“We Need to Talk About Kevin” – A Powerful Book About Ugly Things

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“You can only subject people to anguish who have a conscience. You can only punish people who have hopes to frustrate or attachments to sever; who worry what you think of them. You can really only punish people who are already a little bit good.”

― Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Those lines summarize the whole personality of Lionel Shriver’s protagonist Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin.

“Had I catalogued the downsides of parenthood, “son might turn out to be a killer” would never have turned up on the list.”

What happens when you give birth to a child who doesn’t have any conscience, any emotion to speak of, and who is downright evil? You got to recognise the abnormality and get medical help (that’s the best one can do as a parent). But, in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, Eva Khatchadourian despite recognising the tell-tale signs, failed to do anything about it and lost everything that was life. Franklin, on the other hand, seemed blindly oblivious to his son’s faults and failed to see the things shaping toward a doomed end. Kevin, he was evil: born that way. Some kind of medical help could have helped him (or may be not). But Eva, I disliked her as a mother: for being so cold and aloof; for seeing Kevin for what he was and not doing a single thing about that. Although, in the end my heart cried for her as well (what else a mother could have done?).

 

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If you are a parent, do read it. Once, at least. But I warn you it is a powerful book about ugly things – difficult, depressing, dark, and soul-dampening. It will stay with you for a long time.

Neena has compiled ‘YOU left me, sweets two legacies:Famous Love Poems’, a collection of 61 famous classic poems under her pen name Avira N.

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Thomas Hardy – The beauty of his writing and the gloom

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My first book by Hardy was Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the last one Jude the Obscure and then I knew I wouldn’t read another Hardy for a long time.

During late 1800’s, Thomas Hardy was the sole British author who dared to tackle several sensitive issues in his novels like sexual morality, legal status and holiness of marriage, the loss of religious faith, a person’s lone struggle to fight the isolation when he/she choses to go against the larger, accepted social norms (Sue in Jude the Obscure). I admired Sue Bridehead in Jude the Obscure for her unconventional ways but that was the extent of my admiration. His protagonists are born with bad luck and they carry it throughout their life with them like a lucky charm. In normal stories, some bad happens and people learn from their failures and rise again. In Hardy’s books, if something bad happens, you got to keep a box of tissues ready because that’s just the beginning. The worst is going to arrive soon and Hardy wouldn’t stop at that; Hardy is not the type of guy who would just stop at the glass half empty. He has to empty the glass completely.

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Despite loving his writing, his honest elucidations on things, I couldn’t just take anymore of his gloomy reflections on life, on love, on everything. But his poems…I love these. They are lovely. Maybe because a poem is so short and in a few, plain words explains all that which seems totally inexplicable!

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Here are three of my favourites.

A bleak take on love and a doomed relationship, Neutral Tones is a Thomas Hardy in every way —beautiful and soulful.

Neutral Tones

We stood by a pond that winter day,

And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,

And a few leaves lay on the starving sod,

—They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.

 

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove

Over tedious riddles solved years ago;

And some words played between us to and fro—

On which lost the more by our love.

 

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing

Alive enough to have strength to die;

And a grin of bitterness swept thereby

Like an ominous bird a-wing….

 

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,

And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me

Your face, and the God-curst sun, and a tree,

And a pond edged with grayish leaves.

………………………….

‘Thoughts of Phena, At News of Her Death’

Not a line of her writing have I,

Not a thread of her hair,

No mark of her late time as dame in her dwelling, whereby

I may picture her there;

And in vain do I urge my unsight

To conceive my lost prize

At her close, whom I knew when her dreams were upbrimming with light

And with laughter her eyes.

 

What scenes spread around her last days,

Sad, shining, or dim?

Did her gifts and compassions enray and enarch her sweet ways

With an aureate nimb?

Or did life-light decline from her years,

And mischances control

Her full day-star; unease, or regret, or forebodings, or fears

Disennoble her soul?

 

Thus I do but the phantom retain

Of the maiden of yore

As my relic; yet haply the best of her – fined in my brain

It may be the more

That no line of her writing have I,

Nor a thread of her hair,

No mark of her late time as dame in her dwelling, whereby

I may picture her there.

……………………..

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate,

When Frost was spectre-gray,

And Winter’s dregs made desolate

The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

Had sought their household fires.

 

The land’s sharp features seemed to me

The Century’s corpse outleant,

Its crypt the cloudy canopy,

The wind its death-lament.

The ancient pulse of germ and birth

Was shrunken hard and dry,

And every spirit upon earth

Seemed fervourless as I.

 

At once a voice arose among

The bleak twigs overhead,

In a full-hearted evensong

Of joy illimited.

An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,

With blast-beruffled plume,

Had chosen thus to fling his soul

Upon the growing gloom.

 

So little cause for carolings

Of such ecstatic sound

Was written on terrestrial things

Afar or nigh around,

That I could think there trembled through

His happy good-night air

Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew,

And I was unaware.

