Author Archives: thehungryreader

About thehungryreader

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. As Virginia Woolf rightly said, "When the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, "Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading."

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

Reckless Daughter Title: Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
Author: David Yaffe
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-0374248130
Genre: NonFiction, Biography
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating:

It was the forty-fifth episode of Ally McBeal. Ally is questioning true love and in the background a cover of “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell starts playing. Sung by Vonda Shepard I think. This was the first time I heard the song and fell in love with the words. I was too young but I was growing-up gay (only known to me then) and somehow this song meant something. Something so much more. A year or two passed and then I realized that the original singer was Joni Mitchell. I fell in love with her, with her voice and with the way she is. The next time I heard a song of hers was “The Circle Game” and this time again it was through pop-culture, a movie called, “Married to It”. I have never looked back on not being her fan since then.

The reason I say this is anything to do with Joni Mitchell and I am putty. I am a softball, a mush-man who can cry at the drop of a hat. And only because she is a genius (at least to me she is). So, when a biography of hers released last year, I just knew I had to read it and when I did, I was astounded. Yaffe’s style is not only readable but also straightforward and he presents anecdotes with such ease and comfort, that you are almost transported to living Mitchell’s life with her.

He covers both her personal and professional life in equal measure, never favouring one over the other. This was the first time I was reading a book by him, but I am glad I did as this will not be the last. There is no excessive psychoanalysis of her life. There are facts and then there are her songs and music. To me her lyrics are of utmost beauty and Yaffe covers almost each song with ease and in detail (which is most needed). Yaffe also touches on her relationships and this connects very well with the person she is and how solitude was best suited for someone like her.

“Reckless Daughter” is a brilliant portrait of a legend when it comes to music and songs and singing. This book is almost a dedication to music and its forms, and no one better to represent it than Mitchell, in my opinion. Even if you haven’t heard her or know anything of her, I would recommend you go and read this book. It will make you listen to her and that will change your life.

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

Wishree Title: Wishtree
Author: Katherine Applegate
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250043221
Genre: Children’s Fiction, Nature, Tolerance
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

You need to read books for children. I think that because sometimes profundity and really how to live life is simply told in all the chaos of adult literature, only in children’s books. Whether it is, “The Giving Tree” or it is lessons learned from, “Charlotte’s Web”, books written for children are in fact meant for adults, because we need to learn how to be empathetic and compassionate, so we can pass it to kids. “Wishtree” is the third book I read by Katherine Applegate and as usual I finished it with a lump in my throat and a smile on my face.

The book is narrated by Red – a wise old tree. He is obviously cool, steady, and calm. He is a couple of hundred years old and is home to many birds and animals, all of whom communicate. Applegate’s writing then just doesn’t become about the Wishtree Red, but about the entire neighbourhood, people related to the tree, the ones who want to cut it down (not a spoiler really) and the ones who want to save it. At the heart of the book though, is a story of racism, acceptance and finding one’s roots and calling it home.

I am not going to speak about the plot all that much but I will tell you that sometimes, simple books such as these end up being so layered and impactful that you are stunned by its seemingly simplicity. “Wishtree” simply put is a story of a Red Oak Wishtree who watches over the neighbourhood and thinks he has seen it all, till a new family moves in and not everyone is welcoming to them.

Gift this book to children. Make them understand the need for empathy and kindness, needed more than ever in the world we live. Let them know that you care that they care. Applegate’s books are all about empathy and work beautifully. Read it.

You can buy the book here

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar Title: The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock
Author: Imogen Hermes Gowar
Publisher: Harvill Secker, Random House
ISBN: 978-1911215721
Genre: Literary Fiction, Historical
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The year is 1785 and merchant Jonah Hancock has to cope with the tragic news that one of his captains has sold his ship in exchange for a mermaid. Sounds intriguing, isn’t it? I was sold at this premise. But wait a minute. There is more to this story which is more fascinating to me. The side story of Angelica Neal that quickly comes to fore. Neal is London’s most beautiful courtesan who wants to marry rich and secure a future for herself. And who better than Mr. Hancock who has a mermaid to be put on display and make easy money? And all of this is possible through Mrs. Chappell’s brothel (there is more to what meets the eye really) and given she has a soft spot (or so it seems) for Angelica.

Phew! That is not it by the way. There is a lot more going on in the book and let me tell you, that despite its size (500 pages), this is one racy romp of a read. There is a lot of decadence in this book (which I love by the way), there is misery, power, envy and fantasy. If not for the mermaid angle, I would classify this book purely as historic fiction, but let the two merge and work its magic on the reader. Also, might I add the magic of London (and its claustrophobia, its stench, lecherous men and grotesque women) is brought out beautifully by Gowar.

