Black Beauty

Black Beauty is a book for all—regardless of age, caste, sex, nationality, religion, occupation (and so on). Many times people say that this book is for those who love animals or for those who love horses. I am not an animal lover in the sense I don’t like to keep pets at home (no dogs, no cats). I am allergic. Nor do I cuddle them (blame it on my allergy). But I am not cruel to animals and cruelty to animals annoys me!

The Author

Anna Sewell had injured her knee as a child and struggled with her health for the rest of her life. Anna was a great lover of horses. She wrote Black Beauty with hopes of changing the public’s attitude about the cruel practices inflicted on horses (in those times). When she wrote this story, Anna was bedridden. Unfortunately, Anna did not live to see the success of her work. At Ann’s funeral, her mother stopped the funeral procession to ask several carriages to remove their bearing reins.

The Book

I first read this book a very long time back (while in school), and then re-read it with my daughter (who loves cats and dogs) while she was in school.

In this book, the hero of the story, the horse named Black Beauty tells you the story of his life. There are explanations about the pains and agonies the horses have to go through—most of them because of carelessness!

Some of the points that I liked are:

  • Mother’s advice: In the starting of the book, Black Beauty’s mother advised him about how to behave “You have been well-bred and well-born; your father has a great name in these parts, and your grandfather won the cup two years at the Newmarket races; your grandmother had the sweetest temper of any horse I ever knew, and I think you have never seen me kick or bite. I hope you will grow up gentle and good, and never learn bad ways; do your work with a good will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play.”Doesn’t this remind us of our mothers? 🙂
  • About kindness: Horses earn for kindness and appreciate it as well. Black Beauty says about one (of his various masters): Our master was a good, kind man. He gave us good food, good lodging, and kind words; he spoke as kindly to us as he did to his little children. We were all fond of him.
  • New terms: You learn new terms, like breaking in. Breaking in means to teach a horse to wear a saddle and bridle, and to carry on a person on his back and to go quietly, just the way they wish.
  • Horses hate: Wearing iron shoes (which they don’t mind later). The stiff heavy collar, just on the neck. The bridle, with great side-pieces. Blinkers, that did not allow them to see on either side, but only straight in front. Crupper, a small saddle with a nasty stiff strap that went right under the tail.

    Probably, what the horse hate the most is to be harnessed. In one place, the mistress wanted the horses to be harnessed as it was a fashion statement. Without a harness, the horse can put the head forward and take the carriage up with a will, but with the harness on, the horse has to pull with the carriage with the head up and that takes up all the spirit out of the horse and strains their and legs.

  • Ignorance. Black beauty tells an incident wherein the groom had to ride in the night for a long time to get a doctor for his mistress. Since the Doctor’s horse was not available, he rode Black Beauty who was already tired. Back to the stable, Black Beauty was sweating badly. The stable boy rubbed Black Beauty’s legs and chest, but he did not put any warm cloth on Black beauty (as he was hot and sweating). Then he gave Black Beauty a pailful of cold water to drink and some hay and corn to eat. Soon Black Beauty began to shake and tremble and turned deadly cold. Fortunately, later the groom came to check on Black beauty and gave him warm water to drink and put on some warm cloth on him.

The book contains so many such incidents which makes it an interesting read. Black beauty tells of his desires and wishes which makes you feel as though a human being is narrating the story! It is also interesting to know what a horse feels about human beings!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Author: Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is one of the best books written by Daphne du Maurier. Daphne uses a narrator to tell her stories—in the first person. I don’t like reading such books and kept away the book after glancing through it. But my friend insisted that I try it out. I trust her opinions and suggestions especially, regarding books and movies and so decided to give it a try.

To my surprise, I found that Daphne’s writing gets you hooked. You pick up one of her books to read and you can keep it down only after finishing reading it! She weaves a beautiful web of mystery that holds you captive until the very end and that’s the kind of book I prefer to read when I don’t have time in hand!

About the book:

Rebecca is a beautiful, haunting, gripping tale of love, hate, and deceit. As you read it, you will feel the anxiety, apprehension, and fear described by the narrator. You get so involved with the feeling that you move through each chapter with an anxiety that only ends with the end of the novel.

