Category Archives: Non Fiction

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.

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Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig Title: Notes on a Nervous Planet
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786892676
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

This is a world of nerves. Of nervousness (as the title rightly suggests), of anxiety and of excess. Everything is in excess and we do not know when to stop or how to control our lives. We are constantly on the edge and losing the very essence of being human. Our lives are spiraling out of control and we perhaps do not know what to do. Matt Haig’s books are about mental health issues we face, the ones he has faced and continues to. The only difference is that he speaks about it, Haig communicates and comes from a place of darkness to speak through his books on issues that we prefer to be silent about.

“Notes on a Nervous Planet” is about what we go through on a daily basis and yet continue to and not battle it because we do not know how to. Haig not only tells us about the issues in detail but also lets us know what he does to combat them, and we could also do that, if we like. For instance, how to not be on the phone constantly, how to get off social media once in a while, how to sleep more and things that we think of but not implement on most of the time.

Haig’s writing is personal. He writes from the heart (using the cliché phrase and apologies for that) and it is clear in the writing. It is all about how to stay sane anymore on a planet such as ours. I loved the way the book is structured, looking at each thing that is messing with our minds and the possible suggestions to each of them – from lack of sleep to addiction to work and play balance to questioning the habits and lifestyles of the digital age.

“Notes on a Nervous Planet” makes you look at life without being preachy about it. All it does is make you want to reclaim humanity, little by little if need be. Matt Haig cleverly and beautifully deconstructs the world we live in and provides suggestions, if not answers or solutions on how to conquer. “Notes on a Nervous Planet” if nothing will make you feel that someone out there knows what you are going through and is able to understand it beautifully to express it the way you will feel a connect. It is the book for our times and much needed. Do read it, please.

 

In a Cult Of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box Office by Amborish Roychoudhury

In A Cult of Their Own

Title: In a Cult of Their Own: Bollywood Beyond Box Office
Author: Amborish Roychoudhury
Publisher: Rupa and Co.
ISBN: 9788129151353
Genre: Non-Fiction, Film Writing
Pages: 276
Source: Author
Rating: 3 Stars

This is a book about cult movies. What constitutes a cult movie, though? The one that people realized later was a superb movie. Or the one that people are still denouncing? One can’t tell really, given how movies are gauged in our country. Box-office collections still matter the most and Roychoudhury writes of movies when the moolah mattered the most (if anything it matters even more today but we have also “allowed” indie cinema to try and thrive – earlier known as “art house cinema”) , when there was no Netflix; when viewers weren’t aware of the art of cinema, so to say and yet these movies got the status of being “cult movies”.

Well, my reading experience of the book was breezy and yes, I also learned a lot about the movies chosen by the author. At the same time, I did not agree with so many films on the author’s list and that is bound to happen with any other reader as well.

The book is written in a very tongue-in-cheek style which worked for me. There were places I could not help but chuckle or guffaw, sometimes at the sheer ridiculousness of Indian cinema. And yet there is so much that Amborish has spoken about in this book – about the select movies and also about the ones that aren’t on the list. The sheer amount of research done is staggering. From small things to know to the ones that surprise you instantly.

My favourite pieces from the book: Kaagaz Ke Phool, Chashme Buddoor, Silsila, Katha, Chameli Ki Shaadi, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar, No Smoking (a highly underrated movie in my opinion), and the most brilliant piece on The Ramsay Brothers. “In A Cult of Their Own” makes for a perfect monsoon read. It is a light, interesting, and sometimes funny read as well. The kind of book that will not disappoint for sure.

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem : Essays
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160652
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.

Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.

Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time,​ this need to soak in more of what she writes. This collection, ​in fact, reminded of her other collection of essays, The White Album and After Henry, whose content is very similar to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”.

It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general,​ are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it. ​

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri

Meatless Days by Sara Suleri Title: Meatless Days
Author: Sara Suleri
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0241342466
Genre: Biography
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Books that are reread are mostly far and few in between and when that happens often, you must rejoice. “Meatless Days” by Sara Suleri is one such book. I remember reading it for the first time, a couple of years ago and loving it. It was unlike something I had ever read. A memoir that was so irreverent and profound at the same time. Well, it was refreshing to hear someone write like that, as though Sara was in my living room having a conversation with me about herself and her family.

“Meatless Days” is a book that perhaps cannot be even bracketed into a genre and yet for all practical purposes, we must. The complexity and intricacy of both her language and the content of the book astounds the reader, makes you laugh and sometimes make you introspect.

The book is about Pakistan, postcolonial, post-independence and a world that treats its women way differently than its men. It is about Suleri’s Welsh mother, her Pakistani father, her tenacious grandmother and her five siblings. She writes about the wandering soul with such soul that you can only empathize.

Her journey out of Pakistan, the gaze of an outsider and yet strangely an insider is a universal emotion that perhaps every reader can relate with. At the same time, for some it might prove to be a difficult read as the nine chapters are completely disjointed and string together beautifully through Suleri’s distillation of experiences of love, loss and family, and takes form in powerful poetry-like prose.

“Meatless Days” changes with every chapter – the form does, the writing to some extent and so will your emotions as you turn the pages. Suleri’s prose is unique, may rarely come across as too complex (but that’s only because she has so much to say) and yet so liberating and rewarding at the end of it all. A lost-classic for sure, which I am glad has been revived as a part of Penguin Women Writers initiative.