{Review}{Interview}{Excerpt} I Am Me by: Ram Sundaram

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Title: I Am Me

Author: Ram Sundaram
Publisher: iUniverse
Publication date: December 22, 2011 
# Of Pages: 276 Paperback 
How I got the copy: From author in exchange for an honest review

From Goodreads.com

Everyone in this world faces choices every day. In ten pairs of short stories, Ram Sundaram depicts each tale in two distinct ways, offering readers a duo of choices-to reside exclusively in a realistic world or to indulge in the realms of fantasy. As Sundaram examines different stages of life-from birth to death and beyond-through the lenses of fact and fiction, he incorporates romance, humor, horror, and fantasy in an effort to portray the duality of existence.
Sundaram introduces an eclectic group of characters. In Ishvar's world, faith and hope are best friends, but when that world suddenly shatters, Ishvar begins running from his memories. A lonely boy who stammers and believes his older brother would never hurt him finally discovers the true meaning of friendship in a girl named Emma. Two birds named Max and Macs are born in the same apple tree. As the birds battle over what each thinks is his territory on a branch, they soon discover that their differences are what will bring them together.
"I Am Me" is an inspiring collection of short stories that encourages others to dream, imagine, and ponder their own worlds through two lenses.

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Review:

There's only a handful of books I can say ever made me deeply really reflect on life, myself, and the world after finishing reading.  With I Am Me I found myself reflecting after almost every short story.  You can't help it.  The themes are so simple, yet the stories trigger thoughts that never really occurred to me before.  You may have seen on my Top Ten Favorite Quotes  I listed one from this book.  That is because it has stuck with me long after I read.  If you missed it here it is:

"A duck swam leisurely before me, without a care in the world...I thought: how utterly simple and without complication.  What made its life simple?  It needed the very same things I did physically to survive...It wanted a mate, as did I.  But perhaps what separated us was our egos.  He didn't know what he was; only what he did in order to remain, to exist.  I on the other hand knew my surroundings, my world, my past, my world's past.  I knew so much that I could even afford to imagine, and that imagination led me to think I was special; special only because I existed.  But mere existence was not worthy of pride, or this duck would be proud too.  It was pride that made my life complicated."

Think about it.  Why do humans have emotions like jealousy and greediness while animals don't really?  Is it because we have more awareness, language, imagination, and pride?  It was times like these where I found myself closing the book and staring off into space thinking.  I haven't done that in about a year since my last college class so it was nice to fire up those neurons again.

Click Read More for the rest of the review, an Interview, and Excerpt!

Aside from the content, the actual writing was wonderful.  Each story had new characters and Ram was able to provide a new voice for each one.  I was afraid the stories would mesh together, but this definitely was not the case.

Since it is a two-way book you have the choice to read it straight through like a regular book or read a story on one side, flip it, and read the corresponding story on the other side.  I chose to do the latter, and found it more rewarding.  You're able to compare the stories and themes easily.  Also, I was able to compare the components that were more realistic vs. more fantasy based.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys thought provoking/philosophy Adult Fiction type books.  This would be a great read for someone who commutes on a train to work.  You'd be able to complete a story or two and not be left on a cliffhanger all through work!       

Author Ram Sundaram has agreed to        answer some questions for us! This interview will give you a better understanding of how a two-way book works while providing some insight on Ram himself.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?  What do you do when you’re not writing?

Close friends and family members have told me that my personality is the exact opposite of what one would expect a writer to be like (interpret that how you will). As far as I’m concerned, my motto is that everything can be a joke, and there should be no restrictions on laughter. We at times censor our expressions and hold back our laughs, but that should never happen.

I am obsessed with tennis. In the peak of summer, I often spend hours on the tennis court every day, and I just love everything about that pointless yet addictive sport. I’m also a huge cricket fan, though I don’t get to play as often as I would like. I don’t spend most of the day in front of my laptop, or with a notebook in hand. I usually only write late at night, when the world is quiet and I feel completely isolated from existence. I like to think writing is like gutting fish and harnessing its edible qualities. So while I only gut the fish at night, I spend my days frivolously fishing. 

