3 Books to read over a long weekend

Arts & Culture   June 3, 2019
Holidays are good but books are even better!

The next weekend is going to be a long one, thanks to the Eid Holidays announced by the government of Pakistan.

However, with money in the wallet and time in hand, most people would go to amusement parks and/or cinemas to get entertained. There is another category of people in Pakistan that likes to sit at home and read books to improve their intellect, who consider going out a waste of time.

It is for that category that we shine the ‘Spotlight’ on some of the books that might interest you and keep you company when others have left to celebrate Eid.

Book No. 1 – The Mercurial Mr. Bhutto and Other Stories

Everyone goes through different moments in life be it funny ones or tragic; romantic or non-romantic; permanently famous or temporary but to capture all emotions in one book is something only an accomplished writer would do. Journalist turned author Maheen Usmani has just done exactly that in her debut collection of short stories titled The Mercurial Mr. Bhutto and Other Stories that take you in a world where things were simpler until darkness took over.

The writing style in this book may appeal to a few because it sort of resembles the format attempted by the great Jeffery Archer; Maheen Usmani’s writing keeps the readers intrigued regarding the scenario and she delivers a twist at the end that leaves them perplexed about the whole story.

There is hardly anything one could have done in The Mercurial Mr. Bhutto to save the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, yet the point of view of a kid growing in the Karachi of the 1970s will strike as out-of-the-box. 15 Minutes Of Fame talks about the helplessness of a Karachi-ite in the face of danger as well as the insensitive approach of our local media, which goes one step up in Home Sweet Home where a bureaucrat laments about his newly-constructed home, in a sarcastic way.

Small Change deals with the reunion of two childhood friends while the City Of Lights talks about the life where there is light through a generator; Labyrinth deals with a Pakistani housewife in alien land while High Tide is about two lovers who couldn’t be together for some reason. In the final story titled Baby, the author creates a scenario that will give you goosebumps since it involves a child, a predator and a mother who knows exactly what’s going on.

There are two short stories that stand out for me in this collection – Fifty Shades of Grief and Maestro. In the former, a few friends meet at the funeral of one of their friend’s wife but it is only when they discuss the deceased’s death they realize that it could be a homicide; in the latter, the author paints a picture of a legendary music composer who resembled our very own Aamir Zaki who passed away a couple of years back.

She doesn’t name any names but from the very first page, you know who she is referring to. On the whole, it’s a perfect book for those who are interested in reading short stories and getting surprised at the end. After a few chapters, you might want to predict the end but trust me, the author has handled it well and keeps you making incorrect guesses till the twist in the tale. Make the most of the idle time to feed your brain with something that it needs to keep it working.

Book No. 2 – Shahid Afridi’s Game Changer

And then there are books the shock you with details that you know are fabricated, incorrect and put in to make the subject look good. For someone who grew up in the 1990s, Shahid Afridi was a star and continues to shine to this day. However, the way he explained his career choices, his limited options while playing a match or his journey as a captain isn’t worth someone who has represented Pakistan for over 20 years.

Not only does he admit that he wasn’t 16 when he first represented Pakistan, he even corrected the corrected age during the book launch of Game Changer, claiming that the publisher in India changed his date of birth to make him look bad. Dude, do you still believe that we believe that you were 16 on debut? Nope, we never did!

In the book, some interesting incidents that happened during Afridi’s career were mentioned such as the chewing of the ball, the dressing room brawl featuring Mohammad Asif and Shoaib Akhtar, the change in dressing room atmosphere when Salman Butt was named Captain, etc.

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However, the tampering of the pitch committed by Afridi doesn’t get the mention or he may have conveniently forgotten about it. After all, he was growing up, moving from teenage to his 20s! The book seems to have been narrated by someone who isn’t Shahid Afridi because the language isn’t for a layman who loves Cricket and Afridi. In fact, it would have suited someone like Ahmed Shehzad who was a wannabe when he made his debut and remains so after so many years.

But even then, we have a lot of fans in Pakistan who want to know what went through Shahid Afridi’s mind when he was at the center in some of the iconic matches he won for Pakistan.

Why he was always angry against India and Sri Lanka, what made him announce retirements every now and then and how was he the most important person when it came to the Spot-fixing saga in 2010. Read all about it in this book that Afridi has come up with Wajahat S Khan, and that went onto become the leading books of all time, featuring a Pakistani celebrity.

Book No. 3 – The Cuckoo’s Calling

He is a struggling private investigator who lost his leg during the Afghan War. She is his temporary secretary who is enthusiastic about detective work. Together, Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott find themselves stuck in the mysterious death of Lula Landry, a promising 23-year-old model who died in circumstances that baffled the police.

Written by J. K. Rowling, published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, this first of Strike novels kick-started a series that so far has four best-selling novels including The Silkworm (2014), Career of Evil (2015), and Lethal White (2018).

The story takes place in modern day London where everything happens fast, even death. The deceased’s  ‘brother’ John Bristow approaches Cormoran Strike Bristow believing that the supermodel didn’t die a natural death as she was feeling well a day before; he asks Strike to find out what really happened and with Strike having no job, and no place to live, he decides to give the case a try.

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With Robin Ellacott joining him as his secretary, the two go on a mission to find out what really happened in Lula Landry’s life which was not what they initially expected. There was more than meets the eye in case of the model, her friends, family, and acquaintances all had to do something or the other that resulted in her shortened life.

At a time when people don’t read novels, JK Rowling’s attempt to come up with classic literature is something to be commended. The way the narrative has been presented reminds you of the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, in contemporary settings. You will be hooked to the novel from start till finish and be surprised by the end as well, after which Robin stayed back with Strike and the two had a great time solving more cases.