Sunday, October 28, 2012

DC Books, Bangalore

I had a few hours to kill in Koramangala earlier in the week, thanks to a shopping spree planned by the ladies. Now, spending three hours at a mall is as much fun as listening to any of our TV media stars pontificate. However, to see if there were other ways of spending the time, I asked people for recommendations on bookstores in the area, apart from the usual suspects like Landmark at the Forum Mall, Sapna Book House, and Crossword. Sameer (@zenx) suggested DC Books. They are "among India’s top five literary publishing houses of India" and started "in 1974 by Dominic Chacko Kizhakemuri" (link). They have an outlet in Koramangala and I decided to pay them a visit with the kids.

Their store is on the ground floor of a house, and while they do have shelves stacked with books, their store seemed to serve more as a warehouse and distribution center than a retail outlet. Which is fine by me. I want the books, and do not care much for the display.

They have books in English and Malayalam. They are located out of a house, and one bedroom is devoted entirely to Malayalam books.

There were a couple of people in the store, mostly busy in inventory work, but were courteous and friendly, and did not mind that we spent more than an hour in the store, flitting between the "verandah", the living room, and the dining room, browsing books, sitting down on the floor to read some others.

In this photo below, you can see the bedroom at the end - which is their Malayalam-specific room.

While we were there, a Flipkart employee also walked in, printouts in hand, large bag in tow, sat down and started going through his printout. I asked him if he was picking up books for delivery to Flipkart customers. He replied that he wasn't, and was in fact there to take delivery of books to take to the Flipkart warehouse. I suppose that Flipkart may be proactively procuring books to stock at its warehouse, in anticipation of orders for these books that sell regularly.

We finally left the store with three books in tow. If you are in that part of town, I would recommend the store for a visit. It provides for a different experience from both the mega bookstores like Sapna as well as the smaller ones that stock magazines, pens, stationery, and some books.

The store is located at the intersection of the "80 Feet Peripheral Road" and "1st Cross", and contrary to what Google Maps shows, they are located right on the main road.

View Larger Map

 © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Landmark, Orion Mall, Bangalore

Landmark, the Chennai-based chain of bookstores (and now a part of the Tata conglomerate) has been struggling, at least in Bangalore. They had opened their second store at the Garuda Swagat Mall, but had to close it down owing to differences with the management of the mall. They have opened their newest store in Bangalore at the Orion Mall in Rajajinagar. This is located on the ground floor and opened in September 2012, and has a different layout for the books section than its Forum Mall store. In October 2012 they also changed the layout of their Forum Mall store also to match the Orion Mall layout.

View Larger Map of Orion Mall

While the floor space devoted to books has shrunk dramatically from what used to be the case till a few years ago, the new layout is designed to be more appealing, more "contrasty" (lots of bright white and yellow lettering on black), and more discounts - you can see "3-for-2" stickers pasted all over the aisles. They have also tried, and I would say successfully so, to arrange books more thematically, and that attracts more eyeballs to those books.

Photo taken while seated on the floor, dog-tired, waiting for the family to finish  up.
They have also added a wall of "bestsellers" that are categorized into "Fiction", "Non Fiction", "Management", "Kids", and so on - again with several of those bestsellers available under the "3-for-2" discount scheme.

It will be interesting to see how their books business compares with Crosswords, which has been focusing more on its books business as opposed to Landmark that seems to be adopting a strategy of selling books at often steep discounts as a way to attract shoppers to spend on other, possibly higher margin, items in the store, like perfumes, chocolates, and the like.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Decimating the Native Americans

After I posted my review of Paul Offit's Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, I tweeted about the review, and one tweet that got some attention was I when quoted the book -
"When European settlers brought smallpox to North America, they reduced the native population of seventy million to six hundred thousand."
Someone asked whether that statement was true, or perhaps exaggerated. So I decided, on a lark, to do some digging around.
I first looked at the book's "Notes" section, and saw that it references a book by Johnathan Tucker, "Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox". So, next I looked up this book on Google Books as well as on Amazon. "Scourge" on its part cites a book by Russell Thornton, "American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492 (Civilization of the American Indian Series)"; specifically pages 36 and 90. So I then searched for this book in the hopes of finding a preview that had these two pages. I was in luck. I stopped at this point, but to summarize - "Deadly Choices" references "Scourge", which in turn references "American Indian Holocaust". This book in turn cites the US Census Bureau and other sources, which I have not looked up. In short, the number cited in "Deadly Choices" has not been picked from thin air, but seems to have been in circulation for some time, and has not been challenged. Furthermore, it seems to have been based on at least some amount of research by scholars. As best as numbers such as these, half a millenia old, can be, it is reasonable to take them as educated approximations to actual numbers, which we most certainly cannot discern now.
However, I cannot claim that I have validated this statement by tracking it down to its most source.