Neena has compiled ‘YOU left me, sweets two legacies:Famous Love Poems’, a collection of 61 famous classic love poems under her pen name Avira N. The book is:
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The Stories That Left Me Exhausted: Say You Are One of Them.

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There are stories you read that make you aware that you’ve known nothing, you’ve experienced nothing, you’ve suffered nothing. The stories that make your own sorrow look so meagre you feel ashamed to have named those feelings ‘sufferings’ at all. When you think your heartache is biggest of all, you come across a book, a story, a piece of writing and it makes you aware that your misery is nothing at all. There are people who have suffered more, suffered greatly, suffered ceaselessly, and have suffered pure evil.

Say You Are One of Them was one of those books that changed my whole perspective about life. This was the book that changed my thinking, taught me to differentiate between the real SORROW and a mere DISCOMFORT. This was the book that taught me to appreciate my life — as it was, as it is — a good life. This was the book that taught me to be happy because I had so much to be happy about.

In each narrative, each told from the perspective of a child from a different African country, Akpan: intense and vivid and yet simple, portrays the terror, the fear, the dreadfulness of the mundane details of everyday life. Say You Are One of Them is a collection of five stories — two of which are long enough to fall in the category of novella — of family and friendship, of betrayal and redemption. Akpan simply and straightforwardly emphasizes the tenacity and perseverance of fragile children. The horrors that each of those small children go through exist outside the realm of anything logical.

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All five of book’s stories are captivating, but “Fattening for Gabon” is the one that left a lasting impression on me. It’s one of the longest as well: over hundred pages and resembles a dark fairy tale in its slow and sinister build up toward an evil climax. The protagonists, a 10-year-old boy who, along with his 5-year-old sister, are sent to live with their uncle because their parents are dying of AIDS. Uncle makes a deal with devil and sell them to become merchandises in human trafficking network. Since an emaciated body will not achieve much at market, both of them are fed on feasts for the slave trade. Akpan uses a first person narrative in it; the story is told from the perspective of 10 year old boy and that’s where it drives its power as well. There is a strong disparity between the child’s utterly dim perceptions of what awaits them and us readers’ adult awareness that something evil is lurking in the shadow.

I read this book before I become a mother. And I’m glad for that. There’s no way I would pick a book where small children are sucked down into horror of pure evil and the evil triumphs.

It left me depressed — for weeks. It left me exhausted and spent. I remember finishing it and then I went on to read Mists of Avalon which was equally exhausting but in a different way. I remember I was in this gloomy mood for weeks. I don’t remember how I came out of that melancholic slumber. I must have read something funny like The Princess Bride or something utterly sweet like Anne of Green Gables. Be careful if you decide to read this book. You will not forget it for a long time and you’re damned to remember it.

Neena has compiled ‘YOU left me, sweets two legacies:Famous Love Poems’, a collection of 61 famous classic love poems. The book is:

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“Hardships make or break people.” ― But what about kindness Scarlett?

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When I first read Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, I was completely blown away by this historical saga of a coming-of-age story of survival, of endurance. Despite the length of the book which was over 1000 pages, the pace never turned sluggish. I finished it in less than a week. Then, I eagerly waited for other members of my book club to finish reading it, so we could’ve a discussion. Everyone, as expected, loved the book but not for the reasons I imagined they would love. I was appalled to realise everyone else loved it because of Scarlett’s proto-feminist badass characters.

Surely Scarlett was strong, passionate, and brave. She was self-willed and a survivor. But she was also cold, calculative, and utterly manipulative. She was shallow and insensitive. She, for the entire part, could not respond to genuine emotions of those who loved her, pursued Ashley Wilkes throughout her three marriages for reasons that at most could be called inconsequential and vain. She literally seemed incapable of feeling genuine emotions. Her behaviour was considerate only in case of matters non-vital.

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Scarlett O’Hara was a spoiled, selfish girl in the beginning. The adversities of the Civil War turned her into a hardened, scrupulous individual. Whereas, Melanie never lost her humility despite going through the same set of adversities as Scarlet went through. It was really shocking to realise that many people dismissed Melanie’s goodness, her self-sacrificing nature, and her gentleness as a weakness of character.

For me, Scarlett came out as a negative character. I disliked her all through the book. I was relieved to know that even in the end, Mitchel didn’t change her. Because I don’t think a person can really change, not the soul at least. Change of attitude, behaviour, habits, interest do occur; that’s just personal growth over the period of time. But a person’s soul, the inner core deep down, it never changes. I loved Mitchel for that. She took a negative character and made it her protagonist. Now if we look at general definition of a psychopath, a psychopath is a person with a psychopathic personality, which manifests as amoral and antisocial behavior, lack of ability to love or establish meaningful personal relationships, extreme egocentricity, etc. If not a complete psychopath, Scarlett, definitely, exhibited enough personality traits to be put in the category of partial psychopaths. Many people would argue that she was considerate enough, however, her consideration was limited to superfluous matters. The things that mattered most, she couldn’t care enough.

