Tag Archives: death

Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me by Bill Hayes

insomniac-city-by-bill-hayes Title: Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me
Author: Bill Hayes
Publisher: Bloomsbury
ISBN: 978-1620404935
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember a friend sending me excerpts of this book. I read it while I was at Doolally – a taproom in Bombay. I was waiting for friends to show up for the Wednesday night quiz and then something happened which I hadn’t expected to – I wept by the time I had finished reading the long excerpt. I cried. I think I even bawled. I strongly also believe that when an art form does that to you – when it creeps up on you like that and almost shatters your world – you’re in for a rollercoaster ride. That happened to me as I was reading “Insomniac City: New York, Oliver and Me” by Bill Hayes, from which the excerpt was.

Relationships are fragile, they are also very strong. At the same time, what do you do when it ends all of a sudden? When it ends not because you want it to, but because death comes suddenly knocking on your partner’s door and there is nothing you can do about it. Then what? Hayes’s partner died after sixteen years of togetherness. He then moved to New York from San Francisco in search of a new start (as most of us do). He found himself in a city that was surprising, random, and at the same time made him see the humanity that exists. Slowly and steadily, he fell in love with New York and found love in the form of the late, great neurologist and writer, Dr. Oliver Sacks.

This book “Insomniac City” as the title suggests is about New York, Oliver Sacks and Bill Hayes. It is also about life – majorly so, and how it changes constantly whether we would like it or not. It is about New York – of how brutal and gentle she can be at the same time, of how to surrender to the city is to love her completely and without any prejudice. The book ultimately is about great love that transcends all barriers, challenges, doubts and the throes of darkness. There are also the author’s stunning photographs – capturing his love for the city and Oliver.

Let me not forget the portrait of Oliver Sacks that Bill Hayes paints so vividly and beautifully – a genius who did not own a computer – who always preferred to communicate via letters and longhand, who didn’t know how a champagne bottle was opened and used goggles when he first opened them for the fear of the cork hitting his eye, who called pot “cannabis” and who believed in living life as it came – day by day. Hayes met Oliver after Oliver wrote him a letter praising his book “The Anatomist” and this is how they met and love blossomed. The book is about that love, about how Oliver met Hayes after three decades of being alone and celibate. “Insomniac City” will surprise you in ways more than one.

“Insomniac City” is about the love between Oliver and Hayes and what they shared in Oliver’s final years. The writing is so personal and out there that you cannot help but be overwhelmed. Their love for things common, their roads to discovering something they did not know, and what it is to live daily – for the bond to strengthen and one fine day to see that love slip away. The book teaches you about grief, about people coming together quite randomly on a bus or a train and makes you more aware and conscious of what it is to be human. I cannot recommend this book enough. Do yourself a favour: Order it, read it and weep. You need a good cry, now and then.

Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

daytripper-by-fabio-moon-and-gabriel-ba Title: Daytripper
Author: Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Publisher: Vertigo
ISBN: 978-1401229696
Genre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are graphic novels that are those which you read and forget after a couple of months, till you go back to them. Then there are those which you read and you don’t need going back to them – because they never left you. “Daytripper” by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá is one such graphic novel. I could go on, and praise it eloquent but that’s not the point of this review (well it is to some extent). The point is that very few novels or graphic novels change you or move you and this is one of them.

“Daytripper” is one of those graphic novels that could have gotten preachy but did not. It could have also gotten sentimental and quite overwhelming but it does not. It is tender and brutal at the same time – and doesn’t lose the overall plot. Maybe because it hits home so bad and so hard that you also want to just take off – for a month or two and ask yourself this one basic, simple and haunting question: How do you plan to spend the rest of your days?

This question is the essence of this book – well at least, according to me. The book tells the story of Brás de Oliva Domingos and does so in a fractured, disjointed fashion. Time bends, narratives are scattered, nothing is what it seems and we meet Brás at various major events of his life – we meet him first when he is thirty-two and going to see his father, a famous novelist receive a lifetime achievement award. We then meet him when he is twenty-one and seeking the world. We encounter him when he is eleven and then at forty something and then at seventy six – you get the drift I suppose. I must also add here that the protagonist is an obituary writer. The obits, his life, and different times that the reader is exposed to or given a peek into are brilliantly conjured and written.

