Hmmm so I am the Hungry Reader. The one who reads. The one who is constantly reading or wanting to read constantly. This blog is all about the books I have read, the ones that I am reading and gems that I plan to read in the future or whenever it arrives.
Title: Just Kids
Author: Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco Books, HarperCollins Books
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Rock
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars
Just Kids is one of those books that you’d want to read over and over again. This was my first reread and I know I will go back to it. I read it about nine years ago for the first time and as I read it again this year, I found my perspectives and opinions change a lot as the book moved me in different places, which perhaps it didn’t the first time I picked it up. That’s the beauty of some very good books – they make you see, feel and think differently with each read and that to me is a single most parameter for a reread.
Back to Just Kids: This book is the first part memoir written by singer and songwriter Patti Smith. Before she took over punk and rock and roll, she was just another girl who had come to New York to search herself and understand what she wanted to do. She had her poetry and the intrinsic lack of trust in society. In New York she met future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and “Just Kids” is a document of their life together – as artists, lovers, friends and a trip down memory lane.
The book is razor sharp and has no holds barred. Smith says what she has to and without apology. Robert and Smith’s relationship was mercurial and yet there is something so fulfilling as you turn the pages and don’t want the chapters to end. You want to know more about their lives and for that I recommend you read M Train (where Robert doesn’t feature at all or does but hardly so). Patti Smith just like her songs has this ease of writing to her prose as well – it becomes poetry in so many places and has the capacity to take your breath away. Read it. Be mesmerized.
The Gaysi Zine has come a long, long way. It is in its 5th issue now and I am so glad and proud to be associated with it for a couple of issues. Hope I get to write more for it. Having said that, this issue is fabulous – both in terms of content and design. I don’t just say this because of my association with them, but because it is the truth.
The zine is a heady mix of various forms of writing and when all of them unite – a common voice is heard – that of solidarity, justice, rights, love, companionship, soulfulness and the gritty reality of everyday living – of everyday queer living. There is a certain bite to the pieces in this zine – right from Ladybeard to Krass go beyond the traditional content pieces you see in magazine. There are also articles in the zine that break the mold and question authority at almost every page.
The illustrations communicate it all without saying anything. I think anyone then can connect and break the barrier of language and gender. What was also refreshing about this issue was that it looked beyond the urban LGBTQ landscape and was being more inclusive of smaller towns and giving them a voice – to their desires to say it all and not inhibit themselves.
Queer politics and narratives – let’s talk about this a bit. I have always believed that these are tricky territories to deal with, but the zine talks about them boldly, not shying away from issues at hand and definitely not hiding behind any invalid stance. All in all, I think this is my favourite issue of all time (though I did not contribute to it). Please pick it up. Unlearn all that you have been taught. Discover the world with a fresh perspective.
Title: The House that Spoke
Author: Zuni Chopra
Publisher: Penguin Books India
Genre: Children’s Books
Rating: 3.5 Stars
For the longest time, “The House that spoke” lay on my bookshelf and somehow there was no inclination to pick it up. One of the barriers was that it is written by a teenager and somehow that thought kept becoming an impediment till it did not. Till I picked up the book and finished it over a weekend and enjoyed it a lot at that.
Having said that, “The House that Spoke” also tries to pack in a lot in one book which at times does feel tedious but eventually grows on you. The book is about fourteen-year-old Zoon Razdan who is instantly shown to be witty, intelligent and above-all perceptive. She lives in Kashmir with her mother in a house – which of course is a part of the title. The objects in the house converse with her. She isn’t new to magic. There are forces beyond her control that threaten to take over her life, the house and her beloved Kashmir.
The book has a lot of metaphors given Kashmir’s situation as of today and that is laudable. Zuni is very empathetic in her writing and that shows. I think that perhaps when you are younger you aren’t influenced by all the writing around you. Of course you read a lot but then again, it isn’t what drives your writing. Your experiences do and after reading this book, I think Zuni’s writing comes from a more personal space (as it should). The characters could have been culled out in a more interesting manner but I guess that can be ignored given it is her first book and she is only sixteen (I think). The writing though is powerful and I loved how the narrative of historic fiction was blended in seamlessly. “The House that Spoke” will charm you, move you, and also make you think about what we’ve done to heaven on earth.
