Category Archives: Nonfiction

The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe

The Violet HourTitle: The Violet Hour: Great Writes at the End
Author: Katie Roiphe
Publisher: The Dial Press
ISBN: 978-0385343596
Genre: Nonfiction, Death and Dying
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There’s something about death, isn’t it? Something so fearful and yet sometimes enigmatic for some. Sometimes also makes you think about it all and then only leads to everything becoming nothing in an instant. One day it is all there and the other it isn’t.

Katie Roiphe takes this a step further in her book “The Violet Hour” and speaks of death in the context of great writers (who are but obviously dead) at the end of their lives. She just doesn’t write of death as the end, but the entire journey of dying, so to say. For instance, how Susan Sontag thought she could beat death at its own game and did several times, till she had to go. Or for that matter, Updike who after receiving the worst possible diagnosis wrote a poem at seventy-six. And then the excesses of Dylan Thomas and his suicide attempts that finally led to his death.

A good work of nonfiction, to my mind, is the one that doesn’t stray away from facts and more than anything else does not try to romanticize facts. Roiphe’s strength lies not only in these two facets of writing, but also the way she presents her extensive research, which involved family and friends of writers and what is already known to the general public. Roiphe doesn’t make the book sentimental, and yet it tugs at the heart because death is sadly a universal experience. We have all seen it up, close and personal and can relate if not even empathize with most part of the book or all of it, as it were in my case.

The book does not tell you how to grieve. What it does though is in a way deconstruct death through experiences of great writers and what it did to them and their family and friends. And in that process, we just get to know these writers better. Death, for Freud, was just a subject to be studied till he realized that he couldn’t observe his own death after all and never hestitated to smoke himself to death and refused to take pain killers.

At some point, as a reader one could feel guilty of prying into another’s death – the last days and yet there is something about the book that makes you want to know more about these six writers. Kudos to Katie for all the research and the way she articulates thoughts, emotions, what the writers did in the last days, what they chose to rather and above all what does death mean to each of them and perhaps even to yes on a universal level.

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Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain. Edited by Imke Rajamani, Margrit Pernau, and Katherine Butler Schofield

Monsoon Feelings Title: Monsoon Feelings: A History of Emotions in the Rain
Edited by Imke Rajamani, Margrit Pernau, and Katherine Butler Schofield
Publisher: Niyogi Books
ISBN: 978-9386906472
Genre: Essays, Anthology
Pages: 480
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

What a book to read! What a book to have read! A book not only about the rains and what we call monsoon, but also the varied emotions you go through in this season. From happiness to joy to deep melancholy to what is known as “birah” – the emotion of separation and longing, and so many more that rains seem to conjure in all of us, out of nowhere. “Monsoon Feelings” is about those emotions and some more – right from the twelfth century till present day in South Asia. Rarely have I enjoyed a book of non-fiction – a collection of essays at that – about a season than I have enjoyed this one. “Monsoon Feelings” made me look at not only the season, but also everything associated with it, with a fresh pair of eyes and sight.

“Monsoon Feelings” is a collection of essays that will leave you wanting more. At least, that’s what happened to me. What I am surprised about is that no one yet thought about merging rains and emotions in a book. This book does a fantastic job of it – and might I add- interspersed with beautiful art. This book is extensive – every essays explores a variety of emotions and mind you – chronicling all of this from hundreds of years ago the relevance of monsoon in our day to day culture – from movies to our very homes isn’t easy at all. Also, might I add that a book of this nature needs to be savoured – essay by essay, day by day. You cannot rush through it and you shouldn’t.

My favourite essay is “Clouds, Cuckoos and an Empty Bed: Emotions in Hindi-Urdu Barahmasas” by Francesca Orsini. A very evocative essay on the nature of love, longing, cuckoos and clouds and what really is the shared language of the monsoons. This essays so lovingly depicts the impact of emotions on the body, that at times I could do nothing but submit to the beautiful prose and forget everything else.

Also the essay by Imke Rajmani, “Hindi Cinema’s Rainmaking Formula: Thoda sa Roomani Ho Jaayen and Lagaan” struck a chord as she very cleverly shows the importance of rain in both these movies, also linking it to political implications.

“Monsoon Feelings” is all about the season and its interpretation right from the years. It is detailed and long and referenced extremely well, though a bit bulky, so you cannot really travel with it. The book covers every aspect related to the season – from poetry to sitting outdoors to even getting wet in the rain, lovers bereft, to social and political change across borders, language, religion and arts – with one thing being common all-throughout: Monsoon.

 

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele

When They Call You A Terrorist Title: When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir
Authors: Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-1250171085
Genre: Non-Fiction, Social Rights
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This book will not be an easy read. Not because it is written in a difficult to understand manner, but because the lives spoken of haven’t been easy. So, if you get squeamish easy, then this book isn’t for you. This book is about the world and how it is, how it always was – how racism is so deep-rooted that it might take ages before it is wiped out completely. And yet, this book does not only deal with the issue of racism or schizoaffective disorder, it deals with identity and the basic right to live, which should not be taken away from anyone at all.

