On books and jam tarts

Books are an important part of my life, yet I rarely get the chance to talk about what I read here, unless it is food-related. Then I read a post on One Hot Stove about a list created by The Perpetual Page Turner called the A to Z Book survey. I had so much fun reading Nupur’s list, I decided to take the survey too.

Author you’ve read the most books from:
I think it’s a toss-up between P.G Wodehouse and Agatha Christie, although Enid Blyton and writer and publisher Edward Stratemeyer (specifically for his Nancy Drew & Hardy Boys series) might easily lay stake to this claim, because I read every last one available till I was about twenty.

Best Sequel Ever:
Harry Potter got more intriguing with each book. I love them all. But the king of the book sequel for me is The Lord of the Rings series. The first book is rich and textured, but The Two Towers is engrossing and fascinating and The Return of the King is epic.
The Percy Jackson series is also pretty well-woven, a wonderful blend of Greek myth and modern fiction.

Currently Reading:
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: Volume 1 by Edward Gibbon

Drink of Choice While Reading:
If I drink when I read, I’m going to ruin my reading material. I’m absent-minded and clumsy like that. Funnily enough, I had no problem eating and reading as a child. Perhaps I lost some skills as I got older.

E-reader or Physical Book?
There is something about the smell and feel of paper that represents for me the familiar, the peaceful and the secure – in a way that my life without paper books in it would be no life at all. That said, I find myself reading quite happily off my IPad too. It was an adjustment to begin with and I still prefer paper, but the convenience can’t be beat. I always like to have something to read with me, and this way I always do, with no forethought required. Back when the e-reader was a concept, I firmly believed nothing could replace the tactile feel and evocative smells of paper. I have now come to understand that first and foremost, I like to read what I like to read. The format is secondary.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:
Frank Hardy of The Hardy Boys or Jupiter Jones from The Three Investigators.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:
I have a couple here.
Where’d you go, Bernadette?
by Maria Semple. I loved the story, the way it is told through a series of letters, the discoveries the protagonist makes about her mother, those around her, and herself. The author paints deft scenes and situations with her words. The story is droll and compelling and you will want to know how it all ends. Mysteries have always been my favourite genre. This was one out of the usual sort, punctuated with some very clever writing.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. I’m glad I took a chance with this because it introduced me an author I like who has written enough, that once I was done with this book I could go find his other books. I can tell halfway through a book if I like just the book or also the author’s style and manner of story-telling. The first finding gives me a book I enjoyed, the second opens the doorway to many future books to look forward to.

Hidden Gem Book:
“The circus arrives without warning.”
From its first line, The Night Circus by Eric Morgenstern, gets your attention. The author continues on to create this story filled with magic and wonder, friendship and betrayal. The setting for the story, the enigmatic circus, becomes as critical to the narrative as the characters themselves, even overshadowing them at times. This was an enchanting read. 

Important Moment in your Reading Life:
Reading my first Enid Blyton The Enchanted Wood. I can’t remember how old I was, except that I was very little. I was rooting through my cousin’s library shelf for a picture book and found this instead. It was hardbound and had a green cover with kids and dwarves and elves on it. I was immersed in it immediately. Despite my very young age, I remember two things coming to me vividly. This was the first time I understood the reality of an author; someone who actively wrote for a living. I grasped also the fact that if I enjoyed something this author person wrote, it was very likely I would enjoy his or her other writings.

Just Finished:
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:
Books on personal or party politics. Political debate involves spinning a narrative. Except this is not fantasy, it is about people, their lives and attempting to exert influence on thought by manipulating words. For the most part, such politics makes me angry. I do my best to avoid reading books that make me angry. Short articles do that anyway.

Longest Book You’ve Read:
Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. I read this because I love the Tolkien universe, but this book had none of the flow of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit which maintained a pace and tightness despite the multitude of characters that appear. This book felt stunted and fragmented to me. I forged through it, but it felt like forever. 

Major book hangover because of:
Good or bad? There have been a few. Robin Cook’s Coma. That book both fascinated and scared me. Stephen King’s It still has me irrationally wary of clowns. I also found myself thinking about Michael Crichton’s Timeline for several days after I read it. The mix of science, history and adventure was enthralling.

Number of Bookcases You Own:
Show is better than tell, no? Four bookcases full.