Daphne narrates all these feelings in the most simple but the most justified manner Rebecca begins with the description of Manderly, a beautiful old mansion, with its menacing woods and rising turrets. It is characterized by the long winding drive. Manderly is the scene where the tale unfolds. The narrator is Max De Winter’s young and shy second wife.

The main characters of the story are Max De Winter (master of Manderly), Rebecca (De Winter’s late wife), De Winter’s second wife (who is now Manderly’s new mistress), Mrs. Danvers (the maid).

Now, Rebecca was drowned on a foggy evening in a river very close to Manderly. Nobody knows how exactly she died—was it a suicide, was she killed, was it an accident? Max De Winter meets his second wife at a hotel. She is a companion to a snobbish old lady named Mrs. Van Hopper who is very fond of playing bridge.

They meet and fall in love despite a huge age gap. And they marry in haste barely eight months after Rebecca’s death. Shy, young, and vulnerable, the new bride is in total awe of Manderly. She is lively, full of life and everything that Rebecca wasn’t.

Mrs. Danvers, the maid keeps the memory of Rebecca alive by constantly referring to her in her conversations and making comparisons. She constantly reminds everyone that Rebecca is still the mistress of Manderly and is still the queen of Max’s heart. She preserves Rebecca’s room just as it was the night before her drowning accident.

Rebecca’s shadow looms large over the young bride. She is intimidated by Mrs. Danvers whose love for her dead mistress is very scary indeed! Certain events take place at Manderly after her arrival. The poor bride sees Max withdrawing from her and himself. She begins to think that she can never make him happy like Rebecca did.

Slowly, as the story progresses she and concludes that her marriage is a failure. We can feel her pain, sorrow, fear, and all the other emotions—through her eyes we can see the web of deceit, hatred, and love that entangles Manderly and all the people who are part of it—all of it is well described by Daphne!

Rebecca’s little sailing boat is found with a skeleton lying on the cabin floor. Doubts begin to rise and that raised many questions, who’s is it? Was someone else with Rebecca when she died? Who was that? Was that a man or a woman? Then the shocking revelation and the truth about Rebecca, her death and what really happened that night, eight months ago comes out into the open.

To reveal more would be destroying the magic and charm of reading this book. Read and enjoy the magic

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a book written by Lynn Truss. The title Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation refers to a joke about a panda. 

The Title

The panda had read an entry in an encyclopedia entry on itself which stated: Panda is a large black and white bear like mammal, native to chine. It eats, shoots, and leaves. So the panda does just that—goes into a cafe, orders a sandwich, then pulls out a gun, shoots, and leaves.

The encyclopedia meant to say that panda is a mammal which eats shoots and leaves. All the problem because of an extra comma (after eats) which changed the meaning of an innocent sentence.

The book

What fascinated me was the fact that a book on punctuation was at the top of UK bestseller lists. Also, the title and it’s explanation was equally fascinating. Being a technical writer by profession, I thought this book would be an interesting, informative and educative.  I bought it, read it and found it a little  interesting, a little  informative, and a little educative! Any writer will know that the word punctuation  puts you in an alert mode and you try to be careful!

Lynn Truss’s does not teach the art of punctuation.  She just explains bad punctuation via anecdote, which is the reason why the book became so popular. There are no grammar lessons here, just explanations to why they are wrong.  Apart from comma, she also talks about the misuse of dots, ellipses (…), semicolon, apostrophe, colon, dash, hyphens, and periods (full stop).

In some places you feel that Truss is trying very hard to be funny. She has been successful in some places and not so successful in the others.

An example

I always use an example when I train the trainee writers in my group and I also found this example in this book too:

An English professor wrote the following words on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly: Woman without her man is nothing.

Men wrote: Woman, without her man, is nothing.

Women wrote: Woman! Without her, man is nothing.

Punctuation is used in sentences to make the meaning clear and to make reading easier. But as you see in this example, difference in punctuation can convey absolutely different meanings. It has to be used properly, with a lot of thought and delibration.

I have seen people who use dots very liberally. They sprinkle it everywhere. (I wanted to go…………….. but……… then I decided not to ……………..) I mean they no longer remain a dot or an ellipse. It’s an unknown punctuation mark 🙂

On the whole, it is a good read. Rather people who are interested in language might like it. Others may not!