Page 11 from Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox

Page 12 from Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox

Source Notes from Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox

Page 36 from American Indian Holocaust and Survival

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Deadly Choices - Review

Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul Offit

"Individual Idiocy versus Collective Consequences"
5 stars
This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
(Amazon, Amazon IndiaKindle, Kindle IndiaFlipkart, Flipkart e-bookPowell's, My review on Amazon)

Short Review: This is a scathing dismantling of the anti-vaccine movement, its pamphleteers, the dubious huckstery that passes of as science, the hysterical fear-mongering, the assault on science and reason, and the ultimate price paid by the innocent victims - defenseless children.
The book, written by a pediatrician - and an expert on vaccines, immunology, and virology (as per Wikipedia) - is very well-organized and takes us through the origins of the anti-vaccine movement in 1982 - April 19, 1982, to be precise, "when WRC-TV, a local NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., aired a one-hour documentary titled DPT: Vaccine Roulette" - and to its even earlier origins in the nineteenth century in England. The people behind the anti-vaccine movement, while sometimes well-intentioned, remain captives to ideologies and biases - biases that have remained stubbornly resistant to science and evidence.  But this is not just a book about the anti-vaccine fundamentalists. The book also documents how herd-immunity suffers when mass-immunizations are compromised, when the "tragedy of the commons" afflicts healthcare. It also dismantles several of the claims made against vaccines - that too many vaccinations overwhelm the body, that there are huge quantities of dangerous chemicals injected into our bodies, that alternative treatments are just as effective - if not more, and some of the more insidious allegations - that vaccines cause autism, or that the pertussis vaccine to protect against whooping cough causes mental retardation.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

About Me - 3

Once the SLR camera had been purchased, the next step was to understand how it worked, and then take photographs. While it may appear child's play, to children as well as adults, to use digital contraptions such as digital cameras, in 1999 it took me a good fifteen minutes to figure out how the camera strap had to be looped around and fastened. That was indeed one of the first tasks that I had to accomplish after unpacking the camera from its packaging. Trust me - if you haven't done that before, nor seen it being done before, it's not as easy as it looks. Fortunately I had the privacy of my home to preserve my dignity. Completing that task seemed like an achievement; nay - I knew I had accomplished, and accomplished much. I felt I could now take on even bigger challenges - like taking photographs. Slipping in a 35mm roll was not that big a deal. What was even more reassuring was that this camera - a wonder of modern technology - could tell me if the film leader had fastened itself properly or not. It was the apogee of progress in idiot-proof technology, to my mind at least.

Interstate I-84, aka "Columbia River Highway", running parallel to the Columbia River, in Oregon, near Portland. The turnout in the highway is a scenic viewpoint turnout. This photo's been taken from the Crown Point Vista House.

Now, if you had always shot with point-and-shoot, auto-focus, auto-exposure cameras, but now wanted to progress to using cameras that actually allowed you to mess around with aperture and shutter timings, you had to have balls and nerves of steel. I mean, and I have to remind you, this was still the age of 35mm film rolls. So you had to be better darn well sure of what you were doing, and if you didn't know what you were doing, then you were better off learning fast enough what you ought to be doing to learn shooting with an SLR. 35mm film may have been cheap, but it wasn't free. Marginal costs of photography were most certainly not zero, or close enough. The processing and printing certainly wasn't free. No - I was not going to get into the slide business just yet. I never did, actually, but I first wanted to understand basic photography well-enough before getting into the ego trip of slide-film shooting - which is what I suspected a lot of people were indulging in. There was the comforting green pointer on the camera dial that told me that if I ever got scared, I could always move the dial to this green marker, and the camera would take care of me. Nothing to worry, everything would be just fine. I didn't want to do that. Just yet. So I opened the manual that came with the camera, and started reading. The manual wasn't bad, but it was a manual. It was a help doc - not exactly at the top of anyone's priority. Important, yes; critical; no. It had to go out with the camera, and it had to be accurate - but beyond that I wasn't expecting much from the camera's manual. It did its job, but I was looking for more. More importantly, how could I call myself a serious learner if I didn't have a fancy looking book to tote around?

