Tag Archives: Canongate Books

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig Title: Notes on a Nervous Planet
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786892676
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

This is a world of nerves. Of nervousness (as the title rightly suggests), of anxiety and of excess. Everything is in excess and we do not know when to stop or how to control our lives. We are constantly on the edge and losing the very essence of being human. Our lives are spiraling out of control and we perhaps do not know what to do. Matt Haig’s books are about mental health issues we face, the ones he has faced and continues to. The only difference is that he speaks about it, Haig communicates and comes from a place of darkness to speak through his books on issues that we prefer to be silent about.

“Notes on a Nervous Planet” is about what we go through on a daily basis and yet continue to and not battle it because we do not know how to. Haig not only tells us about the issues in detail but also lets us know what he does to combat them, and we could also do that, if we like. For instance, how to not be on the phone constantly, how to get off social media once in a while, how to sleep more and things that we think of but not implement on most of the time.

Haig’s writing is personal. He writes from the heart (using the cliché phrase and apologies for that) and it is clear in the writing. It is all about how to stay sane anymore on a planet such as ours. I loved the way the book is structured, looking at each thing that is messing with our minds and the possible suggestions to each of them – from lack of sleep to addiction to work and play balance to questioning the habits and lifestyles of the digital age.

“Notes on a Nervous Planet” makes you look at life without being preachy about it. All it does is make you want to reclaim humanity, little by little if need be. Matt Haig cleverly and beautifully deconstructs the world we live in and provides suggestions, if not answers or solutions on how to conquer. “Notes on a Nervous Planet” if nothing will make you feel that someone out there knows what you are going through and is able to understand it beautifully to express it the way you will feel a connect. It is the book for our times and much needed. Do read it, please.

 

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Baking with Kafka: Comics by Tom Gauld

Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld Title: Baking with Kafka
Author: Tom Gauld
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd.
ISBN: 978-1786891501
Genre: Comics, Graphic, Humour
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Till now, I have just read one book by Tom Gauld and that is “Mooncop”, which I absolutely loved and couldn’t stop raving about for a long time. And now, the same is the case with “Baking with Kafka”. This one is a series of comics, some of which have been previously published in various publications and most of which focus on books and reading. There are some here and about on pop culture references, but essentially, this one is a treat for all booklovers.

Baking With Kafka - Image 1

Gauld has this minimal sense of drawing which works wonders for me (it isn’t for all, let me also tell you that). The words may not have that kind of impact (mostly, they do) but the drawings most certainly do and sometimes I thought to myself that maybe the words weren’t even needed. I found myself smiling a lot at the literary cartoons. It reminded me of the times when I was growing up and would wait eagerly for the newspaper, only to read the comics page.

Baking with Kafka - Image 2

For instance, there is this cartoon on Jonathan Franzen and how he is averse to any kind of marketing to how a romance novel should be written to when the book is adapted to a movie and the book’s reaction to my most favourite one of how books are classified on bookshelves. As a reader, I could connect to most of what is there in this book. I had never read any of these strips before, so the experience was new and refreshing and did not seem jaded at all.

Baking With Kafka - Image 3

“Baking with Kafka” is a funny, wry book that will leave you with a lot of laughs. If you are having a bad day or in general a grim time, this is the book to go to. Will cheer you like no other.

Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782114185
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 180
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.

“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.

I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.

I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.

At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.

In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.

Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.

And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.

Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.

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Academy Street

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst Title: S.
Authors: J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9780857864772
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Literary, Bibliophilia
Pages: 472
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

S. is an unusual book. Being the die-hard LOST fan that I am, I knew that if J.J. Abrams has co-authored a book (with Doug Dorst) I will for sure love it. It was a given. Sometimes may be you go with the instinct, only to realize that you were right all along. There are also some books, whose synopsis is enough for you to make you know that you have to read this book anyhow and S. happened to be one of them.

S. is a book within a book. It is love for marginalia. It is also bibliophile love. It is love towards authors and their lives and at the same time it is the crazy love for finding out more about an author. S. is all of that and more rolled into one crazy ride of a book.

The book is titled, “Ship of Theseus” by V.M. Straka and you wonder what just happened. Isn’t it meant to be written by Dorst and Abrams? But do not panic. This is the way the book is written. V.M. Straka is a prolific writer and Ship of Theseus is meant to be his last work. While being intellectual, Straka is also a loner. No one has ever seen him. No one knows him either besides his translator and perhaps publisher.

ship-of-theseus-3-Sample

And then there are two readers, Jennifer and Eric, who have never met and communicate only through marginalia in the library book, “Ship of Theseus” speculating about the author, the story of the book, and in all of this, they unravel a lot more about themselves.

Then not to forget is the story of “Ship of Theseus” by Straka, which is the book you will also be reading, about a man lost at sea – who has lost his memory and is with monstrous sailors he does not know and cannot recall. Technically then, there are three stories running parallel and that can either drive you crazy as a reader or keep you wanting more.

The book is brilliantly designed. Ship of Theseus feels and smells like an old library book. There is a sticker on the spine categorizing the book. There are correspondences tumbling out of the book – letters, postcards, maps drawn on coffee house tissue papers, a puzzle, some more postcards and letters that do the rounds, back and forth between Straka and others, and also between Jennifer and Eric.

To begin with, the book might seem difficult to get into, but once you start, you will be hooked to it. The marginalia and reading the text together does take time, but for me that was the only way to do it. I had to read them in tandem, to understand the entire story and context. To me, the book was a rollercoaster ride, with Jen writing in the margin and Eric responding to those. The simple things add to the effect – the different coloured pens used, the writing, the underlining of lines, all of it make you think and relate to what you do as a reader. “S.” is one of those books that need not be begged to be read. An intelligent reader will read it anyway and give it its due.

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Book Review: The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing

The Trip to Echo Spring by Olivia Laing Title: The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink
Author: Olivia Laing
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9781847677945
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 284
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is this thing with almost all writers. They have weird obsessions most of the times, and sometimes they are just addicted to everything or that one thing that they think makes them. Drinking is one of them. I have heard and read about so many stories about writers who are alcoholics, but never wondered why. I always assumed it would be something to do with their creative genius. I always wanted to know more about the condition and why do writers get down that road.

Olivia Laing’s book could not have come at a better time. I wanted to read something serious and got it served on a platter. The book is humane and full of empathy. It never once judges anyone or the situation. “The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink” is a well-researched book, chronicling the lives of six writers who loved to drink – John Cheever, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman and Raymond Carver. The writers’ selection could not have been better.

What I love about the book is the way Laing presents situations. Having grown up in an alcoholic family herself, Laing makes sense of this disease with all sincerity or tries to with great effort. She looks at these writers’ lives, what was common to them, how the likeness then led them to addiction and in some cases recovery as well.

The surprising and sometimes most wondrous thing which Laing goes on to discover is the connection between drinking and their writing. The writing as I said before is very strong and exciting. There is never a dull moment in the book and that happens very rarely in a piece of non-fiction. At the end of the day, read the book to know about creative geniuses and their dependency on alcohol – an extremely interesting insight.

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