84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0140143508
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

For the longest time now, I had been wanting to read “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. It was one of those books that were on my shelf for a while and every time I tried reading it, it did not go down that well. For such a book, I was surprised when I finished it in a day’s time.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a true story of two people who love books and mull over life and everything else in between through letters, without meeting each other at all. The epistolary use of form is fascinating, crisp and to the point in this book.

The book is written plainly in parts, discussing love of books between an emerging writer in New York and a second-hand bookseller in England. It is about Helene’s experiences with Frank and how their lives merge because of love for books.

The entire book is in the form of letters between the two and also between Helene and other people working at the bookstore, “Marks & Co.” The correspondence runs from 1949 until 1969, where they exchange gifts, news of their families and friends and about the love and tenderness people can have without meeting each other. Books of course play a vital role and are at the core of this book.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a friend which will warm you on a cold night. It is something which is needed for the book lover’s soul and comes highly recommended from me. It is the kind of book which every book lover should have a place for in his or her library. I cannot stop recommending it to everyone I meet. Might I also add, that I have just received the DVD and cannot wait to watch the movie version starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks

Where I'm Reading from by Tim Parks Title: Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books
Author: Tim Parks
Publisher: New York Review Books
ISBN: 978-1590178843
Genre: Non-Fiction, Reading, Bibliography
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher:
Rating: 4/5

Ever since I remember, I have loved books about books. It helps me discover new books. It helps me widen my reading horizon. It also makes me see how other people view books and reading. Tim Parks, given his portfolio on books and reviewing, him being a writer, critic and everything rolled into one, there could have been no better person to write about books and the love of reading them.

“Where I’m Reading From” speaks of books in the past, how they are viewed in the present and what is really the future of books. The book is extremely thought-provoking and makes a lot of sense most of the time. I did find myself disagreeing on some of his essays but I guess there is always this dialogue between the reader and the writer which must take place, whether it is pleasant or not.

The book is divided into four sections – the world around the book, the book in the world, the writer’s world and writing across worlds. Each section makes you nostalgic about books and reading. Each section is about how we read and how it impacts every stage of our lives.

Of course, Parks is highly opinionated but then that is how it works when it comes to most art forms and critics alike. These essays are all about the world and its connection to books and readers. For one, I was thoroughly engaged and at the same time I had to keep the book aside and just think of what I have read in the past and what I am reading now.

“Where I’m Reading From” takes its name from Raymond Carver’s beautiful short story “Where I’m Calling From” and does justice to the title in every way. The collection of essays is stunning and makes you think of books over and over again as a reader.

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes Title: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Author: Roland Barthes
Publisher: Vintage, Random House
ISBN: 978-0099225416
Genre: Photography, Art, Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was never interested in photography. Somehow, it just did not interest me. However, after reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag and also “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, I started taking some interest in the subject and I had known of Roland Barthes. Coupled with this was the fact that he had written on photography, so it was just only a matter of time before I would read it.

What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.

“Camera Lucida” is about photos, life, and death and about the cultures we inhabit. The book is not just about photographs and photography. It is a lot more on actually how we see and how we are conditioned to see.

“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”

The book is all about art – about how paintings came to lose some significance with the invention of the camera and how that was not the case after a couple of years. “Camera Lucida” is a collection of essays on “the photograph by onlooker” than what a photographer may think of his or her photograph. He questions what it means to take pictures and what the probable outcomes of it are.

It is not an easy read, but it is highly satisfying. Barthes draws on examples from life, what surrounds us and how it feels like to have a relationship with a still image in an age of constant movement and newer digital means.

“Camera Lucida” is about interpretation, imagination and art. It is more so about living and what it takes to make sense of art that is all-pervasive. The book is short and just right to know more about photography and the medium that it is. I will of course go back to it at some point. I must also say that it is not a read that you can fly by, however once you sink your teeth in it, it is an excellent read.

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna Title: Mrs Funnybones
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143424468
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Books that take you out of a reading slump are hard to come by. If those kind of books are funny, then all I can say is that go for them because funny books are hard to come by, well at least for me, who is not taken in by them till I finished reading, “Mrs Funnybones” and my jaw was actually hurting from laughing out loud.

I honestly though didn’t have any expectations from this book. I mean I had heard of Twinkle Khanna’s column in DNA and TOI but did not expect anything from the book. I had not read any of her columns. However, I can safely say that all of you and I mean every single one of you must read “Mrs Funnybones”. It is hilarious and I cannot stop recommending it enough.

“Mrs Funnybones” is about a regular woman’s (not quite so given her celebrity status) often irregular and chaotic life with her celebrity husband, kids, mother-in-law, dog, domestic help, a vivacious mother, and many more characters that keep popping in and out of chapters. I could not stop turning the pages. I could also not stop giggling like a school girl. There is also a lot of profundity in the book without it being too preachy and that is what I loved second best after the humour.

Twinkle Khanna writes with a lot of ease and it’s almost effortless. The writing just flows and humour is sometimes obvious and sometimes not, which is what I call, balanced. Whether she is talking about her man Jeeves (whom she calls desi Jeeves and that somehow cracked me up) to the time she was on a flight to Delhi and had to deal with a mother and her baby who decided that it was potty time on flight and what followed later was just laugh-out-loud and disgusting at the same time, she conjures life as is, without any frills and pretensions. We need more honest writing like this I guess.