Someone at work then mentioned the "Magic Lantern" series. The series of cameras was an ideal way to get started with learning how to operate a camera - for each popular brand of SLR cameras there was a "Magic Lantern" guide. They cost less than $20, and after having put down more than $500 of the camera body and starter lens, $20 felt almost free. I did not know at the time, but I was being influenced by the "anchoring" effect. The Barnes and Noble store close by was put to good use, and I now had a Magic Lantern guide with me. Over the next month or so I shot a couple of rolls with the new camera. All the while, I was using the camera mostly on automatic mode, or semi-automatic mode - where I would move the shooting mode to "portrait", or "sports". I still did not feel brave enough to move the dial counter-clockwise to the "advanced" settings, like the "Aperture Priority", or "Shutter Priority", or heavens - "Manual" mode! What I could say was that the Magic Lantern guide was making me aware of the basics of photography - the kinds of basics that would stand me in good stead. It was time to take things to the next level

The Crown Point Vista House. A must-stop point for people doing the old Columbia River Gorge scenic route. And yes, the vistas really are stunning from here, at any time of day, but especially at sunset.

To do that - to take things to the next level, I needed to spend more money. Yes, sure, that was one way of taking things to the next level. However, some more searching around on the Interwebs had taught me that there were people who made their living taking and then selling photographs. Surprise! What was even more startling was the knowledge that these people often wrote books. On photography. For people like me. I heard for the first time names like Art Wolfe and John Shaw. I ended up buying three of their books, and each was worth far more than what I paid for these books. Perhaps the best was John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide. In spite of the fact that the book was 15 years old by the time I bought it, I would heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to understand the basics of photography. Whenever I leaf through it, in 2012, I feel the book is as useful today as it was when I first read it in 1999. The book guides you through the trade-offs between shutter speed and depth-of-field, the rule of 16th, the basics of composition, the importance of a tripod, the value of patience, and so much more.
Mt Hood towers over everything else. This shot also taught me that I was sorely lacking a neutral density graduated filter. This kind of a filter would have allowed me to shoot and still preserve the highlights in the mountain as well as in the landscape. Pity.

Take this photo below. I think I shot it sometime in the second half of 1999, while on a day trip down to the Columbia River Gorge. It was the early hours of the evening, and the sun was about to set. Now, this shot is of the Vista Point House looking east, and the sun was directly behind me, though hidden from view by trees. There were two other photographers there. Professional photographers, who made their living through photography. They had their cameras mounted on sturdy tripods, and weren't even touching their cameras to shoot - a cable release was used lest any hand movement shake the camera. All I had to do was to unfold  my tripod, mount my camera, and do what they were doing - monkey see, monkey do. I shot off a few photographs, and they all came out beautiful. Shooting in the Columbia River Gorge felt doubly awesome. The place itself is packed with scenic vistas, waterfalls, gorges, mountains, and more, and photographing there feels like icing on a cake.
Crown Point Vista House at dusk.
I should add that the Pacific Northwest so abounds in scenic avenues that it requires little additional incentive for someone to pick up a camera and want to learn as much as is possible to shoot the best possible photographs.

That's all folks; take care.
Oct 20, 2012

 © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Prince of Ayodhya - Ashok Banker

Prince of Ayodhya (Ramayana series) (Kindle, Flipkart, my review on Amazon)
4 stars
Fantastical and Highly Dramatized Retelling of the Ramayana
What if you took the basic plot of the Ramayana, and then injected it with a strong dose of fantasy? Making it read and feel like a Lord of the Rings on steroids perhaps? Ashok Banker's six-part Ramayana series attempted to do just that. For the most part it succeeds, and kept me turning pages well into the night. It is a little formulaic at times, especially in its predictable use of drama, intrigue, suspense, and heroic deeds, but some of the inventive turns are to be admired, and are mostly carried off with admirable aplomb. The sheer length of the series - at over 3000 pages - is daunting, but then, you don't have to read all of it in one go.

