Category Archives: Nonfiction

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.

Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal by Ruskin Bond

landour-days-a-writers-journal-by-ruskin-bond Title: Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0141005942
Genre: Non-Fiction, Journal
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Hands down, “Landour Days: A Writer’s Journal” by Ruskin Bond is my favourite book of all that he has written. The book was first published in 2002 and I read it last week, 15 years later. It was republished by Penguin India in 2005 and now again in 2016 on their 30th anniversary. I picked this up at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year and something just made me read it right-away and loved it to the bone.

The book is based on notes and journal entries of Ruskin Bond from his private collection – describing people, nature and what he observes around Landour, Mussoorie. It is divided into four seasons of a year, and every season has its own unique entries – with humour, wit and profoundness. Mr. Bond knows how to write a book. It is simply told and there are no frills. I think I like reading him because of that – it is the primary reason and the plot or content follows close. All in all “Landour Days” is the kind of book that needs to be read slowly and savoured over time. It shouldn’t be about the length of the book as much the content. Do read it.

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul & Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton

Lost Cat by Caroline Paul Title: Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology
Author: Caroline Paul and Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608199778
Genre: Pets, Lifestyle, Non-Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

All one needs on dreary days is a book which warms the cockles of the heart and leaves you spellbound, more so if it is a true story, and a true story of a cat at that. It is about cats and animals in general and the love one has for their pets. It is beautifully penned – simple and straight from the heart. “Lost Cat” is a true story of love, loss, and the meaning of life, written by Caroline Paul and illustrated gorgeously by her partner, Wendy McNaughton.

Lost Cat - Image 1

One fine day, Caroline was in a plane crash and life changed completely for her and her partner. She was at home for the longest time with her two cats Tibby and Fibby. Fibby was the feisty one and Tibby the silent, scared cat. Tibby disappears one day and returns home after a while. Caroline was relief beyond words and yet in some way Tibby had changed. It is then that Caroline started wondering: Where did Tibby go? What had happened to him?

Lost Cat - Image 2

This is where the book begins. Caroline decides to use modern technology to find the tracks of Tibby. She wonders what happened. She and Wendy are distraught. “Lost Cat” is the story of what happens after. The book seems to be a book for children, but it is for adults. It is about the places we go to when pets disappear, when they are back and what happens when we try to find out more about their behavior and life.

Lost Cat - Image 3

The illustrations are adorable. Wendy McNaughton has done a wonderful job of bringing their story to life through these drawings. “Lost Cat” is a story that will make you smile, make you cry, make you feel a lot more and will immediately want you to go and hug your pet – dog or cat or hamster.

Lost Cat - Image 4

Here is the adorable book trailer of Lost Cat:

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Book Review: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld by Ed Hawkins

Title: Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy: A Journey to the Heart of Cricket’s Underworld
Author: Ed Hawkins
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN: 978-1408169957
Genre: Sports Writing, Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

In India, they say, two things are most famous – Bollywood and Cricket. The people who act and the people who play the game are both revered and treated like Gods. The so-called audience for both these art forms (Well sports also is a form of art, isn’t it?) is widespread, not only in India, but I can safely say, even worldwide. I also believe that every art form has its own drawbacks – the casting couch for the film industry and then the very famous “match-fixing” syndrome for the now almost national game, Cricket.

“Bookie Gambler Fixer Spy” by Ed Hawkins explores and uncovers the other side of Cricket – the game that is loved, is looked on from a Devil’s advocate view, baring and maybe even exposing the underworld of the game. Ed Hawkins does it not just from India’s perspective or targeting the sub-continent. He also links the impact to world cricket and how the game changes at various points and of course covering all major tournaments and trophies up for grabs.

I am not a lover of the game. I cannot sit and watch the game of Cricket. That is just my preference. Having said that, this book was an eye-opener to the game and its politics and dynamics. Hawkins spent a lot of time in India. He interacted with the so-called bookies – the men who make millions of dollars per cricket match. Hawkins, being a sports journalist was always aware of what was going on. However, one single tip changed it all and he decided to expose what was going on in the name of the game and that led to the writing of this book.

The book is divided into three parts and each part for me was unique (since I do not follow the game) and shocking in bits and parts. He speaks of the age-old methods used to fix matches and their impact. Hawkins also asks the most pertinent question: Should illegal betting be legalized in the country? There are several points of view as well which are put forth and make for some interesting reading.

