Category Archives: picador books

The White Road: Journey into an Obsession by Edmund de Waal

The White Road Title: The White Road: Journey into an Obsession
Author: Edmund de Waal
Publisher: Picador USA, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250097323
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It had been a while since I had read a good non-fiction and I am very picky when it comes to this genre. The book has to be a solid one or I will just drop it and not read further. Life is too short to read badly written books. I loved Edmund de Waal’s earlier book “The Hare with the Amber Eyes” (Please read it if you haven’t already. Trust me, you will love it as well). This is when I received his new book to read “The White Road: Journey into an Obsession”. How does one describe this book? There is a lot going on in it, but I shall try and make sense of it.

In this book, Edmund de Waal gives us a peek into his obsession with porcelain, also known as “white gold’. Edmund is also a porter who has been working with porcelain for more than forty years now. This book is about his exploration through five journeys to understand porcelain better – where was it dreamed, refined, collected and why do so many people covet it this way. While China, Germany and England were at the core of his visits, he also managed to visit other places around the world and how while doing that, he encountered some of the darkest periods of history, thus intertwining his life, obsession with porcelain and history altogether like a well-crafted mosaic.

This book is highly insightful and well-researched. De Waal doesn’t miss the beat on a single page when it comes to uncovering history and delving to its darkest core. You almost feel that you are undertaking the journey with him alongside and not just reading it. The comparisons he makes given the countries he visits, makes you think of your ignorance, given how the world really works, thinks and imagines.

To me the idea of the book is very unique. I love the concept of how something that wouldn’t otherwise come to mind is at the heart of the book – porcelain and around it Edmund de Waal explores his history and family heritage so to speak. The book is like a friend that needs to be hugged and taken care of. The writing is extremely simple and that helps in turning the pages. All said and done, I couldn’t get more of this book at all and wish it lasted longer than it did.

Outline by Rachel Cusk

25663539-2 Title: Outline
Author: Rachel Cusk
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 9781250081544
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

For the longest time, I avoided reading Outline. I don’t know why but there was this mental block surrounding it that of course broke the minute I started reading it. From then on I couldn’t turn back. I had to finish this book and yet hope it wouldn’t get over. Having said that, Outline also isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. That is just because of the writing – it takes some time to sink into and before you know it, it has already started growing on you.

“Outline” is a story of ten conversations – ten different plot lines, ten lives and a woman at the core of it. The story is of a novelist and the people she meets, the stories she gathers, what people confide in her and tell her – their hopes, regrets, fantasies, anxieties and longings. It is all about life from a vantage point come to think of it. The crux though lies in the novelist’s own life – her losses and gains and how she comes to terms with all of it.

The execution of the book is brilliant. The ideas are stupendous -the fact that all of them find their way and space in the book says a lot about the author’s craft. Cusk’s writing style may seem random at times but it isn’t. Cusk makes you see the world bit by bit, layer by layer, as if an orange is being peeled. She doesn’t jump into incidents or facts of people’s lives. She takes time to introduce them to the reader and the reader is then taking his or her time getting familiar with them. The human details are spread out beautifully over ten lives and the narrator’s of course, that you only end up in awe at the end of this wondrous read.

365 Stories: Day 8: The Crease by Ben Sonnenberg

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Today’s story was a strange one, rather sublime as well – “The Crease” by Ben Sonnenberg is a story of a man and his many loves and what happens to him at the end, when most of them are revealed to one woman.

The pace is fast, the story is established quickly and it isn’t a long one – so you can read it fast and then mull over it. It is the kind of story that will take some time to sink in, but when it does, you will enjoy it thoroughly. I read it twice – not because I couldn’t understand it but because even with sparse writing Sonnenberg shows what can be done and it is fantastic. A treat for every reader.

Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett Title: The Uncommon Reader
Author: Alan Bennett
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-0312427641
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know why I had not read this book in a long time. It was there next to me, all the time and I did not pick it up. I guess the time wasn’t right. Books have to choose you and only then can you read them. It doesn’t matter what kind of reader you are – common or uncommon, the book chooses you. And with this thought I now pen my thoughts on the magnificent little gem titled, “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett.

