Reading Places and Times

Reading is a form of joy that none other. It can provide pleasure in so many ways that one cannot even imagine at times. With reading, memories are created. Hoards of them and sometimes way too many to remember. This post is one such attempt to chronicle memory related to books, the places they have been read at and positions that one has been comfortable reading them in. All readers would be able to relate to this one, because sometimes sense of time and place is so important to reading, that you cannot forget it in a lifetime.

I remember childhood most vividly. When reading was a luxury, away from studies. Away from the books that one did not have to look at till the next year or till the next term. When my parents would want me to sleep early and I was hiding under the covers with a book and a torch (done that as well). That is probably the first memory that is stuck with books.

Memories related and connected to books have always been special. Be it sitting alone in my room (which I had to share with one sibling) at fourteen when my nose was stuck in David Copperfield (at those times I wished I was an orphan, just to live that life) and my mind was elsewhere by then. Wuthering Heights was read for the first time at Worli Sea Face by sitting on a bench and listening to the sea murmur at intervals. There would have been no perfect setting for such a book. Maybe it was the sea and its memory that added to the charm of the book and to the reason of it being one of my favourite books of all-time.

Books have to be read in a special place and we all have them. It could be the corner of your room or it could be that special spot in the library. The point is that sometimes we can only read there. The place that brings us that required comfort with the book that is loved. I can never read without lying down on my stomach and the sufficient light that has to fall on the book, from a particular angle. That is much needed. The type of food one is used to eating with the book you read is also essential to the reader. Food goes best with reading. My reading food has to be a packet of chips with Diet Coke and of course care is taken before turning the page – a napkin on the side and the Coke can kept far away from the book.

I also remember the time I was at loggerheads with my family and spent hours in my college library reading. The British Library spot right next to the DVD section is most fondly remembered. Virginia Woolf was discovered in that phase – the existentialism narrative and linear thought flow was also discovered in the aisles of the library. Those memories don’t let go and shouldn’t as well.

The journeys undertaken have always been with books. Be it a train journey, on which I cannot sleep and a book is sufficient, as the train whizzes by and the reading process between sips of tea, purchased at a small station at two in the morning. A long flight journey. A bookstore in a foreign land and a café where everyone knows you and is ok with the fact that you order one Latte and read there for hours. The comfort of knowing that helps uninhibited reading.

Reading is as personal and solitary hobby that it can be. It breeds in solitude. It requires that space to allow flights of fancy. Reading does that to you. It creates memories, hundreds of them – of favourite books, of loved writers, of books re-read all the time, of spaces and places, of foods eaten and enjoyed and ultimately love for them, that carries on irrespective.

387 Short Stories: Day 129 to Day 135

Day 129: 17th of April 2014: For Esmé – with Love and Squalor by J.D. Salinger
Day 130: 18th of April 2014: Brownies by Z.Z. Packer
Day 131: 19th of April 2014: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Day 132: 20th of April 2014: White Angel by Michael Cunningham
Day 133: 21st of April 2014: Emergency by Denis Johnson
Day 134: 22nd of April 2014: Cathedral by Raymond Carver
Day 135: 23rd of April 2014: Dance in America by Lorrie Moore

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Title: Every Day is for the Thief
Author: Teju Cole
Publisher: Faber and Faber, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0571307920
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Teju Cole burst on the scene with “Open City” a couple of years ago. A unique voice is needed all the time, to wake the literary circle, so to say. “Open City” had a deep impact on the sensibilities and emotions as well. There was something unique about it and at the same time, it was quite ordinary. That is the charm of Teju Cole’s writing. He makes the mundane come alive.

“Every Day for the Thief” is a sort of a literary memoir. It is not a memoir and yet sometimes feels like one. A young Nigerian goes home to Lagos, after living away from it, in New York for close to fifteen years. The unnamed narrator moves from the places in the city – recalling what he left behind and trying to make sense of everything in new light.

