Tag Archives: Books

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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387 Short Stories : Day 293 : New and Second-Hand by Altaf Tyrewala

Engglishhh by Altaf Tyrewala

Today started with missing home, which I do almost every single day. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of Bombay. Not a day goes by when I do think about the sea. And not to forget all the places where I shopped for books and soaked myself in those places.

Today’s story, “New and Second-Hand” by Altaf Tyrewala just brought back those memories – of school and college, when I would scrounge the streets for great literature and not to forget the very famous store, “New and Second-Hand Book Store” at Dhobi Talao (after which this story is named and dedicated to) which shut in 2011.

“New and Second-Hand” is a story of decline of a bookstore. It is the decline of literature and it is most vividly and bitingly told by Tyrewala. The language hits the spot. He speaks of a time gone by and that which is slowly declining. For me, growing up and being a Bombay boy meant to a large extent books being sold on pavements and those shops that one went to every weekend. The story is of a bookstore owner and how he knows that it is all going to end, given the times he lives in. He is bitter, lonely and loves books (contrary to what he says). He wants a companion and has given up on finding one. He lives in despair in Bombay, waiting for the bookstore to be sold.

The story is brilliantly told and I urge all of you to read it. It is a beautiful ode to the city and the times that were. I could not help but cry.

My favourite parts from the story:

“Reading used to be a step away from renunciation. Now it is another excuse to pick up unattractive lovers.”

“Such are the incidental joys of browsing. It takes a particular sort of personality to delight in the unexpected find, to take relish in stumbling upon something while seeking something else. I am sad to report that such a personality, receptive to serendipity, is now on the wane.”

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Love among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond

Love among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond Title: Love among the Bookshelves
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Penguin Books, Viking
ISBN: 9780670087341
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I was eagerly waiting to read this book. And to some extent this book disappointed me. I thought there would be more about books and reading and the experiences of Mr. Bond with his books, but it somehow was not that.

“Love among the Bookshelves” is a well-thought of book and it does talk about Mr. Bond’s adventures in reading, but somehow for me, it fell short in most places. I love books about books and reading. This one just did not do it for me.

The book started off well with Ruskin’s experiences when it came to reading and how it all began, but from there on it was a downhill reading experience for me. Maybe it was the excerpts of every of his favourite writer, or maybe it was the fact that not enough time was spent on reading experiences, per se, but the book did not click with me.

On the other hand, Bond’s style of writing is still the same – simple and sweet and direct to a very large extent, which is what even made me turn the pages. I did not give up. Ruskin Bond’s writing can never make you leave the book mid-way, but like I said, this time, one of his books did not do it for me. I did enjoy the part when he was in London and the books he discovered there.

The recommended reading list at the end of the book is alright. It has some good books in it. All said and done, I would recommend, “Love among the Bookshelves” to ardent Bond fans who must read every book of his.

Reading Places and Times

Reading is a form of joy that none other. It can provide pleasure in so many ways that one cannot even imagine at times. With reading, memories are created. Hoards of them and sometimes way too many to remember. This post is one such attempt to chronicle memory related to books, the places they have been read at and positions that one has been comfortable reading them in. All readers would be able to relate to this one, because sometimes sense of time and place is so important to reading, that you cannot forget it in a lifetime.

I remember childhood most vividly. When reading was a luxury, away from studies. Away from the books that one did not have to look at till the next year or till the next term. When my parents would want me to sleep early and I was hiding under the covers with a book and a torch (done that as well). That is probably the first memory that is stuck with books.

Memories related and connected to books have always been special. Be it sitting alone in my room (which I had to share with one sibling) at fourteen when my nose was stuck in David Copperfield (at those times I wished I was an orphan, just to live that life) and my mind was elsewhere by then. Wuthering Heights was read for the first time at Worli Sea Face by sitting on a bench and listening to the sea murmur at intervals. There would have been no perfect setting for such a book. Maybe it was the sea and its memory that added to the charm of the book and to the reason of it being one of my favourite books of all-time.

Books have to be read in a special place and we all have them. It could be the corner of your room or it could be that special spot in the library. The point is that sometimes we can only read there. The place that brings us that required comfort with the book that is loved. I can never read without lying down on my stomach and the sufficient light that has to fall on the book, from a particular angle. That is much needed. The type of food one is used to eating with the book you read is also essential to the reader. Food goes best with reading. My reading food has to be a packet of chips with Diet Coke and of course care is taken before turning the page – a napkin on the side and the Coke can kept far away from the book.

I also remember the time I was at loggerheads with my family and spent hours in my college library reading. The British Library spot right next to the DVD section is most fondly remembered. Virginia Woolf was discovered in that phase – the existentialism narrative and linear thought flow was also discovered in the aisles of the library. Those memories don’t let go and shouldn’t as well.

The journeys undertaken have always been with books. Be it a train journey, on which I cannot sleep and a book is sufficient, as the train whizzes by and the reading process between sips of tea, purchased at a small station at two in the morning. A long flight journey. A bookstore in a foreign land and a café where everyone knows you and is ok with the fact that you order one Latte and read there for hours. The comfort of knowing that helps uninhibited reading.

Reading is as personal and solitary hobby that it can be. It breeds in solitude. It requires that space to allow flights of fancy. Reading does that to you. It creates memories, hundreds of them – of favourite books, of loved writers, of books re-read all the time, of spaces and places, of foods eaten and enjoyed and ultimately love for them, that carries on irrespective.