Tag Archives: Canongate Books

Read 219 of 2021. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

Title: The Book of Form and Emptiness
Author: Ruth Ozeki
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1838855239
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 560
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

All I am going to say is this, if you haven’t Ruth Ozeki, now is the time and no better book to start with than this one. The Book of Form and Emptiness has to be one of my top 10 favourites of the year. It shines, it dazzles, it makes you believe in the not so believable aspects of life and living, but above all – the writing is splendid. It has the touch of lightness to it, without it being it. Ruth Ozeki has done it again and deserves two rounds of applause.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is about a boy named Benny Oh whose father Kenji, a Korean American jazz musician is run over by a chicken truck in an alley behind their house. And this is where the story begins. A story of grief, loss, even humour to some extent, hope, and how we redeem ourselves from the guilt we hold inside. Soon after, Benny starts hearing voices from inside everything. From his dead father’s clarinet to objects around the house to the lettuce in the fridge to furniture to everything in sight – each clamouring for their own attention and space. They all tell Benny their stories – of pain, of laughter, of histories of abuse and how they were handled.

Things are going downhill for his mother Anabelle as well. Benny and she constantly fight, as she refuses to let go of things and hoards more and more, and he cannot help but want to get rid of things as they speak and speak and speak. In all of this, Ozeki speaks of complex neurodivergent subjectivity in some form, touches on Benny’s journey into the schizoaffective, leading him to one of the quietest spots – the library. Even though books also speak with him, especially one specific book. At the library, he finds love and philosophy in two very different people – one a street artist, and the other a homeless philosopher-poet.

The Book of Form and Emptiness is about everything and nothing at all. It is about all of it – rolled into one – about space junk, about life on the margins, toxic masculinity, of Zen Buddhism, bad weather, of coping mechanisms, and above all about how humans come together and find love in most unexpected places.

Ozeki’s writing is magnificent. Almost like a painting or a movie. Her writing is constantly in motion and that makes the reader want to keep pace or just lay languidly without turning the page. The writing gives you the comfort and luxury to do that. The book is also about books to a large extent – of how books save us and what role they play in our lives. Ozeki writes carefully about mental health and trauma, with most empathy and grace. Ozeki’s world is surreal, it is haunting, it is not perfect, and definitely not absolute. It is messy, jagged, demands attention, and perhaps talks about things that truly matter or should matter to human beings, given our small lives.

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy

The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy Title: The Little Snake
Author: A.L. Kennedy
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1786893871
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This inventive, almost fable-like book is just what I needed in times such as these, and so do you. The Little Snake is a story of a girl named Mary, and a snake named Lanmo, and about human beings on this planet, and who we are at the heart of it all. It is a story of how the snake is a symbol of death, is so full of wisdom, and can sense feelings through tasting the air people breathe.

The Little Snake is a book that is so profound and you don’t realise it as you are reading it, but toward the end it all becomes clear. I don’t know what else to say about this book that will stay with me for a very long time. There are some books that come to you, and even after they have you don’t get to them at the earliest. You take your time because there is always a right time to read the right book (no matter what anyone else thinks). The book is influenced by The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and I am not surprised given the language used and descriptions of beauty lending to hope in times of hopelessness.

I found myself thinking of all that is happening right now with reference to Corona Virus, to how we as humans are – taking opportunity of a crisis, to getting together and showing kindness and empathy. The Little Snake is a story of everyone’s journey – from life to death, about community where only wealth and power exists, to the means people have to survive and hope for a better tomorrow.

February 2020 Reading Wrap-Up

February 2020 Wrap-Up

 

Wanted to read more than I read in January 2020. Ended up reading one book less. So, February ended with 12 books read. 10 seen here as two are lent to other people.
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Here’s hoping March 2020 will be kinder and more will be read, thanks to the International Booker 2020 shadow panel and the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2020. February was great with a book about love, of Delhi and its poems, of Allende and the Spanish Civil War, of a graphic novel about the Khmer Rouge, of Offill’s take on climate change with a story seeped in domesticity of life, of love and loss in Dear Edward and more. .
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Here is the list read with my ratings:

1. Amour by Stefania Rousselle (5)
2. A long petal of the sea by Isabel Allende. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson (5)
3. Year of the Rabbit by Tian Veasna. Translated from the French by Helge Dascher (5)
4. Like Blood on the Bitten Tongue by Akhil Katyal. Illustrations by Vishwajyoti Ghosh.
5. Chhotu by Varud Gupta and Ayushi Rastogi. (3)
6. The book of Indian kings (4)
7. Weather by Jenny Offill (5)
8. How we fight for our lives by Saeed Jones (5)
9. Snow, Dog, Foot by Claudio Morandini. Translated from the Italian by J. Ockenden (4)
10. Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano (5)
11. Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher (4)
12. Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine (5) .
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So, this is my list of February 2020 reads. What about yours?

Letters of Note: Love. Compiled by Shaun Usher.

Letters of Note - Love - Compiled by Shaun Usher Title: Letters of Note: Love
Compiled by Shaun Usher
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9781786895325
Genre: Compilation, Letters
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4

I was sixteen. He was twenty-five. It was the first time I wrote a love-letter and sent it to someone. I never got a reply. But I continued writing and sending love-letters to various men after that. I think this happened till the Internet took over my life, but that’s not the point I am trying to make here. What I’m saying is that there was a different kind of charm when it came to those letters – I am not romanticizing it one bit, but I guess in retrospect even the scratching and cutting out of phrases and sometimes being candid enough to tell all you felt for the person made you want to not send the letter. You get the drift

About ten days ago, I finished reading “Letters of Note: Love” – compiled by Shaun Usher and all I wanted to do was to reread those thirty letters all over again. Each of these letters is painfully beautiful and expresses love the manner in which I always fall short of words.

From Rilke’s lover expressing her love to him after he died to Steinbeck’s letter to his son speaking about love and heartbreak, to even my personal favorite – one from Vita Sackville-West to Woolf, each of these letters definitely talk of love, but in the most gracious and heartfelt manner.

I don’t know how they did it back in the day when letters used to be written, but they sure knew how to make words seem extraordinary. Whether it is Nabokov writing to his wife, or Johnny Cash to June Carter, each letter is unique, each expressing love in a different manner. No two letters are similar. The language of love and of the heart remains the same.

If you enjoy this (which I am sure you will), do check out Letters of Note, and More Letters of Note – both compiled by Shaun Usher.

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.