He witnesses his old friends, the former girlfriend, the exuberance and despair of Lagos and of an eleven-year old who is accused of stealing in the local market. A lot of such incidents shape the novel for the reader. The atmosphere is built slowly, almost creating an element of suspense and yet saying what the narrator has to.

There are patchy parts in the book as well, but I chose to ignore them, because the writing is stupendous. It flows effortlessly most of the time and the voice is strong, so that is more than enough for the reader.

What also sets this book apart, are the author’s photos that are interwoven in the story. The way he captures Lagos – both pictorially and through the written word is superlative. “Every Day is for the Thief” is a short read and manages to stay with you for a very long time. This is one book you should not miss reading out this year.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Every Day is for the Thief from Flipkart.com

All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air by Darragh McKeon Title: All That Is Solid Melts into Air
Author: Darragh McKeon
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670922703
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Disasters. What do they take in their wake? When they happen, and when they are done ruining what they have to. What really goes away from people? Maybe from communities at large. Sometimes from villages, hamlets, small cities and countries. Every time I think about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, a piece of me goes out to the silent sufferers. It is the single most tragic event of the nation, which has been forgotten so easily. I got started thinking about this, just as I finished, one of the most empathic books I have read this year – “All That Is Solid Melts into Air” by Darragh McKeon – about the Chernobyl Power Plant and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“All That Is Solid Melts into Air” takes into account lives of people – when the incident occurred in 1986. It stays true to the disaster, but does that with the human element involved, which is what I loved about the book. It was not just another “account” of the tragedy. I am glad that I read this book. I am also saddened by it, but then I know that this will only make me want to read more about the accident.

It is 1986. The world is going by just as it should. The Soviet Government controls every part of its citizens’ lives. Everything is monitored. Nothing or no one is left alone. In a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year old piano prodigy plays along silently, because he does not want to disturb the neighbours. His aunt on the other hand makes car parts on the outskirts of the city, and trying to hide her past at the same time. A surgeon buries himself in the hospital to run away from his failing marriage. And in a rural village in Ukraine, a teenager wakes up to see the sky, the shade of deepest crimson and blood dripping from his cattle’s ears. As all of this happens, ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unbelievable is taking place.

This in short is the plot of the book. These lives are about to change and they do not even know it. The title of the book comes from the Communist Manifesto and that should say it all, shouldn’t it? The way the book is written is simply stupendous. There is no way you will go away from the book without reflecting on what happened and what perhaps is still happening in the wake of the event. The book conveys the horrors without sugar-coating anything. McKeon’s writing is raw and bloody and there is no getting away from it.

“All That Is Solid Melts into Air” is a book which you should not miss out reading. There is human kindness in these pages. There is sadness. There are circumstances that one cannot do much about. There is hope as well. There is also the knowing that when tragedy will strike, the possibility of humans sticking together is very high, no matter what one might think.

Affiliate Link:

Buy All That is Solid Melts into Air from Flipkart.com

Karachi You’re Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz

Karachi You're Killing Me by Saba Imtiaz Title: Karachi You’re Killing Me
Author: Saba Imtiaz
Publisher: Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004601
Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire, Humour
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

There are very few satirical writers left in the world, I think. Or maybe I have not heard enough of them. So when I stumble on something interesting – satirical, with a good plot and hilarious at the same time, I know that I have struck gold. For a reader, nothing is more gratifying than reading something which fulfils and satisfies at the same time. “Karachi, You’re Killing Me” is one of those books. You immediately take a liking to it and that is that.

Saba Imtiaz’s first book, “Karachi You’re Killing Me” is a romp of a read and when I say romp – I mean it in the sense of it being fast-paced, funny, tongue-in-cheek and describing the extremes of Pakistan – from the elite to the not-so elite to the middle class that hangs in the balance.

Books about Pakistan always leave me wanting to know more about the country. It is almost like the need to know how the brother country has shaped and what lies ahead of them: Is it as different? Is it that similar? As I reader, I am left clamouring for more.

