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."

Read 3 of 2023. Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Age of Vice by Deepti Kapoor

Title: Age of Vice
Author: Deepti Kapoor
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN: 978-9393986481
Genre: Thriller, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Age of Vice is a book that doesn’t cut corners. It doesn’t hold back from saying what it wants to about the vast difference between the haves and the have-nots in the Indian society, and what happens because of that. At the same time, it is heartfelt in the way the story unfolds sometimes. Mind you, those times are very rare in the book, so when you find them, you are overwhelmed, broken, and realise your failings as a person, in comparison to that of the well-nuanced, messy, struggling-with-life, and fractured characters that inhabit these five-hundred-and-forty pages.

Age of Vice is set in Delhi – the book opens with a crime – and Kapoor doesn’t shy from showing us how it was done – getting into the gory details, and the intended result of that crime that takes place in 2004, but the story begins in 1991 with Ajay – a boy of eight – a boy from a lower caste – a Dalit, and what happens to him till and after he starts working for Sunny Wadia, the heir to the Wadia empire and its nefarious dealings. Basically, a crime syndicate, and how inextricably the stories of Ajay and Sunny will be linked for years to come. And in all of this, there is Neda, the headstrong journalist, whose gumption is tested to the point of it not being there, whose moral compass is uprooted, and how she becomes a part of the world inhabited by Sunny.

There is opulence, decadence, wealth that one cannot imagine – brands being dropped constantly on every other page, and while initially I thought what was happening, I realised very soon that it was much-needed. To show the farmhouse culture of Delhi, to understand the poor, we must understand the wealthy. Kapoor has this insider-outsider perspective – there is biting satire that unravels itself slowly and quite deliciously. As a reader, you must wait, you must go through the finer details of living – and losing, and the sheer heartbreak of the story – of Sunny and Neda’s love, of how as humans we will go to any stretch sometimes to ensure we have the one elusive characteristic that places us on the top of it all – POWER.

Power to claim people, to make them see where they belong in the larger scheme of things, to rule them all (Bunty Wadia and his brother, Vicky Wadia’s constant pursuit), to understand who must be manipulated and controlled to what extent, the plot of Age of Vice races on full-throttle mode. Incidents happen swiftly – people die at the drop of a hat, injustices take place and no one dare utter a word because of the “crime family” at the helm, and Kapoor’s Delhi seethes, and spectates, and we move from place to place with guilt, the idea of freedom in the minds of the characters, never letting go of privilege, of understanding its worth, of being punched in the face with self-awareness, and to then bear the burden of living.

Deepti Kapoor takes us through Goa, the hills of Himachal, Nepal, back to Delhi, to Italy even, to the center of it all – Uttar Pradesh, and all the places to make us understand the futility of living – there is no higher purpose anyway. There are truths and lies, and in-between the ones – the living who tell them daily, to live after all.

Age of Vice is about decaying – the rotting that takes place spectacularly, on such a grand level that the ones involved, the ones watching from the sidelines, and the ones encouraging it also perhaps – know it all – they are aware of what is going on and yet cannot take their gaze away, they cannot walk away – they must endure. Deepti’s writing is sharp, incisive, and makes no bones about how it is. “It is what it is” – this phrase came to my mind so many times as I turned the pages, and it sticks – the indifference of the phrase lingers throughout the book, and in this indifference stems the need to seek validation, to make something of your life, to make it worth it, to make it count – whether for Ajay it is the idea of family, or for Sunny it is about validation – the strong sense of urgency to do good or the idea of it, and ultimately for Neda – to try so hard to be right and yet constantly failing to her own lofty ideas about living.

The back and forth between the sacred, the profane, the good, the bad, the moralistic, the amoral makes Age of Vice what it is – a reflection of our times, of the Kalyug that Deepti mentions at the beginning of the book, the dark times, of the doomsday cometh, of pain and pleasure – both unbearable – the complexity of living, and the simple ways of death – Kapoor’s writing astounded me, made me want to get up and slap a few characters, to show them the way, to play God even, only to quickly realize that as a reader I had been given no power at all – so I enjoyed the read, lapped it all up, thought about the book for days to come, and cannot wait for the next two instalments of this fantastic trilogy.

