Tag Archives: 2021 Reads

Read 267 of 2021. These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days

Title: These Precious Days: Essays Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0063092785
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember reading my first Ann Patchett novel in the year 2011, and that changed so much about the way I used to live. Bel Canto did and still does so much to me not only as a reader, but also as a person. I am of the firm belief that if certain books have the capacity to do that, then they must be kept close for the entire lifespan.

Having said that, I started devouring everything that Patchett had written before Bel Canto and in the coming years after. This is mainly about her fiction. Now about her non-fiction. The essays mainly. She writes the only way she knows and wants to perhaps, with utmost honesty. This is what I feel every time I read her – a sense of deep honesty. “These Precious Days” her latest collection of essays made me feel just the same and more.

When Patchett speaks of her three fathers, you are moved to tears, because you are reminded of your own father and men who are father figures in your life. When she speaks of literature, you are tempted to pick up her favourite reads. Patchett has a deep sense of friendship, so of course she celebrates some of her friends in this collection. She speaks of her mother with fondness and wit. The title story of the collection is about her acquaintance with Tom Hanks, and the long-lasting beautiful friendship she shared with his assistant Sooki who was battling pancreatic cancer.

Patchett’s writing is without pretension and that’s what makes it not only relatable but also empathetic. Her writing style is her own – it is enchanting, real, glorious, and unafraid to go into deep corners of the mind and heart and present life the way it is – unpredictable, constantly evolving, and mainly lived through memories.

Read 266 of 2021. The Swank Hotel by Lucy Corin

The Swank Hotel

Title: The Swank Hotel
Author: Lucy Corin
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450666
Genre: Literary Fiction 
Pages: 400 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

The themes explored in “The Swank Hotel” are large and sometimes hit home very closely. There is familial loss, grief, a tangled web of relationships, and a lot of times just plain confusion.

It took me a while to even get to the core of the novel – which is discontentment, the madness surrounding all of us, the madness we are all a part of it, and yet constantly living day after day.

Em, a corporate employee is haunted by her sister’s disappearance. Her sister, Ad, who has battled mental illness for much of her adult life, and this disappearance isn’t a new one. This plagues her everyday living to a large extent and there is this unspoken guilt that she cannot get rid of. At the same time, there is her manager Frank who has a long-time affair with a married man, Jack, who Em obsesses about. We also meet Em’s parents who are in the state of constantly building their home, which also becomes about their age.

The plot of The Swank Hotel is perhaps not a plot in that sense and yet there is so much going on in it. The structure of the book moves from stream of consciousness at times to vignettes to people just being left half-way in the plot only to come back with no tying up of the story, and yet everything comes together in its own way at its own pace. The writing is sharp, meandering, touches the core, and sometimes just the surface, and all of it is imperfectly perfect, just like life and the medley of characters we encounter in this work that is experimentative and unique.

Read 237 of 2021. The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi. English Text by Gita Wolf.

The Women I Could Be by Sangita Jogi

Title: The Women I Could Be
Author: Sangita Jogi
English Text by Gita Wolf
Publisher: Tara Books
ISBN: 9788193448533
Genre: Feminism
Pages: 68
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This is hands down one of the best books I have read this year. It is intricate, empathetic, gives a world view in its own manner, feisty, feminist, and above all makes you check your privilege, and look at the world differently.

Sangita Jogi’s mother Tejubehan is an artist herself and has been working with Tara books since a while now. Sangita Jogi brings her own style to the fore. “My women are modern” she says, which is seen beautifully in this book.

The book is divided into sections – modern women, women I could be, roaming the world, appearing in public, good times, and the world has progressed.

Through each section, Sangita Jogi most uniquely tells us about her life, her dreams, her aspirations, how she had to get married early – tradition being what it is, and how she manages to still draw and paint and be her own person.

I love the part when she speaks of her daughter and how she will not be who her mother is. She wants better for her daughter, which she intends to give.

“The Women I Could Be” shows you a different India – of women who have the same dreams and ambitions – yet give in to circumstances and even then, dare to be who they want to. Jogi’s art is stunning, liberating, and makes you want to have it all. I was stumped looking at it and kept coming back to it again and again.

