Tag Archives: Arts and Literature

Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage by Dani Shapiro

Hourglass Title: Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage
Author: Dani Shapiro
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494481
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

To sit back and see life passing you by. That’s the thought I had while reading, “Hourglass: Time, Memory, Marriage” by Dani Shapiro. It almost felt as though an old friend was speaking with me – telling me tales from her life, snippets that were hidden, incidents that had occurred a long time ago and were being recounted because she just wanted to let me know how she felt or feels. “Hourglass” though it is only 160 pages long, takes its own time to grow on you, and once it does, there is no way you can tear yourself from it.

So, you might wonder, why should I read a memoir about someone’s life and marriage when I don’t even know anything about the person? That’s a valid question to ask, however, that’s also where the answer is. You have to read the book, because Shapiro makes the disassociations feel familiar. Her emotions are universal (just like all of us) and we can relate to it one way or the other.

There are sweet and poignant moments and then others that are cast with essential sadness. Essential sadness – the kind of sadness that there is no running away from. The exploration of a marriage is so honest, that it almost takes you by surprise and awe at some points of the book.

She puts her marriage under a microscope. Initially, I was a little uncomfortable reading about her personal life (as it always happens to me when I read a memoir) but slowly and steadily for sure, I started looking at it more from the point of the writing, which is staggering. Her prose isn’t fancy or verbose and that to me is the beauty of the book. Marriage is difficult, sometimes impossible and Dani’s marriage to M of 18 years cannot be contained in one book. I hope there are others. For our sake. So we can all learn as we go along life.

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The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison Title: The Empathy Exams
Author: Leslie Jamison
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 9781555976712
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 226
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is a certain lack of empathy in the world. That is the conclusion I have come to given my interactions with most people and I wish it were different, but sadly it is not that way. There is cruelty everywhere – offline and mostly online. There is this sense of superiority that comes with making fun of someone, assuaging one’s insecurity I guess, and the fact that maybe you cannot do but bully someone or a set of people, just to show who the boss is. I have never understood this behavior and never will I guess.

There was also this Twitter incident that occurred last week and that clearly showed that we do not live in a world with enough empathy. There are bullies. There are people who mock. I know I am coming across too strong in this review, but a fact is a fact is a fact and there is nothing we can do about it, or wait, there actually is. We can try to be kind. We can be more empathetic. We can understand people – bit by bit and not be insensitive and unkind.

“The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison is a book that opened up a lot of these thoughts stuck in my head – page after page and I loved every bit of it. Jamison talks about empathy through her life-situations and what she has gone through. While reading the book, there were so many thoughts that ran in my head and I just could not stop thinking about how we are unkind and insulting most of the times. Being a Gay man, I have faced it way too many times and I know how it feels. It feels terrible. Jamison’s book takes center stage on this and begins to uncover layer by layer on the whats, whys and why-nots of empathy.

“The Empathy Exams” is a personal book. Jamison makes the reader experience empathy, she talks about her wounds and her life (baring it all out in front of the readers, which is one mean task to do, according to me), and how it really is to be empathetic. The writing is real, raw and extremely honest. Leslie makes us realize the limitations of empathy and why is it so important for us to not let it be restrictive.

Why did the book resonate with me? Like I said, we have forgotten what it is like to be considerate, to be kind, and we just want to be mean. The book made me think of everyday situations and how we choose to deal with them and to me that is something. The fact that a book can do that to you and those ideas stick with you long after you have finished reading the book. “The Empathy Exams” is an introspective read and will tell you a lot more about you as a person than you have ever known. Read it and learn from it. I will try to. Every single day.

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The Mockingbird Next Door : Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills Title: The Mockingbird Next Door : Life with Harper Lee
Author: Marja Mills
Publisher: The Penguin Press
ISBN: 9781594205194
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Life, Women Writers,
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

When “To Kill a Mockingbird” released in 1960, it created a sensation. The theme was bold, ahead of its time and reflective of the society and its prejudices. The book was a hit like no other. It won the Pulitzer and many other awards. There was a movie made, which was a runaway success. There was a lot of talk around the book and it still continues to hold the same position in people’s hearts and lives. It is a beloved classic. It is a book most people swear by. It is the cornerstone of American literary fiction. Right after that, the author, Harper Lee did not ever write another book. There was just this one.

There is this enigma surrounding Harper Lee. She is eighty-eight years as of this year and no one knows much about her. I always wondered about the writer of this great book. What would she be like? How does she spend her days? What does she do? Does she still write? “The Mockingbird Next Door” by Marja Mills is the way to find out more about Harper Lee and it is one of the most heart-warming reads of the year for me.

Marja Mills was on an assignment. To find out more about Ms. Lee. It was nothing short of a surprise that the citizens of Monroeville, Alabama reached out her and helped her with it. Adding to it was Ms. Lee and her sister Alice’s support in letting Marja Mills know more about their life and themselves. I enjoy literary biographies. I love them. However, this book is not just another literary biography. In fact, I do not think it even belongs in that genre. The book is conversational. It is about Harper Lee’s life – her past and present. It is about the lady who gave America its most widely-read classic and yet no one seemed to know more about her life, till this book was out.

“The Mockingbird Next Door” is also about Mills’ life and her journey with the book and the sisters. It is about compassion, love, friendship and perhaps puts an end to all the speculation on Ms. Lee’s life. The book is an easy read and yet there are so many profound and relevant questions it raises: What is the nature of privacy in today’s world? What does it take to hold on to what you have? Most avid readers would love to know the reason why Harper Lee did not write a second book and this book delves into it with great detail and empathy for the writer.

“The Mockingbird Next Door” speaks of an era gone by and of the times we live in. It is a read which you will not forget and it will most certainly make you want to reread “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Marja Mills leaves you stunned with her eye for detail and interactions with the Lee sisters. I am in awe of this book. Do read it. You will not regret it.

Here is the book trailer and the author speaking about the book:

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