Read 2 of 2023. Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

Intimations - Six Essays by Zadie SmithTitle: Intimations: Six Pieces
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0593297612
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 97
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

For the longest time, I avoided “pandemic” literature. I did not want to read about the lockdown, about the Corona virus, about Covid-19, about lack of vaccines, of how people had to migrate, what difficulties we faced as a community, and what did the pandemic signify for decades to come. I just did not want to read about it, till I did when I read some fantastic books last year such as “How High We Go in the Dark” and “Sea of Tranquility”, each of them just telling me more about the human connection, and how we can only survive through empathy.

Zadie Smith’s most profound and striking piece of writing is this collection of six essays about how we live – then and now, if we change as humans, if we have learned anything at all from the situation that was, and what it is now – only of course she speaks of 2020 through these essays that are about people she knows, people she doesn’t know all that much, of life as a writer before and during the pandemic, of how we all learned to live, and some had to learn to survive.

The art of the essay is a unique one – to separate the personal from the public and political, and to merge them when you want to suffuse intimacy with tenderness, which she does most marvellously through these short six pieces. My most favourite piece has to be, “Contempt as a Virus” where she speaks of race, of class, and how there is nothing different between it and the fast-spreading virus.

“Intimations” is a collection of non-combative, meditative, and hits you directly from the author’s subconscious and what we all experienced – that collective experience is not only recognisable or relatable, but also brings to fore a lot of empathy, as the pages turn.

Books and Authors mentioned in Intimations: 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Ottessa Moshfegh
Kafka
Toni Cade Bambara
Yukio Mishima
Édouard Levé
Berger
Tanizaki
The Road
Fran Lebowitz
Sontag
James Baldwin
Lorraine Hansberry
Zora Neale Hurston
Virginia Woolf
Lives of the Artists by Vasari
Milton
Keats
Twelfth Night
Oscar Wilde
Vita Sackville-West
George Eliot

Read 1 of 2023. Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Title: Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Publisher: Vintage
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 9781784744656
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Let me just say, right at the start, that this book is all about kindness, and more than anything about kindness in friendship. I think everyone who thinks of themselves as a friend to someone must read this book. It will only strengthen your bond with that one friend or more than one friend you hold close to your heart. And also, there’s none of the preachy stuff, nor does it try to be a self-help guide in any way. If nothing, Zevin shows relationships for what they are: messy, complicated, but in the end all-enduring.

Yes, this book is about two friends who meet when they are kids – when the meaning of friendship is known, but not about its endurance. They meet in a hospital – playing video games – what they know and love best – and video games chart the course of their lives – well in some manner or the other – through their friendships, loves, falling-out, anxiety, depression, disabilities, and above all making them realise their worth in each other’s lives. It is about misunderstandings, about race and class, about how the other is treated in the United States of America, of privilege, of disability (the most honest portrayal of it I have read in contemporary literature), and of second and third chances – to make us feel how after all we are all waiting to reset whatever happens to us, and start anew.

“Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow” came to me at a time when I suppose I needed it the most. It made me see the power of relationships, and how flawed we all are in the larger scheme of things. Through video games – across decades, Zevin’s writing takes the reader through so much – the universe in which video games are made, the intricacies of each game, the dynamics of Sadie, Sam, and Marx, of how it is to find solace in a world that is unreal, but is more real to you because of the comfort it provides, and ultimately the question of love, and what it really is.

Through the book, I found myself thinking of my relationships with people – of what they were, what they could’ve been, and what they are. The book moved me to tears in so many places – Zevin doesn’t sentimentalise emotions – she doesn’t write to make you weep or cry – she just tells the story that she wants to, and all emotions come along the way. I experienced the same while reading, “The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry” and recommended it very highly to one and all.

“Tomorrow, And Tomorrow, And Tomorrow” is a book I cannot stop recommending. Please read it, if you haven’t already. I am just so happy that it happened to be my first read of 2023, and just as sad, because it ended.