At the heart of the novel is, Ayesha Khan, a single, female reporter in Karachi, who despises the elite and has no choice but to cover them for her pieces as well. Her assignments range from covering a bomb site to interviewing her boss’s niece, who is a cup-cake designer. Besides this, she has her own problems to take care of.

Imtiaz, very cleverly brings to her readers: Karachi: In all its splendour and sometimes not so. She speaks of the underbelly of Karachi and what it takes sometimes to survive in a city like this. Ayesha is almost caught between two worlds and yet is sorted in her head. She is the kind of character that takes her chances and does it without thinking twice.

The writing also is like this – almost semi-autobiographical in nature. It is most certainly not apologetic and Imtiaz says what she has to without making any bones about it. Saba Imtiaz, according to me, is one of the most promising writers to have come out of Pakistan in recent times and I for one cannot wait to read her next book.

Affiliate Link:

Buy Karachi

Patience by John Coates

Patience by John Coates Title: Patience
Author: John Coates
Publisher: Persephone Books Ltd
ISBN: 978-1903155899
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Another book on adultery. This time yet again from, “The Novel Cure” Reading Project. This time a book which probably very few people would have heard of, called, “Patience” by John Coates. I could not wait to get my hands on it and when I did, I waited. I tend to do that sometimes. I wait. Till I am ready for the book. Or rather the book is ready for me. “Patience” was ready for me this month and I jumped right into it.

“Patience” is about Patience – she is the protagonist, who is Catholic, and is way too familiar with the concept of Sin. She is not happy in her marriage. Edward is not the kind of husband she wants to be with. He is being unfaithful to her (We come to know of this at the beginning of the book, when her brother Lionel tells her so). He is fond of her and his family of three daughters, but would rather have a son. Until Patience decides that she has had enough. She begins to live her life on her own terms and things get pretty interesting from thereon.

The book is brilliantly written, with characters behaving the way probably you and I would in situations they are in. Patience, initially comes across as timid and naïve but according to me, as the novel progresses her true nature and the strength of character is apparent, which left me hooting for me, long after the book finished. John’s sensibilities and character portrayal is way ahead of its time. Patience is set in a time when women cannot think of living the way Patience did and to me that is commendable.

I also sometimes wondered what it would be like for a man to write a book from a woman’s perspective. Maybe it is not that difficult at all. Patience is proof of that. A book which makes you think, smile and cheer all the way. Please do not miss it.

This one was to cure Adultery from The Novel Cure Reading Challenge.

Next Up: The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

All The Rage by A.L. Kennedy

All the Rage by A.L. Kennedy Title: All the Rage
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224098434
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I have just started reading A.L. Kennedy’s books and I can say with guarantee that I will not stop at two. The first one I read was, “The Blue Book” which left me speechless and breathless. The second one which I have just finished reading is, “All the Rage” – a collection of short stories by her and this one according to me was better than the novel for sure. More so, because I have this soft corner for short stories.

The stories are burning with passion – and yet so subtle that the words will break your heart. There is sex, there is this all-consuming rage and then there are moments of peace and wonder. A.L. Kennedy manages to fit in everything – and the collection sure has a great punch to it as well.

The title story is about a marriage falling apart at a railway station – waiting for the train to arrive. My favourite was the story about a woman who has seemed to have lost it all and walks through the aisle of a sex emporium with an electric penis in her hand. A middle-aged woman goes into town with her older lover, who will pay her debt and then move in with her. It is beautiful. I mean the power of words which Kennedy uses here is something else. You only have to read it to believe what a writer can be capable of.

A.L. Kennedy’s stories make you sit up and perhaps make you also want to be in those situations. That is the way she writes – expecting or rather demanding the full attention of the reader – another level of involvement altogether and nothing less than that.

There are times of comedy. There are times of tragedy. It is almost the author’s style of writing is dichotomist and she takes great pride in that as well. The stories are about brief, damaged loves. In every story of the twelve that she has written – that is the underline theme. “All the Rage” is a collection that will make you look at love a little differently and maybe it will be worth it.