Category Archives: Non Fiction

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

invisible-cities-by-italo-calvino Title: Invisible Cities
Author: Italo Calvino
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
ISBN: 978-0156453806
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 165
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Italo Calvino is a genius and one must read everything he has ever written. I first got to know of him when I was in college and a friend was reading The Path to the Spiders’ Nest without really understanding it. I think he reread it and loved it. That’s how I heard of Calvino. My first book of his was “If on a winter’s night a traveler” and I fell in love with his writing. I knew I had to read more, and more by him. My job at Crossword bookstore in 1999 as an intern changed that. I was all of sixteen and knew that I just had to read everything written by him. I then chanced on “Invisible Cities” and loved it. It was kind of the first magic realism novel I read and I wanted more from that genre (till of course Rushdie killed it for me, but may be more about that at a later time).

“Invisible Cities” is not an easy book to read. It demands a lot of time and attention for a 165 page book. You might think it will be easy, but trust me, it won’t be. This should not deter you from reading it though. What is the book about? Well, here is the premise: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talk about cities – more so Polo and he describes cities he has been to, to Khan, and surprisingly all of them seem the same and do not. Each city is magical and has its own aura and yet they all feel the same – they all seem to be Venice. The design of cities might be different, also the essence and what it is made of, but inherently they are all the same and how the entire book then converges with Polo and Khan’s dialogues is something you must read and find out.

There is the study of humans in this book, followed by the study of cities and how we inhabit them and sometimes how they inhabit us and last of all, I thought it was about fantastical tales – of how far imagination takes us and intermingle then with the philosophy of life and what happens next. Calvino’s style of writing is different and inimitable. I cannot think of any writer who has succeeded writing like him. You just cannot. Calvino’s imagination pervades every page of the book and moves on then to inhabit every city. Of course the book is poetic – the description is wondrous and each account is a metaphor for memory and loss.

Calvino writes like a spy in the darkness – he uncovers what is hidden, and will force it to sneak in your consciousness. I thought I almost knew how to classify this book but then I didn’t and I did something: Not trying to pigeonhole it and go with the flow. “Invisible Cities” as a book is a rarity and the translation is so beautiful that it makes you want to read the Italian edition.

Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi by Swapna Liddle

chandni-chowk Title: Chandni Chowk: The Mughal City of Old Delhi
Author: Swapna Liddle
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386050670
Genre: History and Politics
Pages: 196
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Cities have always intrigued me – more so their existence and how they came to be. Within cities sometimes you end up finding smaller cities that have their own tales to tell, provided people listen. Chandni Chowk of Delhi is one such city within a city. I also remember the first time I visited Chandni Chowk after much hesitation (I am from Bombay. I was born and raised in South Bombay. You can’t even begin to imagine the level of being a snob) and I was honestly mesmerized by it.

Initially, I didn’t think or make much of it, till I walked around in the snake-like lanes, made peace with all kinds of smells around me – from food that was being cooked to an open window of someone’s house from which there were other smells to finally the smell of comfort. I think a place like Chandni Chowk sinks into you only if you allow it to or else it will never become a part of you.

The book by Swapna Liddle is a historic tribute to Chandni Chowk and its formation over the years – from being a part of Shahjahanabad to how it came to be what it is today, over centuries. Liddle’s research is partly through the archives and mostly through what she conjures through her experiences. The book is rich with anecdotes – it chronicles the life of a city through its trials, tribulations and what it has seen through the years. My favourite part of the book was the cuisine of Chandni Chowk and how it has grown over the years. At the same time, the history of Chandni Chowk through all the wars and battles is staggeringly astonishing and deserves a read for sure.

“Chandni Chowk” is draws on a lot of sources as the story of a place progresses – from newspaper articles to accounts of Mughal chroniclers, travelers’ memories, poetry, and government documents (I was fascinated by what I read in this book. It opened a new side of this place for me). What I also felt most sad about is how this place has somehow lost its significance over the years and is lost in the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Perhaps, it will change as more people would want to know more about it. This book is the best place to begin that journey.

Swapna’s writing will compel you to visit Chandni Chowk the next time you are in Delhi (if you’re not from there), and if you are from Delhi, then it will make you want to go there again and again and discover the true essence of what was it and how it is today. Liddle’s writing is nuanced and at the same time full of brevity – she doesn’t cramp too much and that makes it way easier to read about a place. If you like reading about places, their history, their present and what they mean in today’s times, then you must include this one in your reading list.

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

books-for-living-by-will-schwalbe Title: Books for Living
Author: Will Schwalbe
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0385353540
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 288
Source: Author
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember reading “The End of your Life Book Club” a couple of years ago. I was mesmerized and touched deeply by it. It was a book about a mother and her son and the books they read and discussed while they went for the mother’s chemotherapy sessions and doctor appointments. The son is the author Will Schwalbe and that book touched me so deep. I could not stop crying as I read it and it just made me feel alive and raw all over again. When books do that to you, you know you are home or that is what I believe.

His second book “Books for Living” as the title suggests is just that – books that have inspired him, made him relive moments and memories right from his childhood to adult life and more than anything else, books that have made him a better person. This book as the first one comes from a personal space. Each book mentioned in this book is deeply personal and important to him and that is what I loved the most about this book. It is not a random list. It is a list of memories, handpicked and the reader is allowed to get into his life and know and experience what he went through with each read.

He deftly crafts each chapter around important life topics such as trust (the book associated with it is the girl on the Train), connecting (Giovanni’s room which was my favourite chapter in the entire book), remembering (David Copperfield, where he also speaks of his closest friend David who died and the bond they shared) and many such topics that will make you smile, cry, or remember people who you haven’t spoken or connected with in a while.

Schwalbe’s writing is stark and pure. There is this honesty to it, which I love. I think when you speak of books that have touched you and mean something, you cannot not be honest. He speaks of reading and how it changes people (rightly so). Schwalbe knows the terrain of books and the power they can have over people and that to me is beautiful. I loved how he weaves his life around books and they come to life in his hands.

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.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

love-warrior-by-glennon-doyle-melton Title: Love Warrior
Author: Glennon Doyle Melton
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1410493859
Genre: Memoir, Nonfiction
Pages: 325
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

Now, there are some books you are most excited about reading and cannot wait when they come to you and you devour them and love them. At the same time, things could also play out differently with you. You may like the book in bits and parts and not as a whole. I am actually sad that I didn’t enjoy “Love Warrior” by Glennon Doyle Melton as I thought I would have. More so because I generally have enjoyed books picked by Oprah for her book club. But this one clicked for me in some places and in some it just didn’t.

Her first book Carry On, Warrior is a collection of her blog posts in the form of a book – dealing with everything – addiction to marriage to having children. This one – “Love Warrior” is about her struggle with addiction, how her husband Craig and she got together, their marriage, problems in her marriage, her husband’s infidelity and how she coped with it.

I mean, there was nothing new in it. It took me a while to get into it, I liked some parts – the writing seemed crisp but nothing like her first book. There was something missing – she was still honest and Melton does a great job at baring all and telling all but this book fell short.

The book kinda seemed repetitive as far as I was concerned. If you haven’t read the first book, then you might enjoy this one. Love Warrior might for sure help other people in the same situations but somehow it didn’t reach out to me and resonate the way Carry On, Warrior did. All said and done, her views also changed drastically from the first book. Having said that, I will still eagerly look forward to her new book as and when it is published.