Category Archives: Memories

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

In the Darkroom Title: In the Darkroom
Author: Susan Faludi
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
ISBN: 9780805089080
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Biography
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To be honest, I had gone blind into this book. I had not read the synopsis or any review online. Nothing. I knew nothing about the book and just went on an adventure with it. Take me where you will, I had almost said and saw through that to the very end.

Faludi’s book to put it simply is about her father and identity. However, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Susan’s father had left her when she was young. She then set off to investigate him in the summer of 2004 – in the process of discovering and knowing her father, she began understanding her roots and history – Jewish history at that.

Susan found out that her seventy-six year old father – now living in Hungary had undergone sex reassignment surgery. This then led to the questions of identity and gender in the modern world, as seen and observed by her. How could she come to terms with a new parent? A parent who was no longer a man, but a woman? Did it make sense at all? Should it make any sense in this world? At the same time, she had always known her father to be violent. He was a photographer (hence the title and more layers to it which you will figure as you read the book)and the reference to images and the shifting of them is another thing that will leave you spellbound in this book.

The book traverses between the present and past beautifully. Susan’s writing takes you to dark corners of the human heart and soul – when she speaks of politics, she integrates it with the personal and that lends itself so well again to the “question of identity”. Can you escape it? Can you so easily invent another one for yourself? Is it really that simple?

What I also loved is that Susan talked of the trans-gender movement (being a gay man, and it falling under the umbrella of LGBTQIA, I couldn’t help but wonder about it, which led me doing my own research on it) and not only that, the way she speaks of universal father-daughter relationships and how she doesn’t know where she stands in that equation anymore. Through her writing, you can see her struggle to find her father beneath the person he has now become.

“In the Darkroom” is emotional for sure but above all it is a book of such intricate details of relationships – that are strong and fragile and need a voice of their own, which Faludi lends hers to beautifully.

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My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Title: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
Author: Pamela Paul
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1627796316
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love reading books about books and that experience becomes even better when the book is also a memoir – about growing up and traversing through life with books at your side. Nothing better than that read and somehow it also gives me hope, that no matter what, books will always be round the corner, waiting for you. “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” by Pamela Paul is one such book that I read this month and absolutely fell in love with it. This is also because Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review which is almost sanctimonious to me when it comes to following reviews and other content on books.

“My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” is a book, like I said before, about books and the power they have – to save, to heal, to rejuvenate, to give you a new lease of life and to just be around you. The chapters are based on titles of books (most which she has loved and some not so much) and takes us on a journey of books discovered, loved, wept for, and how Pamela’s relationship with herself and others grew or matured because of books. Pamela doesn’t preach nor does she force you to read (though it would be nice if you would) – what she does is share her world of books and parts of her life with readers, which makes it even more special.

I often wondered while reading this book what would it be like had I kept a record of every book I ever read – which is what Pamela Paul did and named that book BOB (a book about books) and as you read this book you see why is it so important to do so. Every relationship, friendship, life event, travels, and paths she forged for herself was because of books she read or did not.

Another reason I loved this book, is because it helped me discover books which I had not heard of and also give me some courage to read the ones I had abandoned (I will get to them someday I hope). At no point does Pamela Paul try to force these books on you as a reader – she is just documenting her life through these books. I thoroughly enjoyed this book – it is just how a book about books should be – happy, sad, bittersweet, hopeful and full of life.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

insomniac-city-by-bill-hayes Title: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me
Author: Bill Hayes
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1620404935
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember a friend sending me excerpts of this book. I read it while I was at Doolally – a taproom in Bombay. I was waiting for friends to show up for the Wednesday night quiz and then something happened which I hadn’t expected to – I wept by the time I had finished reading the long excerpt. I cried. I think I even bawled. I strongly also believe that when an art form does that to you – when it creeps up on you like that and almost shatters your world – you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. That happened to me as I was reading “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me” by Bill Hayes, from which the excerpt was.

Relationships are fragile, they are also very strong. At the same time, what do you do when it ends all of a sudden? When it ends not because you want it to, but because death comes suddenly knocking on your partner’s door and there is nothing you can do about it. Then what? Hayes’s partner died after sixteen years of togetherness. He then moved to New York from San Francisco in search of a new start (as most of us do). He found himself in a city that was surprising, random, and at the same time made him see the humanity that exists. Slowly and steadily, he fell in love with New York and found love in the form of the late, great neurologist and writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

This book “Insomniac City” as the title suggests is about New York, Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes. It is also about life – majorly so, and how it changes constantly whether we would like it or not. It is about New York – of how brutal and gentle she can be at the same time, of how to surrender to the city is to love her completely and without any prejudice. The book ultimately is about great love that transcends all barriers, challenges, doubts and the throes of darkness. There are also the author’s stunning photographs – capturing his love for the city and Oliver.

Let me not forget the portrait of Oliver Sacks that Bill Hayes paints so vividly and beautifully – a genius who did not own a computer – who always preferred to communicate via letters and longhand, who didn’t know how a champagne bottle was opened and used goggles when he first opened them for the fear of the cork hitting his eye, who called pot “cannabis” and who believed in living life as it came – day by day. Hayes met Oliver after Oliver wrote him a letter praising his book “The Anatomist” and this is how they met and love blossomed. The book is about that love, about how Oliver met Hayes after three decades of being alone and celibate. “Insomniac City” will surprise you in ways more than one.

“Insomniac City” is about the love between Oliver and Hayes and what they shared in Oliver’s final years. The writing is so personal and out there that you cannot help but be overwhelmed. Their love for things common, their roads to discovering something they did not know, and what it is to live daily – for the bond to strengthen and one fine day to see that love slip away. The book teaches you about grief, about people coming together quite randomly on a bus or a train and makes you more aware and conscious of what it is to be human. I cannot recommend this book enough. Do yourself a favour: Order it, read it and weep. You need a good cry, now and then.

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.