Tag Archives: authors

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

The Source of Self-Regard Title: The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations
Author: Toni Morrison
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525521037
Genre: Literary Speeches, Anthologies
Pages: 386
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Toni Morrison’s collection of essays don’t follow a timeline, neither it is linear, nor it is set in an order to make it easy for the reader. At first glance, it might even seem just a random collection of essays, speeches and meditations put together, however, it isn’t that. The book, “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” is actually a book that speaks directly to the contemporary reader, and hence the order of essays. It goes headlong into speaking about issues at hand and whoelse better to address and them and show us the mirror than the queen herself, Ms. Morrison.

The book is divided into two parts, with an interlude. The first part is titled, “The Foreigner’s Home”, the second, “God’s Language” and in-between is the interlude aptly titled, “Black Matter(s)”. This is the structure of the book – it is Ms. Morrison’s essays, speeches, and meditations on living, race, gender, language, and the current role of politics in America and in effect its relation to the world. It is also about the duty of the press and media and what is the role of the artist in all of this. As a reader, please be prepared to face harsh realities, question the world around you and ponder over issues you never thought of earlier.

Morrison doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. The candour is not just for the sake of it. This collection is deeply personal as well. From why she became a writer (Faulkner and Women) to her thoughts on Beloved. At the same time, this collection as every reader will know is about race and what it means to be black in America, not only today but for decades and centuries and how have that played out for the black person.

Toni Morrison writes with such elegance and dignity that you get caught up in her words, and then focus on the ideas, going back to the power of her prose. The interlude piece on Martin Luther King Jr. is not only searching but also mirrors the contemporary times. In the essay, Voyagers to the West, she speaks of the Scottish pioneer William Dunbar, and how he managed to build a fortune trading slave, and how ironically his achievements are extoled till date. This is the kind of voice Morrison is all about – she knows exactly when to make the impact felt through her words and how deep.

Morrison also speaks of writers and how they impact the mindset of readers. She speaks of how jazz brought American blacks a different kind of legitimacy. She also talks about why American and English writers could not speak for people of colour, hence the onus was only on black writers to do that. Literature then took a different form altogether, and its voice wasn’t restricted in a way is what I could make out of it. In her most poignant tribute to James Baldwin, the eulogy she delivered at Baldwin’s funeral on December 8, 1987, she honours his literature, his voice, and how he used language so tenderly. Morrison’s heart is almost laid bare in this – this tribute of sorts to a dear friend. It is almost as if you start becoming her friend, piece by piece.

“Jimmy, there is too much to think about you, and much too much to feel,” she begins. “The difficulty is your life refuses summation—it always did—and invites contemplation instead. Like many of us left here, I thought I knew you. Now I discover that, in your company, it is myself I know. That is the astonishing gift of your art and your friendship: You gave us ourselves to think about, to cherish.”

Toni Morrison’s writing is not only simple, but elegant to the bone. It is as though you are speaking with a friend, an elder, a teacher of sorts who is telling you about life and its ways. Throughout the book, Morrison speaks of the personal and the political and how they are intertwined. The first section, The Foreigner’s Home deals not only with race, but also with the question: What is Home? Where do you find it? What does it mean? At the same time, the section has essays wide ranging from “Literature and Public Life” and also her Nobel lecture.

The third section of the book is my most favourite – the one where she speaks of language, authors, and the power of words. The essay on Beloved – how she came to write it and what it means to her, almost made me cry. Toni Morrison’s commentary on her own work – The Bluest Eye, Sula, Tar Baby, Jazz, Beloved, and Paradise are honest, and she understands the time and space she wrote them in and how they might be read differently today.

Morrison’s works – fiction and nonfiction are always relatable. One doesn’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but the heart of the matter is the writing – from conception of plot to the way her sentences are constructed, every step is well-thought of and crafted.

I am convinced that there is nothing Ms. Morrison cannot write about. It is almost as if she has to just enter the space and something extraordinary emerges out of her pen. Her voice we all know is unique and original, but that’s not what makes an impact. I think it is the emotional intensity attached to it that makes all the difference, every single time.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations as a collection of essays couldn’t have been compiled and published at a better time. We inhabit a world where people are extremely conflicted about issues of race, language, colour, and above all what entails to be human. I also would strongly recommend this book to every person who wants to understand home, race, the black person’s struggle, the place of literature in the world, and how it impacts us all. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations is illuminating, thought-provoking, and above all every piece has just been written from the heart.

 

The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the End by Katie Roiphe

The Violet HourTitle: The Violet Hour: Great Writes at the End
Author: Katie Roiphe
Publisher: The Dial Press
ISBN: 978-0385343596
Genre: Nonfiction, Death and Dying
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

There’s something about death, isn’t it? Something so fearful and yet sometimes enigmatic for some. Sometimes also makes you think about it all and then only leads to everything becoming nothing in an instant. One day it is all there and the other it isn’t.

Katie Roiphe takes this a step further in her book “The Violet Hour” and speaks of death in the context of great writers (who are but obviously dead) at the end of their lives. She just doesn’t write of death as the end, but the entire journey of dying, so to say. For instance, how Susan Sontag thought she could beat death at its own game and did several times, till she had to go. Or for that matter, Updike who after receiving the worst possible diagnosis wrote a poem at seventy-six. And then the excesses of Dylan Thomas and his suicide attempts that finally led to his death.

