Category Archives: Memoir

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi

In the Darkroom Title: In the Darkroom
Author: Susan Faludi
Publisher: Metropolitan Books
ISBN: 9780805089080
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Biography
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To be honest, I had gone blind into this book. I had not read the synopsis or any review online. Nothing. I knew nothing about the book and just went on an adventure with it. Take me where you will, I had almost said and saw through that to the very end.

Faludi’s book to put it simply is about her father and identity. However, it isn’t as simple as it sounds. Susan’s father had left her when she was young. She then set off to investigate him in the summer of 2004 – in the process of discovering and knowing her father, she began understanding her roots and history – Jewish history at that.

Susan found out that her seventy-six year old father – now living in Hungary had undergone sex reassignment surgery. This then led to the questions of identity and gender in the modern world, as seen and observed by her. How could she come to terms with a new parent? A parent who was no longer a man, but a woman? Did it make sense at all? Should it make any sense in this world? At the same time, she had always known her father to be violent. He was a photographer (hence the title and more layers to it which you will figure as you read the book)and the reference to images and the shifting of them is another thing that will leave you spellbound in this book.

The book traverses between the present and past beautifully. Susan’s writing takes you to dark corners of the human heart and soul – when she speaks of politics, she integrates it with the personal and that lends itself so well again to the “question of identity”. Can you escape it? Can you so easily invent another one for yourself? Is it really that simple?

What I also loved is that Susan talked of the trans-gender movement (being a gay man, and it falling under the umbrella of LGBTQIA, I couldn’t help but wonder about it, which led me doing my own research on it) and not only that, the way she speaks of universal father-daughter relationships and how she doesn’t know where she stands in that equation anymore. Through her writing, you can see her struggle to find her father beneath the person he has now become.

“In the Darkroom” is emotional for sure but above all it is a book of such intricate details of relationships – that are strong and fragile and need a voice of their own, which Faludi lends hers to beautifully.

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Just Kids by Patti Smith

Title: Just Kids
Author: Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco Books, HarperCollins Books
ISBN: 978-0060936228
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Rock
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Just Kids is one of those books that you’d want to read over and over again. This was my first reread and I know I will go back to it. I read it about nine years ago for the first time and as I read it again this year, I found my perspectives and opinions change a lot as the book moved me in different places, which perhaps it didn’t the first time I picked it up. That’s the beauty of some very good books – they make you see, feel and think differently with each read and that to me is a single most parameter for a reread.

Back to Just Kids: This book is the first part memoir written by singer and songwriter Patti Smith. Before she took over punk and rock and roll, she was just another girl who had come to New York to search herself and understand what she wanted to do. She had her poetry and the intrinsic lack of trust in society. In New York she met future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and “Just Kids” is a document of their life together – as artists, lovers, friends and a trip down memory lane.

The book is razor sharp and has no holds barred. Smith says what she has to and without apology. Robert and Smith’s relationship was mercurial and yet there is something so fulfilling as you turn the pages and don’t want the chapters to end. You want to know more about their lives and for that I recommend you read M Train (where Robert doesn’t feature at all or does but hardly so). Patti Smith just like her songs has this ease of writing to her prose as well – it becomes poetry in so many places and has the capacity to take your breath away. Read it. Be mesmerized.

David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) by David Foster Wallace

david-foster-wallace-the-last-interview-and-other-conversations-by-david-foster-wallace Title: David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations
Author: David Foster Wallace and Others (Interviewers)
Publisher: Melville House
ISBN: 978-1612192062
Genre: Interviews, Authors
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There is something about David Foster Wallace that you cannot help but want to know more. He was barely forty-six when he committed suicide on September 12, 2008. He had suffered from depression for nearly twenty years and perhaps this was the reason he took his life. At the same time, you know what they say about geniuses, right? There has to be a spot of bother in them – they view the world quite differently from you and I and mostly most of them tend to veer off-course and live life on their terms, though not always to the best of the endings.

The Last Interview and Other Conservations is a wonderful concept introduced by Melville House Publishing. The series features a lot of writers and their last interviews – from Bradbury to Marquez to Vonnegut even, also Hemingway if you please. I have read most of them and then I decided it was the turn of David Foster Wallace. In these brief interviews, you will get a strong sense of the man and more importantly of the writer. Wallace seems so elusive – it’s almost like there is so much going on inside his head and you don’t have access to all of it – that is kind of frustrating but extremely interesting.

His views on things everything modern, political and technological is hilarious and often melancholic as well. Every individual interview in this collection brings another side to the writer and more so his works. At the same time, there is this overwhelming sense of gloom which pervades DFW and his works – one cannot seem to shake that off for sure, and that is more evident in these last set of conversations. I honestly feel that if you want to know more about the man, after reading some of his books, then this is the best place to start.

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

insomniac-city-by-bill-hayes Title: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me
Author: Bill Hayes
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1620404935
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember a friend sending me excerpts of this book. I read it while I was at Doolally – a taproom in Bombay. I was waiting for friends to show up for the Wednesday night quiz and then something happened which I hadn’t expected to – I wept by the time I had finished reading the long excerpt. I cried. I think I even bawled. I strongly also believe that when an art form does that to you – when it creeps up on you like that and almost shatters your world – you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. That happened to me as I was reading “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me” by Bill Hayes, from which the excerpt was.

Relationships are fragile, they are also very strong. At the same time, what do you do when it ends all of a sudden? When it ends not because you want it to, but because death comes suddenly knocking on your partner’s door and there is nothing you can do about it. Then what? Hayes’s partner died after sixteen years of togetherness. He then moved to New York from San Francisco in search of a new start (as most of us do). He found himself in a city that was surprising, random, and at the same time made him see the humanity that exists. Slowly and steadily, he fell in love with New York and found love in the form of the late, great neurologist and writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

This book “Insomniac City” as the title suggests is about New York, Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes. It is also about life – majorly so, and how it changes constantly whether we would like it or not. It is about New York – of how brutal and gentle she can be at the same time, of how to surrender to the city is to love her completely and without any prejudice. The book ultimately is about great love that transcends all barriers, challenges, doubts and the throes of darkness. There are also the author’s stunning photographs – capturing his love for the city and Oliver.

Let me not forget the portrait of Oliver Sacks that Bill Hayes paints so vividly and beautifully – a genius who did not own a computer – who always preferred to communicate via letters and longhand, who didn’t know how a champagne bottle was opened and used goggles when he first opened them for the fear of the cork hitting his eye, who called pot “cannabis” and who believed in living life as it came – day by day. Hayes met Oliver after Oliver wrote him a letter praising his book “The Anatomist” and this is how they met and love blossomed. The book is about that love, about how Oliver met Hayes after three decades of being alone and celibate. “Insomniac City” will surprise you in ways more than one.

“Insomniac City” is about the love between Oliver and Hayes and what they shared in Oliver’s final years. The writing is so personal and out there that you cannot help but be overwhelmed. Their love for things common, their roads to discovering something they did not know, and what it is to live daily – for the bond to strengthen and one fine day to see that love slip away. The book teaches you about grief, about people coming together quite randomly on a bus or a train and makes you more aware and conscious of what it is to be human. I cannot recommend this book enough. Do yourself a favour: Order it, read it and weep. You need a good cry, now and then.

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.