Who Moved My Cheese

A few years back, I borrowed a book from a friend—it had an interesting title “Who moved my cheese?”. After reading it I wondered how the author came up such a simple example to tell the difficult truth. In a couple of months it turned out to be a best seller! It is probably the only one self help books I read back to back and enjoyed it as well. Imagine having mice (a species you want to shoo sway) as the character of a self help book. Yes, this book is different.

The Author: Spencer Johnson is a best selling author whose books have helped millions of people discover simple truths they can use to have healthier lives with more success and less stress. He has often been referred to as the best there is at taking complex subjects and presenting simple solutions that work.

Dr. Johnson is the author of 10 New York Times Bestsellers, including the Bestseller The One Minute Manager, the world’s most popular management method. His other bestsellers, include: The Precious Present, Yes or No: A Guide to Better Decisions, The One Minute $ales Person, The One Minute Mother, The One Minute Father, The One Minute Teacher, One Minute For Yourself, The Value Tales series (children’s books).

The Book: The book describes an amazing way to deal with change at work and in life. The book also contains real life experiences.  The book encourages managers to conduct departmental meeting on a regular basis called Smell The Cheese Often Meetings. The team members meet and discuss projects and plans. There are some questions listed in the book that can be asked during such meetings.

The Story (an introduction)

Once up a time, long long ago, in a land far away, there lived four little characters, who ran through a maze looking for cheese to nourish them and make them happy.

Two of them were mice named Sniff and Scurry and the other two were little people—beings who were as small as mice but who looked and acted a lot like people today. Their names were Hem and Haw. Due to their small size, it would be easy not to notice what the four of them were doing. But if you looked closely enough, you could discover the most amazing things!

The story is about the attitude of the mice Sniff and Scurry and the little men Hem and Haw. The mice used a trial-and-error method to find the cheese. It method was simple but inefficient. They ran down one corridor and if it was empty, they turned and ran down another. The little people used a different method that relied on their ability to think and what they learnt from their experiences. After a while, their confidence grew into arrogance.

One morning they discovered there was no cheese. Since Sniff and Scurry had noticed the supply of cheese had been getting smaller every day, they weren’t surprised. Actually they were prepared for the inevitable and knew instinctively what to do. They were quickly off in search of New Cheese.

On the other hand Hem and Haw had not been paying attention to the small changes that had been taking place each day, so they took it for granted their Cheese would be there. They were unprepared and just not ready for this situation.

While Sniff and Scurry had quickly moved on, Hem and Haw continued to hem and haw. They ranted and raved at the injustice of it all. They decide to separate and look out for cheese. To know what happened, read the book.

As the story proceeds, Haw uses his brain to do what he could do better than mice. He reflected on the mistakes he had made in the past and used them to plan for his future. He knew that he could learn to deal with change if he had noticed when the little changes began so that he could be better prepared for the big change that might be coming. Thus he could adapt the changes faster.

Moral of the story: Don’t bind yourself to your comfort zone. Even when there is a great supply of cheese, go out of the maze and explore new areas. It is safer to keep yourself updated about the happening around so that you are prepared for change, if any.

Mayor of Casterbridge

During my school and college days, Thomas Hardy has been one of my favorite authors. I liked all the books written by him and read all of them more than a dozen times. But the most favorite of his books has been The Mayor of Casterbridge—I must have read it more than 30 times.

About Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy wrote poetry and novels, though the first part of his career was devoted to the novel. At first he published anonymously, but when people became interested in his works, he began to use his own name. Like Dickens, Hardy’s novels were published in serial forms in magazines that were popular in both England and America.

His first popular novel was Under the Greenwood Tree, published in 1872. The next great novel, Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) was very popular. In addition to these larger works, Hardy published three collections of short stories and five smaller novels, all moderately successful. Before his death, he had written over 800 poems, many of them published while he was in his eighties.

