Category Archives: Books

Weather by Jenny Offill

Weather by Jenny Offill Title: Weather
Author: Jenny Offill
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0385351102
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Weather by Jenny Offill is a demanding book. It holds you right from page one and doesn’t let go (at least it did that to me). It can also go the other way and make the reader wonder what they are reading and perhaps make them stop reading as well. Weather isn’t an easy read. If you are reading Offill for the first time, I suggest you start with Dept. of Speculation and then move on to Weather, as it will give you an idea of perhaps what to expect.

Weather is a novel that is everything and more – it literally as the title suggests, speak of the weather – the situation of climate change that we are in which isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is about a marriage that seems to be in control and yet felt to me that it was tearing at the seams.

It is also about the protagonist, Lizzie Benson’s sort of stream-of-consciousness that comes from her brother’s mental and physical health, her mentor’s closing off to the world, and to what extent she will go to test her endurance when it comes to empathy and the state of the world.

This is not a book that can be read in one go. You have to savor it and give it some time. It is fragmented and will take some time to get into. Maybe nothing extraordinary ever happens in the book as well (quite subjective). It reminds us of times – of impending doom that hangs over all of us – and yet more often than not we choose to ignore it. It is bleak and has moments of joy. The writing as I have mentioned isn’t easy, but it shouldn’t deter you from reading Offill. She is simply the best.

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano

Dear Edward by Ann NapolitanoTitle: Dear Edward
Author: Ann Napolitano
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241384077
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I received this book a while back and I refused to read it. I knew it would make me weep, make me think about mortality, about life and its smallness, and maybe at the same time, in a way liberate me from some negative emotions as well. It did all of this and more.

Dear Edward on the surface comes across as a story of a boy who survived. As one of the characters, Shay says early on in the book that Edward is like Harry Potter – the boy who lived. I agree with her. There is so much more though to this novel about hope, grief, and the idea that life moves on in such different ways – ways in which we never expect it to turnaround.

Edward Adler is the twelve-year old sole survivor of a plane crash. He has lost his entire family – his parents and older brother. The 191 passengers onboard, including the crew is dead. This book is about the aftermath of the crash. Of the living that are left behind.

I had to deal with so many emotions while navigating this read. There was a constant lump in the throat – mostly it also came from remembering the ones who aren’t around anymore. There was the deep empathy I had toward Edward, and more than anything when he finds those letters written to him by the relatives, family, and friends of passengers who lost their lives. That’s another major plot point. How does one cope with loss? What does it take to think and feel you have moved on? When do you truly move on, and when do you know that you have moved on?

Edward’s aunt who takes him in with her husband deals with her own grief – that of losing a sibling. The grief that is common to both – Edward’s bond with his brother is the strongest and a loss not easy to deal with, and yet silences speak the loudest in this book. To acknowledge grief is to make it all real.

The book alternates between Edward’s current life, and the storylines detailing the flight and the passengers’ lives. Nothing seems too long or unnecessary. Every plot line mattered. Napolitano made me care for the characters, for each of them, in a very different way. The thing with books such as this is that sometimes it can become very easy to get caught in the plot, and sort of ignore the secondary characters. But this is where Napolitano doesn’t let us lose focus. Edward is at the core, but the ones no longer around are focused on time and again.

Dear Edward, is about empty spaces in our lives. The void that fills itself. The wound that heals. It is a book about small graces and mercies. Of grief and its upliftment, to finally setting it free, to understanding that you don’t love less when you do that.

Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher.