What is this book about you might ask? It is a book of missed opportunities, of second chances, of life taking its own course and you having no control over it – that’s what it is about. The Brazilian twins have done a fantastic job of storytelling and pushing the story forward, and connecting all pieces, which is imperative in a graphic novel of such magnitude. I love this book beyond love I think. It encompasses every emotion – love, friendship, envy, gratitude, heartbreak, loss and above all to look inside you and actually figure out what is it all about after all.

“Daytripper” is one of those graphic novels that make you sit back and question all of it – at least in my case and that is what a good book should do. I would strongly urge everyone to go out there, pick up this brilliant graphic novel, read it, be immersed, be overwhelmed and feel the irresistible need to go and discuss it with anyone else who has read it.

Affiliate Link:

http://amzn.to/2cGmrtk

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith Title: The Cuckoo’s Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith
Series: Cormoran Strike – Book 1
Publisher: Mullholland Books
ISBN: 978-0316206853
Genre: Suspense, Detective, Crime
Pages: 464
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

With great trepidation, I picked up “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Gailbraith. There was already so much written and said about it almost two years ago, that I did not even know if I wanted to read it or not. I am glad that I picked it up. Please do not even compare it to the Harry Potter series. You just cannot. May be that is why J.K. Rowling had to change her identity and write this series and once the identity was out, well then the critics had their field day- both good and bad.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the first in the Cormoran Strike (the name of the detective) series and while the third one is just out, there are more lined up. I don’t know how many though. All I can tell you is that the book is something else for sure and I cannot wait to read the second and the third installments.

What is the first book about?

Of course, at the heart of the book is the Private Detective Cormoran Strike – the ex-army guy with his own complicated personal life and skeletons in the closet, his business which is drying up, and of course he had to have a messy break-up with his fiancée.
So everything is downhill till Robin a temp arrives from the Temp Agency and ends up becoming a permanent secretary/assistant of sorts and then a case lands up on his doorstep which he just cannot refuse. It is a high-profile case – that of a supermodel – falling to death from her third-floor Mayfair apartment and her brother suspects foul play and hires Cormoran to investigate further. This in short is the gist. It is like any other hard-boiled detective novel you might say. So what makes it any different?

I guess it is the writing for sure but it is also the noir element that runs through the book, given it is set in London and also given how the characters are all people with shades of grey as it should be in a book like this. I instantly took a shine to Cormoran and the wry humour that prevailed throughout. The working class of London is also very well depicted, without leaning to any social or political context. The lives of people – both the detectives and the suspects are so detailed that it is a joy to read the book and know more about them.

“The Cuckoo’s Calling” is the kind of book that cannot be read in one sitting. It needs to be cherished and savoured and not read in one go. At least I wasn’t able to. Cormoran Strike is a detective that will grow on you as he did on me and I cannot wait to read The Silkworm.

Affiliate Link:

The Cuckoo’s Calling (English)

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter Title: Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Author: Max Porter
Publisher: Faber & Faber
ISBN: 978-0571323760
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Grief – A word that we are most afraid of encountering in our lives. A word that has the capacity to change everything and turn life on its head and shake your being to the core. We all experience it, whether we like it or not. We have no choice in this regard. Life does not give us any choices. I guess after happiness, which we also share quite hesitatingly, grief comes close second as an emotion that is not shared. We keep it within and maybe that is when we need to be pushed to let it all out and get over it (so to say) and move on with life.

Everybody passing could comprehend how much I miss her. How physical my missing is. I miss her so much it is a vast golden prince, a concert hall, a thousand trees, a lake, nine thousand buses, a million cars, twenty million birds and more. The whole city is my missing her.

It is just that it kicks you senseless, this grief I mean. It will not let you be as well. I remember how I felt when my father passed away in 2001. Fourteen years seems to be a very long time and it probably is and yet grief is at the core of it all, mixed with regrets and prematurely died promises and hopes that we had as a family. So when I read, “Grief is the Thing with Feathers” I could not stop wondering about our lives in that phase from the time it happened to the time we moved on (did we?) and perhaps that’s why this debut by Max Porter struck such a chord with me.

Loss and pain in the world is unimaginable but I want them to try.

