Category Archives: Penguin UK

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Authors: John Green and David Levithan
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 9780141346113
Genre: Teen, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I have always believed in the cause of LGBT literature. More so in my country and that is targeted at teens who are confused and need some more perspective and clarity on sexual orientation. It is a pity that that is not the case in India. There are so many teenagers who still struggle with being gay and do not know what to do about it. I also wish that more writers write about what they face with sensitivity and humour as it is clearly done in “Will Grayson, Will Grayson”.

“Will Grayson, Will Grayson” is about two Wills and what happens when their lives converge. They are both in high school and each is facing his own demon. The book is special also because of Tiny Cooper – the gay teen who only wants to spread happiness and kindness and direct the most successful high-school musical of them all.

What works the most for the book is the joint writing by John Green and David Levithan. Both writers have distinct styles and this is what reflects on the pages as well. The writing is overwhelming, funny, and so real in so many parts and scenes. I am so glad that these two writers teamed up for this book. There are some brilliant secondary characters and the writers have made use of technology most aptly in the entire course of the book.

What I loved the most about the book is the honesty with which it is written. The lives of teenagers with all its confusion and chaos are accurately captured without it being over the top. The book has some beautiful moments when it seems that life is so simple and perhaps one can apply the same to one’s life; however that remains to be seen for a later date. “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” is all about being you and carrying on regardless of how life works out in the end.

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Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo

Meeting Cezanne by Michael Morpurgo Title: Meeting Cezanne
Author: Michael Morpurgo
Illustrator: Francois Place
Publisher: Walker Books, Penguin UK
ISBN: 9781406351132
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 64
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I had heard a lot about Michael Morpurgo and his books before I started reading “Meeting Cezanne”. I now know why both kids and adults love him and his works the way they do. There is something about the way he unfolds a story. It transcends age. Both adults and children can read his works and feel that gooey, buttery feeling and be happy, even if it means that happiness is temporary. A reread will transport you back to the feeling nonetheless. If that is what one Morpurgo book could do to me, then I am definitely reading all that he has to offer.

“Meeting Cezanne” is for young readers. The setting is 1960s. It is about a ten-year-old boy Yannick, who has to stay with this aunt, uncle and cousin in the South of France, as his mother needs recovering from a treatment. Provence is the place to be, or so the paintings of his mother’s beloved Cezanne say. It is paradise on earth and all of it. Yannick is hesitant to stay with his Aunt Mathilde and yet in the process, he waits tables at his aunt and uncle’s restaurant, he befriends his cousin and makes an amazing discovery about an artist who regularly visits the restaurant. The discovery is made when he accidentally destroys a precious drawing.

This is the plot of the book. Now to the way the writer and the artist have presented it to the reader. The writing is very simple (but of course, since it is written for children). The illustrations by Francois Place are just perfect and one just wants to constantly gaze at them, way after the book is done with. You will most certainly finish reading the book in less than an hour or so. I think the beauty of this book is that its appeal is so vast and also the fact that anything told so simply has no choice but to be beautiful. “Meeting Cezanne” is a perfect monsoon read for children and adults alike.

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Little Failure : A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

Little Failure by Gary Shteyngart Title: Little Failure: A Memoir
Author: Gary Shteyngart
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241146651
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I am wary of reading memoirs, if they aren’t too generic. Anything specific and my guard is on – because it seems that it would be difficult for me to follow or comprehend. After all, it happened or is happening to the author. So how will I be able to relate to it? What does one do then while attempting to read a memoir? How does one sink into it and actually enjoy it? There have been times when I have just dropped some half-way and then there have also been times when I sat through some and actually enjoyed them. “Little Failure” by Gary Shteyngart falls into the latter category.

I must admit that I had a tough time getting into the book. After the first thirty pages or so, I also thought of giving up on it, but then somehow continued reading it. The book is bleak in most parts and yet strangely enough it uplifted me in other parts. The book is a memoir as it rightly says – it is about a young Russian-American emigrant’s survival in New York City, learning to become American. It is about the hopes and dreams of his parents – of the insecurities, of the different way of living and of coping with two sides. It is about everything you feel when you do not belong and in so many ways you do belong, so there is always this shaky middle ground where you stand.

“Little Failure” works as a memoir (after the first sixty pages) because it is honest. Gary at no point uses any sugar-coating or frills up the book so to say. Every emotion and lack of it is as real as it can get. The title comes from the fact that Gary chose to be a writer instead of another profession, which to his parents represented failure. Hence, he was their “little failure” or “Failurchka” – the term created by his mother.

