Tag Archives: Books

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra. Translated by Megan McDowell

Not To Read by Alejandro Zambra Title: Not To Read
Author: Alejandro Zambra
Translated by Megan McDowell
Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions
ISBN: 978-1910695630
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literary Essays
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I discovered, “Bonsai” by Alejandro Zambra in 2014 and since then I have never looked back. I’ve read all his books and all I can say is that I am glad he exists in the same universe as we do and continues to write. This time it was a collection of essays, some old and some new, collected in a book “Not to Read” and published by the very erudite folks at Fitzcarraldo Editions.

The thing about Zambra’s writing is the high level of engagement he was with his readers, even without meaning to I guess. You instantly relate to what he has to say about libraries, personal libraries and books in general. At the very superficial level it is this, but at a more constant and deeper level it is his writing which seems so effortless thanks to the translation really. McDowell has done a spectacular job of giving words to his thoughts and words of course in another language so smoothly, that you almost want to read the original (written in Spanish).

The essays are spread over three sections and each section, without a doubt is a joy to read. Zambra makes you travel with him, through his literature and also through his pieces on literature. I will for one never forget how he and his friends photocopied books as they were (and still are) very expensive to buy when they were students. What is most endearing is that even when he could afford to buy the originals, the photocopy stacks still remained on the shelves. Or the time when he visits a friend’s house and comments on the shelving of books and the technique used (a hilarious piece by the way).

Zambra’s writing connects with the reader in all of us and that’s why it is so accessible. Another thing about reading books about books is the discovery. Just by reading “Not to Read”, I have chanced upon a dozen or more writers I would’ve never known. Well, the glitch is that most of them aren’t translated to English but hey, I hope wanting to read them will finally make me enroll for Spanish classes. Anything that would make you read new authors, I suppose.

Alejandro Zambra has not praised or touched on the big Chilean writers – either because he doesn’t admire their writing, which is fair or because he sincerely feels there are alternatives (which I was glad to know of). This is a very important aspect of a book about books in my opinion – giving alternatives to what already exists. The cannons of literature will remain and revered, but we need something else to hold onto as well.

“Not to Read” can be read in one sitting (like I did) or better yet dip into it time and again, read an essay or two and mull over its magnificence. I am only too happy that more authors are writing about books and reading. One of my favourite genres so far. I strongly recommend everyone to read this book.

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Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Title: Border Districts
Author: Gerald Murnane
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374115753
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written.

“Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head.

Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was.

“Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

The Park Bench by Chabouté

The Park Bench by Chabouté Title: The Park Bench
Author: Chabouté
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571332304
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The first read of the year – I love the sound of this sentence. 2018 couldn’t have started off better. Yes, it is a graphic novel. Yes, it is a book with only images and no words, but who said, images can’t be read? Who said that this doesn’t count as a book? No one really and even if they did, then well, to each his own. To me, ​it is a read and a satisfying one at that.

“The Park Bench” by Chabouté is about a park bench (obviously in a park) and the people it watches pass, stop, meet, return, wait, sleep, thrown out, and all of this happens in a strangely intertwined manner that is life. The bench in all of this is the central character – stable, stationary and yet witness to all of it. Imagine if the bench could talk, the stories it could tell, isn’t it? The book is just like that.

There is so much hope contained in this book that it will make you see the world differently, even if it is for a short while. The use of space, lines, art that conveys so many emotions and yet there is something hidden that makes you want to know more and above all the recurring characters that become so familiar – the ache when the book ends and you know what you have experienced is something so profound.

“The Park Bench” makes you mull over​ things and people other than yourself (which is a very good thing, given the times we live in). It might also make you want to speak with a stranger, nod at someone in understanding, smile at someone or maybe just be. There have been so many times when I have wanted to reach out to someone and haven’t. Maybe now I will.

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.

 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout Title: My Name is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 978-1400067695
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

There are times when you stumble on books, do not read them, or read a couple of pages and drop them. You pick them up again and do not get past a couple of pages. You pick it up again (the specific, dreaded book in question) and yet you just cannot seem to make it beyond the thirtieth page or so. Till one fine day, you pick it up and voila! You just cannot seem to stop reading it. In fact, you don’t want the book to end. You want it to continue, to unravel its secrets, the words that consume you and in turn make you think things about your life.

Art is almost a replica of life. They say it imitates life. I say, it just is. “My Name is Lucy Barton” by Elizabeth Strout may not resonate page by page or in the overall sense of plot, but there are places where it will take your breath away (it at least did that to me). It is a very regular story or so it seems.

Lucy Barton is unwell. She is undergoing a minor surgery and is in the hospital. It is the early 90s (not specified but you can more or less figure). Her mother visits her and stays with her for five days. The book opens with them speaking of the old days – of Lucy’s childhood, her siblings and how they lived.

That is when the secrets tumble and questions come to the fore – them being born to poverty, the time her parents locked her in a truck with a snake (why), the time her father humiliated her brother, calling him a “fucking faggot” in front of everyone after he was caught trying Mom’s high heels. We can see the family is beyond dysfunctional and redemption of any kind. Lucy is wounded, and yet she is happily married (or so we think), with two children and is on the way to becoming a writer.

Strout speaks of marriage, family, children, love, homosexuality and so much more through Lucy. And yet she makes Lucy such an unreliable narrator that you are confused but want to know so much more and after a point you do not care, if Lucy is telling the truth or not. You believe her anyway. The book is pretty much rooted in Lucy’s childhood and her reactions to things as she is an adult comes from a deep, dark, lonely place.

On the surface, “My Name is Lucy Barton” may not seem much of a book, but as you dive into its pages, you can see it for what it is and if you are looking for more answers, then there’s the sequel “Anything is Possible” (which I need to get to as soon as possible). Strout proves that brevity could most of the time be the best tool used in fiction. This book is less than two hundred pages and yet it is not a fast read. You will mull and ponder over what you read. Perhaps even go back to some sentences.

Here are some of my favourite quotes:

“It interests me how we find ways to feel superior to another person, another group of people. It happens everywhere, and all the time. Whatever we call it, I think it’s the lowest part of who we are, this need to find someone else to put down.”

“Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

“You will have only one story,” she had said. “You’ll write your one story many ways. Don’t ever worry about story. You have only one.”

“But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.”

“But the books brought me things. This is my point. They made me feel less alone.”

“Because we all love imperfectly.”