Category Archives: Anthology

Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India. Edited by Parismita Singh.

CentrepieceTitle: Centrepiece: New Writing and Art from Northeast India
Edited by Parismita Singh
Publisher: Zubaan Books
ISBN: 978-9385932410
Genre: Anthologies, Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It is always a fantastic idea to be acquainted with a place or places you know nothing about and what better way to get familiar with it or them than books. And what better place to start than home? We do not know Northeast India (as it is known) at all. I know for a fact that I did not know the “seven sisters” till I got to know them but knowing their names and capitals isn’t enough. There is so much more that we do not know. So much that we generalize as we go along and not think twice about it.

“Centrepiece” is an attempt to change that. To make readers in different parts of the country aware of what the Northeast is really. What I loved about this book is that there are 21 women writers and artists who are telling stories, speaking of facts and weaving dreams. This is done in various forms in the book – through prose, poetry, short stories, or even pictures for that matter. In these pieces, the range is so vast and varied that it will sure take your breath away.

What I loved though was the right balance of fiction and non-fiction. An anthology needs to have it all and yet somehow not go overboard with its own content. Parismita Singh has carefully curated this book. The blend of these landscapes with stories told by the 21 women is effortless and sucks you in every narrative. I saw Northeast with its own pair of eyes and honestly it was surprising, shocking and full of emotion at the same time.

Whether there is brewing of rice beer told beautifully through words and pictures (Rini Barman) or carrying of cow dung or just selling everyday products (Gertrude Lamare), or even the feelings when it comes to mothering a child, these women have made it so personal and intricate, that these pieces will just not leave your mind.

My favourite ones were those of weaving fabrics (Shreya Debi and Bilseng R Marak) and the one that spoke of fairy tales. I loved them all and kind of difficult to pick favourites really, but these stood out for me. At the heart of all of this is the fact that gender plays a strong role in this anthology and I loved and appreciated that aspect more so, because I like no one can tell their stories better than women (it is just my opinion).

“Centrepiece” delves into the heart of what it is like to be forgotten and to not let that happen. Stories from each Northeast state, their diversity, their culture and the fact that they aren’t similar at all is portrayed beautifully through great prose and stunning pictures. Every piece in this anthology is making its point with great enthusiasm, sometimes wit and most of all with a lot of assertion as it should be.

 

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Longform: Volume 1: An Anthology of Graphic Narratives. Edited by Sarbajit Sen, Debkumar Mitra, Sekhar Mukherjee and Pinaki De.

Longform Volume 1 Title: Longform Volume 1: An Anthology of Graphic Narratives
Edited by Sarbajit Sen, Debkumar Mitra, Sekhar Mukherjee and Pinaki De
Publisher: HarperCollins India
ISBN: 978-9352775972
Genre: Graphic Novel, Graphic Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Graphic novel love began way back for me, in about 2006, I think. Landmark at Infiniti Mall, Andheri had just opened. My friend N and I used to love meeting there (for obvious reasons, of course) and before we knew we used to finish reading graphic novels, right there. We would buy them as well. After all, we knew what it was like for authors to not make money. That was then. I also vividly remember my first graphic novel – read in 2004 (yeah, at that time I did not know it was called a graphic novel), called “Maus”. I also think “Maus” is like the initiation to graphic novels. Either that or “Persepolis”. And today, graphic novels are the rage. Easier to read, linger in your memories a lot longer and a popular genre by far in the country.

“Longform: Volume 1” is a fantastic anthology of graphic narratives. I honestly do not even know where to start praising it. I am not saying this because I love HarperCollins books. I say this, because, after PAO, published by Penguin India, this is the second of its kind anthology in the country – which readers so deserve and want and there should be more of such anthologies. While “PAO” focused mainly on Indian artists and storytellers, “Longform” takes it a step further to involve artists from all parts of the world, thereby providing the reader with a stunning word and image experience.

It was very difficult for me to consolidate my thoughts for this review. Where does one begin talking about a book this diverse? Or should one even attempt? Well, one must do what one should and what one can I suppose. From the legendary (rarely) to the mythical, to the political to the romantic, “Longform” touches on almost every single genre and within that, there is a world of other art forms that seem to be born. Whether it is just simple line drawing or the more complex art form, the reader cannot choose what to focus on – the art or the story. Everything then matters in the grand scheme of the book that you hold in your hand.

“Longform” also doesn’t restrict itself to the graphic form alone. While it is majorly only that, there are also snippets of interviews, back stories of artists and authors and the ideation process as well, which of course, only adds to the magnificence of the book. I also am not mentioning any pieces in particular, because I honestly would love readers and graphic form enthusiasts to be intrigued a little more about this book, go out and pick it up, nestle in your favourite reading spot and devour it cover to cover, only to start all over again.