Letters of Note - Love - Compiled by Shaun Usher Title: Letters of Note: Love
Compiled by Shaun Usher
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9781786895325
Genre: Compilation, Letters
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4

I was sixteen. He was twenty-five. It was the first time I wrote a love-letter and sent it to someone. I never got a reply. But I continued writing and sending love-letters to various men after that. I think this happened till the Internet took over my life, but that’s not the point I am trying to make here. What I’m saying is that there was a different kind of charm when it came to those letters – I am not romanticizing it one bit, but I guess in retrospect even the scratching and cutting out of phrases and sometimes being candid enough to tell all you felt for the person made you want to not send the letter. You get the drift

About ten days ago, I finished reading “Letters of Note: Love” – compiled by Shaun Usher and all I wanted to do was to reread those thirty letters all over again. Each of these letters is painfully beautiful and expresses love the manner in which I always fall short of words.

From Rilke’s lover expressing her love to him after he died to Steinbeck’s letter to his son speaking about love and heartbreak, to even my personal favorite – one from Vita Sackville-West to Woolf, each of these letters definitely talk of love, but in the most gracious and heartfelt manner.

I don’t know how they did it back in the day when letters used to be written, but they sure knew how to make words seem extraordinary. Whether it is Nabokov writing to his wife, or Johnny Cash to June Carter, each letter is unique, each expressing love in a different manner. No two letters are similar. The language of love and of the heart remains the same.

If you enjoy this (which I am sure you will), do check out Letters of Note, and More Letters of Note – both compiled by Shaun Usher.

Chhotu: A Tale of Partition and Love by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi

Chhotu - A Tale of Partition and Love by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi Title: Chhotu: A Tale of Partition and Love
Author: Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi
Publisher: Penguin eBury Press
ISBN: 978-0143446149
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

There are times when you somehow expect so much from a book that even if it disappoints you a little, you tend to take it personally. I understand that sentiment, but do not go by that alone. Look at the book in its totality. Chhotu for sure didn’t live up to my expectations but I loved the premise of it being set in the time of Partition and added to that the angle of love, and more than anything else, taking a page of Maus and reimagining characters as animals. Full points on also Indianizing it.

The book is set in Chandni Chowk and that to a very large extent got me all excited about it, just that I couldn’t empathise or relate to any character. I could see where the story was going. I know most of it. We have heard the same story from our grandparents and what they had to go through during the Partition in one way or the other – of strife, of loss, of not knowing what is going to happen next to them in a country now divided. I saw all of this coming and yet I somehow couldn’t empathise with what was going on.

I was expecting a lot. I wanted more to happen but it didn’t. I liked how the book was structured with famous Hindi song titles as the chapter names and that worked given what was happening in the chapter. The concept is good and would definitely recommend it to people who want to start reading about the Partition. A very good place to start from.

The Book of Indian Kings: Stories & Essays

The Book of Indian Kings Title: The Book of Indian Kings: Stories & Essays
Author: Various
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-8194365709
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I love what Aleph Book Company publishes. Their books are unique and well-crafted. I mean I have so far enjoyed most of their books, so its but natural that I enjoyed the latest in their Olio series. Olio which means a miscellaneous collection of things, just like this series. Each book in this series is carefully curated and edited. From stories of love and lust, to the essence of Delhi, and now The Book of Indian Kings.

What I loved about this collection is that it somewhat may encourage first-time readers of these authors to go and explore more of their works. I think that should be the objective of any anthology in that sense, and it works.

The Book of Indian Kings is a fascinating collection of stories and essays, each with a different touch of hand, and sensibilities. From Manu S. Pillai talking about Krishnadeva Raya to Romila Thapar’s brilliant essay on Mauryan India, to Salman Rushdie’s story The Shelter of the World that appeared first in The New Yorker in 2008 and is ever so playful and magical. Each story and essay is carefully included – it isn’t just about the kings, but how they were – their personal lives, their kingdoms, their victories and losses.

This book needs to be savoured in the sense of reading one piece perhaps a day or finish in about three days or so. What does tend to happen though is the setting of a sense of boredom, but that quickly vanishes, if you jump from one story or essay to another, rather than read them in order.

The writing is lucid. The book is short and to the point. Not a single piece to me stuck out as a sore thumb, which says a lot about a collection. Read it over a weekend or so. You will definitely not be disappointed.