Angelica Neal’s character is so strong that she overpowers everyone else (in some bits and parts) and in a very good way because you’d want her to appear more as the book progresses. There is also a surprise in the form of Polly but I won’t ruin it for you by talking about her. You might want to discover her yourself.

“The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is set in a vivid and uproarious time. It is the kind of book that must be read again and more than anything for its female characters that stand out and well-deservedly at that. Mrs. Chappell, Angelica and Polly (there is also Mr. Hancock’s niece who makes a brief appearance) are the heroes of this book in all honesty. This is the kind of book that will keep you up all night and you wouldn’t want it any other way. “The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock” is all rolled into one – a comfort read (yes, at most times) and a thriller, literary fiction with the much-needed historic setting.

I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death: A Memoir by Maggie O’ Farrell

I Am, I Am, I Am - Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O' Farrell Title: I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death: A Memoir
Author: Maggie O’Farrell
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520221
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The book is about the author’s seventeen near misses with death. I could say this and explain the book to you but that would not be fair to it. The book is a lot more than just this (though this is the core, mind you, as the title and sub-title will tell you). And yet what I take from it is the fragility of life, sometimes the joy in living and the fact that you still move on, despite the seventeen near misses with death. “I Am, I Am, I Am” is a testament really to living and living with life’s bittersweet moments.

There is no melodrama or sentimentality when it comes to this book. There is a lot of emotion though, but nowhere does it get emotional to the point that it tends to feel fake. O’Farrell’s writing is raw, straight from the core of the heart, to the point of it being exhausting at times (which I was prepared for given the nature of the book) and yet, the book lifts you from the ordinary in so many ways.

Death is something we do not speak of casually or even for that matter most seriously. It is something that we take for granted till perhaps you face it and if you have had close shaves with it seventeen times, then you know better than to think you are immortal or life is long and so on and so forth. “I Am, I Am, I Am” in that sense uproots your ideas of death and life, about how fragile we are and yet as humans we don’t admit it.

Maggie’s experiences could’ve been anyone’s really and even if they aren’t she makes them ours through the power of her writing. When she is on the verge of drowning, so are we. When she suffers, so do we. The book is divided by body parts that were involved in these brushes, sometimes even the entire body and then you see the magnanimity of situations she was in and as a result of that, you empathize no end.

The poetry of prose is also hard to bear, the events intense (some of them) and often drive you to tears. Compassion is strengthened and you bring yourself to find moments of happiness, hope and joy throughout. Maggie O’Farrell has put her heart out on paper and whether or not you have read her novels, you should read “I Am, I Am, I Am” for sure.

The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments by Ann Quin

The Unmapped Country Title: The Unmapped Country: Stories & Fragments
Author: Ann Quin
Publisher: And Other Stories
ISBN: 978-1911508144
Genre: Short Stories, Non-Fiction, Fragments
Pages: 178
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I think my heart skips a beat when I discover a new author. The same happened when I heard of Ann Quin and there was something about her that drew me instantly to wanting to read her. Ann Quin’s work is unlike anything I have read before. I know this is said of a lot of writers in this time and age, but in the case of Quin it couldn’t hold truer. If you are in the mood to read something experimental, mind-boggling and also the kind of writing that makes you emotional, then please read “The Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments” by Ann Quin.

Quin does not only break form in her stories and fragments but also goes over the edge in terms of plot. Her writing leaves you with this heaviness in the soul and is ironically also liberating. For instance, here I was reading, the titular incomplete novel (almost 50 pages or so) and I found myself crying and strangely enough smiling (since the story is that of a psychiatric collapse set in an institution quite similar to the ones Quin attended in her troubled years). Her skills of telling a story are crackling and this is a good place to start.

There are then staccato pieces in the book: “Never Trust a Man Who Bathes with His Fingernails” and “Ghostworm” – which are also very vague and make sense when read over and over again. Quin’s pieces are like wine I suppose or an exotic cuisine that one grows to like or love or not. There cannot be in-between emotion when it comes to her writing (or so I think).

There is this sense of unease, this constant shuffling from one reality to another that all-pervades this collection of stories and fragments. Reading this collection reminded me of the urgency of Virginia Woolf, the resplendency of Elizabeth Bowen and the sense of loneliness of Katherine Mansfield. Not that I am comparing (because really Quin cannot be compared), I am just providing a reference or two. All said and done, I know for one that I will be looking out for more of her works (she left this world too soon) and cherish what she had to offer.