Saturday, 31 May 2014

'Pride and Prejudice' by Jane Austen: A Book Review

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's witty comedy of manners--one of the most popular novels of all time--that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. 

(Thank you, Goodreads!) 

How do I begin my review? For I must tell you that I had, a twelvemonth ago, shied away from this very book. I was blind to the beauty of this tale of love and hate, of pride and prejudice. In vain have I struggled. It will not do.
Allow me to express myself, dear book. 

I had actually read - or rather, tried to read - Pride and Prejudice about a year ago, but I never finished it. Maybe because the real action happens only after the half-way point. The first half is still very witty and enjoyable, so my judgement was probably impaired in those days. 

Anyway, I love this book! I love the characters, the writing, the comedy, the romance, the twists and turns... I love everything about this book! Unfortunately I already knew the entire story as well as the who-betrays-whom aspects, but that didn't stop me from being engrossed in the novel. 

I'm a big fan of love/hate relationships, and Elizabeth and Darcy's story is probably the best known among such relationships. I also really enjoyed reading about Jane and Bingley. We don't get to know Bingley too well, but I love Jane Bennet so dearly! In the beginning, she comes across as a Mary Sue (Miss I-can-do-no-wrong) but later you realise that Jane does have a lot of faults, making her a very real character.

Mrs. Bennet is a constant pain in the neck, and her husband provides for some much-needed humour. Sure, he can be mean at times, but with two ridiculous younger daughters (Lydia and Kitty) and a wife so dramatic, can you blame him? 

Other characters in the story like Mr. Collins and Mr. Wickham are well fleshed-out, too. I should mention, however, that Charlotte Lucas (Elizabeth's best friend) could have been a little more developed, character-wise. Or was she supposed to be so... hollow?

This novel has a lot of quotes I really adore. Obviously, the first line of the novel (mentioned earlier in this review) is a personal favourite, but here are some other good ones: 

"A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment."

Elizabeth's spirits soon rising to playfulness again, she wanted Mr. Darcy to account for his having ever fallen in love with her. "How could you begin?" said she. "I can comprehend your going on charmingly, when you had once made a beginning; but what could set you off in the first place?"
"I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun." 

"There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome."
"And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody."
"And yours," he replied with a smile, "is wilfully to misunderstand them.” 

"We are each of an unsocial, taciturn disposition, unwilling to speak, unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the eclat of a proverb." 

I'm going to go for 4.5 stars out of 5 for this one. 

In a nutshell, Pride and Prejudice is a masterpiece. If you're not a book person, or if you're not fond of nineteenth century writing, I'd recommend the P&P 1995 TV series starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. It's a six-episode series that I watched while reading the novel. 
You could also try The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (produced by Hank Green, from Crash Course), a modern-day depiction of Elizabeth's life.

Here's the first episode, to give you an idea of what the show is like:

Are you a P&P fan like myself? Let me know in the comments whether you liked, loved, hated or despised this story.
Also, I like having a never-ending pile of books in my To-Read list, so feel free to recommend your favourite books to me so I can review them. :)

Goodbye, ladies and gentlemen!

Saturday, 24 May 2014

A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Dear Sixteen-year-old Swati,

So what have you been up to? I already know the answer to this question, but it's common courtesy to ask. Oh, wait, did I forget to introduce myself? I'm you, two years into the future. Though I should mention that I'm a much better Swati than you are right now.
I know what you're thinking: "A better Swati? Surely that means you must be popular, attractive, the class topper and loved by every person you know." Well, you're both right and wrong.

I'm not popular in the cheerleader-jock high school way, but I like to think that I've established myself in the blogging world. I don't know if I'm attractive according to the world, but I do know that I like the way I look. I do my best in school and get good grades but I wouldn't call myself the class topper. I may not be loved by everyone, but I mean the world to my family and friends.

These things probably make no difference to you, kiddo. Right now, you're hanging out with the wrong friends. You couldn't care less about your family. You're obsessed with your marks (remember that time you cried when you got a B in Maths?) and you're a complete people-pleaser.
Right now, you hate your life and you feel like it's never going to get better.

But just give me a chance and listen to what I have to tell you.

In just a year, you're going to realise who your true friends are and who your best friend always was. They're the friends you're going to sit next to on Graduation Day when your family takes your picture. They're the friends with whom you'll discuss books, movies and the complexity of life. Your best friend will be the craziest and yet the sweetest person you'll know.
And the sister you take for granted? She'll be the best thing in your life and the greatest friend you'll ever have.