About The Mayor of Casterbridge

The story is about Michael Henchard, a hay-trusser, traveling in look out for a job. He is accompanied by his wife Susan and their little daughter, Elizabeth-Jane. He finds it difficult to find employment or housing in the village. Discouraged, Michael takes liquor and becomes drunk. He believes that his marriage at a young age ruined all his chances for success. Michael hears an auction of horses, and in his drunken state he offers to sell his wife and daughter to the highest bidder.

Most of the people treat the auction as a joke, but soon a sailor offers to buy Susan and Elizabeth-Jane for five guineas, but first he makes sure that Susan is willing to go with him. Susan tries to reason with her husband, but he does not listen. She is so disgusted with Michael’s behavior that she is ready to leave with the sailor. After the auction Susan along with her daughter leaves with the sailor—after hurling her wedding-ring at Michael.

Michael wakes up—the wedding ring and the money brings the events of the evening back to him. He realizes that he was to blame for his actions, but also blames Susan for taking things too seriously. Since his excessive drinking caused the whole situation, Michael makes an oath that he will abstain from all liquor for 21 years and he sets out to search for his wife and daughter. Soon he learns that 3 people matching their descriptions have emigrated. Michael gives up the search and goes to the town of Casterbridge where he lives the life of a gentleman. He slowly becomes influential as a prosperous merchant and also becomes the mayor.

Eighteen years later, Susan and Elizabeth-Jane return in search for Michael. Elizabeth-Jane believes that Michael is a relative. Susan seeks Michael because she believes that he can help them now that the sailor (Newson) is no more. Susan comes to know that Michael is the Mayor of Casterbridge. After this part, the story talks about the ups and downs of Michael’s business and how he deals with the issues. It also talks about him courting Susan. They agree that Elizabeth-Jane must not know the truth of their relationship. Michael finally lives up to his promise, making amends to Susan by marrying her.

Susan and Elizabeth-Jane settle into their new household happily. Elizabeth-Jane flourishes in her new environment. However, her change in status and style of living does not change her mindset. Michael now longs for a deeper connection to his daughter. He wants her to take the name Henchard. Susan is hesitant, but agrees to the change if Elizabeth-Jane is ready to accept it. Susan falls sick and grows weaker by the day. She writes a letter and addresses it to Michael Henchard with a note, “Not to be opened till Elizabeth-Jane’s wedding day’’ which she locks the letter in her desk. One Sunday morning Susan dies.

A few days after Susan’s funeral, Michael and Elizabeth-Jane speak of the old times. Elizabeth-Jane repeatedly refers to Newson as her father which annoys Michael. He confesses that he is her real father, and tells her of their first marriage. Michael now asks Elizabeth-Jane if she is willing to change her last name to Henchard, to which she agrees. As Michael goes thought Susan’s desk for some papers, he comes across the letter that Susan wrote on her deathbed. The letter was not sealed very well, and as a result, the letter was already opened. So Michael reads it.

To know what happens after this, you should read this book.

Writing Style

Thomas Hardy has a way with words. You can experience Michael’s pain when he realises what he had done when he was drunk, you feel his frustrations when he hears the jibes of the townspeople and the councilmen. You love Michael for he tries to fight back against fate, makes amends for his mistakes. All these are the magic of Hardy’s words.

In all his book, Thomas Hardy has described the surroundings and happenings so well that you can actually visualize the story well as you read the novel and it is etched in your memory for ever. Also, what is visualize is almost identical to what some else visualized the scene.

 Another thing you note as you read the book is that the setting reflects the emotions of the characters. For example, in the beginning, when Michael is traveling in look out for a job, the road is surrounded by clouds of dirt and the trees are in a rotting condition.

Though the novels are slow paced because of the descriptions of the nature and the surrounding, Hardy keeps you engaged and makes you eager to see how the story will unfold. He introduces elements of suspense as he writes.

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights is the only novel by Emily Brontë’s. But this one is enough to be considered as the beautiful and wonderful expression of her poetic vision. The novel was considered to be extremely bold at that time—it is not the sort of novel that a gently-bred Victorian lady would be expected to write. Publishers had rejected it saying that it is insane and obsessed with cruelty.

