Tag Archives: Books

Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives by David Denby

Lit Up Title: Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives
Author: David Debby
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1250117038
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How does a teacher ensure that children read? How does he get teenagers who are constantly on social media and on their phones to get to pick up a book and explore the world in its pages? As an English teacher, that was the biggest task in front of David Denby. It would be an awkward start for sure – one to convince them to read, get them interested in books, which were an alien concept to them and second how to go about that.

“Lit-Up” is a story. It reads like that for sure. How David went about doing this not in just one public school but three of them, sure is motivating. For me, it was the honesty of the writing that came through and stuck. David talks about his challenges with the same enthusiasm as he highlights the small successes. How his encounters with students shape him as a teacher and a person and through that how he started enjoying some books a little more filled me with so much joy.

What is interesting also is the selection of books – the twenty-four books are quite diverse – from Faulkner (very challenging you think? Not for Denby’s students) to Plath to Huxley and Orwell (both seem so relevant as of today) and more. At the end, what Denby really has to say is “choose what you want to read and read as much as you can”. This level of engagement with students is what will suck you into the book.

“Lit-Up” is one of those rare books that makes you want to get up and make a change – no matter how small or big. It just makes you want to do something worthwhile with your life and teachers do it so well. They just reach out to you and make that one difference in your life. Denby chose to do it with books and reading. A read that hits all the right chords.

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Men without Women: Stories by Haruki Murakami. Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen

Title: Men Without Women: Stories
Author: Haruki Murakami
Translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel and Ted Goossen
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9780451494627
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

When Murakami writes, you sit up and take notice. It happens to me every single time I pick up his books – he shocks me out of my existence, and takes me to a world of missing cats or women, jazz, elephants even, books – more so noir ones, and places where one loses their soul and don’t know how to get it back. His world is weird but I must also admit that it is pretty close to the one in which we live – only we don’t see it that clearly, whereas he has managed to and that’s why has the capacity to sweep us off our feet, every single time.

The same anticipation and excitement made me start his latest collection of stories (this means there is a novel coming up in 2018) “Men without Women” (inspired by Hemingway and thank God that’s where the inspiration ends). Well, let me be honest – as much as I love and adore Murakami’s writing, I wasn’t impressed initially. They all seemed to be the same kind of stories I had read in the past – about jazz, cats, women leaving men, etc. I thought it was the same but I was gladly mistaken when that perception changed as I finished the fourth story.

“What changed?” you might ask. Well, I think after the fourth story, at least to me, his stories made sense like they never had. The loneliness existed (but obviously) in each of them and there was this sense of ennui as well that loomed large, but there was something else that kept gnawing at me – something that I just cannot define. Was it my mid-life crisis (I just turned 34) that I saw being manifested in these stories? At some point, was it the realization of being lonely and perhaps abandoned by someone I love? What was it, that kept tugging at my heart relentlessly? Trust me, I tried very hard to find the answer within the pages of this collection of 7 stories (out of which I love four) that are vintage Murakami – and so be it if he has to write the way he does every single time, as long as people’s hearts and souls can relate to his written word.

Murakami’s characters are mysterious, enigmatic, call them what you might but they are just human – like you and I. The only difference is that their vulnerabilities are to be peeled – layer by layer – they don’t show it. So it could be Kino right out of a bad marriage, who opens a bar and emerges himself in it, only to understand his purpose. Or for that matter it could be the story of a successful plastic surgeon who hopelessly falls in love with a married woman (with whom and many others he has a clockwork arrangement of meeting and fucking and nothing else) and is doomed because he cannot have her. Murakami’s characters and his worlds are hidden and yet once in a while you get some glimpses of it to help you navigate through the writing, which to me is superlative.

The story that stood out most particularly for me was “Samsa in Love” – a tribute to Kafka, where Gregor Samsa woke up to find that he is human (loved the irony there) and how there is some sort of dystopian world at large outside his house, which he is unaware of, till a lady who deals with making locks makes him aware of it. This is Prague by the way – one of the few times I have read a Murakami story set outside of Japan. The pace at which this story moved – extremely fast and at the same time, leaves you with this unsettling feeling. I think most of his stories do that. They jolt you from your reverie and you don’t even realize that it has happened long after till you mull over it.