“Grief is a Thing with Feathers” is a book which can be read by everyone and that is what I think every book aims to be – to be read by everyone in the long run, for people to connect with it, for people to not leave it, for people to also wonder why did it end so soon (which happens to be more often than not when I read books such as this one – which is so moving) and of course for people to reread it.

Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project. I refuse to rush. The pain is thrust upon us let no man slow or speed or fix.

The book is about the death of a mother and how the husband and two boys come to terms with her death. It is not as easy as it sounds. Life never is and that is the beauty of this book. They need something to help them cope – an external resource and that comes in the form of a giant Crow (fable-like, mythical quality, whatever you may call it, but it helps them live day to day), who transforms their lives inside out and will only leave once the healing is complete.

Grieving is something you’re still doing, and something you don’t need a crow for.

Max Porter’s writing shines on almost every single page. The writing style and composition of the book is varied – part prose, part rhyme and part poetry, it is a meditation on living and dying and the void called grief, thrown right in-between these two. My only grouse with the book was the crow’s voice at times, because I just could not understand that and that voice happened to be most crucial in the book. Well, having said that the story on its own is so strong that you cannot help but turn the pages, one after the other.

The narrative is not straight-forward and that is what sets this book apart from the regular ones written on the subject of death and grieving. There are silences in the book that speak to the reader and make him or her their own. The book is highly emotional but does not at any point become sentimental. The three voices in the book are so unique and distinct that even in less than one hundred and fifty pages you start developing fondness for all the characters, including the crow. The dark humour, the moving on pieces right in the end and the way life just comes full circle, whether we want it to or not is beautifully portrayed in these pages. It is a wild and at the same time a tender exploration of grief and above all most reassuring that the void does get filled at some point.

“Grief is a Thing with Feathers” is a sparkling debut which comes to be only once in a while. So I highly recommend that you go out there, pick up this book, read it and while you are reading, let not anyone interrupt the marvelous experience.

Here’s Max Porter reading from the book:

Affiliate Link:

Grief is the Thing with Feathers

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott

Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott Title: Dandelion Clocks
Author: Rebecca Westcott
Publisher: Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0141348995
Genre: Young Adult
Pages: 288
Source: Product Manager
Rating: 4/5

The age of “sick-literature” is on. Almost all young adult books have that element in them after “The Fault in Our Stars” and I am not surprised. It can get a bit annoying though. I would rather be back in the time and place when literature for children and teens was simple and reality-free. Or maybe it is the times when they already know so much; that this cannot hurt all that much or maybe I am just thinking too much about it?

Anyway, I read “Dandelion Clocks” by Rebecca Westcott on the fifth of July. I finished it in a day. The premise was nice. The characters were well-etched (some of them though lacked some depth but I am sure, the author will take care of that in the sequel Violet Ink). The book could have been longer, according to me and that is only because I liked it and wanted to know more. All in all, “Dandelion Clocks” was a good read. It also choked me up (as usual) and that is only because, no matter what age one is at, the idea of losing a parent or being away from home (in my case) and thinking about Mom (this book is based on children-mother relationship) can get you all teary-eyed.

“Dandelion Clocks” is about Olivia, an eleven year old and six months in her life, knowing her mother is going to not be there. She will die soon. It is also about Isaac, her older brother with Asperger’s syndrome and how she deals with it. It is about friendship, love, death and identity as you grow up. Olivia loves clicking pictures. She finds her solace and comfort in them. And that again is the crux of the story, as she wants to keep memories alive through them.

On the other hand, it is about her mother trying to teach her how to be a better human being, as she no longer will be around and this she wants to through her diaries written when she was a teenager. It is also about Olivia’s aunt, brother and Dad and how they feel (well that will again be brought up in the sequel in a more detailed manner, I hope). As far as the title goes, let me tell you that you have to read the book to figure that one out.

Like I said, the premise is excellent. The narrative moves at a brisk pace. I just wanted more of it. The book is so taut in some places and somehow loses some steam in others. Having said that, I am still eagerly waiting for the sequel to know what happens in Olivia’s life and how she copes with loss of a loved one. “Dandelion Clocks” is a story that will captivate (in its own way), it will hurt (again in its own way) and will make you want to read the sequel, and I only hope that the sequel is longer.

Here is also the book trailer:

Affiliate Link:

Buy Dandelion Clocks from Flipkart.com