Category Archives: Memories

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb

avid-reader-by-robert-gottlieb Title: Avid Reader
Author: Robert Gottlieb
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374279929
Genre: Literary memoirs, Biographies and Memoirs
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am a sucker for literary memoirs or biographies. Anything related to books about books, I cannot resist. I mean, I have to go out there and read all of it on this subject. I chanced upon “Avid Reader” by Robert Gottlieb and this was without knowing who he was (once I did, I was in supreme awe and fascination). So who is Gottlieb? Well, he was the editor at Simon and Schuster and Knopf and his career is enviable, given the kind of authors he has worked with. “Avid Reader” is his memoir of his career in publishing (kinda reminded me of Ashok Chopra’s book) full of zest, gusto and life. It is after all a sixty-old career and that cannot be easy to write about.

Like I said, I love reading everything literary – what happened to this book (I mean one off book and many more in this book by Gottlieb), how it came to be, how did Gottlieb edit it and what was the equation with writers involved, and more anecdotes had me begging for more and more from Avid Reader.

At the same time, at some point in the book you feel that it is nothing but a series of dedications by Robert to the people he has worked with. Having said that, the book doesn’t lose its sense of irreverence and gumption. At the same time, I was amazed by Gottlieb’s sense of determination to make it in the world of publishing and from there come all the insights to the mad world – from excessive use of punctuation in books to fighting over authors to how to market books, it is all there in this one.

What makes this book even more important and a must-read is the relationships built by Gottlieb over the years, which he is very candid about. My favourite parts of the book though were his growing-up years. Something about the 30s and the 40s and the way he describes them is utterly charming and quaint.

Robert Gottlieb is of course great at his writing skills (that goes without saying, doesn’t it?). I couldn’t wait to know more about this industry and its workings. Every anecdote was laced with humour and a lot of pathos. “Avid Reader” is the kind of book that will also ring true to most debut writers and also the seasoned ones. The bottom-line of course is all about getting out a good book and Gottlieb has done that consistently for such a long time and chronicled it in this wonderful book. A must read for sure.

Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond by William Dalrymple and Anita Anand

kohinoor-by-william-dalrymple-and-anita-anand Title: Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond
Authors: William Dalrymple and Anita Anand
Publisher: Juggernaut Books
ISBN:978-9386228086
Genre: History
Pages: 264
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

While reading the “Kohinoor” – William Dalrymple and Anita Anand’s joint effort to make sense of the world’s infamous diamond, I was tempted to list – a list of deaths that took place in the wake of the diamond – to either capture it, or while owning it or ones who were ultimately possessed by the jewel.

There is a lot written about the Koh-I-Noor (Mountain of Light in Persia) – on and off Wikipedia. More so in this age of technology, you can perhaps know everything and more related to it on the internet. However, let me tell you that it will not be anything like this book, jointly penned by Anand and Dalrymple.

The story of the diamond is not just about the diamond and its lore and how it now resides in the Tower of London. I love the fact of how almost each of the five claimants of the Koh-I-Noor – India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan and the Taliban are so confident of how the diamond belongs to them but no one knows how and why (well, mostly they are not sure).

From the Peacock Throne to the Mughals to the Queen Victoria’s crown, Dalrymple and Anand seek to separate history from myth and do it exceedingly well, might I add. They have researched and gathered all material from every part of the five claimants to add more gravitas to the narrative of the diamond. It is of greed and ambition – of men who coveted it and of men who would do anything for it – of the blood that was spilled for it (Shah Zaman Durrani was blinded with hot needles, Shah Rukh – grandson of Nader Shah had molted lead poured onto his head – kinda like A Song of Ice and Fire and many such incidents) and the courage to own it any cost. Why is Koh-I-Noor that important? What makes it the most beloved, even though there have been jewels far precious than this one?

The two historians do a fantastic job of trying to unearth almost every mystery surrounding the diamond and yet leave some to be speculated and mulled on by the reader. William tackles the first part of the book – of the diamond’s history while Anand looks at the Sikh history of the diamond. The tone of the book is neutral which is needed when you chronicle something from or belonging to the past. “Kohinoor” is a rock solid book which tells you almost all that you wanted to know about the diamond and never lets go of the reader.

Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan

Reading the World by Ann Morgan Title: Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846557873
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was about a year ago, when I was led to a site where I discovered a lady who was reading a book from every country. It was her reading project for the year and I was most intrigued by the concept. I then knew that I had to read the book of how it all began when it came out.

“Reading the World” by Ann Morgan is literally about a woman’s journey across the world through books from each country. It is obviously not as simple as this. There is more to the entire process and revelation which this book is all about.
I am a big fan of books about books and that also blends in cultures of various places, which Morgan manages to do beautifully in this book. I agree that initially I did have a problem getting into it, given the tone and structure, but once you do, it is an effortless read (at least for some I am sure).

If you are expecting reviews of every book she read, then you should check out her site, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and not the book, because the book is not about that. The book is about Morgan’s experiences to get to the project and how people all over the world contributed to it. “Reading the World” is about how she chose the books for the project, the things she learned about literature and the experiences that made her question everything.

Books about books and the experience of reading just goes to show that there is so much hope for the world. I say that because I genuinely believe in the redemptive power of books and each book that Morgan picked up led her to questioning, working it all over again and reading books which she otherwise would not have. I urge all book lovers to get hold of this one and read it. It will make you more mindful of the literature that exists in the world, which is not ridden only by American or British literature, but a whole lot more.