You're going to start a blog. It won't be the best one out there; it won't be the most popular blog on the internet. And yet it will be one of your biggest accomplishments. It will make you proud.
(Also, your dear sister will give you the idea to use GIFs in each post. That's what will make your blog awesome.)

 This might come as a shock to you, but you will fail a Maths preboard. And you will cry. A LOT. But then you'll get over it, and soon it won't make a difference in your life. You'll just learn from your mistakes and work harder.

You'll stop caring what people think or say about you. It will still hurt, but you won't let it get to your head. You'll be much braver than you are right now. You'll do your best to keep others from being bullied. You won't be afraid to stand up for the right thing.

You're also going to become a fangirl soon enough. You're going to re-read all your favourite books and re-live those wonderful experiences. You're going to try your hand at fanfiction and fail, but hey! At least you tried, right?
You will be a real bookworm now. There's no turning back! You will be happy about being an introvert instead of pretending to be an extrovert. You won't try to fit in at parties but will instead stay home and spend time with your loved ones (and your books).

You'll spend a week next summer in London, and you'll visit the Harry Potter studios. That will be the best day of your life. (Also, your hair will look stunning in London because there's no humidity there.)

Don't worry, your braces will come off, and you'll switch to contact lenses in a couple of years. You'll gain some weight and start fitting into those killer Forever New jeans you've been eyeing lately.

What else? You're only just starting to learn French, aren't you? You'll be pleased to know that you will soon be almost completely fluent in French, so you'll decide to learn German as well! You're going to be very frustrated at times, but you're also going to enjoy watching your favourite movies in these languages - and actually understanding some of the dialogues. You'll also be able to sing the French version of 'Let It Go' without reading the lyrics or mispronouncing any word. You'll sing it about ten times a day and annoy your sister.

So relax, dear girl. My life is amazing, which means yours will be too. Stop fretting, start smiling, and just keep living. Things will start looking up soon enough.

Hang in there,

What would you say to your younger self? I want to know, so pour your thoughts into the comments below. See you later, Geeks! :)

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Why Your Marks Don't Define You.

It's that time of the year again for most people my age. Yes, we're all expecting our board results - the results that will apparently 'make or break' our lives. Well, I'm here to tell you that your marks aren't going to make much of a difference in the long run.

I don't know why, but almost all my peers believe that this phase of board exams is the most important one in our lives. I'm sorry, but I think there are bigger things in life than marks. The moment when you meet the One, or the friends that will stand by you when you're on your deathbed; the moment when you find your dream job or quit the job you hate so much; the moment when you finally have time to do what you love instead of what you're supposed to do... aren't these things greater and better than an exam result?

Now you're thinking, "But Swati, my marks will define what job I get or what friends I make. The better my marks, the better my life will be!"
I'm sure doing well in exams will help you in life, and it'll help you get into a good college and find a great job and make tons of money. But not doing well in one exam will not stop you from doing any of those things. The fact remains that most people don't care whether you get a 78 or 98 in your finals, because they know that intelligence or hard work or kindness cannot be measured only by the percentage of your marks.

And if you think that some people won't want to talk to you because you're not a topper... well, would you really want to be friends with such people? I know I wouldn't.

We're all being pressurised by our parents and our teachers to do extremely well in the board exam because it's the most important exam of your life. But it really isn't. I guarantee that the most important test of your life won't have a syllabus or a marking scheme and you may not even have time to prepare for it. I can't predict what kind of exam it will be. But I can promise you that it will change your life, for better or for worse. A tiny board exam is not going to change anything.

So please, don't be hard on yourself about your marks. No matter what happens, you will still have your entire life ahead of you. You'll have the love of your friends and family. You will always have yourself.
I wrote this post to convince you as well as myself that marks don't matter, and I can definitely say that I'm not as anxious as I was before.
What are marks, after all? Numbers on a piece of paper? You are much bigger than this piece of paper.

You're awesome! :)

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

My 5 Favourite Youtubers! (2014)

Hello, friends!

Some of you may have read last year's post about my favourite Youtubers. Since then, I've discovered many more amazing channels, so I thought why not make an updated blog post?
Here are some more Youtubers from several different genres: from education and fitness to lifestyle and makeup!

