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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0140143508
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

For the longest time now, I had been wanting to read “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. It was one of those books that were on my shelf for a while and every time I tried reading it, it did not go down that well. For such a book, I was surprised when I finished it in a day’s time.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a true story of two people who love books and mull over life and everything else in between through letters, without meeting each other at all. The epistolary use of form is fascinating, crisp and to the point in this book.

The book is written plainly in parts, discussing love of books between an emerging writer in New York and a second-hand bookseller in England. It is about Helene’s experiences with Frank and how their lives merge because of love for books.

The entire book is in the form of letters between the two and also between Helene and other people working at the bookstore, “Marks & Co.” The correspondence runs from 1949 until 1969, where they exchange gifts, news of their families and friends and about the love and tenderness people can have without meeting each other. Books of course play a vital role and are at the core of this book.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a friend which will warm you on a cold night. It is something which is needed for the book lover’s soul and comes highly recommended from me. It is the kind of book which every book lover should have a place for in his or her library. I cannot stop recommending it to everyone I meet. Might I also add, that I have just received the DVD and cannot wait to watch the movie version starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks

Where I'm Reading from by Tim Parks Title: Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books
Author: Tim Parks
Publisher: New York Review Books
ISBN: 978-1590178843
Genre: Non-Fiction, Reading, Bibliography
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher:
Rating: 4/5

Ever since I remember, I have loved books about books. It helps me discover new books. It helps me widen my reading horizon. It also makes me see how other people view books and reading. Tim Parks, given his portfolio on books and reviewing, him being a writer, critic and everything rolled into one, there could have been no better person to write about books and the love of reading them.

“Where I’m Reading From” speaks of books in the past, how they are viewed in the present and what is really the future of books. The book is extremely thought-provoking and makes a lot of sense most of the time. I did find myself disagreeing on some of his essays but I guess there is always this dialogue between the reader and the writer which must take place, whether it is pleasant or not.

The book is divided into four sections – the world around the book, the book in the world, the writer’s world and writing across worlds. Each section makes you nostalgic about books and reading. Each section is about how we read and how it impacts every stage of our lives.

Of course, Parks is highly opinionated but then that is how it works when it comes to most art forms and critics alike. These essays are all about the world and its connection to books and readers. For one, I was thoroughly engaged and at the same time I had to keep the book aside and just think of what I have read in the past and what I am reading now.

“Where I’m Reading From” takes its name from Raymond Carver’s beautiful short story “Where I’m Calling From” and does justice to the title in every way. The collection of essays is stunning and makes you think of books over and over again as a reader.

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes Title: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Author: Roland Barthes
Publisher: Vintage, Random House
ISBN: 978-0099225416
Genre: Photography, Art, Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was never interested in photography. Somehow, it just did not interest me. However, after reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag and also “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, I started taking some interest in the subject and I had known of Roland Barthes. Coupled with this was the fact that he had written on photography, so it was just only a matter of time before I would read it.

What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.

“Camera Lucida” is about photos, life, and death and about the cultures we inhabit. The book is not just about photographs and photography. It is a lot more on actually how we see and how we are conditioned to see.

“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”

The book is all about art – about how paintings came to lose some significance with the invention of the camera and how that was not the case after a couple of years. “Camera Lucida” is a collection of essays on “the photograph by onlooker” than what a photographer may think of his or her photograph. He questions what it means to take pictures and what the probable outcomes of it are.

It is not an easy read, but it is highly satisfying. Barthes draws on examples from life, what surrounds us and how it feels like to have a relationship with a still image in an age of constant movement and newer digital means.

“Camera Lucida” is about interpretation, imagination and art. It is more so about living and what it takes to make sense of art that is all-pervasive. The book is short and just right to know more about photography and the medium that it is. I will of course go back to it at some point. I must also say that it is not a read that you can fly by, however once you sink your teeth in it, it is an excellent read.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine Title: An Unnecessary Woman
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Publisher: Constable and Robinson, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 9781472119155
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What does an old woman think about? What are her thoughts? Does she think of loneliness, or love, or of life, and lust? What if she is independent at that? What if she is surrounded by books and her life comprises of nothing else? This is the story that Rabih Alameddine has conjured for us in the form of his latest book, “An Unnecessary Woman”.