Title: Rules of Summer
Author: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Genre: Children’s Fiction, Picture Books
Rating: 5 Stars
I remember when I first read Shaun Tan. It was the book Arrival and it was without words. Pictures said it all and there was really no need for words. I also remember loving that book to the hilt and recommending it to one and all. It spoke of the immigrant status so well and brought up so many issues without saying anything at all. I then chanced upon “Rules of Summer” last year and the publisher Scholastic was kind enough to send me a copy. It is a different story that I only read it this year and loved it to bits, as expected.
“Rules of summer” is a coming of age story, but told in such a weird manner that only Shaun Tan can. Rules of summer are the ones that can be made up by your older brother and you have to follow them all through summer. It is the kind of rules that border into fantasy from reality and that’s how they should be. I used to think that some books of Shaun Tan aren’t meant for children and rightly so but this one is out and out a children’s books and brilliant at that.
The words are perfect for a six-year old and above and the illustrations are magnificent and extremely imaginative. The rules are sinister but go with the story and it is most certainly about terrains that are forbidden for children but they go there anyway. Shaun Tan’s illustrations are out of this world. I must say this again because they must be given more than their due. And as you go along adding up the rules to the pictures, the book makes perfect sense at the end. A book not just for kids but adults as well. One of those reads that will enter your dreams.
Title: The Gardens of Consolation
Author: Parisa Reza
Translated by: Adriana Hunter
Publisher: Europa Editions
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 Stars
“The Gardens of Consolation” by Parisa Reza is a book about common people, literally caught up in conditions which are not ordinary – things happen around them, their country changes and they just hope and pray that things remain the same. It is the story of a family that sees Iran through the changes and what do those changes mean for them and their lives. Historical fiction isn’t easy to write. I mean there is so much already written about history timelines of a country – that sometimes as a reader I wonder: what else is left to read about this? Then comes along a book like ‘The Gardens of Consolation’ that defies my way of thinking and presents me with something new and exciting.
The book is set in 1920s with young newlyweds Talla and Sardar Amir travelling from their native village Qamsar to the suburbs of Tehran, where everything is new to them. Sardar is amazed at what he can do when it comes to work and Talla is slowly coping with the ways of the world – a major change being with the Shah announcing that the chador must not be worn anymore. This is just one of the incidents but it leaves a huge impact on Talla’s life. The book then proceeds with them moving to Shemiran where they raise their son Bahram – who is somewhat of a prodigy in school and after and how his political leanings (nationalist) change him and the family. The overthrow of Mosaddegh plays a prominent role in the book and of course how Iran progressed as a country from pillar to pillar, thereby also witnessing its decline in the coming years.
I don’t want to give away much of the plot, so this is the story in brief. Having said this, the characters of this book almost become family. I could empathize so much with Talla – be it the situation of the chador to the time she is envious of the girlfriends her son brings home to also the time she goes back to her hometown and yet cannot recognize all that was left behind. Reza’s prose and Adriana Hunter’s translation does wonders to the prose. Sardar on the other hand is a content man (so is Talla by the way) and that’s why he is under constant fear of his world being torn apart one way or the other. I think so many of us can relate to this – time doesn’t matter, neither does class, what matters is the common fear of feeling secure throughout your life. Bahram’s character on the other hand is immensely complexed – he wants more and yet he doesn’t want more. We see him grow from a child to a teenager to an adult and see how his perspectives change as well.
Reza’s writing is compassionate. She makes you want to know a lot more about the characters and the situations they face on a day to day basis. “The Gardens of Consolation” makes you hoot for common people and hope and pray that all goes well in their world – and when you start doing that in a book, it means you are hooked to it. Reza makes you weep (a little), smile (a lot) and makes you a see a world that you never thought existed. A read not to be missed.