Category Archives: Literary Theory

Open Me by Lisa Locascio

Open MeTitle: Open Me
Author: Lisa Locascio
Publisher: Grove Press
ISBN: 978-0802128072
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“Open Me” may seem like a strange book till it doesn’t and then you actually start enjoying it. “Open Me” is electrifying in so many ways – physical, emotional, spiritual, political and most of all when there are differences in relationships and how it impacts us at the core of who we are. It is a tale of sexual awakening from the outside and yes maybe that’s a part of what it is, because there is so much more in this book. It doesn’t stand on just being another “erotic” novel. There are layers, sublayers, a lot of agency, tone and detail in its pages which should not be missed.

Roxana has just graduated from high-school and is raring to go get an “experience”. To live the way she would like to. She dreams of visiting Paris with her childhood best friend, Sylvie, and as she makes her way to Paris, she realizes that the tour group has rerouted her to Denmark (fascinating and dark at the same time, isn’t it?). I must stop the review here and tell you how much I loved this and how scared I was about this happening to me at the same time. Also, Roxana resolves to go, despite her reservations and doesn’t tell her parents about this. She arrives in Copenhagen, and meets a blue-eyed Dane named Søren Holmsgaard. He is a grad student writing his dissertation on American literature and before she knows it Roxana is head over heels for him. Their affair begins early on till Roxana abandons a planned trip to Farsø with Søren so he can work on his dissertation, and while he takes off, she meets Zlata, a Bosnian refugee and she starts dating him as well.

Let me tell you that if you think this book is anything typical or cliché or ridden with stereotypes, you should stop thinking that right now. It isn’t any of that and I am only too glad for that. The relationship dynamics between the three of them and how the boys vie for Roxana’s attention is worth reading and exploring. Roxana’s coming-of-age in a way and at the same time exploring her sexual awakening without any apprehension or doubt is refreshing for a reader and to then mingle politics with it, takes the read to another level.

“Open Me” is frank, outspoken and says what it has to without any fuss. Locascio tells the story the way it should be told – with no frills. The emotional and physical aspects of the novel are rich and are definitely not dumbing it down for the reader. “Open Me” is interesting, captivating and quite an emotional rollercoaster of a ride.

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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.

 

Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives by David Denby

Lit Up Title: Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives
Author: David Debby
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1250117038
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How does a teacher ensure that children read? How does he get teenagers who are constantly on social media and on their phones to get to pick up a book and explore the world in its pages? As an English teacher, that was the biggest task in front of David Denby. It would be an awkward start for sure – one to convince them to read, get them interested in books, which were an alien concept to them and second how to go about that.

“Lit-Up” is a story. It reads like that for sure. How David went about doing this not in just one public school but three of them, sure is motivating. For me, it was the honesty of the writing that came through and stuck. David talks about his challenges with the same enthusiasm as he highlights the small successes. How his encounters with students shape him as a teacher and a person and through that how he started enjoying some books a little more filled me with so much joy.

What is interesting also is the selection of books – the twenty-four books are quite diverse – from Faulkner (very challenging you think? Not for Denby’s students) to Plath to Huxley and Orwell (both seem so relevant as of today) and more. At the end, what Denby really has to say is “choose what you want to read and read as much as you can”. This level of engagement with students is what will suck you into the book.

“Lit-Up” is one of those rare books that makes you want to get up and make a change – no matter how small or big. It just makes you want to do something worthwhile with your life and teachers do it so well. They just reach out to you and make that one difference in your life. Denby chose to do it with books and reading. A read that hits all the right chords.

The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

The White Road Title: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Picador USA, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250097323
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It had been a while since I had read a good non-fiction and I am very picky when it comes to this genre. The book has to be a solid one or I will just drop it and not read further. Life is too short to read badly written books. I loved Edmund de Waal’s earlier book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (Please read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, you will love it as well). This is when I received his new book to read “The White Road: Journey into an Obsession”. How does one describe this book? There is a lot going on in it, but I shall try and make sense of it.

In this book, Edmund de Waal gives us a peek into his obsession with porcelain, also known as “white gold’. Edmund is also a porter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years now. This book is about his exploration through five journeys to understand porcelain better – where was it dreamed, refined, collected and why do so many people covet it this way. While China, Germany and England were at the core of his visits, he also managed to visit other places around the world and how while doing that, he encountered some of the darkest periods of history, thus intertwining his life, obsession with porcelain and history altogether like a well-crafted mosaic.

This book is highly insightful and well-researched. De Waal doesn’t miss the beat on a single page when it comes to uncovering history and delving to its darkest core. You almost feel that you are undertaking the journey with him alongside and not just reading it. The comparisons he makes given the countries he visits, makes you think of your ignorance, given how the world really works, thinks and imagines.

To me the idea of the book is very unique. I love the concept of how something that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind is at the heart of the book – porcelain and around it Edmund de Waal explores his history and family heritage so to speak. The book is like a friend that needs to be hugged and taken care of. The writing is extremely simple and that helps in turning the pages. All said and done, I couldn’t get more of this book at all and wish it lasted longer than it did.

The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

26114416 Title: The Hatred of Poetry
Author: Ben Lerner
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN:978-0865478206
Genre: Criticism and Theory, Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This book’s title might make you wonder: The Hatred of Poetry? Really? It might even intrigue you to pick it up (which is a very good thing by the way). Most people hate poetry as an art form by the way. The book starts with bashing poetry and Ben Lerner even stating that he hates it as well. He goes on to even list other people and even poets who have said that they hate poetry. Ben Lerner then throws this right on its head and lets readers know why people hate poetry so much and then builds a very strong defense for it.

Lerner is a poet by the way, besides being a novelist. He has published three poetry collections in case you are wondering how does he get to be an authority on poetry and write on it. “The Hatred of Poetry” is almost a treatise and yet it isn’t preachy at all. Lerner is fair when he speaks of why people hate poetry (rhymes, meter, etc.) and at the same time he uses those very elements to convey why people would love poetry as well. To me, he also made a very valid point of the language sometimes used by poets that restricts it from connecting with people (this to a very large extent is also quite true).

This book also reminded me of the poetry open mic I had been to. Thank God, the only one I had been to. I say this because at some level I could also see the pretense of it (where some of them were concerned) and Lerner also makes a point to this perspective. All in all, “The Hatred of Poetry” will either make you stop reading poems altogether or will convert you to a fan. I love poetry. So I was safe anyway.