1) Alex Ikonn

 Alex is an entrepreneur who helps you keep it real with tips to form realistic goals, succeed, and make it big in life. With a new five-minute video every week, Alex keeps you motivated whenever you're feeling lazy or tired. I can't explain how effective his videos are by myself, so here's one of his videos that I really like:

2) HelloKaty

Katy is an eighteen-year-old girl who makes videos about fashion, makeup and life. Rather than focusing only on the 'beauty' aspects of life, Katy also talks about confidence, making a difference, and understanding what it means to be yourself. With a flair for cinematography, I think Katy is one of the best teen Youtubers out there, so be sure to check out her videos.
In this video, Katy helps us understand what 'becoming whole' means: 

3) Crash Course

Do you remember John Green, the writer? Well, he and his brother Hank have started this educational channel to help students cope with their school syllabus. Of course, you can just watch the videos to learn for fun, like I do.
While John teaches Humanities (History and Literature), Hank focuses on Science (Biology, Chemistry, Ecology and currently Psychology). Personally, I prefer Hank's videos because they're more fact-oriented whereas John rambles on about his own opinions even in subjects like World History.
Either way, watching two or three ten-minute CC videos is a great way to relax and stimulate your mind at the same time!
I'm fascinated with Psychology, and it's definitely my favourite subject on CC. Here's a video to help you understand how this 'course' works:

4) SevenWebHeads

Say the word 'Spidey' and the first Youtuber that comes to mind is Seven. I don't know much about him, expect that he's German, but this guy has a ton of theories about the world of Spider-Man. He also gives us the latest details about cast interviews, trailer breakdowns and concept art. If you're a Spidey fan, you simply have to watch Seven's videos!
This isn't a video narrated by Seven; rather, it's a fan reaction video compiled by him that I really enjoyed:

5) XHIT Daily

Fitness instructor Rebecca Louise helps you stay in shape with new fitness videos every day. From kickboxing to yoga to pilates, this channel has everything you need to burn calories or gain muscle weight. I love the fact that they upload a new video every single day, just so you have something new to do daily! :)
Here's a great Miranda Kerr workout:

These were my top five favourite channels of 2014. Let me know in the comments below: which Youtubers do you like the most?
Thanks for reading. Bye-bye! :)

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath: A Book Review

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.
(Summary taken from Goodreads)

This book. Wow. My goodness. Just... wow. 

Sylvia Plath has always intrigued me ever since I read one of her poems many years ago and wondered why her writing was so depressing and dark. Then I found out that she had killed herself by sticking her head into an oven. That explained things... somewhat.
I'm glad I read this novel now instead of a few years ago. Firstly, because this story does have some explicit content, and secondly because I wouldn't have been mature enough to understand her writing. This book is deep, friends. Really deep.

Books about depression and struggle and tough times really interest me ('Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock' is a notable example). Naturally, I was drawn to this story, especially since it is semi-autobiographical.

At the beginning of the novel, I could relate to Esther so much that I was starting to wonder if this was normal. I can't explain how or why, but everything, from the way Esther thought to the way she felt - everything seemed to be a reflection of my own thoughts and feelings. It felt like Sylvia Plath was writing about me, to me.

That started to change after a couple of chapters. Let me be frank here: Esther Greenwood is mean, sadistic and in no way has a sweet disposition. Some of her actions are uncalled for and she comes across as everything a main character shouldn't be.

In spite of that, though I can't sympathise with her towards the end, I can still relate to her. Because underneath her shallow, selfish exterior, there is a broken interior that feels like a part of me. 

The title of this novel, The Bell Jar, aptly describes Esther's feelings of confinement and entrapment. On one hand, Esther is unable to break free of society's many expectations, and on the other hand, her own feelings of self-doubt and depression suffocate her to no end.

This is the only novel Sylvia Plath has ever penned. But it in no way suffers from the classic first book syndrome, because it might as well have been a collection of Plath's poetry. Her writing is so poetic, so beautiful, that it invokes all your senses and draws you into the sorrows of Esther's life. This is definitely the best-written novel I have ever read. Even if you despise Esther and the storyline, you can't hate the writing. 

I can't pick favourites, so here are quite a few quotes from The Bell Jar that really leave me speechless:

The silence depressed me. It wasn't the silence of silence. It was my own silence.

But when it came right down to it, the skin of my wrist looked so white and defensless that I couldn't do it. It was as if what I wanted to kill wasn't in that skin or the thin blue pulse that jumped under my thumb, but somewhere else, deeper, more secret, and a whole lot harder to get.

“We'll act as if all this were a bad dream."
A bad dream.
To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream.
A bad dream.

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.

That’s one of the reasons I never wanted to get married. The last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots off from. I wanted change and excitement and to shoot off in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace. 

Sylvia Plath, you are the goddess of writing. Thank you so much for writing this book. I can't begin to imagine what you went though, and how difficult it must have been to share your experiences with the world. I truly hope you are at peace now.