The text is sparse, honest, and hard-hitting. She admits to only wanting to draw modern women – they make her dream big and think even bigger. I guess that’s the power of imagination. Jogi’s women are feisty and fantabulous. Through her art we see how they only want to have fun and be themselves. Through her art, we get a glimpse of the person she is and one can do nothing but applaud her talent and what she stands for.

Read 236 of 2021. Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories by Lily King

Five Tuesdyas in Winter - Stories by Lily King

Title: Five Tuesdays in Winter: Stories
Author: Lily King
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1529086485
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 240
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I love short stories and this collection was no exception. I had read Writers & Lovers sometime last year and remember enjoying it a lot. Lily King’s writing is so precise and sharp, that every page shines with clarity of thought and emotion. Even so some stories are weaker than the others, but you tend to ignore them as a reader because the overall collection works for you.

The writing is tender and beautiful. She writes about big themes and spaces – complicated relationships between parents and children, former colleagues, a coming out story, marriages that do not work, and to most specifically focus on feelings in almost every story makes you marvel at the skill of also not meandering and not being too melodramatic, where it could have gone that way.

There are stories that are also dark, but they are made up for stories that offer moments of sweetness and generosity of emotions. The title story is about a jilted spouse left with an only child. A bookseller whose wife left him years ago and now he doesn’t know what to do with all his emotions and his preteen daughter trying to fill the void in his life.

Lily King’s stories are all about human feeling – they cover the entire range of emotions and do not make you choose any as a reader. For me, each was told with a different tone – though the underlined broad strokes were the same – of hope, failure, success, and a chance at mending the broken.

Read 235 of 2021. Crossroads, A Key to All Mythologies # 1 by Jonathan Franzen

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen

Title: Crossroads, A Key to All Mythologies #1
Author: Jonathan Franzen
Publisher: Fourth Estate, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780008308902
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 586
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Crossroads is heady, it is brilliant, it is expansive in the sense of no other Franzen novel ever was, it is most empathetic which says a lot about Franzen since he doesn’t let his characters wear their emotions on their sleeve, and even if they do they are doomed to suffer, and above all Crossroads is a novel of big themes, big ideas, and big huge hope maybe at the end of it all (not to forget there are two more novels left in this Key to all Mythologies trilogy).

Yes, this novel is about a dysfunctional family, but it is also so much more. I remember there was a time while reading this book, when Franzen is talking about Marion, the mother and the wife’s past that I gasped, I couldn’t handle what she had gone through, and I couldn’t stop turning the pages either. Franzen’s writing is at its peak in my opinion and will continue to stay there. The way the tone shifts from the parents to the kids to the interpersonal relationships, and not only that – the way his writing has become less ironic, satirical and more earnest in a sense. It is refreshing to read this Franzen.

Crossroads is set in the ‘70s. Spanning nearly 600 pages, we can see the highs and lows of each character, each situation that plays out, each character making their decisions, stuck in a world that perhaps is not for them, dealing with suicide attempts, rape, adultery, drugs, and metaphorical and literal car wrecks of their lives.

This time we are introduced to the Hildebrandts. Religion is a big theme in this book. Russ Hildebrandt, the patriarch, is the church’s associate pastor and all he wants to do is sleep with a recently widowed church member. His wife, Marion has her own secret life. His children Clem, Becky, and Perry are searching for their own truths, each on the brink of a crossroad of their own, trying to strike their own deal with the devil if the day ever presents itself.

Crossroads is also the name of the youth group of the church, and Franzen will wittingly talks about it – sometimes quite ludicrously as well. Franzen’s book is a world of its own, with smaller words entangled in it. The stories told by each character, their lies, their version so to say, layers and layers of lives, each heading toward their own destruction or not.

Franzen has laid it all out quite superbly in the first book for the other two to follow. Families aren’t easy to traverse. Neither are communities that are believed in. Neither is the path of ideas, liberation, and of taking sides and sticking to them.

There is so much unpacking and yet at the end of the book I was left with this void, that could only be filled by books 2 and 3. Franzen has over the years been criticised a lot for not so much his writing as for the person he is. To my mind, he has his opinions, and yes, they are strong, and yes, they reflect in what he writes, but please don’t let that deter you from reading this fantastic piece of art. Don’t let anything deter you from getting to know the world Franzen creates in an already known world and more than anything else his flawed, fractured, and lost characters – each seeking their own redemption, going in circles every single time.