Tag Archives: america

Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays by Joan Didion

Slouching Towards Bethlehem Title: Slouching Towards Bethlehem : Essays
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160652
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love Didion’s writing. So I may be biased, but that’s alright. I remember the first time I read Didion. It was “The Year of Magical Thinking” and I was floored. I was gutted as well, amongst other things that I was feeling as the book ended.

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is a collection of essays written in the 1960s, almost fifty years ago – a time and place that current readers have not and will not experience (not that I have as well). At the same time, somehow while reading the book, it all came alive right then and there. Didion paints not just one image but a landscape on paper. Her talent is truly timeless and every time she writes something, she almost supersedes the last piece/book.

Didion’s writing though may seem America-centric but is actually quite deceptive, in the sense, it encompasses the world-view which you only understand after a couple of essays. Maybe that’s why (one of the many reasons for sure) that this book was the one that was the essential breakout work.

Didion’s prose is grounded. It doesn’t stray at any point in time. From speaking of Joan Baez (which is a very affectionate portrait of a highly intelligent woman) to a think piece on the Santa Barbara Coast to Las Vegas and the culture of quickie marriages, there is always this sense of voyeurism and at the same time,​ this need to soak in more of what she writes. This collection, ​in fact, reminded of her other collection of essays, The White Album and After Henry, whose content is very similar to “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”.

It takes a while to kick into the book, but it is also a good beach read (Surprised? So was I when I started it on a quick getaway). Her musings about life, in general,​ are also worth reading, even if you might not agree with some. “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is one of the best essay collection you will ever read. So, please do not miss out on it. ​

Adjustment Day by Chuck Palahniuk

Adjustment Day Title: Adjustment Day
Author: Chuck Palahniuk
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 978-0393652598
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Let me very honest and tell you that I wasn’t all that excited when I heard of the new Palahniuk being released. I haven’t enjoyed his last couple of books and yet I was in a strange way looking forward to reading this one.

At the same time, Palahniuk is not every reader’s cup of tea. “Adjustment Day” is his first novel in four years and might I add here that I was more than floored reading it. It is a book that is about the times we live in, the times that are dark and gloomy and no one else to bring it to light, the way Palahniuk does. He wrings the absurdities of society, class and political structure like no one else, almost brandishing each farce and each conspiracy theory lurking in the American psyche, bit by bit.

So, what is Adjustment Day all about?

Adjustment Day is about the rabbit hole of our times – the deep, dark abyss that sucks everything right in, with no chance of redemption. Sounds bleak? That’s exactly what the book is with a dash of humour. At the same time, I think one Chuck Palahniuk novel has the potential to derive five more from it. The plot isn’t linear at all (if you have experienced his writing, then you know that by now) and with every turn of the page you are stunned by the satire, that is so on point.

The book is about people passing the word only to the ones whom they trust the most: Adjustment Day is coming. They are also reading a book for the reckoning. These people are also memorizing the directives. What is this book all about? What is Adjustment Day? In short, this is the plot of the book. But like I said, there is nothing easy about Palahniuk’s writing, till you are about twenty pages in and then it is a breeze.

Adjustment Day is also very relevant to the times we live in – the sound-bite politics, the social media hullabaloo, and the “everything is alright” propaganda we are fed with, basically the media and its culture. Every word is in place and nothing is what is not needed. I may not have enjoyed his earlier books, but this one, I most certainly loved. Palahniuk has done it again and hit it right out of the park!

 

 

Census by Jesse Ball

Census by Jesse Ball Title: Census
Author: Jesse Ball
Publisher: Granta Books
ISBN: 78-1783783755
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Census” by Jesse Ball isn’t a difficult book to read. It seems like that initially but as you are way into it, you just don’t want it to end. It reminded me of “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy but don’t worry – it isn’t that dark, but haunting nonetheless in its own way. I doubt I have read anything like “Census” before, but that’s the magic of Jesse Ball’s books. They may sound similar to other books but are far from it. This is the third Ball book I’ve read and I am astounded by the consistency of his writing prowess.

