Category Archives: Farrar Straus and Giroux

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.

Daydreams of Angels: Stories by Heather O’Neill

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O'Neill Title: Daydreams of Angels: Stories Author: Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374280420
Genre: Short Stories, Literary
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Stories, stories and more stories is what should also majorly be a part of life. What else is there to life but that? “Daydreams of Angels” was my seventh read this year and as the other reads, this one also did not disappoint. Keeping my tradition of fairy tales and the surreal and sublime, this one followed close on the heels of “A Wild Swan and other tales”.

This is a weird bunch of short stories – of angels, monsters, of animals and children – just that they aren’t set in the age old world but in the world where we live and are a part of us all. The stories are brilliantly thought of and written. I remember talking about “Sting like a bee” which was extremely surreal and hit the spot.

Most stories are just like that – they manage to engulf you and take you to another world. The other thing that I felt or did not feel was that these stories were too childish or whimsical for me as an adult. In fact, most of them make a lot of pertinent points under the layers of being just stories. O’Neill’s strength is in her declarative sentences – she just announces what is happening and is not afraid of showing all her cards to the readers. To a very large extent, this kind of writing always works with me.

There is a story of Pooh Bear writing an apology letter to Piglet, who has been kidnapped. Then there is the tale of Violet who escapes her stepfather who lusts after her in “The Saddest Chorus Girl in the World” and she also thinks it is sad when you fall in love with someone. This is so much like Great Expectations minus the stepfather.

Some of the metaphors and images in this book are completely heartbreaking. As a reader, I could not get more of them and just wanted to re-read some of the stories. In my opinion, if a book manages to do that, then the author has just hit the nail on the head with her narrative and style.

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A Wild Swan and other Tales by Michael Cunningham

A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham Title: A Wild Swan and other Tales
Author: Michael Cunningham
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374290252
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Fairy Tales
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I think it is extremely difficult to take age-old fairy tales and to turn them to something new. To give them new life, if you would like to call it that. I am also not a believer of taking these fairy tales and giving them a new voice or shape, however when it is done by Michael Cunningham (whose traces we have seen in The Snow Queen), then it is a different matter altogether. Then you know that reading the collection of tales will be nothing short of a surreal experience. The book that I am talking about is “A Wild Swan and other Tales”.

This is one of those books that just happen to readers and there is no noise made around it. It is almost subliminal in every single way – even marketing if you could say that. The book in all has 11 tales and each of them tells you what the original tales forgot to tell or missed out deliberately. I love the spin or the touch these tales have got. Cunningham’s genius but obviously is in the power of telling stories and for me that stood out page by page, story by story.

My favourite stories are “A Wild Swan”, “Jacked” (on Jack and the Beanstalk), “Crazy Old Lady” (based on Hansel and Gretel), “A Monkey’s Paw”, “Steadfast: Tin” and “Her Hair” (which I reviewed yesterday). The entire collection no doubt explores different facets of fairy tales, but for me these six stories stood out and perhaps did what the other five could not.

These stories are about people you might encounter in your daily life: The beast might be your neighbour, Jack could be the person living with his mother who has no ambition whatsoever, you might know Snow White and her prince charming trying to infuse some chemistry back into their marriage or for that matter the perspective of the witch and how two mean children just ate her house through.

I liked the perspectives. I enjoyed knowing about the other side in this book; it isn’t exactly that though – I think it is more to do with: Is there more to these fairy tales? Has all been said about them or are there other details? The art by Yuko Shimizu for every tale are breathtaking and you will go back to them and keep looking and searching for finer details.

The macabre, the perverse, stuff what nightmares are made of, the not so angelic, the terrifyingly real, the twisted, the deranged and damaged and the ones that do not fit well into our so-called society is what these tales focus on. It is something that won’t let you go that easy. I know for a fact that this book was right up my alley. I was talking about it to my friends and cannot stop recommending it.