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So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson Title: So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading
Author: Sara Nelson
Publisher: Berkley Trade
ISBN: 978-0425198193
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Reading
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars
Started: 24th of December 2014
Ended: 1st of January 2015

The popular adage, “So Many Books, So Little Time” couldn’t be truer. There is always the case of wanting to lap up all those words and sentences and passages and books that have withstood the test of time and the ones that are new on the literature horizon. There is always more and being the hungry reader that I am (or really hope I am), I have always felt this way. With this in mind, there are times (most often than not) that I love reading books about books and an author’s experiences in reading. “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” was one such book that completely broke my heart and mended it right back for the love of literature that Nina had. “So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading” by Sara Nelson is a great book on the love of books and the power of literature.

Sara Nelson decided one New Year’s Day to read fifty-two books in that year and link those reads to the on-goings of her personal life. That is how the book “So Many Books, So Little Time” was born. The idea of the book is to talk about reading but obviously, but also as a reader you are privy to Sara’s world – that of her family, her work and life in general. This is what makes the book so intimate and special. She talks of her roles of being a daughter, mother, wife and sister and effortlessly there are books in every stage. Of the squabbles between her and her sister, of how she chose her books and how some books just came along her way to the way books have always been integral to her life.

I guess for every reader this book hits home. We have all gone through some of it. Of trying to balance home and work and read at the same time. Of just wanting to curl with your favourite read and forget about the world. For Nelson, this book happens to be “Marjorie Morningstar” by Herman Wouk; a story of a young girl’s coming into her own and discovering the world and her. Nelson first read this book when she was sixteen and it stayed. When she went back to it, something had changed. Either she had outgrown the book or the book had outgrown her. Such experiences in reading and the love of the written word make the book what it is: An absolute delight to read.

There are also her thoughts on reading which makes the book funny in most places. My favourite parts of the book are when she is talking about evolving as a reader and how she can’t imagine life without a book at hand. I also thought that the idea of revisiting writers and reading their works in succession feels like going out on a second or third date too soon to her, which I couldn’t agree more with. She talks of lending and borrowing books, of how books cure everything, and how she just can’t do any bedtime reading to her son. And most of all what I could connect with is the recommendation part – where Nelson talks about how difficult it is to get along with people whose book recommendations you did not like and you know for a fact that just by that you will never connect with those people. It has happened to me – several times.

Let me give you an example of her writing:

Explaining the moment of connection between a reader and a book to someone who’s never experienced it is like trying to describe sex to a virgin.

See what I mean? This is what “So Many Books, So Little Time” is about. About books and more books and also when the year ended and she succeeded in her resolution; the idea was to perhaps stop for a while and see the world as well, with renewed eyes and renewed perception, only with a stronger determination and faith that books will always remain.

Here are some of my favourite parts of the book for you to preview:

Book lovers simply have no choice: we can’t tear ourselves away from the beloved.
A book is a way to shut out the noise of the world. It’s a way to be alone without being totally alone.
I believe that an unreturned book between friends is like a debt unpaid.
I’ve decided never to lie again about what books I’ve read. If I haven’t read something everybody else says they did, I won’t say I have.
When the going gets tough, the tough get reading.
But I approach a novel, no matter how difficult or sophisticated or “literary”, as a form of “pleasure and connection.”
Hell hath no fury like an expectant reader scorned.
To read a book is to have a relationship. And I’ve had dozens of them in the past dozen months.

P.S: Do not forget to read the appendixes of the books she wanted to read, the books she read and the books that still pile on in the to-be-read shelf.

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Conversations with Waheeda Rehman by Nasreen Munni Kabir

Conversations-with-Waheeda-Rehman Title: Conversations with Waheeda Rehman
Author: Nasreen Munni Kabir
Publisher: Penguin Viking
ISBN: 9780670086924
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Editor
Rating: 5/5

So when you read about a legend, you just continue turning the pages. It does not matter. Their life has so much to offer and give insights about every aspect of life, that you cannot stop reading. The same happened to me while I was reading, “Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” by Nasreen Munni Kabir. I finished it in less than a day and then I could not stop thinking about it.

“Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” is a book which is just what the title says. It is a set of conversations with the legendary actor – her life, her times, her movies (select and not all are mentioned), her friendships, her family and the way she views life and how it was so easy for her one fine day to give up Bollywood and start living her life and creating a family and world of her own.

Waheeda Rehman has always been one of my favourite actors and continues to be, so I was only too eager to read this book and I could not stop gushing. From the experience of her first movie as the lead to the way she stuck to her decisions when it came to showing skin for the camera or not doing certain scenes, because she did not see the logic in them, she has stuck to her belief and faith throughout her career.

Nasreen Munni Kabir has managed to bring out the best in these conversations that spanned over two years in Waheeda Rehman’s Bandra house. The conversations are clear, polite and candid. Ms. Rehman does not shy from talking about things – she says what she has to and that is that. Munni Kabir is a great inducer of conversation. She throws open a question and lets Ms. Rehman say what she has to. I love that style and subtlety of questions, and of course one cannot forget Waheeda Rehman’s grace and style. I felt as though she was sitting right next to me, and I could hear all of it in her voice.

“Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” is a testimony and a very frank account of a celebrity who probably never behaved like one. She was always the odd one out – who proved time and again through her movies such as Pyaasa, Guide, Kaghaz ke Phool and many more as to what it really takes to be present forever – a great sense of cinema and acting. If you are an ardent lover of good cinema, then you should not miss reading this one.

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