Books and Authors mentioned in the book:

  • Homer
  • Odyssey
  • Ulysses
  • The White Album by Joan Didion
  • Shakespeare
  • Twelfth Night
  • Macbeth
  • The Marriage of Beth and Boo
  • Hamlet
  • King Lear
  • The Mikado
  • The Tempest
  • A Brief History of Time
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service
  • A Chorus Line
  • The Call of the Wild
  • Call it Courage
  • The Hero’s Journey
  • The Language Instinct
  • Swiss Family Robinson

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan

Title: Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors 
Author: Aravind Jayan
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail 
ISBN: 9781788169868
Genre: Literary Fiction, Contemporary Fiction 
Pages: 208 
Source: Publisher 
Raring: 4/5

There is a quiet desperation to small towns. You do not know or understand it till you live in one of them – a small town, a small city, or when you are living inside your head for way too long. But more than that, there is always the desperation seen in families – not so quiet, not so loud, just the right kind of simpering, of yearning, and of grudges that fester and fester over time. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors by Aravind Jayan is a book about so much that I find it difficult to pinpoint what it really is about. Jayan packs it all in 200 pages, and gives you a family stuck in time, its members grasping at the last straws of connect, of indifference even, of anything that makes them family, only to have drifted in their own different orbits, wandering, trying so hard to make it back home. 

The plot is about a couple whose video of making out or having sex is secretly filmed and is all over the Internet, and how they and their families deal with it. Amma and Appa have no names. The girl’s parents are just Anita’s mother and father. The boy is Sreenath. The boy’s brother, the narrator of the story is also nameless. In such cases, it is the names of the couple that are hidden. Jayan gives them agency to not be answerable to anyone. This is small-town India, this is a scandal, and then there is the question of family and society, that Jayan handles with humour, dryness, matter-of-fact, and making us aware of the hypocrisies that at the heart of the narrative. 

The narrator – the younger brother – who is only twenty, takes on the role of telling things the way they happened – from the discovery of the video, to when the story begins of the family buying a Honda Civic – a car that was meant to be a status symbol, and by the end of the story is nothing but a bad reminder of what took place after. The narrator wants so badly for things to work out – for his family to get together the way it was – anything that is normal – anything that wasn’t. 

Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors reads like a newspaper headline – the one that gives incorrect details – the one that only wants to be sensational and malignant, and malicious at best. There is so much to talk about that goes on this novel – it is also a coming of age novel, a novel where time doesn’t matter – it exists as a plot point but never as a measure of things – never as a stock-taker, as though there is no stock of emotions. That’s another thing about this slim wondrous novel – emotions are deep-seated and multi-layered. Nothing is in your face, nothing is dramatic, and even if it is – it is just maudlin at best – forced and fake. 

Jayan’s writing is refreshing – it is incisive, matter-of-fact, funny in so many places, astonishingly lucid, and makes no bones about what the family is going through. There is no sentimentality in his writing. It is life – it happens, and that’s what I got from it. Teen Couple Have Fun Outdoors is a reflection of so much in the societies we inhabit and yet doesn’t become preachy at all. It is refreshing like cold lemonade on a hot day, yet infusing the claustrophobia of the day – of the perspiration on your back, of sweat patches under the arms – visible to all, no matter how hard you try to hide them.

 

Read 113 of 2022: Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Be My Guest by Priya Basil

Title: Be My Guest
Author: Priya Basil
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786898494
Genre: Nonfiction, Food writing
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Basil in this slim book of food and hospitality speaks of what it is like to host people – to bond through food, the emotions that are deep-rooted in the act of cooking and feeding, and eating, and how do we connect through food. “Be My Guest” is a fascinating brief account of food beyond communities, of food within communities and its importance, of how Basil looks at food from every angle – that of domesticity, immigration, climate change, religion, food waste, and even Brexit.

Basil’s writing may seem concentrated, but it is widespread and expansive in the sense of it looking at the self with the world at large through food. What I loved is how she weaves in the concept of how hospitality can change the world – through empathy, kindness, and how it all begins at one’s kitchen table, and how it all must be unconditional at the end of the day.

She also speaks of alienation through food, of not feeling wanted, of what it takes to be inclusive and in turn lets the reader gaze into her personal life – that of her grandparents and how their lives were so integral to food and feeding.

The larger meanings of food, the rituals around it (unique to each household and individual), the refugee crisis going on in the world at large, and how food unites is all as strangers is at the heart of Be My Guest. Basil invites you to open your heart through food, through serving, by understanding the meaning of hosting, of eating together, of letting people know that there will always be a seat for them at your table, and how it is in the devotion of serving, you take the idea of grace, hospitality, and warmth from paper to the table, right down to not only filling one’s stomach but heart and soul as well.