Category Archives: FSG Originals

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.

The Pilot and the Little Prince : The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery by Peter Sis

The Pilot and the Little Prince by Peter Sis Title: The Pilot and the Little Prince : The Life of Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Author: Peter Sis
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
ISBN: 9780374380694
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Pages: 48
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

“The Little Prince” somehow makes it to some list or the other. It is also almost every reader’s most beloved classic. It is fondly remembered by both – the young and the old. What makes it so special? Why does the world recommend it to be read? The magic lies not only in its plot but also in the way it was written and illustrated by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. I did not know much about Saint-Exupery while reading “The Little Prince” or even after that, till I bumped into “The Pilot and the Little Prince” by Peter Sis online and knew that I had to own this book.

“The Pilot and the Little Prince” is about Antoine De Saint-Exupery, who was born in 1900, at the turn of the century when everything was new and progressing. Everything was developing. The world was in constant change mode and full of new inventions and technology, not to forget the most important invention of them all – airplanes.

The Pilot and the Little Prince - Image 1

Saint-Exupery always dreamed of flying, far and wide and beyond everything else. So much so that he learned how to fly against his mother’s wishes and decided that all he wanted to do was fly. So much so that he would even tie cloth to his bicycle in the hope of it flying someday.

The Pilot and the Little Prince - Image 2

The book is about a man’s discovery of who he wanted to be and what it sometimes takes to be who you want to be. “The Pilot and the Little Prince” juxtaposes the lives of both, Antoine and the little prince and how he got to writing this book.

What is also most surprising is that this was not his first book (contrary to popular belief) and also the fact that his other works are equally good if not more. What struck me most about the book is the way Peter Sis has encapsulated his life in forty-eight pages. Page after page, the reader is treated to the blue of the ocean, to the glow of the sky and also to the blood of the German’s assault on France in WWII, where Antoine was enlisted as a war pilot.

The Pilot and the Little Prince - Image 3

From his plane, he reflected on life and what lay before him. He thought of things magical and life that went beyond the ordinary. Antoine also read books on his plane. He just wanted to fly and write about his experiences and in 1943 of course his masterpiece, which we all know as “The Little Prince” was published.

On July 31, 1944 he took off for a flight to photograph enemy positions east of Lyon and never returned. That was the end of a writer, an aviator and a human being who only wanted to talk about what he saw and observed.

The Pilot and the Little Prince - Image 4

“The Pilot and the Little Prince” is a delightful book. It is brief, beautifully illustrated and yet takes a lot of time to read through and sink in the marvelous illustrations. This is a book meant for both children and adults. It is the kind of book that will warm your heart and yet leave you melancholic.

Here is a trailer of the musical produced by Andrew Lloyd Weber of “The Little Prince”:

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Book Review: Hild by Nicola Griffith

CT hild-cover.jpg Title: Hild
Author: Nicola Griffith
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, FSG Originals
ISBN: 978-0374280871
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Hild” was a book that just appeared from nowhere. I had heard of it and somehow wanted to read it, as happens with most books. The story is set in seventh-century Britain and that caused for some difficulty to get into it to begin with, however once you get over the inhibition, the plot takes you over and that is enough.

“Hild” is a fantasy. It is historical. It is literary. It is everything rolled into one book. Hild can read and see the future. She is born in the times of turmoil. Everything is haywire and no one knows what is going to happen next. The book is fast paced and as a reader one does not know what is going to happen next. The funny thing is that I could not even predict what is going to happen. It is that good.

So, Hild is the king’s youngest niece. She is living in the middle Ages. She is the child that will become Saint Hilda of Whitby. The novel is about the person she might have been in her early years. Hild’s father, Prince Hereric is the nephew to King Edwin of Northumbria. He was poisoned. Hild was brought up in the court of King Edwin and Griffith traces her story from Hild to Saint Hilda.

The writing is stark and Griffith makes no bones about anything. There is struggle for power on every single page in the book and this is where Hild has to come to be and become the person she wants to be. There is a lot happening throughout the book – politics – which is at the core of the book, there is magic and then there are choices which Hild has to make at the end of it all.

I found the book very riveting and extremely charming, given the setting. Griffith brings to life one of the historical characters that people maybe are not aware of too much or do not talk of. It is a book if you love knowing more about historical characters and even if you don’t, then this is a good place to start with.

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Book Review: The Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura van den Berg

The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg Title: The Isle of Youth
Author: Laura van den Berg
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 9780374177232
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always admitted to the fact that for me, short stories are a little more important than the novel. I am aware that there are literary greats who at one point mastered the form so well, that everything written by anyone after only got compared and perhaps looked pale when done so. There are also times an author comes along and literally makes you wonder about the most amazing genius he or she possesses when penning a short story and perhaps for me after Munro, there is now Laura van den Berg with her dazzling collection of stories, “The Isle of Youth”.

“The Isle of Youth” is mainly about women and their lives. It is about the angry women, the quiet women, and the women who just want to lead uncomplicated lives, which is never the case with them. I think what struck me the most in these stories besides the language, was the strong characterization of both – the men (who obviously are in the background and yet play a vital role) and the women, whose every act and move is monitored, giving the reader the much needed understanding of the why and the how.

Every story in this collection speaks for itself. From the first story in the collection, “I Looked for You, I Called Your Name” with honeymooners’ crash landing in Patagonia to the title story, right at the end, van den Berg will dazzle you with her characteristic eye for detail and landscape of emotions used.

The first story is about the woman discovering her husband’s personality and in the wake of that, her relationship is riddled with doubt and she also begins to understand herself. The nature of the setting, Patagonia in this case also lends to the fragility of the story. For me, what worked the most was the sudden bleakness you are witness to throughout the stories and yet somewhere down the line, there is the underlined hope that is subtle and exquisitely written about.

My favourite story in the collection is, “Opa-Locka” about twin sisters, who are detectives and are entwined in people’s lives, causing unnecessary complications. They discover nothing and leave trails in form of objects and amidst all of this; they are confronted by their father’s criminal past. Why is it my favourite story? Because of the sheer force used to tell this tale. Van den Berg has used all her writing charm according to me in this one. It is that good.

The stories are full of wonder and charm. The women are weak, they are strong, they love and sometimes they also discard their emotions, to make sense of the real world. The stories will have you not look away from the book, till you are done with the collection. They are perfectly structured, coherent and magical. There is no sugar coating and nothing that is saccharine sweet. They are the way life is to a large extent and that is what makes them so readable.

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