That is a great outlook on life!  We should all try to live like that.

2.  The story where the man builds a structure out of pretzels to reach a beer is pretty unique. How did you come up with ideas for each story?

Most of the stories originated from ideas I wanted to explore. For instance, the story where a man tries to build a structure using pretzels was inspired by the notion that a person might not have an imagination. And I wanted to put such a person in a situation where they would have to imagine in order to achieve something. In reality of course, the reverse happens more often, wherein a highly imaginative person is forced to work within a rigid, colorless environment. 

The ideas for the stories and their arrangement reflect the linear journey we take as individuals, from birth to friendship, love, ambition, et cetera, and end with death and the afterlife. So I essentially just worked within these themes for each pair of stories. The freedom associated with writing a book like this is that as the author, you can rationalize anything, and yet at the same time can also fictionalize anything. The stories are meant to challenge preconceived notions, and so all I had to do was realize what the expectations were of a book, and then completely disregard them. I think it’s actually a lot easier to write a book like this, which is meant to be ambiguous and undefined, than it is to work within a very specific genre, like horror or romance. 

3. Do you have any specific messages you wanted readers to get from your stories?  Or is it all open for interpretation? 

The author’s intent for his or her work goes out the window the moment a reader picks up the book. There is a popular theory that a book has no meaning until it is read, and I realize therefore that whatever messages I tried to incorporate into the text, will never fully be realized. Instead, and this is the truly wonderful aspect of creation, each reader completes the book through their own unique and personal reading of the material. So in a way, a reader picks up the book and then subconsciously creates the material while simultaneously interpreting it.

I did try to leave the material open to interpretation, because the purpose of the book is to encourage each reader to find their own way of reading it. Most books have a specific pattern, which the reader subconsciously discerns and adheres to while reading. With I Am Me, I wanted to give the reader as many variables as possible. For example, you can read either half of the book first, or you can read one story on either side, and then read the corresponding story on the other half, and so on. There are literally a multitude of ways to read the book. Ultimately, each reader can decide which version of a story they prefer, and which half of the book they enjoyed more. 

4.  Which was your favorite story to write & why?

I enjoyed writing Reality’s Dream the most, because the stories on both halves had no boundaries and weren’t rooted in a plausible reality. The central concept of both versions of the story is that dreams are a real, tangible part of our existence. So it was a lot of fun to create dreamscapes, and write scenes that were completely absurd and whimsical.

Each pair of stories in the book has a different theme, and so in terms of content, my favorite story would be the fantasy version of Immortal in Death, which looks at the afterlife, and the notion that existence is cyclical. That concept really affected me even during the writing process. 

5.  What is your favorite book or author?

I believe in having horses for causes, so I have a favourite author for every genre. In terms of pure entertainment (and something that is a huge sentimental favourite), I would say the Harry Potter series. For horror or psychological fiction, The Shining is a book I often revisit. For out and out epic fiction, nothing comes close to The Lord of the Rings. For science fiction, I love Michael Crichton’s works. And finally Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is my favourite work of philosophical fiction. 

6.  Which was harder to write the reality or the fantasy section of the book?

Both halves were inspired by real-life events, and both halves were also largely fictional. So the challenge was to make the fictional elements factual, and the factual elements fictional. In that regard, both halves were similar in terms of the writing process. The reality side was at times less fun to write, because certain stories required a more rigid, plausible backdrop, and this structure was a little boring to work within, especially after having written fantastical stories.

Another challenge was writing about experiences that I’d never had. One of the stories deals with alcoholism, which as a teetotaler was difficult for me to imagine, as was imagining what it would be like being married, or having a life as a hangman, or being a paraplegic. But these are the challenges that all fiction writers face, and it was a great learning experience.

7.  Are you working on any new projects currently?  Will you be writing a full length novel in the future?
 I am currently working on two projects, and both are full-length novels. The first of them, which I’m hoping to have released by Christmas of this year, is also a two-way book like I Am Me. It will essentially have two separate novels that mirror each other within one book.