A friend once visited our apartment and told me her dad would love our place because: “Padhe-likhe logon ka ghar lagta hai” (It looks like educated folk who value learning live here.) It made me wonder what her parents would think when they went through the books, and found that while our collections does contain books on architecture, history, science and food, there are also the Calvin and Hobbes, Asterixes, Tintins, all my old Archie comics and all my childhood Enid Blytons. My own family continues to be flummoxed by my still-present fondness for what is considered (and often actually is) children’s literature.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:
(There are many books I have read multiple times. I do that with my favourite reads. I’m a somewhat cautious new author reader. I’m listing the three books I’ve read more often than most.)
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell is one of the few autobiographies I am crazy about. The adventure that was this man’s real life is incredible. The humour of it all is in the title of the book itself and it is as absorbing to read about the animals as hilarious it is to read about the family. A must-read if you like animals, it is a great read even if you don’t. Mr. Durrell led a fascinating life and is a true example of someone born with a calling. 

The Small Bachelor by P.G Wodehouse was my introduction to this prolific writer. It is not as well-known than his famous series books on Jeeves and Wooster or Blandings Castle, but it is quintessential Wodehouse; humour and misdirection liberally sprinkled with young love, the class clashed and happy endings. All this held conveyed with some of the best usage of the English language that the world has ever known. It made me fall in love with and develop a fierce loyalty for the writings of Wodehouse.

I have read and probably own every mystery Agatha Christie wrote. They came to Baghdad is my go-to book when I need a Christie fix. No one wrote mysteries as well or as prodigiously as her. While Murder on the Orient Express is proof of this, They came to Baghdad is filled with intrigue and exotic locales, pictures so deftly woven in words that they spring to life from the page. Much as I love Poirot, Tuppence and Tommy are my favourite Christie creations.

Preferred Place To Read:
Anywhere really, as long as it is comfortable enough for me to focus on the book at hand.

Quote that inspires you from a book you’ve read:
So many. Here’s a few.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.
Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)

“The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”
“Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
“He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”
                                                 – Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

“What state do you live in? – Denial.”
                                                – Bill Waterson, The Essential Calvin & Hobbes (1988)

Reading Regret:
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. I had not read it when I started with architecture school. After being asked about having read it a number of times, I decided to see what the fuss is about. I found the author’s prose and style of writing ponderous and interrupting, not aiding the story. I think I gave up at page fifteen, making this the only book I ever gave up on. I’m older now, and I wonder if I ought to give it another try. The thing is, I’m not sure if my regret is not finishing this book, or that I ever took it up in the first place. Now I just smile, say it is on my reading list and move on to another topic before the other person can start to tell me about the guiding principles of Howard Roark.

Series You Started And Need To Finish:
The Artemis Fowl series

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:
I’m making this ten. That’s still ‘T’, right? I have too many favourites.
In addition to the books listed above under books I’ve read multiple times:
The Adventures of Sally by P.G Wodehouse
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Island of Adventure by Enid Blyton
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Unapologetic Fangirl For:
I had to look up what fangirl really meant:
A rabid breed of human female who is obsessed with either a fictional character or an actor.
Hmm. No.

Very Excited For This Release:
I’m looking forward to find out how the Wildwood, Emerald Atlas, Lost Gate and Divergent series’ end. Can’t say I’m very excited about any, though. I think the last book I was truly excited about was the last Harry Potter book. Perhaps a little about the last of the The Immortals of Meluha after that. 

Worst Bookish Habit:
I’m guilty of starting up to three books at once. I do not recommend it.

X Marks The Spot: (Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book)
I picked a bookcase at random
Building Construction Illustrated by Francis D.K Ching

Your latest book purchase:
Stardust by Neil Gaiman

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):
Dune by Frank Herbert. I only recently read it.


This tart had jam

The recipe has, of course, nothing to do with my books. Except that it would be fantastic to have on hand while reading a book. It is not even from my books. I found it on David Lebovitz’s fantastic site when I found myself with a glut of jam. Reading it, I realized it was superbly easy. Even on an impatient day, I was unlikely to mess it up.

This tart has apple butter

I have made it a few times so far, with some flavour additions to the crust. Once I made it with very thick apple butter and once with traditional jam. One time I didn’t cut small discs like I was told to, just turned the dough into very thin topping. Either way, the tart held its ground and tasted divine. Just like Lebovitz says, it is a great take-out-with-you food.