This is the first book in the series, and is aptly titled, "Prince of Ayodha", and it starts out with a fifteen-year old Rama, in Ayodhya, who faces off a bunch of thugs about to slaughter a young deer. The deer is actualy Shurpnakha in disguise! While the entry of Viswamitra into Ayodhya to ask King Dashratha to render the services of Rama to the sage is known, this book provides a twist to the tale. Viswamitra enters Ayodhya, almost unrecognized, but so does Maricha, the rakshas, disguised as Viswamitra. Clever, I thought. Or the use of Manthara as the secret handmaiden of Ravana, even as she serves Queen Kaikeyi. So, as you can see, well-known events in the epic get a makeover, and come out dressed up in fantasy, adventure, and hyperbolic personae. So, Vashishtha, the royal sage, is almost seven feet tall, and can use yogic powers that boggle the mind.

People looking to read a faithful adaptation of Valmiki's Ramayana should stay away from this book. However, people looking to read a page-turner of a yarn, adapted and inspired from the Ramayana, will be well-rewarded by this book, and perhaps the entire series.

I have read two books in this series. I read Siege of Mithila (Flipkart) first, for reasons that I cannot quite comprehend or explain, in 2005, I think. I read The Prince of Ayodha in 2012. That is certainly not a pace that will keep one engaged with the epic, but for what it's worth, the entire series is now available as a Kindle e-book, at the very, very appealing price of US $9.99. I.e. for less than six hundred rupees you are getting all six volumes, 3000 pages. Think of the trees you are saving!

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Ramayana, Arshia Sattar

Ramayana, by Valmiki. Translated by Arshia Sattar

"Met and Exceeded Expectations. An Epic, Renewed."
5 stars
This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.

(Amazon, Flipkart, my review on Amazon)
This abridged translation of Valmiki's Ramayana, by Arshia Sattar, based on the Baroda Critical Edition, is a beautiful effort and should be on the reading list of anyone interested in reading, or re-reading the Ramayana. The Ramayana, also known as "adikavya" - the first poem, and its putative author, Valmiki, as "adikavi" - the first poet, is also an epic, one of two in Hindu literature, the other being the massive Mahabharata.

The basic story of the Ramayana is more or less known by most Indians - the prince of Ayodhya - Rama, son of King Dashratha and Queen Kaushalya, and husband of Sita, on the eve of his coronation as crown-prince - is banished to live for fourteen years in the forest as a result of a boon Dashratha had granted to his wife Kaikeyi, step-mother to Rama. While in the forest, in the thirteenth year of exile, Sita is kidnapped by the Lord of Lanka, Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana take the help of the monkey king Sugriva, his faithful follower, Hanuman, and the monkey army, to cross the ocean, invade Lanka, and kill Ravana and free Sita.

What this book seeks to do is to follow the "Baroda Critical Edition of Valmiki's poem" ("prepared by the Oriental Institute at M.S. University, Baroda"), "constructed by the meticulous and painstaking comparison of manuscripts and manuscript traditions." The "primary" motivation in such an exercise as the critical edition is the "scholarly desire to reconstruct the original text." While critics of the "critical method" have been accused of "romanticizing the oral tradition", "the idea that the critical edition defines the boundaries of the 'text' itself persists, despite the fact that all those familiar with Indian texts agree that a unique notion of tradition ("परंपरा " - parampara) informs and circumscribes these texts." The question whether there should even be a "critical edition" of epics like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, that owe their widespread popularity as much to their stories as to the tradition of oral recitation of the epics by bards, poets, and itinerants who took the epic to all corners of the country, and beyond, employing classical tools like "iteration, formulaic composition" to aid memorability, is not one that I seek to ask, nor is it one that I, at this stage at least, am particularly interested in finding an answer to.

The challenge in this abridged translation is two-fold: one is to excise without altering the story, while also preserving the lyrical nature and the underlying tragic arc of the epic. It is in these that the translation succeeds excellently. The other challenge, easier in some ways, is to not add anything to the tale that is not there in the Critical Edition.