The other novel I’m working on can be classified as psychological fiction, and it examines the creative process of an artist and explores the darker sides of creation. This will be a “regular” book, with the usual front-to-back approach.

I plan to have three more two-way books (all novels) released within the next few years. I have pretty much mapped out the plots for these books, but now comes the tricky part of fleshing out the stories and the characters. The books will revolve around four main characters, (two of whom have made an appearance in “I Am Me”) but I don’t want to call it a series, because each book will be independent of the next.

8. Would you share an excerpt of one titles so readers can get an idea of how the two-way book works?

Here are two excerpts from either version of the story “Hangman.” The first examines the life of an actual hangman, while the other version of the story reveals an individual playing the game, “hangman” with Death Himself. So while the title is the same, and the theme is similar, each version of the story is completely different to the other.

Excerpt from one version of Hangman:

I slip the noose around his neck, and cover his face with the mask.
The second prisoner is a young man, handsome, strong and full of ambition. I see in his eyes a sense of promise I’d never known in myself. He is the prime of his life; a stallion, capable of challenging the world and defeating it. He should be thundering through life, conquering everything he deems a challenge. He shouldn’t be here, facing defeat.
I hide his beautiful face and slip the noose around his neck.
The third prisoner is an old man, grey and wrinkled. He meets my eyes proudly, without any regret. It is he who saddens me the most, even though he has lived longer than the others, for I realise it is this old man that I will never become. I was once a young boy, innocent and full of dreams; I had briefly been like that young man, full of daring ambition; but I haven’t lived enough to accumulate the experience this old man holds within him. It is the life he has led that I envy, when I slip the noose around his neck and cover his face with a hood.
I step back as the Reverend whispers words of counsel and comfort to the three hooded figures. They do not respond. When he is finished, the Reverend steps away from them and says aloud, for all to hear: “May God have mercy on your souls.”
That is my cue.

Excerpt from the other version of Hangman:

“Um… my next guess is ‘O’,” I said.
“People do labour under many misconceptions, don’t they?” he sneered, as the letter “O” was etched onto the paper, not in one of the spaces, but above the word. Once written, a line was drawn across it. Almost at once, I felt a sharp, searing pain along my shoulders—my arms were being pulled by some invisible force. I tried to resist, but how could I? With a resounding tear that induced a piercing scream from me, my arms were wrenched free from my body. They now hovered beneath the noose, as if attached to an invisible body. I had never known such pain before, and I didn’t think I would survive. I screamed at the top of my voice, and the noise echoed around the room until he very calmly but authoritatively said, “enough.”
I stifled my screams at once, for I didn’t dare disobey. Hot tears streamed down my cheeks as I writhed in pain and misery, but he didn’t even flinch. 
“I’m afraid ‘O’ was not a correct guess,” he said, with considerable delight in his voice. “Tell me,” he carried on conversationally, as if my arms hadn’t just been torn off my body. “What do you think death is? What does death mean to you?”
Breathing hard with panic and agony, I did not answer him at once. I contemplated his words through a fog of pain, before answering, “It means… release.”
“Do explain.”
“Death… is an escape,” I panted. “Life is predictable, even at its most turbulent and miraculous. But death? Death is an escape from everyday reality.”
“What sort of a release do you think death brings?”
Though I was answering him, my mind was busy contemplating my future. What if I guessed the word correctly and my life was subsequently spared? Would my arms be returned to my body and this agonizing pain erased from my memory?
“I suppose… it must be something like salvation,” I said.
“So it’s a spiritual release?” he said, derisively. “So that’s what you expect will happen to you in death. You expect God will ride down on a golden chariot and rescue you?”
I nodded, not daring to look at him. I stared at the blank spaces in silence before deciding to risk another letter. In an ever so small voice, I said, “E.”
Though his face was hidden beneath the hood, I could sense his ugly features twisting into an evil grin. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” he said, with mock sympathy. “Wrong again.”

Thank you for taking the time to do an interview for Harley Bear Book Blog!

Ram's book can be found at B&N & Amazon.  

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