Ed Hawkins has written the book almost in the form of a thriller – the pace is racy and not at a single point during the book, was I bored or felt that I should stop reading it. The structure of the book is precise and does not confuse the reader. For someone like me, getting into the book was a little bit of a problem, since I do not follow the game, however for Cricket lovers it will be a breeze. I strongly recommend this book for Cricket lovers to be able to see the other side of the game. Of the darkness that lurks and how it affects the game at almost every level. A great read for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

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Book Review: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch

Title: Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading
Author: Nina Sankovitch
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0061999840
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256 pages
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I would never be able to forget the day I lost my father. He died in his sleep, so I was thankful for that. That he did not feel pain, though I would never know. And after he died, I felt something snap in me. The loss of a parent is irreplaceable. No one can take the space. No one can fill the void. Not the surviving parent, even. It is something you need to deal with. Something you need to grieve about for the rest of your life and that doesn’t change anything. You know that he will not return. To fill the void, I read. I read and I read and I read. I ordered books, I bought, I borrowed and I read, till the gaping hole had narrowed a little.

The reason I am mentioning this on my review is as I am reviewing a book called “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: A Year of Magical Reading” by Nina Sankovitch. I picked up this book as it came heavily recommended through various online book clubs and mine as well. I settled in bed with the quilt draped over me and started reading.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, besides being a love letter to Books and Reading, is a personal account of the authors’ attempt to make sense of why she was alive and why she lost her sister to Cancer. She chose to find answers in books, in reading one book a day for 365 days and posting a review every single day. The book travels back and forth in time – full of memories – from Nina’s childhood to her teenage and adult years and to the bond she shared with her sisters. And with each memory and each time the healing is taking place, there is a book that Nina is reading – one every day. With four children and a life that was constantly lived amidst chaos and tasks, Nina worked for a year – a work of a different nature – she read.

When she began what she dubbed “The 365 Project” and launched its corresponding website (readallday.org), Sankovitch chose to read books that were an inch in width, assuring her that she would be reading no more than 250-300 pages total and could finish it in just a matter of a few hours (she can read 70 pages per hour), leaving her plenty of time to write a review of what she’d just read and attend to other matters (housework, children, etc.). She read many places but one of her favorite spots was an old chair in her living room that had been reupholstered over the years with a dark purple fabric, a chair that always carried the faint smell of cat urine from a beloved pet having repeatedly marked it as its own in years past.

Coincidentally, “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” is a pat 222 pages, making it easy for someone who can match Sankovitch’s reading velocity to finish it in just over three hours’ time. Though I don’t read as expeditiously as she does, I was enraptured by her journey and found myself glued to her memoir all throughout the day, finishing it in two days time between meeting the demands of two small children and a house in constant need of cleaning. My “purple chair” ended up being my bed, my couch, a sofa at the library, and a park bench.

I was amazed at how deep in the heart the book reaches to one who is hurting. There are good, solid examples of ways to handle your grief, not be crushed forever by it. I am still thinking about the idea of actively remembering and keeping memories close at heart because allowing those memories to take you back also allows you to move forward. I liked using quotes from books as inspiration – “always within never” from “Elegance of the Hedgehog” is one of my favorites. “The weird world rolls on” is another. My favorite chapter includes author Bernhard Schlink’s quote, “I realized it was my decision whether I would interpret the ending as unjust and unsatisfactory and suffer because of it or decided that this, and only this, was the fitting ending.” The chapter includes mesmerizing stuff about mysteries, questions, answers, endings and some great things to think about (you can’t control what life throws at you, but you can control your response).

Sankovitch provides her reading list in its entirety in the back of her book (all 365 of them!), putting into action her stance on the importance of sharing books with others. She says: “My book-a-day project affected not only my life but those of everyone with whom I shared my reading. I spread the gratification of reading through discussing books, much as authors create bliss by writing them. What a gift, to share the joy and the comfort and the wisdom! Everything I shared, I found first through the simple act of sitting down in my purple chair and reading a book.” (pg. 211) As a result, I have now added several titles to my “to be read” list (which grows larger by the day – ack!) due to the loving and often moving explications she gives on the stories’ central themes (“The Assault” by Harry Mulisch is an example that immediately comes to mind).

Bottom line: Poignant and meditative, “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” is an exquisite homage to a beloved woman, encouraging healing and cogitation through one’s passions. Sankovitch is bound to inspire many who read this work, whether it is the motivation to find their own bliss, or simply the recommendation and subsequent power and enjoyment of a great book. I am grateful to this book. I cried. I laughed. I cried some more. Most of it were tears for my father. To books and to the healing power of books.

Reading is an Anti-Dote to almost everything. Yes, everything. – The Hungry Reader.