Perhaps the two biggest differences between Valmiki's Ramayana and versions that have followed are in the treatment of Rama's divinity, and attempts to reconcile Rama's character with his two flawed acts.
"two unresolved issues that linger and haunt the reader/listener long after Valmiki's story is over: Rama's unlawful acts and his ignorance of his divine status. The killing of Vali and his rejection of Sita are so outrageously out of character that there is almost nothing within the premises and assumptions of Valmiki's tale that can justify them." [page liii]
So much is the dissonance that these acts evoke in the reader that thousands of years have passed by in trying to address and reconcile these acts.
We can suggest that all the Rama stories that follow Valmiki's are attempts to resolve this issue narratively as well as structurally. [page liii]
While later works based on the Ramayana - derivative works, regional translations, retellings, dramatizations  - have attempted to address the "two unresolved issues" in their own way, it is illuminating to read what the Critical Edition has to say on the topic. Rama is not left unscathed - whether in his imperious rejection of a dying Vali's accusations, his rationalizing his rejection of Sita, or his lack of any discernible remorse at his treatment of Sita - Valmiki leaves us with a character who is human, and flawed. This dissonance - between the divinity of Rama as an incarnation of Vishnun on the one hand, and his human failings and moral frailty on the other hand - was sought to be addressed, even suppressed perhaps by later retellings. The original tale leaves it to the reader to grasp and grapple with this unresolved issue.

A simplified and consistent  portrait of a divine god who could do no wrong made Rama worthy of worship and as an ideal people and society could aspire to, but it also deprived us of the opportunity to study and learn from the life of a human. Whereas Rama's devotion to his father, and even to his step-mother, has defined the ideal of a dutiful son in the Indian psyche, and whereas Sita's following her husband in exile, and then her faith in the face of Ravana and his rakshasis in Lanka have defined our expectations of an ideal wife, Rama's failings are equally instructional. They made him human. Humans can learn from humans, gods humans can only worship.

At some point the reader, such as myself, may ask how the accuracy or the faithfulness of this book should be evaluated. Against the Critical Edition? Few have read the Critical Edition. Even the editors of the Critical Edition exercised discretion, subjective at times one can be sure, in deciding what to include and what to exclude. The Critical Edition also has its critics - some of the most popular episodes that in some ways define the epic for the common man are sometimes not to be found in the Critical Edition. An epic owes its status as much to popular perceptions as to the story itself. Or do you evaluate it against the original Sanskrit text? It does not exist. The earliest extant manuscript of the Ramayana is less than a thousand years old, while the epic itself dates back at least a thousand years before that. Against Tulsidas' Ramcharitmanas? No - that is not the Ramayana, it is Saint Tulsidas' retelling, not a translation, and that too set in a particular moral and societal context. Against modern versions like those by RK Narayan (which is actually a retelling of Kamban's version), Kamala Subramaniam, or C Rajagopalachari?

In the end, this becomes a subjective and personal decision. As a subjective and personal decision, it is open to debate, and it is open to change, as should be expected. Therein lies an escape hatch for the reviewer too!

A note about the edition. This is a "Penguin Black Classics" edition. More than anything else, there are two points I want to point out. The first is that the paper is thin. While the print from one side does not bleed to the other, the paper does feel cheap. The second, and more redeeming point, is that this is cloth bound and basically a lay-flat binding. This is important. You open the book to any page and lay it flat without having the pages close up on each other. It means that the book is going to last a while without running the risk of the pages coming apart. There is a cheaper edition also available, at less than half the price of this edition, but I fear that the pages are likely to start coming apart fairly soon.

Economy edition of the Ramayana

Penguin's Children's Edition of the Ramayana
RK Narayan's version of the Ramayana
Penguin "Classics" Edition of the Ramayana
Penguin "Black Classics" Edition of the Ramayana

The Ramayana
Buy Ramayana (Black Classics) from
Buy The Ramayana from

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crossword Bookstore, Koramangala

Of all the myriad pleasures that life sends our way, one of the more enjoyable one has to be the discovery of a bookstore. One such bookstore I, we discovered recently is the Crossword store in Koramangala. This is not a new store, and has been around for close to a couple of years. However, since we had not had occasion to travel by that road in some time, it had escaped attention. Coming back from a friend's party one weeked, a Saturday, I espied this store, bright, shiny, welcoming. However, it was late that day, so Sunday turned out to be the day to visit this store.

The Sunday we went turned out to be a good day, since the store was not crowded - a dozen or so customers were strolling the aisles. Parking was not a hassle - and keep in mind there is not much by way of parking available outside the store, unless they have parking in the basement - which I could not spot. The store itself is large - perhaps the largest Crossword bookstore in Bangalore, larger than the one they have in JP Nagar, larger than the one they have on Bannerghatta Road, the Airport. I had tweeted their handle, @Crossword_Book, but didn't get a response.

