of dashing princes, cloaks of invisibility and evil djinns had held him transfixed for hours.
And the language!
The language had been pure nectar—long phrases linked like carriages to create a train of thought fraught with multiple meanings. A phrase as simple as “the moon rose” would be rendered as “the sorcerer of this world changed his robes.”