Mesmerized by Maugham

Mesmerized by MaughamSandhya Iyer

It's a relief to know that the art of reading has not diminished one bit in this age of technology. The mushrooming of numerous blogs, which discuss only books, is a testament to that. While some do it professionally, some do it for the pure love of reading. Sandhya Iyer's blog belongs to the latter category.
Sandhya is in no hurry to come up with the review of the latest releases. Instead, she just ruminates over books of different genres and writes an insightful review. Perhaps, this might be the reason why the page hits on her blog never come down even if the blog hasn't been updated for a year.
Sandhya's blog also lured me to read her favourite author, Somerset Maugham. I am currently reading his 'The Painted Veil'
If you love books and want to start a serious conversation on books, Sandhya's blog is a great place to do so.
Let me introduce her to you.
Sandhya, tell us about yourself.
If you ask from the point of view of career, then much of my time has been spent in various newsrooms. I started as a campus reporter at 'Midday', where I connected with some of the best and brightest names in journalism. My love for language was constant, and I think, without realising it, I had a deep interest in the business of information dissemination as well. I went on to work with 'The Times of India', 'Sakaal Times' and 'The New India Express' (Kochi). With both journalism and publishing careers being on the decline, it is important to consider fields where editorial skills would still be valuable but in a new context. Content publishing for brands is a growing field, and I do see myself gravitating towards it.
2. After reading your blog, I presume that Somerset Maugham is one of your favourite authors. Even your blog is named after his last work, 'The Summing Up'. How did you come to be his avid admirer?
I remember a friend showing me a film called 'The Painted Veil.' I was deeply touched by that experience, and I ended up reading the book on which the film was based. Soon, that book became one of my most favourite possessions, because everything in that novel - right from its genteel Edwardian setting, the powerful plot, the searing insight it provides into the human condition, and its ability to be so perceptive about human weakness - spoke to me in a manner few others ever have. I was mesmerised by Maugham, and soon enough, I was devouring every one of his books. I was lucky he has a tall body of work, and the four years that it took me to read up his entire oeuvre gave me immeasurable happiness.

Sandhya Iyer

3. Your book reviews are insightful. You are concentrating not only on fiction but all genres. What is your criteria for selecting a book for reading and book reviewing?
Yes, my book blog is an indulgence for me, in that I don't necessarily review latest releases. In fact, most of the books that I have written about are classics or contemporary classics. I read and review as I please. I was doing a lot of book reviews for the newspapers I worked for, so that allowed me to keep my blog going. Usually, though, I like to read books that I feel are relevant to my life phase in some sense. When I moved to Toronto, I had a deep urge to know more about Canada, and hence I took up books that could give me an insight into the country's cultural and political character. Now that I am not reviewing professionally, I choose books with particular care.
4. When did you start blogging?
As early as 2007. I was doing a lot of writing anyway as a journalist, and maintaining a blog seemed like a logical thing to do.
5. I had never thought of buying a Kindle until a month ago when I realised that it is one of the best possible ways to read my favourite books without spending too much money. What is your take on e-books?
I haven't used Kindle yet, but I am sure I will like it a lot. Books for me are a way to get way from technology. I do a lot of short-form reading on my laptop, iPad, and smartphone, but I tend to turn to physical books for immersive leisure reading. One of the reasons is because I currently have access to one of the best libraries, where practically any book can be found. I also tend to mark a lot of words and sentences, and then take notes later. But yes, there is no doubt that physical books are not going to be with us forever. They are already becoming scarce and in 50 years, they could well become a curious object like a cassette or typewriter.
6. Are you a fast reader? Do you also review every book you read?
I am not a fast reader necessarily, but I am a committed reader. When I'm reading a book that gives me endless joy and thrill, I actually tend to slow down my reading, so I can savour every word and phrase. I don't actually review all the books I read, for various reasons. Sometimes, I am so overwhelmed by the writing that I can't summon up the courage to review it. But mostly, when I don't review a book I read, it is because of laziness and a lack of time.
7. You have another blog called 'Matinee Mix', which concentrates on movies. Unlike your book blog, it is not updated frequently. The reviews are insightful just like your book blog. Do you plan to revive it in the near future?
I was a film reporter for many years. I was always passionate about movies and had a thorough knowledge of the beat. I'm proud to have done some memorable interviews. Again, like my book blog, I started Matinee Mix because I was writing a lot on films. I haven't been updating that blog at all because my film viewing has drastically reduced. Also, whenever I feel like saying something about a film, I tend to post a few lines on FB or on some other film blog.
8. Most readers nurture a dream of being a writer? Do you have such a dream or a plan?
Definitely! The more you read, the better equipped you are to tell a story. There are no immediate plans, but I do see myself writing a short story at the very least. I think we can agree that pursuing a writing career is not all that feasible. The publishing industry is on the decline, so writing a book is more a matter of self-expression and prestige rather than an avenue for making a lot of money. There are exceptions of course, but by and large, even well-known writers have to take up second jobs such as teaching to make their writing careers viable.
9. Which is your favourite genre? What is your take on 'surrealist fiction'?
In fiction, I enjoy period dramas, family stories, romances etc. I don't think I have read any surrealist fiction.
10. Do you think reading 'classics' is a must for a book reader? If yes, suggest some of the must read books?
I think classics are classics for a reason, so it is always good to dip into it. But remember, the reputation of an author or book waxes and wanes through the passage of time. Stunningly, Somerset Maugham was undermined by critics for a long time, which meant his name never appeared among the greats. However, his books have lived on. There is something to be said about the timeless wisdom and perspicuity in Maugham's writing that his plays are regularly staged for audiences around the world, and his novels continue to be adapted for the big screen. Not all classics are timeless, but a good number of them are. My own favourites are Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Mark Twain. Among the books that have made a deep impression on me are 'Pride and Prejudice', 'Persuasion', 'Huckleberry Finn', 'Tom Sawyer' and 'Middlemarch'. I have read all of Maugham's books, but my personal favourite would be 'The Painted Veil', 'Up At The Villa', 'The Vagrant Mood', and his play, 'The Land of Promise'. I am also a huge admirer of his short story collections.
11. Now Amish's 'Sita, the warrior' has been released. Chetan Bhagat's book has been included in the syllabus of Delhi University. What is your take on Indian contemporary writers and Indian writing in English?
I always enjoy reading Indian writing in English. Our writers are able to capture so much atmospherics. But I don't know the wisdom of having Chetan Bhagat's book as part of the syllabus. He is an important phenomenon in terms of making book-reading accessible to the average or below average English reader, but I don't think I'd like to do a critical analysis of his plot or characters as part of a course. Some of the books that are prescribed in a course are the only ones many students will ever read in their entire lifetime, so careful deliberation should be there in choice of books.

12. Apart from reading and writing what are your other interests?
Cooking, nature, music, shopping.
13. Your 10 favourite books and 10 movies
Funny Boy - Shyam Selvadurai
The Hungry Ghosts - Shyam Selvadurai
The Painted Veil - Somerset Maugham
The Vagrant Mood - Somerset Maugham
Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Persuasion - Jane Austen
Middlemarch- George Eliot
Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor
The Land of Promise - Somerset Maugham
Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander
Kandukondain Kandukondain (Tamil)
Varavelpu (Malayalam)
The Second Best Marigold Hotel
The Best Marigold Hotel
Bangalore Days
(Shalet Jimmy is a freelance journalist)

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