Monthly Archives: December 2013

387 Short Stories: Day 18: Story 18: I am a Neat Boy by Joseph Smith

Finally My Ambulance by Joseph Smith Title: I am a Neat Boy
Author: Joseph Smith
Taken from the Collection: Finally My Ambulance

This short story project of mine gives me great relief and peace at the end of the day. I have to pick my stories quite carefully sometimes, to ensure that. And knock on wood, these eighteen days have been super. “I am a Neat Boy” by Joseph Smith is a bittersweet story of an old man, a drunk, who one fine day changes over because he has a date and wants to create the best impression ever. The story takes on from there, to what happens at the end.

Smith very gracefully and sometimes quite rustically tackles age. You want to know more about Michael and how he got to where he did. The story evokes these feelings in you, which is a job well done by the writer. The imagery of his travel to get to the place of the date, to the way he has been as a drunk are vivid and real. Smith makes you turn the page and yet stop and linger on what he has just said. I would definitely read more of his short stories from this collection.

Book Review: Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong

Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton Title: Art as Therapy
Author: Alain de Botton
Publisher: Phaidon Press
ISBN: 9780714865911
Genre: Non-Fiction, Art, Essays
Pages: 239
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It is the end of the year and I close the year with a book I just finished and cannot stop talking or thinking about – “Art as Therapy” by Alain de Botton and John Armstrong. May be a lot of people know Alain and are aware of what and how he writes and then there are others who are yet to discover his style and works. I envy the latter set of people. They are so lucky to discover his works and his line of thought. At the same time, because this book is co-written, it is always good to see another perspective, in this case of John Armstrong.

Alain de Botton according to me is a master at what he does – he integrates human behaviour across a range of topics and we have witnessed that through his works. “Art as Therapy” on the other hand is a different matter altogether.

“Art as Therapy” speaks of art in the manner, which is accessible to everyone. It is not about wine glasses in hand and appreciating something on the wall, and acting all pretentious. It is about nonetheless, life and how we live art and also sometimes its therapeutic and redeeming nature in our lives. The bigger question that the book seeks to answer is: What is art’s purpose? What does it do or not do for humans? Why is it needed at all?

In this book, de Botton covers different aspects of life through art – love, nature, money, and politics and how art acts as a catalyst to solve the daily worries of life. A photograph then becomes more than a photograph. A painting then becomes something that you connect with so strongly, that you can never let go. Alain looks at everyday problems, everyday issues and uses art to solve them. May be solve is an incorrect term here, he uses art to get an understanding of life and then perhaps cure the soul.

With examples and more illustrations throughout, Alain and John reveal how we as humans cannot lose sight of the bigger things, and how sometimes art is the only solace. They talk about looking at art with fresh eyes and viewing it the way you never would have thought of. Each painting, each art form transforms itself in their hands and that is more than reason enough to read this book. They show us how art heals us in ways we cannot even imagine. Art is then an imperative force in our lives, which perhaps we do not pay attention to – given the hustle-bustle of our technology-ridden lives. They remove art from the shallow galleries and bring it out to readers and the so-called common man through this fascinating concept and even more wondrous book.

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Here is he talking about Art as Therapy indeed and it is brilliant:

387 Short Stories: Day 17: Story 17: Incident at Sokolniki by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill her Neighbour's Baby

Title: Incident at Sokolniki
Author: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
Taken from the Collection: There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill her Neighbor’s Baby: Scary Fairy Tales

So today’s story is set in Russia. In a totalitarian society, where anything can happen and anything does as a matter of fact. Incident at Sokolniki is a scary fairy tale – of a woman whose husband is dead and somehow comes back from the dead or so it seems and what follows after.

There is an edge of despair even to a fairy tale. Petrushevskaya’s stories are dark, brooding and almost bordering to be urban folk tales or perhaps they are. Characters depart from physical reality and enter another dimension. There are people’s dreams, loss, ignorance and consolations all throughout this short story. A two and a half-page story that deserves a read.

387 Short Stories: Day 16: Story 16: The Star by Alasdair Gray

unlikely1

Title: The Star
Author: Alasdair Gray
Taken from the collection: Unlikely Stories, Mostly

Alasdair Gray. A name not known to me till I read his short story today. It always feels nice to explore a new writer and his stories. “The Star” by was today’s story. It is a bittersweet story of what happens when a boy finds a star in his backyard – how is he fascinated by it and what is the outcome when he goes to school with it.

The story is simply written. It has a fable like quality to it. It makes you believe in stars all over again and the power that they possess. I most certainly think that I will read more by this author. I love reading authors who keep it simple and tell it directly.

Book Review: The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer

The Scatter Here is Too Great by Bilal Tanweer Title: The Scatter Here is Too Great
Author: Bilal Tanweer
Publisher: Vintage, Random House India
ISBN: 9788184004595
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 214
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Bilal Tanweer’s characters are fragile, sometimes introspective, angry, filled with angst and well, at the end of it all, just human. I start this review like this, because I want you to know how the writer thinks and what better way to know that, than get a sense of how his characters are. I have always believed that it takes a lot for writers to dig stories from their lives, more so when they live incidents – one way or the other, and from which, stories are born.

Bilal Tanweer’s book, “The Scatter Here is too Great” – a collection of interrelated stories is just what the book doctor recommended for a weekend read. It is not frivolous. It is not your typical short story collection. The fact that it resonates and says it the way it is, is reason enough for any reader to pick this collection.

“The Scatter here is too Great” is about an event that strikes different perspectives, amongst different walks of life in the city of Karachi, Pakistan. The event – a bomb blast at Cantt station. The description of the blast is gripping, given what it leads to and how different views and opinions, loves and losses, anger and frustration and deeply embedded loyalty to Karachi come forth. Tanweer perhaps has no set technique and to me that was most refreshing while reading this gem of a book.

From a kid who is bullied at school, to an ex-communist and poet being harassed on a bus by youngsters, to a teenager who steals his mother’s car to meet his girlfriend and my personal favourite in the entire collection – a story of a girl who tells her kid brother stories, and hides her grief within.

I am trying very hard not to use the regular adjectives to describe Tanweer’s writing and yet I cannot avoid using the word stupendous when it comes to his writing. It does not at any point feel that Tanweer is a novice and this is just his debut. Terror is at the centre of the book, but it is not its heart. What is then is the love for the city, the characters that are constantly struggling for sense of normalcy, who in the wake of the incident, want to lead better lives and yet are hopeful about it. To me it was a fantastic read of the month and the year. If you enjoy short stories and even if you do not, the book will sure leave you spellbound.

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The Scatter Here is Too Great