Aaliya (above it all as her name implies) is a woman in Beirut in her early 70s. She is the heart and soul of the book. She is to me more than a mere protagonist. You don’t come across such strong characters every day in books and when you do, you cherish them as you must with this one.

Aaliya is a woman of great intelligence in a society that does not expect its women to be that erudite. She is an observer of things, incidents, people and times. The book chronicles her life and more than anything else it is a book of her relationship with books and reading. She translates popular books from English to Arabic for her own pleasure. Men have disappointed her. Books do not. She takes refuge in them. She also works at a bookstore and tries to avoid her family as much as she can. At one point, I almost felt that I was her, or in time I would be her. That day maybe isn’t far off.

At every given time in the book, Aaliya is trying to work her way through feelings of uselessness and loneliness. That is where the title of the book fits in. So much so that when she accidentally colours her hair blue, she lets it be. That is the only newness in her everyday monotony.

Alameddine is a fantastic storyteller. He has managed to tell a tale of a woman, without letting his manhood get in the way and that to me is a mark of a great writer. The book cuts across barriers of language and nationality and tells a tale that is universal to all – about loneliness, aging and how to cope in this world that is constantly judging and will not let you do. He speaks of these issues without bringing the reader down, also with some humour at most times. “An Unnecessary Woman” is a must read for all lovers of literature. It is almost a love song, dedicated to reading and readers everywhere.

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A Reading Diary : A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel

A Reading Year - A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel Title: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
Author: Alberto Manguel
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 978-1841958217
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Books, Reading
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

We all must keep a reading diary. Something that chronicles what we read and its impact on our lives or what lives we lead and its impact on what we read. Basically, the idea is to make notes, and not on a laptop or any other electronic device, but handwritten notes, which are so important in today’s time and age.

“A Reading Diary” by Alberto Manguel is one such book. It is about the twelve books that Alberto read or rather reread in a year. Those are his favourite books or at least some of his favourites. He makes the reader sees ways in which time can be spent with a book and good quality time. He makes us see how the mind wanders with one reference made in the book to several made or recollected from memory in other books. That to me is pure genius when it comes to his writing.

There are lists as well in the book – random and some not quite random. There are snatches from Manguel’s life which is a treat to someone who is an ardent fan like me. He speaks of his favourite books and with great passion he tells the reader what he likes and perhaps even does not like about them.

There are so many possibilities in this one for the reader. To take a chance and read all the twelve books listed by him and more that you would come across. He treats his favourite books with great care and could talk endlessly about them and to me that is the beauty of this book. He attaches memory to books, which most readers, should do. He takes memories and conjures them to something magical in front of readers.

“A Reading Diary” is highly recommended by me to most book lovers and people who know the value of life and reading and its true integration.

List of Books read by Manguel:

1. The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares)
2. The Island of Dr. Moreau (Wells)
3. Kim (Kipling)
4. Memoirs From Beyond the Grave (Chateaubriand)
5. The Sign of Four (Doyle)
6. Elective Affinities (Goethe)
7. The Wind in the Willows(Graham)
8. Don Quixote (Cervantes)
9. The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)
10. The Pillow Book (Sei Shonagon)
11. Surfacing (Margaret Atwood)
12. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis)

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So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

So Many Books, So Little Time by Sara Nelson Title: So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading
Author: Sara Nelson
Publisher: Berkley Trade
ISBN: 978-0425198193
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Reading
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars
Started: 24th of December 2014
Ended: 1st of January 2015

The popular adage, “So Many Books, So Little Time” couldn’t be truer. There is always the case of wanting to lap up all those words and sentences and passages and books that have withstood the test of time and the ones that are new on the literature horizon. There is always more and being the hungry reader that I am (or really hope I am), I have always felt this way. With this in mind, there are times (most often than not) that I love reading books about books and an author’s experiences in reading. “Tolstoy and the Purple Chair” was one such book that completely broke my heart and mended it right back for the love of literature that Nina had. “So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading” by Sara Nelson is a great book on the love of books and the power of literature.