My favourite parts were the ones that involved her Mom – how she was made fun of as a child and also of how she keeps getting these emails from her with her baby and teenage picture attachments. It was a laugh riot and at times I could not help but think of what she says about growing up, life, and everything in between.

“Mrs Funnybones” is the kind of book which will appeal to everyone. There is something which everyone can relate to – if not house issues, then about the state of the country, issues which she deals with great subtlety and wit. Like I said, I cannot stop recommending this book to everyone. It sort of reminded me of Moni Mohsin’s Diary of a Social Butterfly. I will get back to it in bits and parts when I am feeling down and about, so I can laugh and forget what is going on around me, at least temporarily.

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers Title: Up and Down
Author: Oliver Jeffers
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Book
ISBN: 978-0007263851
Genre: Picture Book, Children’s Book
Pages: 40
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Nothing like a good children’s book to make the blues go away. Trust me when I say that. They are very comforting and help you also look at things differently and actually make you more empathetic than you normally are or would have been. At least that has been my experience.

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers  -  Image 1

Once again Oliver Jeffers came to my rescue with the book “Up and Down” and might I add that I was again taken in heavily by this one as well. Though this was a reread, it still seemed like I was reading it for the first time.

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers  -  Image 3

“Up and Down” is yet again about the boy and this time with his friend, the penguin. They spend all time together and are with each other, till one fine day things change. It is about the penguin that has wings and wants to fly and explore more than just spending time with the boy and how one turn of event makes the penguin and the boy see things differently.

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers  -  Image 3

I loved this book. It is about friendship and how easy it is to get back with friends. It is also about wanting to do what you always have thought and dreamed of.

Up and Down by Oliver Jeffers  -  Image 4

“Up and Down” by Oliver Jeffers is a comfort read. It will for sure make you want to call your best friend and let him or her know how much they mean to you.

Her by Harriet Lane

Her by Harriet Lane Title: Her
Author: Harriet Lane
Publisher: W & N
ISBN: 978-1780220024
Genre: Suspense, Thriller
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about this book on various online forums and sites. I was quite excited as well to read it. I finally read and finished it today. The book is very well-written, that’s for sure, and it’s just that I was a bit disappointed by the twist in the tale. Having said that, I give it four stars only because of the writing and the atmosphere Harriet Lane has managed to conjure in her book “Her”.

“Her” is a story of two women – Nina and Emma. Both are almost of the same age and living in London. They come from two different worlds and lead two very different lives. While Nina is a successful artist, Emma is a housewife who feels mostly stifled being at home and taking care of her children. And yet when they meet, there is something that draws them to each other, something almost unexplainable. Till the reader understands that Nina is up to something while meeting Emma (well sort of understand, rather, the reader can only guess). Why is Nina interested in Emma? Why does she have this obsession which is so subtle and yet there?

The book is chilling. It is also quite an intriguing read. Lane’s writing is sharp and has a lot of detailing that only helps build the suspense. I loved how Emma’s housewife ennui is explained throughout and how Nina’s perspectives are portrayed. Both women’s stories unravel through their views of similar situations, told in alternating chapters.

My only grouse was the build-up to the end in the penultimate chapter. I just had a problem with that part. The ending however is so brilliant that it will leave you with your jaw dropping. This thriller is interwoven with the past and the present and explores human psychology with great casualty. It is quite shocking to see Nina’s character build and do the things that she does with such calm.

You must read this book for the plot, for the characterization, for the way the women are depicted, for the details and above all for a good chill running through your spine.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey Title: Amphigorey Too
Author: Edward Gorey
Publisher: Perigee Books
ISBN: 978-0399504204
Genre: Graphic Novels, Literary, Humour
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Amphigorey Too is a wonderfully strange book. It is a collection of 20 tales which have been previously published and this book is an anthology. In fact Edward Gorey’s stories are so short and so many of them that there are four omnibuses to encapsulate all of them.

These 20 tales are dark and completely out of the ordinary. They will take you by surprise and while they seem to be meant for children, they most certainly are not. Gorey’s style is always dark and witty. I guess having a signature way of writing always helps an author in the sense that readers can then associate easily and know what they are in for after reading the first couple of stories or books.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey - Image 1

I had not heard of Edward Gorey, till my friend at Book Sense spoke highly of him and I knew I had to read him. My favourite tale in the book is “The Gilded Bat” which is about a prima ballerina and her life between performance, rehearsal and boredom. There are children in these tales who die at the drop of a hat and before you know it even adults are killed and meet their end quite grotesquely sometimes. But you must also read “Amphigorey Too” for the illustrations. They are brilliantly done and in tune with the wry humour.

Amphigorey Too by Edward Gorey - Image 2

The stories are sarcastic, dead pan, whimsical, bold, gory and above all also quite emotional if read deeper. Some of it is nonsense. Some of it is not. All I can say is that this is a read for a perfect rainy Sunday.

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