Though it is often referred to as story of love, I have always felt that it was full of hate. There was too much of hate even in love! But the way the emotions are handled in the book is really interesting! Each of the characters in the story has a distinct dominant streak. For example I found Heathcliff  cruel, untamed, volatile, wild, menacing, dangerous, and brooding. He is capable of deep-seeded hatred, and incapable of any kind of forgiveness or compromise. He establishes his great love of Catherine and shows resentment towards many other characters with the same intensity.

I started off by writing the entire story, but then decided to keep it small and sweet just enough to give a gist of what the story is about. The reason is that as I started writing the review, I realized that this is a book of character, romance, violence, social values and you really should explore all that for yourself. Each one of you will have a different opinion about the book. I first read a very short, condensed version of the book when I was in school (probably in the 8th grade) and I have read it more than 10 times since then. Each time I made a different opinion about the characters and the story in general.

The Story in brief: Wuthering Heights is the name of the farm that belongs to Earnshaw. Once when he went to Liverpool on a business trip, he found a little boy who had been abandoned on the streets. Kind as he was, he brought the child home with him and named him Heathcliff after a son of his who had died. Catherine became friendly with him but Hindley feels as though Heathcliff had taken his place.

Wuthering Heights is the unusual love story between Cathy and Heathcliff in the Yorkshire Moors. Cathy and Heathcliff seem to be made for each other but one day Cathy meets handsome Edgar, is attracted by him and tells that to her nanny. Heathcliff listens to, feels betrayed and disappears. Years later he comes back a rich man only to see that Cathy married to Edgar.

All he wants now is revenge. At first, he ruins Cathy brother completely, takes power over his son and seduces Edgars sister. Both couples have a child each. Highlight of Heathcliff´s revenge is that he forces his son to marry the daughter of Catherine. He seems to be like the devil but everything he does is the result of his unique love for Catherine.


Ellen Dean has been a servant with the Earnshaws and the Lintons for all her life, and knows them better than anyone else. Probably that is the reason she does justice being one of the main narrators. She is fondly called Nelly by Mr. Earnshaw, Catherine, and Heathcliff.

Lockwood is another narrator of the novel.

Mr. Earnshaw is fairly well-off farmer with few pretensions. But he is extremely kinds at heart. This is proved by the fact that he takes in Heathcliff  into the family and is raised with his children despite the protests from his family. He has two children, daughter Catherine and a son Hindley. He is a stern father.

Heathcliff seems to represent the wild and untamed person in this book. No one knows about his past bust have taken for granted that he is dangerous for society. He is totally devoted to Catherine and that is the moving force in his life that keeps him going. He also has an equally strong hatred for all those who stand between him and Catherine. In between we can see glimpses of a hungry, abandoned child.

Catherine is Mr. Earnshaw’s daughter (Hindley’s sister). Cathy as she is fondly called is beautiful and charming, but she is not civilized as she pretends to be as she is an unruly temper. She is extremely wild and a little cruel at times. She grew up playing on the moors with Heathcliff (who happens to be her foster brother and beloved). Edgar, her husband calls her Catherine.

Hindley is the only son of Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw. He is Catherine’s older brother. He has always been a discontented boy. He hates Heathcliff because he felt jealous of his father’s affections for the other boy. In return, Heathcliff hates him even more in Hindley. grows up to be violent and turns alcoholic when his beloved wife (Frances) dies.

Edgar Linton marries Catherine Earnshaw. Edgar is just opposite to Heathcliff—he is a gentle, well bred and a refined man. He is a patient husband and a loving father. His only flaw is that he has a tendency to be cold and unforgiving when his dignity is hurt.

Catherine Linton is the daughter of the Catherine and Edgar Linton. She has all her mother’s charm without her wildness. But this does not mean that she is submissive and spiritless.  Her father, Edgar calls her Cathy. Catherine marries Linton Heathcliff and then marries Hareton.

Isabella Linton is Edgar’s younger sister. Before her marriage, she was pretty, quick-witted but a little foolish. She marries Heathcliff and they have a son name Linton. She has a very unhappy marriage as Heathcliff  never treats her with love or dignity. She starts hating Heathcliff with all her heart— an element of cruelty in her character brought by the unhappy marriage and her husband’s misbehavior.