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In an interview with a Sunday Journal, broadcasted on radio in 1936, in answer to a question about Scarlett’s character, Margaret Mitchel clarified how hardship, poverty and sorrow of the war changed Scarlett from a selfish, egocentric, but otherwise normal Southern girl to a hardened adventuress. That officially should clear the matter for those who perceive and suggest that Mitchel wrote a flawless character in Scarlet.

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Until a few years earlier only the term ‘feminist’ was considered trendy; the era where a woman was celebrated for her accomplishments. Nowadays, the term ‘badass feminist’ has become a trend. The term ‘badass’ was originated in 1950s: from the adjective bad + ass. Badass is defined as either — a tough, uncompromising, or intimidating person or — a formidably impressive person. Nowhere, it’s defined as selfish, egocentric, corrupt person.

Badass feminism implies celebrating the women for their kick-ass attitude, but seemingly, it is purposely, insistently, and widely misrepresented and misunderstood. Instead of idolising a selfish and awful protagonist like Scarlett how about idolising Charlotte Bronte’s Jane of “Jane Eyre” or L. M. Montgomery’s Anne from “Anne of Green Gables” or Louisa May Alcott’s Jo from “Little Women” and of course Melanie! The list goes on and on. It’s disheartening to think how people in general prefer a Scarlett over a Melanie.

Neena has compiled ‘YOU left me, sweets two legacies:Famous Love Poems’, a collection of 61 famous classic love poems. The book is:

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Kids, Books, and Reading- Getting My Kids to Love Books!

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The first time I learned I was going to be a mom, I knew my boy would be a voracious reader. I vowed to make him a book addict, in case, he inherited my husband’s genes who was awfully allergic to literature. Some people were appalled at my idea of forcing my interest on my children, readers among them. But I had a beautiful bookcase in our home office; its shelves laden with all my favourite authors from Tolstoy, Fitzgerald, Wilkie Collins, Steinbeck, Jane Austin, Alexandre Dumas, Gabriel García Márquez, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, L. M. Montgomery, Sue Miller, Rowling (as Galbraith), John Irving, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Daphne du Maurier, Markus Zusak, Bernhard Schlink to countless others, all collected with passion and waiting for my boy (and his little sister) to grow up and read those one by one.

When he started kindergarten, I began my efforts of turning him into a reader. It wasn’t a problem. He loved books. He loved dinosaurs and woolly mammals. He loved books about bugs and spiders and lizards and snakes. He loved learning about wolves and sharks and extinct species. He loved books about cars and trucks and how the machines worked. He loved everything non-living and living (which has no feelings). He was hungry for knowledge. I was proud of his tastes, but at the same time, I knew he had to love fiction as well if he wanted to fall in love with reading on the whole. He was a practical, down-to-earth little boy, so unlike me—his mom: a sentimental daydreamer, and he had no love for anything fictional. Our library visits comprised bag full of tree house DVD’s and a solitary story book (that I never get a chance to read to him anyway) with ten books about wild life. I started with every available classic story for boys, tried storybooks with animal characters (considering he loved wild life), and shifted to comics like marvel, then in desperation tried almost every manga, superhero sequels and everything and anything I thought he would find interesting. Nothing worked. And then at the beginning of grade two he started reading fluently, got a fantasy book as home reading from school one day and fell in love with the book, the series, and the reading. It was so easy. I thought I had tried everything. Obviously, I had missed fantasy. By the end of grade two, he had read over two hundred books, mostly full series. Grade three introduced him to Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and many others. He is a hard-core reader now; the kind who never leaves home without a book. He takes book to family get-togethers, doctor’s office, grocery shopping (seriously!), long travelling, playdates with cousins (yes!) and anywhere else he knows he has to sit doing nothing over two minutes. He is equally passionate about fiction as well as non-fiction.

By the time his little sister started school, I was ready for her. I had experience. I started with my boy’s favourites. She hated everything her brother loved. Once again, I was left clueless. It took me all of her kindergarten, grade one to third term of grade two and countless books to learn that she loves manga (the mysteries). I started that way too; never could get enough comics. I know there are people who would roll their eyes at comics, manga. As a voracious reader, I know you got to read everything from bad to good. I don’t believe a book can be bad; it’s the writing that is good or bad. Every book teaches you a thing or two about life. Now I don’t care about the shelves full of my favourite books anymore. My kids might read those; it wouldn’t matter if they don’t want to. There are millions of books to read; thousands of awesome books to fall in love with. They will have their own favourite authors, their own favourite genre. I’m happy knowing they love reading. All of you who love books as much as I do will understand my bliss as a mom of hard-core readers.

Neena has compiled ‘YOU left me, sweets, two legacies: Famous Love Poems’, a collection of 61 famous, classic love poems under her pen name Avira N. the book is:

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