I'm going to go with 4 stars out of 5 for The Bell Jar.

Fair warning: this book may not be your cup of tea. You might even hate it because of Esther's character. But one thing is for sure: when you finish this book, your head will be spinning with thoughts of self-doubt and you will probably question your very existence, as I did. But once the temporary effects of this book wear off, you'll realise what a work of art this is. 

The Bell Jar is a masterpiece that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime!
If you've read The Bell Jar, do tell me what you thought of Esther, the dark themes in this novel and the thought-provoking writing. Which part of the novel did you like best?

See you next time, Geeks! 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' Movie Review (Spoiler-Free!)

Finally, the day has arrived! May Day... the day of The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

We've always known that Spider-Man's most important conflict has been within himself: the struggle between the ordinary obligations of Peter Parker and the extraordinary responsibilities of Spider-Man. But in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Peter Parker finds that his greatest battle is about to begin. It's great to be Spider-Man. For Peter Parker, there's no feeling quite like swinging between skyscrapers, embracing being the hero, and spending time with Gwen. But being Spider-Man comes at a price: only Spider-Man can protect his fellow New Yorkers from the formidable villains that threaten the city. With the emergence of Electro, Peter must confront a foe far more powerful than he. And as his old friend, Harry Osborn, returns, Peter comes to realize that all of his enemies have one thing in common: Oscorp.

After waiting for months and months, I finally saw TASM-2 the way it was meant to be seen: in 3D, on the big screen, first day, first show!
Alright, alright, I know what you're thinking. "Get to the review! Did you like it? Did you hate it?!"

The movie takes place over the span of a year or two. Starting off with Peter and Gwen's graduation, the story moves forward at a brisk pace - brisk, but not rushed.

Spider-Man is now the hero of New York City. Whether it's primary school bullies, apartment fires or a full-city blackout - Spidey to the rescue, always!
But things aren't going well for Peter Parker's love life. It's not easy dating two men - especially not when one of them is a superhero and the other is his alter ego. Gwen isn't too pleased with the situation at hand, and things get complicated.

Andrew and Emma's chemistry is electrifying. From playful banter to dramatic declarations of love, these two actors portray Peter and Gwen's relationship as if it were their own.
Andrew Garfield is a great Spider-Man and a good Peter Parker. But Emma Stone, once more, steals the limelight with her expressive features and her incredible acting.

Speaking of Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon and later Electro.... some of his super-villain lines come across as dramatic and corny. But as the invisible Oscorp worker Max, Jamie Foxx breaks your heart. The poor guy! All he ever wanted was for someone to need him!
Foxx's performance is alright as both Electro and Max. He could have done better had the script given him more to do.

Dane DeHaan... what a guy! Harry Osborn probably has the best dialogues in the whole movie, and DeHaan delivers them perfectly. Though he doesn't have much screen time as the Goblin, his transformation - and his fight with Spidey - is executed very well. An amazing performance by a spectacular actor!

The background score by Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams makes the action sequences all the more exciting. Electro's theme (Paranoia) and the main Spider-Man theme were both excellent. I liked the score, definitely, but I still think James Horner's score for TASM-1 was slightly better.

A lot of things happen throughout the movie, but the first half doesn't offer much. I was actually somewhat crestfallen during the interval, because so far, the movie hadn't reached up to my expectations.
But the second half proved me wrong. The story moves forward, the action sequences are mind-blowing, especially in 3D, and the ending promises much more to come in the next installment.

I haven't seen the first one in 3D, so I can't compare the two, but I loved the CGI effects in this one. There are a lot of amazing 3D moments, especially during the Times Square scene and the Electro showdown, so it's worth the price of the ticket!

The only thing I didn't like - quite a few scenes from the trailers aren't included in the movie. Maybe we can expect to see them in the deleted scenes, but I was a little disappointed that my favourite dialogue from the trailers wasn't there at all.

In short, TASM-2, true to its name, is an amazing movie. The second half makes up for the first, and the last half hour of the film will keep you on the edge of your seat with a million thoughts abuzz in your head. This sequel is definitely better than its predecessor.
I'm going to go with 4 stars out of 5 for this one. 
Jam-packed with the perfect mix of action, romance and comedy, this superhero movie is sure to enthrall you! Do try to watch it in 3D, and book your tickets in advance to get the best seats.

Let me know what you thought of TASM-2 in the comments below. If you haven't seen the movie yet, check out the trailer below for the time being.
See you later, folks!