Category Archives: Biographies

Figuring by Maria Popova

Figuring by Maria Popova Title: Figuring
Author: Maria Popova
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1524748135
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs, Science
Pages: 592
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

How does one begin to explain a book like Figuring? Honestly, I don’t know, however, I shall try. The book Figuring is much like Popova’s site, brainpickings.org: it is sort of a Russian doll, revealing layer after layer after layer, only if you wish to see it, or perhaps experience it. Figuring is a book that you should read with the mindset of allowing the book to take it where it wants to, without expecting something too traditional or run of the mill.

Figuring is a beautiful combination of science with art. The alignment sticks – how each of them is intertwined and how art inspires science and vice-versa. It is like her website, only more detailed – pieces that go on and go and that’s what I loved as a reader, knowing I didn’t have to scroll up or down and could be after reading one paragraph or two and going back to it after a cup of tea.

Maria Popova’s book brings the wonder of scientists and then combines it with hearts and emotions of people, mainly women scientists and that to me was most unique. Figures looks at love, and truth through the interconnected lives of historical figures across four centuries. She begins with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and it ends with Rachel Carson who was so important in the environmental movement.

And in all of this, Popova includes more artists, writers, and scientists (which makes it even more fun to read) – women, and queer and their contribution. What I love about Figuring is that it is like a rabbit hole that you would love getting into. Maria Popova interconnects, segregates, and makes you question matters of life, love, and the heart and what are we doing to leave an impression on the world.

Figuring asks big questions and it isn’t afraid of doing that. There is so much happening in the book that it takes some time to assimilate all of that, and only then can you get into its groove (or at least that’s what happened to me). Figuring would seem disconnected and disjointed in most places, till it all falls into place and that’s when you as a reader start seeing it for what it is. The book is a marriage of art, life, science, music, philosophy, feminism, decline of religion, free love, astronomy and poetry, and honestly no one better to do it than our very trusted Brain Picker.

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Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father and I by Kalpana Mohan

Daddykins Title: Daddykins: A Memoir of My Father & I
Author: Kalpana Mohan
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 9789386349538
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 224
Source: Author/Publisher
Rating: 4 starsIt

Reading Daddykins in this time and age was highly refreshing. It reminded me of Malgudi. It reminded me of the simpler times (though I so wish I was born then). It reminded me of a time when perhaps everyone thought and felt the same – either when it came to the country becoming Independent or being very frugal since they had all been through the same fate of Partition and the scars remained for perhaps life. 

Kalpana Mohan’s memoir of her father and the relationship she shared with him could be anyone’s father’s memoir. That’s why it is so relatable. The emotions are universal and they hit a nerve or two in the bargain, making you choke in several places as you read. Daddykins is a simple story of a simple man and his relationship with his daughter. It is also about how she takes care of her father when he is unwell, of how our relationship is with our parents – no matter at what age, and how it comes down to our understanding of them and their of ours. 

The thing about Daddykins is that Mohan does not only talk about her father, but also links it with key events that took place in the country. However, it is done so smoothly and with such ease that you do not realize it as you read through. There are so many characters in the book that are a solid part of Daddykins life – but the one that was most endearing to me was his “man Friday”. To know more about that one, you have to read the book. 

Daddykins is the kind of book that can be finished in one sitting on a Sunday afternoon. It is layered and peppered with a lot of love, humour, and nostalgia. It is the kind of book that will leave this very warm tingling feeling in your heart, and sometimes, I am grateful for books such as these. 

Virginia Woolf by Alexandra Harris

VWTitle: Virginia Woolf
Author: Alexandra Harris
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
ISBN: 978-0500290866
Genre: Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I remember being all of 13 and attempting to read Mrs. Dalloway. It didn’t make any sense to me back then. Nothing whatsoever. In fact, I also remember dumping it and not picking up any Woolf till I turned 21. That’s when life truly made sense. Virginia Woolf’s writing has captivated me like no other author, not even Murakami for that matter.

Having said that, I wish I had read this book before reading her works, as it provides so much insight and fodder into who she was as a person and how that impacted her writing. Not only that, it goes a step ahead speaking very closely about her family, husband, and influences when it came to The Bloomsbury Group.

