Category Archives: Penguin Press

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Feel Free - Essays by Zadie Smith Title: Feel Free: Essays
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241146897
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

My association with the works of Zadie Smith started somewhere in 2003, with White Teeth. It was one of those books that are actually unputdownable (I have always been of the opinion that terms such as these are nothing but marketing gimmicks). Since then, Smith has been one of my favourite writers and with good reason. Her prose is like biting into a plum – tart and sweet and almost awakens you from your stupor. It makes you stand up and take notice of how the world works and perhaps what it always was. Smith doesn’t mince her words. Her characters are everyday people who speak their mind and this is also reflective in her new collection of essays, aptly or ironically (given the world we live in) titled, “Feel Free”.

“Feel Free” to me is one of the books of our times. The kind of book that doesn’t preach but makes so many relevant points that you want to see the world and put it so eloquently as Smith does. It is the collection of essays which are spread over five sections – In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf and Feel Free. These sections pose questions that we recognize and perhaps want answers to: What is the Social Network? What is joy and what is the tolerance of it, if there is something like it? How many kinds of boredom make up life? Who owns the narrative of black America? There are many such questions over a diverse range of topics and that’s what makes Zadie’s essays stand out.

Feel Free speaks of pop culture, culture, social change, political debate, the ever-changing fabric of society and what it really means to be human in the 21st century. Some of these essays have appeared before and some are new. At the same time, all of them are relevant and essential to most areas of our lives.

Smith’s essays are sometimes written with the perspective of an insider, but mostly she is an outsider looking in. It isn’t difficult to understand Smith and to me that was the most brilliant aspect of this collection. For instance, when she writes about a book, you want to get up and go read it. When she speaks of Joni Mitchell, you just want to listen to “River” and “Circle Game” on loop. To me, that is the power of great writing.

Essays are often tough to read and since they are so personal in nature, it becomes even more difficult to gauge the place they are coming from. This does not happen when you are reading “Feel Free”. Zadie’s essays are personal and yet appeal to all. The universal quality of her words is too strong to not be understood and related to. “Feel Free” is the collection of essays that needs to be savoured and pondered on. The one that you will not forget easily.

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Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream-selected-essays-by-mary-oliver Title: Upstream: Selected Essays
Author: Mary Oliver
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 978-1594206702
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Sometimes in life, you just need to step back and look at life differently. Mary Oliver’s books often lend that perspective. They make you rethink life and its subtleties and what transpires in our often ignored surroundings – especially nature and how we ignore it, most of the time.

Her latest offering – a prose collection “Upstream: Selected Essays” is a magical book – it speaks of writing, life, nature and creativity – all rolled into one. My only grouse with the book is that it ended too soon. I wish there was more.

“Upstream” is the kind of book that you won’t be able to rush through even if you tried. It is meant to be read languidly and at your own pace. “You must never stop being whimsical” she says and I this one sentence hit home. Mary Oliver says things you want to say and more particularly, feel. Her writing isn’t long-drawn. She comes to the point and the beauty of her writing lies in her brevity.

“Upstream” is an ode to nature, to other writers such as Whitman, Emerson and Poe. Those by far were my favourite essays. Her poetry is of course remarkable but her essays are also not far behind. Mary Oliver is the kind of writer that observes keenly and emotes beautifully through her words.

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman

Beloved Dog by Maira Kalman Title: Beloved Dog
Author: Maira Kalman
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594205941
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Dogs have always been very integral to my existence. From being scared of them to loving them unconditionally, life has come a long way. They are there, always, playing a role in some way or the other, dispensing wisdom in their own way and ensuring that they never let you know. Kalman picks on these qualities of dogs and talks about them through illustrations, her life, the dogs she has encountered and how they have featured in almost every book of hers.

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“Beloved Dog” is a dedication to our canine friends all over the world. The book is of course as usual beautiful illustrated and that is what makes it so special are her personal thoughts on dogs and how she got about getting one even though she had grown up getting scared of them.

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It all started when her husband passed away and a dog came into their lives (her children and hers) and changed everything for them. The book is a mirror of who we really are and who we become when we love our dogs unconditionally. There are so many lessons in here for all of us.

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The book is essentially New York and how we think and feel with them even more than people. If you have ever had a pet or have one, then you know this book, you know it inside out. There are poignant layers of philosophy in the book that are almost cautiously hidden by the beautiful illustrations.