Patrisse Khan-Cullors life has not been an easy one at all. Being sheltered and fed wasn’t easy while she was growing up. As I have mentioned, her brother who suffers from schizoaffective disorder and a mother who works from dawn to dusk, just to ensure the kids are fed and clothed.

What upsets me the most is the involvement of the police when it comes to mental health organizations when it comes to checks or emergencies. I mean how would they know what it means to be mentally unstable and what one goes through? But that is just one part of the story.

The crux of the book is what it means to be black in today’s world and how unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality causes havoc in people’s lives. Patrisse outraged the most in 2013, when Travyon Martin’s killer went free, which led to the formation of Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.

Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele give you insights into how it is to survive in the face of violent racism. We think nothing is going on, that we live in evolved times, but that is all well and good in the comfort of our homes. What happens in the world is simply horrific.

“When They Call You A Terrorist” hits hard (like it should) and will make you think twice about how sometimes we behave when it comes to people who are different from us. This is a book that is most needed for our times. The situations and people will always remain the same, till an entire culture changes, the one that says Black Lives Matter.

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell by David Yaffe

Reckless Daughter Title: Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell
Author: David Yaffe
Publisher: Sarah Crichton Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-0374248130
Genre: NonFiction, Biography
Pages: 448
Source: Publisher
Rating:

It was the forty-fifth episode of Ally McBeal. Ally is questioning true love and in the background a cover of “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell starts playing. Sung by Vonda Shepard I think. This was the first time I heard the song and fell in love with the words. I was too young but I was growing-up gay (only known to me then) and somehow this song meant something. Something so much more. A year or two passed and then I realized that the original singer was Joni Mitchell. I fell in love with her, with her voice and with the way she is. The next time I heard a song of hers was “The Circle Game” and this time again it was through pop-culture, a movie called, “Married to It”. I have never looked back on not being her fan since then.

The reason I say this is anything to do with Joni Mitchell and I am putty. I am a softball, a mush-man who can cry at the drop of a hat. And only because she is a genius (at least to me she is). So, when a biography of hers released last year, I just knew I had to read it and when I did, I was astounded. Yaffe’s style is not only readable but also straightforward and he presents anecdotes with such ease and comfort, that you are almost transported to living Mitchell’s life with her.

He covers both her personal and professional life in equal measure, never favouring one over the other. This was the first time I was reading a book by him, but I am glad I did as this will not be the last. There is no excessive psychoanalysis of her life. There are facts and then there are her songs and music. To me her lyrics are of utmost beauty and Yaffe covers almost each song with ease and in detail (which is most needed). Yaffe also touches on her relationships and this connects very well with the person she is and how solitude was best suited for someone like her.

“Reckless Daughter” is a brilliant portrait of a legend when it comes to music and songs and singing. This book is almost a dedication to music and its forms, and no one better to represent it than Mitchell, in my opinion. Even if you haven’t heard her or know anything of her, I would recommend you go and read this book. It will make you listen to her and that will change your life.

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

71iKMkHjSHL Title: The Argonauts
Author: Maggie Nelson
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977351
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Well, I am sure that you wouldn’t have read anything like “The Argonauts” ever before. It is a memoir for sure but not the kind that you’d expect. It doesn’t start-off like that nor does it feel like you are reading a memoir, but a memoir it is. It is the story of Maggie Nelson and her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. It is also the story of her life and what was, could have been and what eventually came to be. At the same time, Nelson also speaks of so many things that your mind will be pulled in a hundred different directions and you will only enjoy the ride as you read further.

The book didn’t seem strange to me at all (though a lot of people who I know of read it and thought that way). In fact, if anything it seemed very normal to me as she traversed the landscape of sexuality (Harry is neither man nor woman), how it felt (feels) to love Harry, how they got married facing a lot of criticism and yet at the core of this book all I read about was love. Maggie also becomes pregnant with a sperm donor at the same time as Harry takes testosterone and has breast removal surgery. I don’t even know if I can call this queer or anything else. Why must anyone label it?

“The Argonauts” moves beyond all of this. It is about love – maternal, paternal and more. It is about building a home and making a family just like yours and mine. The personal experiences of Nelson merge with the exploratory, bordering intellectual as well. The writing at any point does not feel sentimental. It is matter of fact and not meant to scandalize anyone. I loved the small parts of the book – single sentences that made so much sense when viewed within the larger picture. Also the notes in the margin will make the reading experience even better. “The Argonauts” to me is just an honest account of love, faith, and joys of family-making, which every reader will relate to and enjoy.