Category Archives: Hachette UK

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell Title: Art Matters
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group, Headline Review, Hachette Books
ISBN: 9781472260086
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

It has been established the world over (if not, then it should be) that Neil Gaiman is one of the most prolific writers that we have, and we must never forget that. In fact, we must cherish what we have every single day and celebrate him by reading more of him, but obviously, day after day.

Art Matters is a collection of his short essays (all previously published individually and collectively in The View from the Cheap Seats) about art, reading, libraries, and why all of it is so important even more so in today’s time and age.

I love what Gaiman writes, and even though I’d read these pieces earlier, with Chris Riddell’s illustrations, they seemed different, more invigorating, and captivating to say the least. There is something about the power of the written word, isn’t it? That’s what this book is about primarily – about words, reading, and how the world can be changed, one book at a time.

Of course, the piece that stands out for me is Make Good Art, in which Gaiman talks to us about how he started writing books, how to do what you really want to do, push boundaries, and be what you set out to be. Yes, it does sound self-help like and maybe it is, but coming from Gaiman, everything is great and achievable and inspiring.

I am not saying this as a fanboy, it’s just that this book really inspires you to step out and make good art. And not to forget that the Make Good Art piece has come from his commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in May 2012, which I am linking below. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are as usual stupendous and go hand in glove with Gaiman’s prose. Though, I would love to see how this book comes alive in colour as well. Maybe, even a graphic version of these four pieces and more.

Make Good Art just makes you want to go out there and create. Be it anything. A sentence even, or just those two hundred words you’ve been telling yourself you will write, or the composition you are stuck at, or when you feel that you just cannot create anything, this book will at least inspire if nothing else. Read this. Read it again like me, if you have already read them. The illustrations and the reminding of what great art can do is absolutely worth the experience.

Link to the commencement speech:

 

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Ayiti by Roxane Gay

Ayiti by Roxane Gay Title: Ayiti
Author: Roxane Gay
Publisher: Corsair, Hachette UK
ISBN: 9781472154224
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

We are sometimes (perhaps most of the time or even all the time) lost in our individual bubbles – the ones that we create, the ones that protect us from most realities, so much so that we aren’t even aware of them. I say this because before reading “Ayiti” by Roxane Gay I wasn’t aware of what the Haitians went through or are going through on a daily basis and for that, I have no one else to blame but myself.

Having said that, “Ayiti” (the way Haiti is pronounced by the Haitians and is the original way of referring to their country) has made me want to know more about the country. How it was ruled by the French and how did they get their freedom and what were the consequences that made it reach this state in the larger scheme of things.

Roxane Gay’s prose is not forgiving nor is it all roses along the way. Her stories are brutal, real, visceral and jump at you without warning – just the way a well-written short-story should be. At the same time, humanity (or the lack of it) runs deep in these fifteen stories – some medium-sized, mostly vignettes and three long stories that will cut through your heart and make you sometimes weep with helplessness.

“Ayiti” is a collection that makes you see the mirror of the world. A country that is forgotten not only by the world but sometimes also its own people. The people who have perhaps given up on a God to come and rescue them from their fate. Some of whom who make it to America and try too hard, so their family can make it. The people who will eat mud in Haiti because there is nothing else to consume. The characters are always in conflict – between home and what they want to make a home but will never be.

“Haiti is not a perfect home, but it is a home nonetheless” thinks the protagonist of the last story in this collection, “A Cool, Dry Place” – a story of a couple who want to leave Haiti – dreaming of Little Haiti in Miami, where there is air-conditioning and cable TV all-day long. And yet, she doesn’t want to leave. She wants to stay with their loved ones, the familiar. Between them, what keeps them going is the love and lust they share.

Roxane Gay’s stories are for sure semi-autobiographical if not all-autobiographical in nature. She was born and raised in the US, though Haitian and I am sure there must have been stories that traveled and found their way in this book.

These stories were published earlier in 2011 and are now published in a new format, but the voice, the situations, the conditions are still the same. The book couldn’t have been more relevant than today when the world is in a state of limbo – when we need to be human, accept, own and belong. In a world where children are being separated from their parents, the part of the world in which Trump makes decisions, we really need to wake up and smell the coffee.

“Cheap, Fast, Filling” was another favourite of mine – about a man named Lucien and his arrival in the United States via Canada and again right into Miami. He has been told that eat Hot Pockets until he finds a job since they are cheap and taste good. He survives on those and Super Big Gulp. To him, even this taste is wonderful. All he wants is his children left in Haiti, to be able to taste these treats.

“We are the keeper of secrets. We are secrets ourselves. We try to protect each other from the geography of so much sorry.” These are some of the thoughts of the narrator of “In the Manner of Water or Light” – a story of a woman conceiving her daughter on the bank of a river while running away from a horrific massacre. The story is achingly told from the perspective of the granddaughter.