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“Beloved Dog” is all about the love you have for your pet, and when the pet becomes a lot more than just a four-legged creature. Dogs do not go anywhere, even after they have gone in the physical sense, they linger, forever reminding you that it is so important to have them in your life.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg

Modern Romance Title: Modern Romance
Author: Aziz Ansari with Eric Klinenberg
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594206276
Genre: Non-Fiction, Sociology
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

From the moment this book reached me, I knew I would enjoy it. Just the title was enough for me to make that decision and of course I had read something about it online, but I guess the entire concept of modern romance and dating and how we all get today when it comes to love and relationships was enough for me to get hooked on to this one. Teaming up with Eric Klinenberg, Aziz Ansari provides us the much needed perspective on what relationships are like today and what it takes to actually find the one “true love” in today’s age and time, with several dating apps and people literally at the beck and call of a swipe and click.

“Modern Romance” looks at data, a lot of data, given that Ansari and Klinenberg also conducted surveys in different cities of the world to subreddits whose responses were recorded and analyzed to getting privy to their texts (of course after their permission) to learn as much as they could about modern dating. The book has a lot of information on the psychology of dating and romance over the years and how we view it today, given the onslaught of apps and sites, catering to every single need and whim of what one expects in a partner.

What I found most interesting about the book is the way we use technology and how it has changed the way we think and perceive love and relationships. For instance, Ansari speaks of texting and how that has changed the way our patience levels have transformed and how we want things instantly. In many such examples and anecdotes, keeping the humour intact, Ansari explores the do’s and don’ts of dating. It is not a self-help book at all. Don’t be taken in by the way it sounds or seems. It is in fact a funny take on technology and also mentioning its advantages, so as readers are not disillusioned by it.

I wish there was more on the LGBT dating scene, but as the author mentions at the beginning that there would need to be a different book written for that and I couldn’t agree more. At times I would also see myself in all those stories, given that somewhere down the line we have all gone through the same old emotions as others when we search for anything meaningful online – from fear of rejection to boredom to thinking that more choices and options are good for us to sometimes just wanting that one single person.

“Modern Romance” is a funny and insightful book on how to navigate the terrain of love in the digital space. For instance, all the time Ansari emphasizes on humour and good it is to break the ice at most times. Aziz with his insights will make you reconsider and think of online dating differently for sure and at the same time make you see how investing, both in terms of time and effort might actually lead to something amazing between two people.

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The Mockingbird Next Door : Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills Title: The Mockingbird Next Door : Life with Harper Lee
Author: Marja Mills
Publisher: The Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594205194
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Life, Women Writers,
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When “To Kill a Mockingbird” released in 1960, it created a sensation. The theme was bold, ahead of its time and reflective of the society and its prejudices. The book was a hit like no other. It won the Pulitzer and many other awards. There was a movie made, which was a runaway success. There was a lot of talk around the book and it still continues to hold the same position in people’s hearts and lives. It is a beloved classic. It is a book most people swear by. It is the cornerstone of American literary fiction. Right after that, the author, Harper Lee did not ever write another book. There was just this one.

There is this enigma surrounding Harper Lee. She is eighty-eight years as of this year and no one knows much about her. I always wondered about the writer of this great book. What would she be like? How does she spend her days? What does she do? Does she still write? “The Mockingbird Next Door” by Marja Mills is the way to find out more about Harper Lee and it is one of the most heart-warming reads of the year for me.

Marja Mills was on an assignment. To find out more about Ms. Lee. It was nothing short of a surprise that the citizens of Monroeville, Alabama reached out her and helped her with it. Adding to it was Ms. Lee and her sister Alice’s support in letting Marja Mills know more about their life and themselves. I enjoy literary biographies. I love them. However, this book is not just another literary biography. In fact, I do not think it even belongs in that genre. The book is conversational. It is about Harper Lee’s life – her past and present. It is about the lady who gave America its most widely-read classic and yet no one seemed to know more about her life, till this book was out.

“The Mockingbird Next Door” is also about Mills’ life and her journey with the book and the sisters. It is about compassion, love, friendship and perhaps puts an end to all the speculation on Ms. Lee’s life. The book is an easy read and yet there are so many profound and relevant questions it raises: What is the nature of privacy in today’s world? What does it take to hold on to what you have? Most avid readers would love to know the reason why Harper Lee did not write a second book and this book delves into it with great detail and empathy for the writer.

“The Mockingbird Next Door” speaks of an era gone by and of the times we live in. It is a read which you will not forget and it will most certainly make you want to reread “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Marja Mills leaves you stunned with her eye for detail and interactions with the Lee sisters. I am in awe of this book. Do read it. You will not regret it.

Here is the book trailer and the author speaking about the book:

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