Category Archives: February 2017 Reads

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.

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Zen Series by Jon J Muth

For those who have still not experienced the Zen Series by Jon J Muth, I guess this is the best time to. Also, might I add, that you are very lucky to have not encountered them yet, because they are wondrous and heartwarming at the same time and you are in for a treat.

zen-ghosts

The books are not really children’s books according to me – their lessons are meant for all and these are things that perhaps we already know of, but do not take the time to ponder or act on. May be that is the biggest problem of our age – just sitting and wondering and doing nothing about things.

zen-shorts

Jon J Muth’s series starts with Zen Shorts, where Michael, Karl and Addy discover a giant panda in their backyard and then the Panda starts telling them stories – Zen stories. His name is Stillwater (kinda obvious). The book is wonderful.

zen-socks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The watercolour illustrations and the stories go so good together that it feels like you are in a dreamland or something. Zen Shorts was followed by Zen Ties, Ghosts and the latest one was Zen Socks.

zen-ties

The series of these books is something else. I think it rings so true is because it is inspired from life – it is what we go through and live every single day, may be that’s why I was able to connect with them the way I did. The writing is simple and more characters get added as you move along the books – there are so many lessons in these books but they do not sound preachy even once. It is all about living and finding it out for yourself. These 4 books, Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, Zen Ghosts and Zen Socks will leave with with a big smile on your face and maybe even some wisdom.

The Words Hurt: Helping Children Cope With Verbal Abuse by Chris Loftis, Illustrations by Catharine Gallagher

the-words-hurt-by-chris-loftis Title: The Words Hurt: Helping Children Cope with Verbal Abuse
Author: Chris Loftis
Illustrated By: Catharine Gallagher
Publisher: New Horizon Press
ISBN: 978-0882821320
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 45
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This was the fourth book which I read as a part of the “Story Cure” reading project and was moved by it, nonetheless. It was a book suggested by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin as a part of their book “The Story Cure” regarding abuse of children. This one deals with verbal abuse and how to control it and thereby understand your child’s needs in a more evolved manner.

The book’s plot (for lack of a better word) is simple – it is centered on a child and the verbal abuse he receives from his father who is going through a tough time. This is a primer for parents on how to understand your children and not vent your frustration at them.

I think there need to be more of such books to help parents learn how to behave with children. Abuse, more so verbal is often ignored. In fact, in India it is even encouraged in most families – the adage – spare the rod, spoil the child is so regressive that it needs to be banned in my opinion. But I am happy that there are such books out there that make an attempt to bridge the gap between kids and parents and more so for parents to realize their actions.

I know I am sounding preachy but there is no other way to do this. I think verbal abuse is so sensitive an issue that it needs to be looked at more often than just ignored. The Words Hurt by Chris Loftis is a simple and beautiful example of what needs to be done with some lovely illustrations by Catharine Gallagher. Do pick it up.

Misery by Stephen King

misery-by-stephen-king Title: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-1444720716
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: 5 Stars

There is this insane, crazy, bordering psycho side to all of us, which is conveniently hidden and tucked for good (or so we think) till it snaps. When it snaps, I think, or rather I most certainly believe that all people are capable of harming, of doing things beyond their wildest imagination and some of us also regret what we do and some don’t. That’s really how the world functions sometimes and you live with it, as you do with everyday kindness. Scarily enough, at times you also live with everyday cruelty and that’s what the master of horror, Mr. Stephen King reveals to us, book by book.

My affair with King’s books started when I was thirteen. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I thought I had read all his books (not the ones written as Bachman – I cannot stand those) and then I realized very late in life (as late as last month) that I hadn’t read Misery. Had this been me two years ago, I would have flipped knowing how I missed this, but today I looked at it as an opportunity to read this one and boy oh boy was I in for something!

“Misery” is almost Meta and then again it isn’t. You would almost be fooled into believing that King was drawing from his experiences (and maybe he was) but some of them could be taken from his life – the way a writer thinks, agonizes over and finally ends up writing a book or more than just a book. “Misery” is about a writer – Paul Sheldon and his so-called number one fan Annie Wilkes. Paul is a very successful writer because of his Misery Chastain series, but now Paul has had enough of her and kills her in his new novel. Unfortunately for Paul, he meets with an accident and is rescued by Annie, who is very very unhappy about Misery dying and wants to take matters in her own hand, by keeping Paul captive and asking him to write a new Misery novel for freedom. This, in brief is the plot of Misery.

Now to the characters: Annie Wilkes gave me the chills. I don’t want to meet someone like her ever, not even for the curiosity of it all. I would rather be safe than sorry. King knows his characters inside out – well of course, but the edginess and knowing that they can fall off the sane balcony any given day is what intrigues me to his books. His writing we all know is impeccable; the eye for detail, the scenarios and specifically in this book to imagine the torture inflicted on Sheldon is simply stunning. I couldn’t stop reading this one – and there were also times when I just had to stop because I was scared and mind you, this one is not a horror novel, but pretty much there.

The Carousel of Desire by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt

the-carousel-of-desire-by-eric-emmanuel-schmitt Title: The Carousel of Desire
Author: Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Translated by: Howard Curtis, Katherine Gregor
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609453466
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 672
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I knew the minute I started reading this book, I knew that it would be something different and I wouldn’t mind the fact that it was a tome and kinda tough to get by to initially. “The Carousel of Desire” is about desire – it is sometimes about misplaced eroticism, emotions which are all over the place, relationships that are not long-lasting and those that are have too many cracks in them and above all, it is about romance – free of any moral judgement and yet the kind that looks at human relationships intricately and without making them seem frivolous.

“The Carouse of Desire” is about regular people, stuck in situations beyond their control and how Eros plays its own tricks on their unassuming lives. At the heart of the story are human emotions and experiences and how humans, while being so flawed are the only ones sometimes who have all the chances at redemption – sometimes more than one as well. The human psyche when it comes down to class, love, race and community are brilliantly brought out by Schmitt and just for that I would recommend you read this book.

So, what is this book all about? A love note, that’s what it is about. A love note is delivered anonymously to each inhabitant of Piazza Guy d’Arezzo in Brussels one morning and that’s where it all begins. To me it was the characters, the plot and most of all the dialogues (which have a great blend of love and philosophy) that did it all to love this book. The telling of the story is visual – it is almost like watching a movie and you can see it all happening. To me that is also great storytelling by Schmitt and some great translation by Howard Curtis and Katherine Gregor. I think when reading a translation, you somehow know if a job is well-done or not or when it becomes more than a job and the passion is conveyed on paper. I could feel that while reading “The Carousel of Desire”.

Running between the major characters such as the powerful E.U. commissioner, a confused (almost) book publicist, a banker who is seemingly happily married, and a parrot loving strange woman amongst others, you will also meet some brilliant secondary characters that make for the heart of the story. Like I said earlier, there are no judgements in this story – there is no right or wrong, immoral or morals, something that should be done or should not be done. Schmitt lets his people be and more so makes them live their lives to the fullest, always questioning and always wanting to push themselves more.

As I age, I look out for books that are more fulfilling or those that will bring some comfort and not disappoint. I mean, honestly, you cannot go about reading bad books and pretend that they never happened. So when great books such as “The Carousel of Desire” happen, you take them with both arms and not let go.