Sara Nelson decided one New Year’s Day to read fifty-two books in that year and link those reads to the on-goings of her personal life. That is how the book “So Many Books, So Little Time” was born. The idea of the book is to talk about reading but obviously, but also as a reader you are privy to Sara’s world – that of her family, her work and life in general. This is what makes the book so intimate and special. She talks of her roles of being a daughter, mother, wife and sister and effortlessly there are books in every stage. Of the squabbles between her and her sister, of how she chose her books and how some books just came along her way to the way books have always been integral to her life.

I guess for every reader this book hits home. We have all gone through some of it. Of trying to balance home and work and read at the same time. Of just wanting to curl with your favourite read and forget about the world. For Nelson, this book happens to be “Marjorie Morningstar” by Herman Wouk; a story of a young girl’s coming into her own and discovering the world and her. Nelson first read this book when she was sixteen and it stayed. When she went back to it, something had changed. Either she had outgrown the book or the book had outgrown her. Such experiences in reading and the love of the written word make the book what it is: An absolute delight to read.

There are also her thoughts on reading which makes the book funny in most places. My favourite parts of the book are when she is talking about evolving as a reader and how she can’t imagine life without a book at hand. I also thought that the idea of revisiting writers and reading their works in succession feels like going out on a second or third date too soon to her, which I couldn’t agree more with. She talks of lending and borrowing books, of how books cure everything, and how she just can’t do any bedtime reading to her son. And most of all what I could connect with is the recommendation part – where Nelson talks about how difficult it is to get along with people whose book recommendations you did not like and you know for a fact that just by that you will never connect with those people. It has happened to me – several times.

Let me give you an example of her writing:

Explaining the moment of connection between a reader and a book to someone who’s never experienced it is like trying to describe sex to a virgin.

See what I mean? This is what “So Many Books, So Little Time” is about. About books and more books and also when the year ended and she succeeded in her resolution; the idea was to perhaps stop for a while and see the world as well, with renewed eyes and renewed perception, only with a stronger determination and faith that books will always remain.

Here are some of my favourite parts of the book for you to preview:

Book lovers simply have no choice: we can’t tear ourselves away from the beloved.
A book is a way to shut out the noise of the world. It’s a way to be alone without being totally alone.
I believe that an unreturned book between friends is like a debt unpaid.
I’ve decided never to lie again about what books I’ve read. If I haven’t read something everybody else says they did, I won’t say I have.
When the going gets tough, the tough get reading.
But I approach a novel, no matter how difficult or sophisticated or “literary”, as a form of “pleasure and connection.”
Hell hath no fury like an expectant reader scorned.
To read a book is to have a relationship. And I’ve had dozens of them in the past dozen months.

P.S: Do not forget to read the appendixes of the books she wanted to read, the books she read and the books that still pile on in the to-be-read shelf.

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Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo Title: Because of Winn-Dixie
Author: Kate DiCamillo
Publisher: Walker Books
ISBN: 9780744578294
Genre: Children’s Fiction
Pages: 181
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are a lot of authors who write about animals and humans, but I doubt if any of them write as well as Kate DiCamillo does on the topic. I was first introduced to her when I read, “Flora and Ulysses” and since then I have not turned back. Kate DiCamillo’s stories are heart-warming and each of them features an animal and then the love between humans and animals is most visible.

“Because of Winn-Dixie” is a book about a girl and her chance meeting with a dog that changes everything in her life and in the new town she and her father move to. Ten-year old Opal learns 10 things about her long gone mother from her preacher father. That happens because of Winn-Dixie, the dog she finds at a departmental store and things are then never the same.

I love DiCamillo’s writing. There is of course the simplicity, which is needed for a children’s book but her books are also accessible to adults, when it comes to emotions and feelings. This book made me want to watch the movie. DiCamillo packs so much in less than two hundred pages and with every turn of the page, you either smile or choke up or both. If you want to start reading children’s books, I strongly recommend you read Kate DiCamillo.

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