A lot of people have also criticized this collection by calling it sexist. Have they even read this collection of stories? To my mind, there is nothing sexist about it – it is if anything about empowered women who know better than men – a lot better if you ask me. They are not vague about their decision-making, nor are they women who need men – in fact it is the other way around – in all these 7 stories it is the men who want women so badly, that they might just do anything to have them in their lives. The translation by Philip Gabriel (who to my mind has translated most of Murakami’s works) and Ted Goossen shines – you can sense everything that Murakami might want to say (maybe I felt it because I have read a lot of his work?) and nothing seems to be lost to the reader.

From a recently widowed actor in the story “Drive My Car” to a teenager who has no ambition whatsoever and wants his girlfriend to date other men in “Yesterday”, Murakami’s men are there everywhere. Some of them lead lives that are content. Some that aren’t. Some who glide through life not wanting to upset the order of things and some who will challenge everything laid out for them. But they are around for sure. We just need to see them with the right set of eyes.

You are Having a Good Time: Stories by Amie Barrodale

51XyTyEIp7L Title: You are Having a Good Time: Stories
Author: Amie Barrodale
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 978-0374293864
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“You are Having a Good Time” by Amie Barrodale is a collection of non-interlinked stories of desire, consequences be damned. It is about characters who are so simple that all they want is for their desires to see fruition and at the same time so complex that they want to justify everything that desire makes them do (or so it seems). The desires in these stories could be related to the body or not. The underline theme though is that of normality being stripped away from every single character, for him or her to discover who they truly are behind the façade.

Barrodale writes with such honesty that she almost shows you the mirror without you wanting to see it. From an up and coming starlet harboring a complicated attraction to her abusive director to a compromised psychiatrist getting embroiled in a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship to even a woman who just wants to break free, so ends up having an affair with a drummer that will ruin it all, Barradole’s characters do not follow any rules. The mean, ugly, often oblivious characters are just placed in terrible situations and they have deal with them, no matter what.

This collection of short-stories does not make you question anything but if definitely makes you think of human relationships a little more in detail. The borderline of being macabre and beautiful is rather thin when it comes to Amie’s style of writing. The stories are devastatingly honest and it might even cause some discomfort but I guess that is the intent of the author. “You are Having a Good Time” will make you think and wonder about what is going on with your life at the end of the day – the compromises you make, the compromises you demand from other people and above all will make you question desire and responsibilities.

All That Man Is by David Szalay

51PSst0HidL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_ Title: All That Man Is
Author: David Szalay
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977535
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“All that Man Is” is classified as a novel, however to me it was just a wonderful collection of short stories that represent man at a pivotal time in his life. Each story advances age to age and gives us a glimpse of man and his complexities – the way he functions, thinks, and conducts himself. The stories at the same time are also interwoven but by very small details – details that you might even not recognize as you go along and somehow comes full-circle at the end of the book. I would call the book dark but not depressing. It just manages to show you men’s lives and how they are. At the same time, it doesn’t make motherhood statements in any story nor does it endorse the concept of “all men”, which to me was very refreshing.

Szalay’s style of writing is brooding. I like the fact that he spends a lot of time on each story and more than that on each character – giving it the full body and flesh as it should be. Also, might I add that these men are away from home, so that adds another layer altogether to the narrative – which is delightful, fearsome and thrilling at the same time. Also, the locales in which these stories are set are quite edgy in the sense of being melancholic – whether it is a suburb in Prague or a dingy hotel in Cyprus to an Alpine village, the drama of life and death unfolds beautifully through the prose.

The book relies heavily on its characters, more than the locales, which is how it should be, however at some point I thought that the detailing was a bit much sometimes and could have been avoided a little. Having said that, the nine lives could not have been put in any other way than what Szalay has done. “All That Man Is” is a tribute to the contemporary urban life and how we are all a part of this gigantic mosaic that doesn’t fail to amaze us with its simplicity, complexity and zest for life, no matter what.

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez
Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.