Linton is the son of Heathcliff and Isabella. He is a combination of the worst characteristics of both parents. He is extremely weak, cruel, and manipulative. His father despises him. Linton marries Catherine (Jr.) and dies soon after. 

Hareton Earnshaw is the son of Hindley and Frances he marries Catherine  (Jr.) after Linton’s death. He is rough, rustic and uncultured. He grows up to be like Heathcliff, but is more sweet-tempered and forgiving.

Zillah is the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights after Hindley’s death and before Heathcliff’s. She doesn’t particularly understand the people she lives with, and stands in marked contrast to Ellen, who is deeply invested in them. She is an impatient but capable woman.

The Nightingale and the Rose

“She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses,” cried the young Student; “but in my garden there is no red rose.” From her nest in the oak tree, the nightingale heard him, and she looked out through the leaves and wondered.

I lamented at my fate as I read these lines. As a student going through a new lesson, I was bored reading these two lines. The red rose, crying student, and the overhearing nightingale sounded like a story from then a famous children’s book named Campak (in India). Boring! I thought as I started reading the short story by Oliver Wilde. But I had to read and prepare a summary of the lesson as homework. The English teacher was supposed to teach us the lesson the next day.

But I read on, and soon I was gripped by the sheer intensity of love. This story moved me to tears…. It is a fable of love, sacrifice, and selfishness. As with all of Wilde’s short stories, it embodies strong moral values. It is a touching story of a lovestruck student who must provide the girl he loves with a red rose to win her heart. A nightingale overhearing his lament from a solitary oak tree is filled with sorrow and admiration for his emotions and decides to help him. She realizes that there is a way to make a red rose, but with grave consequences—but she goes ahead with it. But is her sacrifice of any value?

The nightingale could also feel the love in the student’s heart as she said, Here indeed is the true lover. What I sing of he suffers: what is joy to me, to him is pain. Surely Love is a wonderful thing. It is more precious than emeralds and dearer than fine opals. Pearls and pomegranates cannot buy it, nor is it set forth in the market-place. It may not be purchased of the merchants, nor can it be weighed out in the balance for gold.

The nightingale then goes to the rose trees in the garden to ask for a red rose. She does not get any from the yellow rose tree and the white rose tree. Finally, she goes to the red rose tree who says, My roses are red, as red as the feet of the dove, and redder than the great fans of coral that wave and wave in the ocean-cavern. But the winter has chilled my veins, and the frost has nipped my buds, and the storm has broken my branches, and I shall have no roses at all this year. If you want a red rose, you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.

The nightingale feels that life is too much a price for a red rose and flies back. But as she watches the student cry for the probable loss of his love, the nightingale flies to the rose-tree, sets her breast against the thorn and sings all night long. As she sang, the thorn went deeper and deeper into her breast and her life-blood ebbed away from her. She sang first of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl. And on the rose-tree, there blossomed a marvelous rose, petal following petal, as song followed song.

At noon, the student opened the doors of the window and was surprised to see a beautiful red rose on the frosted tree. Below the tree was a dead nightingale. He ran up to the Professor’s house with the rose in his hand and asked her for the dance. The girls said that the red rose would not go with her blue dress that she planned to wear for the dance. Someone lease had sent her real jewels, which she said was more precious than a red rose.

Angrily, the student threw the rose into the street and a cart-wheel went over it. As the student walked away he thought that love is an unpractical and a silly feeling which is not half as useful as logic, for it does not prove anything. So he decided to go back to Philosophy and study Metaphysics.

So he returned to his room and pulled out a great dusty book, and began to read. Just as I was busy reading my lesson. 🙂

The only difference is that the student opened the book after learning a lesson in life, I closed mine after learning one!

I was glad that the English teacher asked us to read the lesson at home. Else, the whole class would have seen a weeping Sajitha in the class 😦

The book

Oscar Wilde (an Irish writer and poet) has written poetry, essays, and plays. The happy Prince and the other stories is a collection of short stories by Oscar Wilde. Some of the stories in this book are: The happy prince, The selfish giant, The Nightingale and the rose, The remarkable rocket, and The devoted friend. It was published in the year 1888. But the nightingale and the rose will always remain close to my heart. It is the story of sacrifice and love.