“Sweet on the Tongue” is a story of humiliation, love, redemption and somehow making peace with the ghosts of the past. It is also the story of women loving women, women who love their men fiercely and sometimes when it becomes difficult to love your own child.

Roxane Gay’s writing is not limited by anything. The plot could take you anywhere. Even in the shortest of vignettes, she packs a punch of a nine-page story. “Of Ghosts and Shadows” is a longish story of two women who just want to be left alone, loving each other and not caring about the world. The world they are born into and must whether they like it or not care about. This is one story I could relate with the most – maybe because being gay is really the same anywhere after all.

Gay’s Haiti is weak, broken like one character says something to the effect that it is turning on into itself. Its people do not want to leave and yet there is no choice. The ones who have left try every day to get their loved ones home, USA – which could never be what Haiti is or was and yet it seems like a lot for now. “Ayiti” is a book that must be read and after you have read it, read more on Haiti and its people, its history – what came to be and why. I know I will.

 

 

 

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman

The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman Title: The Italian Teacher
Author: Tom Rachman
Publisher:Riverrun
ISBN:978-1786482587
Genre:Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source:Publisher
Rating:4 Stars

After a very long time, I read a book about art and its understanding and more than anything else about the value it holds in our lives. “The Italian Teacher” is a melting pot of everything – well, almost – it is about art, its integrity, how to preserve it, the frailty of humans, and of relationships we hold close and the ones that often break way too easily.

Pinch’s parents are both artists. To a very large extent it is the bane of his life, but somehow Pinch learns to live with it. His mother, Natalie, is a maker of pottery and quite eccentric at that. While his father, Bear Bavinsky is a renowned painter who only cares about his art and nothing else in the world means anything to him. Pinch only wants his father to notice him and show him some affection.

Pinch wants to become an artist and his dissuaded by his father, who leaves Natalie and Pinch in Italy, moving to America where other wives and children await him. Years pass. Pinch wants to chronicle his father’s life but ends up teaching Italian in London. One fine day Bear dies and Pinch comes up with a plan to ensure his father’s legacy is secure.

That in short is the plot of the book. But this is just the surface. There is a lot which takes place that I haven’t even mentioned. The rawness of emotions, passion for art and above all the desire to keep proving oneself to ones we love is at the crux of this book. Rachman strikes so many chords and presses all the right buttons when it comes to emotions and relatability (we all can relate to it – after all it is all about ambition and love at the end of the day).

“The Italian Teacher” is an immersive experience. I could sense everything – the way Rachman weaves not only the story but the passages and chapters on art are so stunning that I often thought I was there, as it was all unfolding. The book starts in 1955 and goes on till 2018 and the sheer expanse of the book – plus to ensure to tie everything together is no easy task. The span of the book is done justice to by Rachman. The relationship between a son and his father shines throughout the book – it is so complex and layered that you are only left thinking about your relationship with your parents.

At the same time the questions of art and what it takes to be an artist are deftly managed and in relation to the world that changes across the book. “The Italian Teacher” is a feast of a read which is not to be missed.

 

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

Tin Man Title: Tin Man
Author: Sarah Winman
Publisher: Tinder Press, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 978-1472252159
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A lot of people were talking about “Tin Man” before I got down to reading it. I was the late-comer at the party and I was only too happy about it because I went reading the book without any expectations or knowing anything about it. I am so glad that happened because I loved the book. Me loving the book would be an understatement in my opinion. It was more than love. It was something that I cannot put my finger on and so it is very tough to describe my emotions as I read this book and also after I put it down.

“Tin Man” by Sarah Winman is a story of a painting, of a woman who believes that boys can also appreciate beauty and be tender, of two boys Ellis and Michael who are best of friends and grow up together and a woman named Annie who walks into their lives and everything changes and still remains the same. I am putting it very loosely but let me also tell you that this book is magical. It transports you in the world it creates and will have you weeping for more. I do not exaggerate when I say this. At least, it sure did happen to me this way.

Ellis and Michael cannot be separated. They become men. Annie suddenly enters their lives and stays. The three of them live. Till something changes and then the story begins. Actually, the story begins way earlier with Ellis’ mother winning a painting (Van Gogh’s Sunflowers) at a raffle, which is how the book begins.

The first half of the book is Ellis. The second half is Michael which is heartbreaking. These just happen to be men in love. There is no agenda here. You shouldn’t even read it this way. The prose is so tender, graceful, raw and overwhelming – that for a short book I had to shut it and get back to it after a day or two. I couldn’t finish it in one sitting as I thought I would. I am not going to tell you what happens as I don’t want to give away too much.

Winman writes beautifully. There are so many love stories in this short book and mind you she doesn’t get soppy. We go back and forth through their lives and can only empathize with the men and what it must have been for them. It is heavy on the emotions and a little less when it comes to descriptions which I didn’t mind at all. The loneliness of love, the anguish of separation and the redemption that someday we will be together is what makes you love this small gem of a book so much.

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.