“Little Failure” is one of those books that will take you time to get through. It is not an easy read. At the same time, it is a delight to read someone’s story – not because it could be different or similar to yours, but because there is this hope that it fills with you at some point – given so many topics and themes that conjoin and melt. From identity, to the unhappy marriage of your parents, to having to be a mediator, to trying very hard to survive in an alien land, with the choices you make. The writing is funny and sharp and heartbreaking as well – which adds to the entire tone of the book, just right.

So many times in his three books, Gary has spoken about the emigrant experience. In fact, all of those books are only about that – the feeling of being lost in a strange country. “Little Failure” is sort of a prelude to those books. It is a personal experience and yes it has changed my view on memoirs to a very large extent. This is perhaps one of the best books I have read this year and if you like stories of people – real stories, then you must pick this one up.

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Here is a funny book trailer:

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole Title: Every Day is for the Thief
Author: Teju Cole
Publisher: Faber and Faber, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0571307920
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Teju Cole burst on the scene with “Open City” a couple of years ago. A unique voice is needed all the time, to wake the literary circle, so to say. “Open City” had a deep impact on the sensibilities and emotions as well. There was something unique about it and at the same time, it was quite ordinary. That is the charm of Teju Cole’s writing. He makes the mundane come alive.

“Every Day for the Thief” is a sort of a literary memoir. It is not a memoir and yet sometimes feels like one. A young Nigerian goes home to Lagos, after living away from it, in New York for close to fifteen years. The unnamed narrator moves from the places in the city – recalling what he left behind and trying to make sense of everything in new light.

He witnesses his old friends, the former girlfriend, the exuberance and despair of Lagos and of an eleven-year old who is accused of stealing in the local market. A lot of such incidents shape the novel for the reader. The atmosphere is built slowly, almost creating an element of suspense and yet saying what the narrator has to.

There are patchy parts in the book as well, but I chose to ignore them, because the writing is stupendous. It flows effortlessly most of the time and the voice is strong, so that is more than enough for the reader.

What also sets this book apart, are the author’s photos that are interwoven in the story. The way he captures Lagos – both pictorially and through the written word is superlative. “Every Day is for the Thief” is a short read and manages to stay with you for a very long time. This is one book you should not miss reading out this year.

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Book Review: NW by Zadie Smith

Title: NW
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 978-0241144145
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always enjoyed reading Zadie Smith’s books. They are complex and yet charming. At the same time, they leave you with lingering thoughts about the societies we live in and the nature of humans. I remember not enjoying, “White Teeth” the first time I read it. However, when I did read it the second time, I was captivated by her style of writing. The same happened with, “The Autograph Man”. I loved, “On Beauty” and her collection of essays, “Changing My Mind”. Now to her latest offering: NW.

“NW” – refers to North West London. The story revolves around its residents. The book is about their loves, sorrows, hypocrisies, ambitions, facades, prejudices and fears. The novel is about the four central characters on different rungs of the moralistic and social ladder. Each character is a world of their own in the book and that is what makes this book special and intriguing. This is perhaps Smith’s shortest book and yet with so many layers to it – almost like a Russian Doll, that never ceases to amaze you.

Leah Hanwell is married to an African named Michel. She has a troubled marriage and shares a love/hate relationship with her husband. There is then her friend Natalie (formerly known as Keisha), who is trying to grapple with her present and stick on to the past in the form of Leah. Nathan, Leah’s childhood friend is the third major character who is a weed-smoking, almost jobless wastrel. He feels that Leah and he are now worlds apart and cannot connect anymore. Felix Cooper is the fourth major character of the book who craves for a better life than the one he is leading right now. Their lives converge and that takes the book forward.

What appealed to me the most about the book besides the plot was the writing and the way the characters were sketched. The characters are real. They are not sentimental or emotional. They are human and display emotions in an understated manner. The writing is unconventional and fragmented and maybe it is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it definitely worked for me.

“NW” has been written by Smith after seven long years. The story when looked at it from that perspective almost seems fresh and that I attribute only to her writing, which is razor-sharp, taut and amusing at most times.

“NW” is all about people trying to make sense of their lives, when directionless and sometimes lost on hope. There is a lot going on in the book and at the same time, Zadie Smith allows you to take it all in and rest a little with your thoughts and emotions. It was a cracker of a read for me this year and I will definitely re-read it sometime later.

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