The children's section is also large, spacious, and a couple of sofas and stools can be put to good use. Indeed, you can spot parents and children there, poring over, reading, flipping over books. There is a Cafe Coffee Day store inside the store next to the children's section.

The other reason I liked this store is the curation - yes, I don't think, and I may be wrong, that all Crossword stores get the same selection of books to carry; that would be not only impractical because all stores are not the same size, but also because each store should and must carry books based on the human intervention and judgment. In that respect, the Koramangala store impressed me with not only with the selection of books, but also with the placement and choice of books to highlight.

Their India shelf had the usual suspects listed, including Nilekani's "Imaging India" and Shashi Tharoor's "Pax Indica", but also the well-reviewed "Beyond the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo.

We stepped out of the store after more than an hour, richer by two Amar Chitra Katha 3-in-1 collections and one Judy Moody paperback, i.e., kids' books.

I should add that there are at least three bookstores I know of that are larger in South Bangalore. One is the Landmark store at the Forum Mall. While the Landmark store sells a whole lot more than just books, their books section is quite large. The second and third are the Sapna Book Store. One is their store in Jayanagar, which, while cramped, offers a very large collection of books - both academic as well as others, while their other store is in Koramangala, and is billed as India's largest book showroom. I have been there and had blogged about it last year (link).

View Larger Map

 © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Head-on Collision

Admit it, the title of the post made you look, didn't it? It's the morbid fascination with the macabre that we harbor, hidden mostly, but latent, dormant, and waiting to surface at all times, that makes us go rubber-necking on highways.
There is a traffic police post on Bannerghatta Road, opposite the Gopalan Mall, and which is therefore also the site of many a dented and accidented vehicle that have been towed or driven here, waiting for the police investigation to be completed, before these vehicles can be taken to their final resting places. It is here that you get to see some frisson-inducing spectacles, like this one. There have been worse, I am sure, but this one is no less hair-raising. A white mini-van and a black hatchback in what looks like an almost full-frontal collision. Not at very high speed though, because the windshield has not cracked for either vehicle.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Good Ol Charlie Brown, How I Hate Him!

Complete Peanuts 1950 -1952 (v. 1)Charles M Schulz 

(Amazon, Flipkart, Powells, my review on Amazon)
A Collector's Delight; A Joy To Read
5 stars
This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
This is the first book in a very ambitious project - to publish every single strip and Sunday "Peanuts" cartoon. As a first volume in the series, I believe it succeeds, completely. I would want this format to be followed for more anthologies - it sets a benchmark, an aspirational level of excellence.

Apart from the cartoons, which I will talk about in a minute, it has got several extras, like an Introduction by Garrison Keillor at the beginning of the book, an essay by David Michaelis, a complete interview with George Schulz, and get this - an index of characters and topics! For example, if you want to look up strips that contain "insults to size, shape and appearance of head" of Charlie Brown, you will find that in the Index, and the strips are on pages 34, 48, 54, 87, 104, 141, 259. Yes - as close to a searchable book as you can get in paper form. This book is not yet available as a Kindle format e-book, and I don't know if it will be made available as one, but one can hope.

An advantage of having all cartoon strips, in chronological order, without skipping over any strip, in one place - well, in this case over several books to be published as a complete anthology, is that you can follow the development of the characters, the plots, as well as the artistic arc that each character undergoes in terms of the drawing itself of the characters, as well as the emotional and psychological development one sees in the characters. Therefore, Snoopy makes his appearance in the third strip itself, but he is different, quite different, from the Snoopy that you will see from strips just a few years later. He does not talk, for instance, in the beginning. His fighter pilot avatar is also sometime in the future.

As far as the book itself is concerned, it's got a beautiful dust jacket. The paper is high quality, perhaps archival quality - thick and with a slight glossy feel to it. The printing is crisp and high quality. No pixellation or low-quality image transfers either. The layout is landscape, and on each page you get three single strips, while the Sunday strip takes up an entire page. You have the year and month printed on facing pages, and if you peer closely, on each strip, in one of the boxes, you can also see the month and date printed.

One word of advice - read them in chronological order to maximize your enjoyment of these cartoon strip.

The Complete Peanuts: 1950-1952
by Charles M. Schulz

--> © 2012, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.