The ‘uncommon’ reader in question in the book is none other than Queen Elizabeth II, who takes a fascination to reading and books. She chances upon a mobile library at the back of her castle by chance and as all things go by chance, she starts devouring books and loves them for what they are. At the beginning of the book we see her making acquaintanceship with Norman Seakins, a young man who works in the royal kitchen. She moves him from there and makes him her personal reading guide. The Queen forgets her day-to-day duties and activities under the influence of the ‘book’ or many ‘books’. She is delayed in opening the Parliament and converses less with people (unless the conversation is steered toward reading) and this leads to dire consequences being taken by the Prime Minister and her private secretary.

Alan Bennett conjures a world of reading and writing and how is it accessible to everyone. He explores the effects of reading and writing on our lives through a warm and sometimes funny novella. I had to finish this book in one setting, considering it was a short read – around one hundred and twenty odd pages and yet every page brims with reading wisdom and anecdotes from The Queen. For instance, her tea session with authors is hilarious and also the times she ponders about how she did not get to meet certain writers she would have liked to and now cannot as they are dead.

For such a slim volume, Alan Bennett puts in a lot of ideas and themes – how reading can change you, how it can make others uncomfortable – especially the ones who don’t read and how it can lead to writing and explore oneself and other worlds. The idea that the Queen’s reading would make the rest of Britain read is a wonderful thought – another theme that comes across in the book.

“The Uncommon Reader” was a pleasant read for me. I loved the book a lot. In fact, it has to be one of the best reads for me this year. I will definitely reread it. For the beauty of books and reading and but obviously for the reader.

Book Review: By Blood by Ellen Ullman

By Blood by Ellen Ullman Title: By Blood
Author: Ellen Ullman
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 9781250023964
Genre: Literary Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There are books that you have been wanting to read since a very long time but never got around to. They are just laying there on your shelf, waiting silently and more so patiently, so you can get to them. “By Blood” by Ellen Ullman was one of those books for me that just lay there for the longest time. I did not pick it up and even if I did, I would read a couple of pages and let it be there. Either something else would catch my fancy or there would be no inclination to read this one. When I finally did get around to reading this one, like most books that I read (and I would like to believe, often the best ones) this one also managed to take my breath away.

“By Blood” by Ellen Ullman is part-thriller, part-mystery, part-psychological novel and a literary fiction read like no other. This book definitely made me see why literature and reading was so important to me, maybe not because of the plot so much so, as the way it has been written. The book is set in San Francisco in the 70’s, at the height of the Zodiac Killer’s reign in the city. At the heart of this novel are three major characters whose lives somehow get connected and twisted to a very large extent. A professor who is wasted and done for in his life, over hears a lesbian (And that is not the complete identity of the woman. There is more to her which the reader will know in the book.) speaking with her therapist about wanting to find her parents and this is where the book begins. The professor wants to know more about the girl, and the girl is on her search, and the therapist’s life is embroiled deeply into the tale. At the backdrop is but definitely the serial killer and his on-goings which add to the novel from a holistic perspective.

These three characters are etched superbly and the book at times is so dark that you might just have to stop, breathe a little and then get back to the book. The book touches on so many issues at one time, that as a reader I had to go back and forth and try and connect the dots, however doing that had an excitement level of its own. The story seems simple on the surface; however it is the writing that makes it wondrous and deep.

The characters are flawed and real and make no bones about doing what they do and why they do. Such honesty in the book is what kept me turning the pages, one after the other. The moral issues underlining the book are fantastic (which the readers will come to know as the plot unveils). Ullman takes you on a journey from San Francisco to Germany to the Holocaust to Israel and back to the United States. This should be enough and more intriguing points. I of course was not aware of it till I read the book, however as I got to the parts, I was taken in and blown over. As much as I have loved this month till now when it comes to reading, this one made it more complete. A great and worthy read.

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