 

Baking with Kafka: Comics by Tom Gauld

Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld Title: Baking with Kafka
Author: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd.
ISBN: 978-1786891501
Genre: Comics, Graphic, Humour
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Till now, I have just read one book by Tom Gauld and that is “Mooncop”, which I absolutely loved and couldn’t stop raving about for a long time. And now, the same is the case with “Baking with Kafka”. This one is a series of comics, some of which have been previously published in various publications and most of which focus on books and reading. There are some here and about on pop culture references, but essentially, this one is a treat for all booklovers.

Baking With Kafka - Image 1

Gauld has this minimal sense of drawing which works wonders for me (it isn’t for all, let me also tell you that). The words may not have that kind of impact (mostly, they do) but the drawings most certainly do and sometimes I thought to myself that maybe the words weren’t even needed. I found myself smiling a lot at the literary cartoons. It reminded me of the times when I was growing up and would wait eagerly for the newspaper, only to read the comics page.

Baking with Kafka - Image 2

For instance, there is this cartoon on Jonathan Franzen and how he is averse to any kind of marketing to how a romance novel should be written to when the book is adapted to a movie and the book’s reaction to my most favourite one of how books are classified on bookshelves. As a reader, I could connect to most of what is there in this book. I had never read any of these strips before, so the experience was new and refreshing and did not seem jaded at all.

Baking With Kafka - Image 3

“Baking with Kafka” is a funny, wry book that will leave you with a lot of laughs. If you are having a bad day or in general a grim time, this is the book to go to. Will cheer you like no other.

The Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica: Edited by Amrita Narayanan

The Parrots of Desire Title: The Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica
Edited by Amrita Narayanan
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9383064090
Genre: Literary Fiction, Erotica, Anthology
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

If anything, we have to acknowledge that we are the land of the Kamasutra – the ancient and divine art of lovemaking and that would perhaps be the first step toward a more progressive future than a regressive one. This thought came to mind after I finished reading yet another supremely brilliant anthology from Aleph Book Company, “ Parrots of Desire: 3,000 Years of Indian Erotica”, edited by Amrita Narayanan. Amrita Narayanan is the one who has written “A Pleasant Kind of Heavy and other Erotic stories” which I loved, so I wasn’t surprised when I loved this anthology.

According to me, it takes a lot to edit an anthology. It isn’t as easy as it seems. To be able to pick the right pieces that fit with the theme is a lot of intelligence, empathy and hard-work at play, which reflects in this collection, maybe more so because it is erotic. It does what it must – the pieces liberate, titillate, make you want to engage in erotica, they make you want to be with someone in bed and explore each other’s bodies and maybe even read pieces from this collection today, before or after coitus.

The entire book is divided into 12 sections – right from why bother with sex to the art of seduction to men’s wish to be women (that’s India for all the regressive people) right to suspicion and confusion when it comes to bodies, Narayanan’s selection of pieces is also unique. The book covers parts of Kamasutra (but obviously) and writers such as Nagarkar, Kamala Das, Ismat Chughtai (Lihaaf but of course), Tarun Tejpal, Tagore, and so many more make this collection delightful.

What I found amusing at times was the looks I got on a bus or also while travelling in a rickshaw, at a signal as I was reading this one. Perhaps only when it generates curiosity will people bother to read and educate themselves on the art of erotica and love-making and not see it as a taboo.

As I said earlier, this collection wouldn’t have been what it is if not for the editor. Props to Narayanan for tracing erotica in India to 3000 years ago and collecting it piece by piece for this anthology. The writing is only richer because of the pieces and also the varied kinds of emotions – sexual and sensuous that are evoked through it. Read it for sure. Tease yourself a little. Give in to desire.

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry by Grace Paley. Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.

A Grace Paley Reader Title: A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry
Author: Grace Paley
Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:978-0374165826
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Grace Paley is one of those writers for which you to devote a lot of time and mind space. The reason I say this: the narrators and characters of her stories will not leave you. Her essays will haunt you long after you have finished reading them. Her verse will stay, whether you like it or not. To me, she is one of the finest I have read this year (I have of course read her works earlier as well – but scattered). I think this book also is the definite collection if you need an introduction to her work, before you move on to other books by her.

“A Grace Paley Reader” has a lot of omissions from her earlier works, but I guess as an editor they have to choose what to put and what to remove. Nonetheless, to me the span of her work mattered and this anthology touched on almost every genre in which she wrote. My favourite essays though are “A Midrash on Happiness” and also “Other People’s Children” which are very unsettling and yet so comforting – the paradox is hard to explain.

But then the sort of writer Grace Paley was, it is just very difficult to ignore her as a reader. “A Conversation with my Father” will tear you up in no time and you would wonder if a short story can do that, as it already has. Her economy of words, and at the same time the effortlessness of her prose keeps you stunned. Paley was also a feminist and that is reflective in her poems such as “Anti-Love Poem” or “Is There a Difference Between Men and Women” and my personal favourite “Letter to my Daughter”. She can do anything if you ask me and does in most of her work.

The introduction by George Saunders sums up her work beautifully in this one sentence: “Grace Paley will live in the minds of the readers she has moved, and in the minds of those she will yet move”. Need I say more after this?