Tag Archives: 2020 Women Writers Reading Project

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Title: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories
Author: Kamala Das
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836165
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Don’t get taken in by the title of the collection and the begin to read it. Actually, you know what, get taken in by the title, buy it because of it, read it, and understand the brilliance of Kamala Das’s writing that is often layered, always real and grounded, criticising the world and its limitations when it comes to women – in the way they are treated, and sometimes also how they take charge of their lives.

Kamala Das’s women are fierce, bold, courageous, even shy, but do not mistake them to be fearful. They may seem like that at beginning of some stories, but they do not end with that character trait for sure. Her women battle. Her women speak their mind, and mostly don’t. The women in her stories are her. The women in her stories are perhaps all of us – the ones who have been denied a voice and do what it takes to assert themselves.

Her writing is about losses and perhaps some wins along the way. It is about abandoned wives, and women who step out and live the way they want to. Leaving men, leaving lovers, and leaving parts of themselves as well. Whether it is Padmavati the Harlot who just wants to redeem herself in front of her God (while clearly shown as being abused by the priest), or a housewife whose husband loves another woman and all she wants is a little kitten and what happens thereafter, to the protagonist of The Sea Lounge who is at the mercy of her lover, each women is a world in herself, and Das doesn’t shy away from telling it as it is. She speaks of empowerment in her own way – of small choices made by her characters, and then it all overwhelms the reader, raining down like an avalanche of emotions.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).

The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories by Gayatri Gill

The Day Before Today

Title: The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories
Author: Gayatri Gill
Illustrations: Niyati Singh
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books 
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

This had to happen sooner or later. It happened sooner. The Corona virus is still in the air and we have about four to five (maybe more) books already about the virus, stories of people – the privileged and not-so-privileged, stories of lust and liaisons – the list goes on, I think. And in all of this, I bit the bullet and read, “The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” by Gayatri Gill, illustrated beautifully by Niyati Singh.

“The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” as the title suggests is a collection of lockdown stories – of people losing their mental faculties, some gaining them, some about the have-nots, and all of them about how our world has changed so drastically, and yet somehow some things still seem the same.

Of children not going to school, of couples bickering and it leading to something more, of mental health issues getting triggered, and taking a life of its own – veering in a direction that could be calamitous – all these stories have the human condition at the heart of them – the condition in times such as these. What happens to people in containment zones, a love story of a ghost, Zoom parties, and in all of this what happens of the essential services workers, Gill lays it all out for the reader in a witty, sharp, and biting manner.

And of course, in such a collection, as you move from story to story it might seem repetitive, but I think even in that, each story emerges as unique and thrilling. Gill’s writing is precise, exercising great brevity, and not using words for the sake of them. Her observations are point-on and make you a part of the story, without realising it. “The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories” is a melancholic goodbye to the time gone by and what’s to come, whatever it might be. It is about the uncertain future, present, and reminiscing about the past – intermingling all of it in this unique collection of stories.





Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg

Title: Glass Town
Author: Isabel Greenberg
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-1787330832
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Glass Town is a fictitious world created by the Brontë siblings, first appearing in December 1827. Glass Town was first created by Charlotte and Branwëll Brontë, followed by Emily and Anne to build the creation of an imaginary world in which their stories flourished. However, from about 1831, Emily and Anne distanced themselves from Glass Town and created their own world called Gondal, which then started to feature in many of their poems.

Glass Town by Isabel Greenberg is a stunning graphic novel of the world created by these siblings, their lives, the lives of their characters, and above all the power of art and imagination. It is a book about bringing fictional worlds to life and how writers immerse themselves in it. This then enables readers to see their works in a whole new light – fantastical and extraordinary. To a large extent, I also thought that Ms. Greenberg felt that way too about the works of the Brontës, which of course led to the creation of this book.

There is the “real” world in the book, and the “fictional” world. The world that meant so much to the Brontë siblings and what it did to them once it was all gone and over with. Greenberg merges the fictional with the factual most exactingly – to the point that you want to believe it all. Glass Town is also a graphic that has seemingly simple illustrations, but they are quite complex if looked closely. Glass Town is the kind of graphic novel that will make you want to know more about the Brontë family, their origins, their lives, their loves and feuds, and how they wrote those books they did. More than anything else, it is a book that will make you want to read their works, if you haven’t already.

Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward. Illustrations by Gina Triplett.

Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward

Title: Navigate Your Stars
Author: Jesmyn Ward
Illustrations by Gina Triplett
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1526620347
Genre: Speeches, Non-Fiction
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 stars

This year hasn’t been easy on any of us. We have all tried to fight a lot – anxiety, confusion, lethargy, to just be able to function on a daily basis, and sometimes even to give up and restart the next day. This year hasn’t been easy. I chanced upon Jesmyn Ward’s slim book “Navigate your Stars” – a book that is now a constant reminder of value of hard work and hope for a better tomorrow.

Ward just reflects on her experiences as a Southern Black Woman addressing all the themes of grit, the problems she and her family faced, and above all the importance of also learning together as a unit – sometimes not even the same lessons.

This book is a result of Ward’s commencement address at Tulane University, where she teaches creative writing (I think she still does). Navigate Your Stars is also about the people in her family who weren’t that fortunate to get the chances and opportunities that Ward did, and yet did what they could to better their lives – or make their successors’ lives better.

There is so much wisdom and inspiration in this sixty-four page very short book that sometimes big tomes fail to contain. Also, not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Gina Triplett that shine on every page. Navigate Your Stars is a book to read when you are down in the dumps, when you are happy, when you feel all of it, and just want to feel hopeful all over again.