2016 has begun well with 3 books that I have read and all 3 of them are great reads. As the year progresses, there are only good books to choose and read from.

Michael Cunningham reading from the book:

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Can’t and Won’t: Stories by Lydia Davis

Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis Title: Can’t and Won’t: Stories
Author: Lydia Davis
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374118587
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When Lydia Davis writes short stories, you take notice. You observe them and linger in their bitter or sweet after-thought. You also get confused. You wonder what her stories are about. As a reader, you also want to give up some times. You do not want to turn the next page. That is what you feel like and you cannot help it. You keep the book aside and after some time you get back to the book and then it hits on you, what you have been missing out on. And then the true beauty of her writing hits you.

Lydia Davis’s new collection of stories, “Can’t and Won’t” is a fantastic collection of vignettes, of short stories and of really long stories. At some point, I did not have it in me to soldier on, and yet I did. I think most of it also had to do with the fact that I had read Davis’s stories earlier. So my recommendation would be that to read some of her works online and then you will absolutely love what she writes and the way she expresses herself.

“Can’t and Won’t” is a collection that makes you ponder, makes you doubt, leaves you confused, perplexed and at the same time wrenches your heart with the most basic observations about life and living. Most of these stories are either retellings of her dreams, or related to Flaubert’s life (which are brilliantly reconstructed) or tales that are about painful memories and indecision and wanting to deal with life.

The stories are sometimes complex, sometimes simple and sometimes just make you want to drop everything else and think about life. “Can’t and Won’t” is expansive. It is a collection that challenges you, delivered in well prose and above all conjures a sense of wonder and delight, with every turn of the page.

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The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

The Snow Queen by Michael Cunninghamm Title: The Snow Queen
Author: Michael Cunningham
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374266325
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that charm you from the first page. That take your breath away and you know you are in love from page one. There is nothing you can do about it. You give in to the book’s beauty and hope and pray that you savour it and not devour it. You must as a reader respect the delicacy of words and sentences, of emotions that strike you, that jump, unbeknownst at you, changing some perceptions, making you question your life and such books will be gone back to, in time, for sure. “The Snow Queen” by Michael Cunningham is one such book.

I always thought that “The Hours” was his finest work. I was proven wrong. It is not “The Hours” but, “The Snow Queen” is probably the best till now in his line of works. I was aware that the book will be good, but not aware that it would completely take me by storm. The book is about everything I guess – the way we live now, the way we love and the way we die, and almost forgot about the way we believe and what we believe in or not, at the core of the novel.

The book starts with a vision which one of the main characters Barrett sees in the sky, as his boyfriends breaks up with him over a text message. He shares a Brooklyn apartment with his older brother Tyler and Tyler’s ailing girlfriend Beth, who is dying of cancer. This sets the pace of the book. In this, new characters are introduced – Liz, the common friend of Beth and the brothers and how she brought them together to Andrew, Liz’s much-younger lover and some more. Essentially, the book is about Liz, Beth, Tyler and Barrett.

There are so many moments in the book that stun you and take you on a whirlwind. Sickness is also spoken of graciously in the book. I have yet to come across another writer who can do this. Cunningham takes topics are difficult to tread on and sails on them, with grace and ease. The city of New York is another character that is in the background, silent and watching over all the protagonists.

Barrett’s religious turn to the dilemma of a sighting to unrequited and requited love. Tyler’s conflict, using Beth’s illness as a crutch, the marriage in the wake and a song that he must write and the strong connect he shares with his brother. Beth, at the center of the brothers’ guilt, love, and affection. Liz, almost the crux of their relationships and trying to struggle with her own.

Michael Cunningham’s writing is sparse. He does not need to run into pages to say what he wants to. He follows the lives of Meeks brothers and everyone is searching for their own meaning to survive and understand the human soul. The writing as I have mentioned a number of times is just marvelous. It is heartbreaking, tragic, moving and above all just about the human soul.

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