This edition by Alexandra Harris might be a brief one when it comes to Woolf’s life, but might I say that she has captured every phase and essence of the writer’s life and works to perfection. I say this because I have read Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee and that is quite an extensive work. Harris does not gloss over anything and provides a view that is completely unbiased and yet thankfully you can see the admiration for Woolf shine in this short biography.

Harris also takes into account Woolf’s relationship with her contemporaries and how she worked on building the Bloomsbury group. Those chapters swept me away, not to also forget how she came to write the novels that she did and her mental health always there -sometimes in the background and sometimes right there at the front.

“Virginia Woolf” by Alexandra Harris captivated me more than any tome on her could have. The writing is crisp and engaging and works well with the accompaniment of 46 photos of Woolf, only adding to the entire narrative. A read for all Woolf lovers and also for those who are afraid of her writing, just so you are encouraged to pick any of her books and read her, thus converting for life.

 

This is How I Save My Life: A True Story of Finding Everything When You are Willing to Try Anything by Amy B. Scher

This is How I Save My Life Title: This is How I Save My Life: A True Story of Finding Everything When You are Willing to Try Anything
Author: Amy B. Scher
Publisher: Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 9781501164958
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Scher traveled to India for bold and controversial stem-cell treatments for her advanced Lyme disease after exhausting all options back home in the US of A. She had nearly spent a decade trying to find, research and even underwent several treatments, but no avail. She took a leap of faith and decided to travel all the way to India for a treatment – that could work or not. This book is about her life, her battles, her life in India and how she found a way to deal with every hindrance life threw at her.

I normally do not read books in this genre. Either they do not appeal to me or I get scared of breaking down while reading them. I do not know exactly why, but this time I allowed myself to weep and loved the read. This is most certainly not the typical sickness to health kind of book. In fact, how it is different is because Scher takes us through the journey with her and how she emerges as a more confident and independent person.

If you ask me personally it had nothing to do with the country as much as it had to do with Scher. Having said that, the book chronicles India like never before to me as well. It isn’t exotic or flimsy as most books tend to do. I love Scher’s tenacity, her exuberance and most of all her enthusiasm toward life.

“This Is How I Save My Life” is a book that makes you see life on a larger scale and not just limited to our bubbles or what we go through. Scher’s perspectives are unique and she extends it to the world that she encounters, relating it to her illness and recovery. Extremely inspiring and makes you want to live to the fullest, as cliché as it might sound.

The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters by Laura Thompson

The Six Title: The Six: The Lives of the Mitford Sisters
Author: Laura Thompson
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781250099549
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir,
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When a non-fiction work reads like fiction, you know you have struck gold on so many levels. “The Six” is a brilliant example of that. First, it is the story of the Mitford sisters. Second, it is superbly written by Laura Thompson. Third, the pace. I have often realized that I get bored in the middle of a memoir or biography and that did not happen even once during the read of this book.

“The Six” as the cover tells you is about the life of the famous Mitford sisters. Born to the 2nd Lord Redesdale between 1904 and 1920, their lives have become synonomous with the darkest periods of history. The Mitford sisters comprised of Nancy, a highly succesful historian and novelist; Pamela, who lead a quiet life suffering from polio and other diseases; the glamorous Diana who broke all rules and divorced her husband; Unity – the most infamously famous who was so taken in by Hitler and his philosophy; Jessica, the communist and Deborah who finally married a Duke and became a Duchess. These were the six Mitford sisters. The book is not just about them though. Thompson magnificently covers history – sneaking up on you between the pages and blending it beautifully with the sisters’ stories.

Thompson covers it all – the glitz and the glamour and the riches to the failed loves and relationships. Nothing has been left out conveniently. A lot of analysis of each sister and their relationship with each other is honestly told and that to me is the highlight of this rivetting read. Thompson does not leave any stone unturned and like I said the writing is easy and yet intense, covering it all and somehow leaving so much room to imagine the ongoings. A read that perhaps may not be for all, but a great one nonetheless.