Category Archives: henry holt and co

Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

Number One Chinese Restaurant Title: Number One Chinese Restaurant
Author: Lillian Li
Publisher:Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250141293
Genre: Literary Fiction,
Pages:304
Source ​:Publisher
Rating:4 Stars

A dysfunctional family to the core and their story set against the backdrop of a Chinese restaurant, which of course belongs to them. Nothing in this genre could get better. I couldn’t wait to read this book and now I know why. It is the book that has the right amount of funny and tragedy with so much going on with various people. At times, it was difficult to keep track even, but once you get to know the characters (as it would happen in every book, except those written by Tolstoy), the reading becomes easier to tackle.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” refers to The Beijing Duck House in Rockville, Maryland. The one place to go to for hunger pangs and celebrations of any kind. It is world in its own, surrounded by its own people with their problems – be it from waiters, to kitchen staff who love and hate in equal measure to the owner and his family (quite an extended one at that) – a world that has been stable for some time till disaster strikes and people’s lives go awry.

I have always been skeptical of multiple-narration in books. Different voices kind of throw me off the story but surprisingly this did not happen with this book. It felt easy to read it. The beauty of such books (at least to me) is that one can empathize with almost everyone. To me the angst and pain of Jimmy to Annie (Jimmy’s niece) who wants to go back to the past when her dad was around and a young love story that had me hooting and not at the same time.

“Number One Chinese Restaurant” is a heady read of parents and children, youth and aging and above all of what it means to be family and how far are we willing to go to give it all up.

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The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror by Mallory Ortberg

The Merry Spinster

Title: The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
Author: Mallory Ortberg
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1250113429
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Fairy Tales were never meant for children, I suppose. Over the years, and along the way, they became for children. No wonder there are so many retellings and translations of the true fairy tales from different regions of the world, in order to maintain them for what they were: sinister. “The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror” by Mallory Ortberg is one such book of dark and playful stories based on classic folk and fairy tales, each one told with a twist of feminism, gender fluidity (at least from what I could make out for some of them) and more.

This is not a parody on fairy tales. This is what I thought when I picked it up but it turned out to be way ahead and progressive than that. Mallory not only understands these fairy tales in great detail and with an amazing insight, but she also is aware that cultures, time, and tellers shape the story and hence her stories do not at any time seem jaded. Moreover, her stories seem more real, given the times we live in and rightly so. Again, might I add: not meant for children.

I cannot even discuss these stories without giving away anything, so I will not. What I will say though is that “A Thankless Child” is one story that has stuck in my mind (a retelling of Cinderella if you please) and a very strange one at that. What I loved is that Ortberg is not here to shock you.

The stories are to break stereotypes, to get away from the prejudice and bias we create and above all to be able to think and feel the way you want to. There is also a sense of humour which is evident in the retelling of The Beauty and the Beast. I could go on and on about this one, but all I must say is that you just have to read this collection of stories.

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot AttendantTitle: The Parking Lot Attendant
Author: Nafkote Tamirat
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250128508
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Parking Lot Attendant is such a weird book at times and maybe because of all its oddities it works brilliantly for the reader in so many places. The plot is this: An unnamed young woman (a lot of unnamed narrators or protagonists in books these days), who has just recently become a resident on the island of B with her father tells the story of how things came to be. Of why she and her father had to come to this Utopian styled community, leaving their home in Boston. That essentially is the crux of the story. No wait. There is more.

 

There is Ayale, the shady parking lot owner in his mid-thirties who the woman was attracted to while she was living in Boston. Their life as Ethiopians in Boston (this has to be mentioned. You will know why when you read the book). The book is about the woman and her relationship with Ayale, her father and how she has to flee the country with her father. I can’t give away any spoilers, but I guess you get the drift.

 

Tamirat’s writing is refreshing. It doesn’t mostly follow the linearity of time – things happen and jump from one time track to another, so it does take a lot to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the events, it is an easy ride. The story seems awkward but it is anything but that.

 

There is a lot going on – coming of age, the woman’s relationship with her father, the commune and its principles (will almost make you relate to the world we live in) and Ayale’s relationship with the woman (which is so twisted that you have to read it to believe it). “The Parking Lot Attendant” is engaging, stumbles at times, confusing as well, but redeems itself beautifully with the writing and characters. I loved it nonetheless.

 

 

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature by Bill Goldstein

The World Broke In Two Title: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature
Author: Bill Goldstein
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805094022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To want to read a book since a while and then to actually read it and not be disappointed by it is kicking Murphy’s behind. I had to say this because I was apprehensive about whether or not I would enjoy reading “The World Broke in Two”. I love books centered around literary events and what happened in the past between authors and what were the circumstances like. You get the drift. This book is about the year 1922 and four authors that changed the course of English Literature – Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Stearns Eliot, and Edward Morgan Foster. Each battling with their personal demons and on the side trying to make sense of their professional lives and where they fit in in the scheme of things.

“The World Broke in Two” is a fascinating read and I don’t mean it in the loose sense of the word. I really do mean it. If you have interest in history, books, the creative process, and more so the changes that took place after WWI, then this is the book for you. I don’t mean to broaden the scope of this book, but it can be classified over genres and that is also the beauty of this title.

What I loved the most about this book is how Goldstein brings to fore the various writing processes of these four authors. He describes the process in detail, not to forget the anguish of these writers, the self-loathing at most times and how they also learned from each other. For instance, how E.M. Forster learned from Woolf when she gave him a copy of Jacob’s room. The book is layered with anecdotes and what is wondrous is that it is almost like a Russian doll when it comes to discovering more books to read for a novice reader. Goldstein very tactfully blends the historical with the literary – neither of which feel too much of at any given point in the book. The book if anything, reads like a novel.

Goldstein does not shy away from speaking of the authors’ mental and physical challenges and how they sometimes became an impediment and at others a catalyst to surge ahead. “The World Broke in Two” is a stunning read about four authors, the worlds inhabited by them and at the core of it, their writing which is paramount to this book.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

GV Title: Goodbye, Vitamin
Author: Rachel Khong
Publisher: Henry Holt
ISBN: 9781471159480
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 196
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Off-late, I’ve been reading a lot of literary fiction (as I always do), but have hardly come across books that are both literary and funny. “Goodbye, Vitamin” is one such book. The story is of Ruth (but not just her, you come to know as you go along) who comes back home to her parents, after receiving a call from her mother Annie when her father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Don’t get me wrong – the book isn’t funny funny as much as it is full of wry humour and irony, which most certainly worked for me.

Howard Young is a prominent history professor who doesn’t know what is happening to him. He seems to be lost and is mostly isn’t aware of his condition. His wife is of the opinion that almost all food isn’t good for his health, which leaves him with very few options to eat. Ruth is trying to come to terms with a break-up.

This being the plot of the book is not all. The issue of identity, belonging and what happens when a parent faces dementia is heart-breaking. Khong tells the story with such tenderness that as a reader you do nothing but give in. The book is constructed in the form of journal entries and what happens through one year (I think) and how it impacts these characters, day by day.

I love the storytelling style. While it isn’t new, it somehow makes you more engaged as a reader. You want to know more. You feel like you are snooping on someone else’s life and somehow it is alright. This isn’t a feel-good novel but it does have its moments and the balance makes it even better, if you ask me. Added to that, it looks at perspectives of outsiders as well – friends, neighbours, colleagues and that provides another layer to the story.

Khong’s writing is simple. There are no frills. I love when the author is so sure about what he or she is doing that there are no fillers in the book. “Goodbye, Vitamin” is not only that kind of book but it is also the kind of book that is very comforting.