“Census” is a very personal book when it comes to Jesse Ball as he has dedicated it to his deceased brother, Abram Ball who had Down Syndrome and he has mentioned it in the prologue, how he decided to write this book and more so write around the syndrome than about it.

The book is about an ill widower, a doctor who takes on the role of a census taker and sets off with his son who has the Down Syndrome to take the census, from towns A to Z.

This is the basic premise. But of course, there is more than what meets the eye. The entire activity and exercise undertaken by the father is layered – of being counted – of life being taken into account while he is nearing his death and in the sense his son’s responsibility being taken on by another person. Then the son becomes a census – a number and perhaps nothing more.

“Census” is also wondrously allegorical – given the times in which we are living – of unnamed identities (are they even identities then?), of places and countries that restrict and of how there is so much kindness and heart still present in the world.

“Census” is perhaps one of the most important books of our times, in my opinion. There are so many revelations as you go along the book, that will leave you astounded and wanting more.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718779
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The times we live in aren’t easy. We live in xenophobic times. As much as I hate to say it, it is true and we cannot turn a blind eye to this one. In these times, as much as I don’t want to read what stares in my face all over the place – on Twitter, on FB, on almost every social media – hatred for a religion or class, or a set of people that aren’t yours, but you read because you feel you will understand and empathize better and this is the time “The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” came into my life.

This is a graphic memoir, which means it happened to the author and her family – a set of events – after her parents moved to the land of milk and honey from Vietnam on a boat. The story is deceptively simple but layered with relationships issues, immigration and belonging issues and above all: what it really takes to blend in? Do people who come from outside can after all be called citizens of a particular country even after decades or do they have to keep proving themselves and their patriotism over and over again?

Bui’s story is the story of her family – as she begins to adjust to being a first-time mother, she reminiscences what it means to be a parent from her parents’ perspective – from the sacrifices to unnoticed gestures to love that need not be spoken all the time. In all of this is America – Grand Old America in the background (not as much) always making them question their identity and the importance of home. There are panels that are so breathtakingly beautiful and how they mingle with the prose – will make you weep and in the next panel before you know it you are smiling and cheering on for Thi and her circumstances.

This book as Viet Thanh Nguyen claims will break your heart and then heal it – did just that for me. What is funny is that I also spoke to my maternal aunt after reading this book to know her memories of coming to India from Pakistan during the Great Partition and what it was like for them. “The Best We Could Do” as the title suggests is just that – the best they did and how sometimes you have to keep doing your best to find your place in the world.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Title: Ghost World
Author: Daniel Clowes
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House
ISBN: 978-0224060882
Genre: Graphic Novel
Pages: 80
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

If I remember clearly, “Ghost World” was my introduction to graphic novels and at that time I found it very strange – it is barely 80 pages long and yet manages to convey teen angst with such accuracy that my head spun. It was published in 1997 and I remember a friend gifting it to me in 2000. More so, what was or rather is unique about it is that it is in only two colours – green and blue and to me that still is fascinating – even when I reread it now.

“Ghost World” as most aficionados know is also a movie starring Thora Birch and Scarlet Johansson. Now that that is out of the way, the book is about two teens – Enid Coleslaw and Rebecca Doppelmeyer – who are most cynical, pseudo-intellectual and recently graduated from high school. They encounter people and wonder what life has in store for them – they live dry and dull lives in an unnamed small-town and want to perhaps step out and discover the world.

This graphic novel is dark and yet does not lose its humour. I loved the writing – it is razor-sharp and doesn’t lose its capacity for nostalgia. Clowes characters remind you of the most ordinary people you might come across in daily life and perhaps ignore in a split of a second. “Ghost World” is also a lonely book – of two girls who are either trying desperately hard to fit in or just living life as it passes them by. Clowes has this uncanny sense of the society we live in – that demands appearances be kept up and yet you have these two teenagers who don’t want to keep up and are loud, edgy, and refuse to submit or conform. A book that needs to be devoured in every sense of the word.