This jam tart is part of a Pac-Man re-enactment

It has tremendous lasting power in your fridge. Serve it topped with your ice-cream of choice or just on its own. It will make you feel extremely accomplished as you take in the compliments of your friends and family.

Jam Tart
Adapted lightly from this recipe by David Lebovitz.
Makes one 9-inch tart

Butter – 9 tbsp, room temperature
Sugar – 1/2 cup
Egg – 1
Egg Yolk – 1
Almond/ Vanilla Extract -  a tiny splosh
AP flour – 1-1/2 cup
Cornmeal – 1/2 cup
Baking powder – 2 tsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Cardamom powder (optional) – 2 hefty pinches
Clove powder (optional) – 1 hefty pinch
Jam – 1-3/4 cup
Raw sugar for sprinkling over before baking

- In a bowl, mix together the flour, cormeal, baking powder and salt until combined.
- Fit your electric mixer with the paddle attachment and beat the sugar and butter together at low speed until creamed. Mix in egg, egg yolk and extract of your choice and mix further.
- Add in the dry ingredients to the wet and mix only until everything is combined ino a dough.
- Put the dough out on a lightly flour-dusted surface and cut out about a third of it.
- Taking a sheet of plastic wrap, put the 2/3 section of the dough on it and flatten it out into a rough disc. Cover over with plastic wrap.
- Roll the 1/3 portion of the dough into a 2-inch log. Cover with plastic wrap. Chill both dough section for about 20-30 minutes.
- Take the disc out of the fridge and allow it to come to just under room temperature. This will make it easier to work with. Heat your oven to about 375°F.
- Place the disc a 9-inch tart pan. Working with the heel of your hand, press the dough into the pan, the base and up the sides as evenly as possible.
- Pour in the jam and smooth over the dough base.
- Take the log out of the fridge. Slice the log into small, thin discs, then place them over the jam in small overlaps in a circular-type pattern. Sprinkle over some raw sugar on the discs.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the discs turn golden brown.
Take the tart out of the oven. Allow to cool before removing from the pan. Serve the tart at room temperature.




  1. Priti

    What a lovely post! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The pie looks scrumptious.

    I was introduced to Enid Blyton by ‘The Magic of Faraway tree’ which was a birthday gift by one of our nicest neighbors. I read and re-read it and devoured the entire series. Few years ago, on one of our treks when we came across a huge enormous tree which was so tall that the tops were hidden in the clouds, I couldn’t help remembering this series.

    I share your love for many books you have mentioned above and will be reading the ones I have not, Thank you so much!

    • Sharmila

      It must have been magical, coming upon something as you imagined it in a book. What a lovely thing to experience. Loved that series.
      I’m always hoping to see the landscape described in her Adventure series. (I was a devotee of all things Enid Blyton for all of my childhood.)
      The tart is really easy, a great one to tackle as as a beginner or a more seasoned maker.

  2. Nupur

    Oh what a totally marvelous post, Sharmila. You have added so many great books to my to-read list. How did I forget about Durrell? I loved his books.

    • Sharmila

      I love Durrell’s world. The animals, the beauty of Greece. I have never been more desperate to travel than after I read that book. I primarily fell for his sense of humour and ‘mentally defective penguin’ will forever remain one of my favourite phrases.
      There are books I’m sure I’ve forgotten here too. And many more that could have fit in these categories but it would have been too long a list.

  3. Lawyer Loves Lunch

    Loved this post! I read all the time in a former life (pre-crazy work, and baby) and I miss it so much. I’m hoping to bring it back, especially since Little Man is showing an interest in reading. Also, how come I never have a glut of jam?!

    • Sharmila

      Hee, glut of jam occurred from the jam class I took in the summer. But this tart is so good you can totally justify buying a jar of jam just for it. It’s the perfect, quick go-to tart recipe.

  4. momofnine

    Oh my! What a terrific post. I loved reading about your love of reading. I have collected books for years. My excuse is that I homeschool but it is an addiction! Thank you for sharing and I hope to try your recipe soon!

  5. Siri

    I am bookmarking this post so that I can come back and note down the book recos in leisure. Lovely post and I am so envious of that reading shelf of yours. :-). If and when we meet, can I have a slice of jam tart please :D

    • Sharmila

      Thanks so very much Siri! It was so nice to read this sweet comment. Sometimes our books seem to be their own entity, they multiply as if by magic. If and when we meet, I will have a whole jam tart for you, along with with several other delicious goodies. :)