Category Archives: Canongate Books

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

The First Bad Man by Miranda July Title: The First Bad Man
Author: Miranda July
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782115076
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was half-way in the book, “The First Bad Man” by Miranda July and wanted to give it up. I did not want to read anymore. The book sort of did not speak to me nor did it interest me. Till I gave it time and turned the pages and suddenly I was taken in with it. There were times I laughed out loud and times when I cried and all of this happened in the second-half of the book. I am only too glad that I read it and not gave it up. Sometimes most books deserve a second chance I guess.

“The First Bad Man” by Miranda July is a book of almost everything, mostly parenthood and I will of course not tell you how or why. It is a book about loneliness, coping with life and dreams and disappointments and it is written in the style that is not sentimental or overwhelming, but actually funny in most places (the second-half, I mean). Cheryl Glickman is a character that brings comfort and at the same time some readers might hate her guts. The book is about her inner dialogue, about her connection with psychic babies (and this is just the beginning) and about her relationships and life. Also Cheryl has always wanted a child and never got on. She is alone and vulnerable to say the least.

Cheryl is obsessed with her co-worker Philip, she has a lump in her throat and she believes that there are many lifetimes which people can remember in this one. Amidst all this, Cheryl’s bosses ask her if their twenty-one year daughter Clee can move into her house and Cheryl’s life changes drastically from then on. This in short is the plot of the book.

The writing is quirky, it is weird, it will shock you (I was shocked in most places), it might even offend you, but it is worth it. Almost every single page (of the second-half at least). Miranda July’s first novel is satisfactory in so many ways. The characters are well-rounded and mostly have to do what they have to. There is no looking back or stepping out, whatever the circumstances. The writing is frank, emotional at times and sometimes extremely uncomfortable, but it will keep you thinking about the world we live in and what surrounds us.

“The First Bad Man” for some cannot be read in one sitting. For others, it can be. It is a book that needs to be savored and reread I think. All said and done, do not give up on it as I was going to. You will love the book. Turn the pages. Be patient with it.

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A Reading Diary : A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel

A Reading Year - A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel Title: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
Author: Alberto Manguel
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 978-1841958217
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Books, Reading
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

We all must keep a reading diary. Something that chronicles what we read and its impact on our lives or what lives we lead and its impact on what we read. Basically, the idea is to make notes, and not on a laptop or any other electronic device, but handwritten notes, which are so important in today’s time and age.

“A Reading Diary” by Alberto Manguel is one such book. It is about the twelve books that Alberto read or rather reread in a year. Those are his favourite books or at least some of his favourites. He makes the reader sees ways in which time can be spent with a book and good quality time. He makes us see how the mind wanders with one reference made in the book to several made or recollected from memory in other books. That to me is pure genius when it comes to his writing.

There are lists as well in the book – random and some not quite random. There are snatches from Manguel’s life which is a treat to someone who is an ardent fan like me. He speaks of his favourite books and with great passion he tells the reader what he likes and perhaps even does not like about them.

There are so many possibilities in this one for the reader. To take a chance and read all the twelve books listed by him and more that you would come across. He treats his favourite books with great care and could talk endlessly about them and to me that is the beauty of this book. He attaches memory to books, which most readers, should do. He takes memories and conjures them to something magical in front of readers.

“A Reading Diary” is highly recommended by me to most book lovers and people who know the value of life and reading and its true integration.

List of Books read by Manguel:

1. The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares)
2. The Island of Dr. Moreau (Wells)
3. Kim (Kipling)
4. Memoirs From Beyond the Grave (Chateaubriand)
5. The Sign of Four (Doyle)
6. Elective Affinities (Goethe)
7. The Wind in the Willows(Graham)
8. Don Quixote (Cervantes)
9. The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)
10. The Pillow Book (Sei Shonagon)
11. Surfacing (Margaret Atwood)
12. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis)

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Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782114185
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 180
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.

“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.

I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.

I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.

At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.

In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.

Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.

And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.

Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.

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Academy Street

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst Title: S.
Authors: J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9780857864772
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Literary, Bibliophilia
Pages: 472
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

S. is an unusual book. Being the die-hard LOST fan that I am, I knew that if J.J. Abrams has co-authored a book (with Doug Dorst) I will for sure love it. It was a given. Sometimes may be you go with the instinct, only to realize that you were right all along. There are also some books, whose synopsis is enough for you to make you know that you have to read this book anyhow and S. happened to be one of them.

S. is a book within a book. It is love for marginalia. It is also bibliophile love. It is love towards authors and their lives and at the same time it is the crazy love for finding out more about an author. S. is all of that and more rolled into one crazy ride of a book.

The book is titled, “Ship of Theseus” by V.M. Straka and you wonder what just happened. Isn’t it meant to be written by Dorst and Abrams? But do not panic. This is the way the book is written. V.M. Straka is a prolific writer and Ship of Theseus is meant to be his last work. While being intellectual, Straka is also a loner. No one has ever seen him. No one knows him either besides his translator and perhaps publisher.

ship-of-theseus-3-Sample

And then there are two readers, Jennifer and Eric, who have never met and communicate only through marginalia in the library book, “Ship of Theseus” speculating about the author, the story of the book, and in all of this, they unravel a lot more about themselves.

Then not to forget is the story of “Ship of Theseus” by Straka, which is the book you will also be reading, about a man lost at sea – who has lost his memory and is with monstrous sailors he does not know and cannot recall. Technically then, there are three stories running parallel and that can either drive you crazy as a reader or keep you wanting more.

The book is brilliantly designed. Ship of Theseus feels and smells like an old library book. There is a sticker on the spine categorizing the book. There are correspondences tumbling out of the book – letters, postcards, maps drawn on coffee house tissue papers, a puzzle, some more postcards and letters that do the rounds, back and forth between Straka and others, and also between Jennifer and Eric.

To begin with, the book might seem difficult to get into, but once you start, you will be hooked to it. The marginalia and reading the text together does take time, but for me that was the only way to do it. I had to read them in tandem, to understand the entire story and context. To me, the book was a rollercoaster ride, with Jen writing in the margin and Eric responding to those. The simple things add to the effect – the different coloured pens used, the writing, the underlining of lines, all of it make you think and relate to what you do as a reader. “S.” is one of those books that need not be begged to be read. An intelligent reader will read it anyway and give it its due.

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Book Review: The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing

The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing Title: The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink
Author: Olivia Laing
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9781847677945
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is this thing with almost all writers. They have weird obsessions most of the times, and sometimes they are just addicted to everything or that one thing that they think makes them. Drinking is one of them. I have heard and read about so many stories about writers who are alcoholics, but never wondered why. I always assumed it would be something to do with their creative genius. I always wanted to know more about the condition and why do writers get down that road.

Olivia Laing’s book could not have come at a better time. I wanted to read something serious and got it served on a platter. The book is humane and full of empathy. It never once judges anyone or the situation. “The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink” is a well-researched book, chronicling the lives of six writers who loved to drink – John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman and Raymond Carver. The writers’ selection could not have been better.

What I love about the book is the way Laing presents situations. Having grown up in an alcoholic family herself, Laing makes sense of this disease with all sincerity or tries to with great effort. She looks at these writers’ lives, what was common to them, how the likeness then led them to addiction and in some cases recovery as well.

The surprising and sometimes most wondrous thing which Laing goes on to discover is the connection between drinking and their writing. The writing as I said before is very strong and exciting. There is never a dull moment in the book and that happens very rarely in a piece of non-fiction. At the end of the day, read the book to know about creative geniuses and their dependency on alcohol – an extremely interesting insight.

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