A good work of nonfiction, to my mind, is the one that doesn’t stray away from facts and more than anything else does not try to romanticize facts. Roiphe’s strength lies not only in these two facets of writing, but also the way she presents her extensive research, which involved family and friends of writers and what is already known to the general public. Roiphe doesn’t make the book sentimental, and yet it tugs at the heart because death is sadly a universal experience. We have all seen it up, close and personal and can relate if not even empathize with most part of the book or all of it, as it were in my case.

The book does not tell you how to grieve. What it does though is in a way deconstruct death through experiences of great writers and what it did to them and their family and friends. And in that process, we just get to know these writers better. Death, for Freud, was just a subject to be studied till he realized that he couldn’t observe his own death after all and never hestitated to smoke himself to death and refused to take pain killers.

At some point, as a reader one could feel guilty of prying into another’s death – the last days and yet there is something about the book that makes you want to know more about these six writers. Kudos to Katie for all the research and the way she articulates thoughts, emotions, what the writers did in the last days, what they chose to rather and above all what does death mean to each of them and perhaps even to yes on a universal level.

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence Title: Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life
Author: Annie Spence
Publisher: Flatiron Books, Macmillan USA
ISBN: 978-1250106490
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books about Books, Bibliophile
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Dear, Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You are a book about books and the love of reading. With this in mind, let me tell you how much I then love you, just by this fact alone. I loved you the moment I saw you on Amazon (you aren’t available in bookshops in India, yet) and knew I had to read you. You were sent by the publisher for an honest review and here we are!

Your author is a librarian (I think still is) and you are an ode to reading and books in the form of letters to each of them – not all books she has read – but the ones she thinks of fondly, the ones she doesn’t like all that much and the ones that really must go. It is also a book from a librarian’s perspective which I enjoyed very much. I must say Annie has written you very well. Your language is simple, and what is great is that one can discover more books through you. I love such books and in effect, I ended up loving you.

There is a letter inside of you to Grey which I thought was hilarious of the lot. Also, another one to, “To Kill a Mockingbird” about her sister’s love of reading which reminded me of my siblings and their love for books. You know the one addressed to “Fahrenheit 451” felt as though Annie knew that the end of books was near but the way she turned it on its head gave me so much hope for the future. Also, before I forget the letter addressed to the children’s section of the public library was most heartening, because if children do not read now, then how will they read when they grow up? Children must read. Don’t you agree?

Annie’s writing is funny, heartwarming and so true to the heart, given she works with books, readers and the love of reading. That is why you must know how much I love books about books. I could also understand why she broke up with a couple of books – I mean come on, we do move on in life and sometimes we just don’t have it in us to read books that weren’t made for us. You understand that too, isn’t it? Well, you are a book about that. But you are a book above all, about the joy of books, of book lists (in the last section, which I loved to the boot, by the way) and to tell the world to go away, since one is reading. You would understand that, Dear, Dear Fahrenheit 451. You so would.

I would love everyone to pick you up and read you. To chuckle at the letters to books inside of you. This is my rather insipid letter to you but I know you will not mind it. After all, I loved you and devoured you in three days!

There is a letter inside you, written by Annie to The Fledgling, where she says, “When people say books are full of wonder, we don’t take it seriously enough. You are over thirty-five years old. You smell like old paper and smudged fingertips. You’ve lain dusty and untouched for decades. And you’re magic.” This filled me with so much sunshine. Thank you for this book. Thanking Annie for this.

Yours,
A lover of books, a lover of books about books and a lover of reading.

 

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.

David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations (The Last Interview Series) by David Foster Wallace

david-foster-wallace-the-last-interview-and-other-conversations-by-david-foster-wallace Title: David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview: and Other Conversations
Author: David Foster Wallace and Others (Interviewers)
Publisher: Melville House
ISBN: 978-1612192062
Genre: Interviews, Authors
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

There is something about David Foster Wallace that you cannot help but want to know more. He was barely forty-six when he committed suicide on September 12, 2008. He had suffered from depression for nearly twenty years and perhaps this was the reason he took his life. At the same time, you know what they say about geniuses, right? There has to be a spot of bother in them – they view the world quite differently from you and I and mostly most of them tend to veer off-course and live life on their terms, though not always to the best of the endings.

The Last Interview and Other Conservations is a wonderful concept introduced by Melville House Publishing. The series features a lot of writers and their last interviews – from Bradbury to Marquez to Vonnegut even, also Hemingway if you please. I have read most of them and then I decided it was the turn of David Foster Wallace. In these brief interviews, you will get a strong sense of the man and more importantly of the writer. Wallace seems so elusive – it’s almost like there is so much going on inside his head and you don’t have access to all of it – that is kind of frustrating but extremely interesting.

His views on things everything modern, political and technological is hilarious and often melancholic as well. Every individual interview in this collection brings another side to the writer and more so his works. At the same time, there is this overwhelming sense of gloom which pervades DFW and his works – one cannot seem to shake that off for sure, and that is more evident in these last set of conversations. I honestly feel that if you want to know more about the man, after reading some of his books, then this is the best place to start.