Tag Archives: essays

Read 2 of 2023. Intimations: Six Essays by Zadie Smith

Intimations - Six Essays by Zadie SmithTitle: Intimations: Six Pieces
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0593297612
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 97
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

For the longest time, I avoided “pandemic” literature. I did not want to read about the lockdown, about the Corona virus, about Covid-19, about lack of vaccines, of how people had to migrate, what difficulties we faced as a community, and what did the pandemic signify for decades to come. I just did not want to read about it, till I did when I read some fantastic books last year such as “How High We Go in the Dark” and “Sea of Tranquility”, each of them just telling me more about the human connection, and how we can only survive through empathy.

Zadie Smith’s most profound and striking piece of writing is this collection of six essays about how we live – then and now, if we change as humans, if we have learned anything at all from the situation that was, and what it is now – only of course she speaks of 2020 through these essays that are about people she knows, people she doesn’t know all that much, of life as a writer before and during the pandemic, of how we all learned to live, and some had to learn to survive.

The art of the essay is a unique one – to separate the personal from the public and political, and to merge them when you want to suffuse intimacy with tenderness, which she does most marvellously through these short six pieces. My most favourite piece has to be, “Contempt as a Virus” where she speaks of race, of class, and how there is nothing different between it and the fast-spreading virus.

“Intimations” is a collection of non-combative, meditative, and hits you directly from the author’s subconscious and what we all experienced – that collective experience is not only recognisable or relatable, but also brings to fore a lot of empathy, as the pages turn.

Books and Authors mentioned in Intimations: 

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Ottessa Moshfegh
Kafka
Toni Cade Bambara
Yukio Mishima
Édouard Levé
Berger
Tanizaki
The Road
Fran Lebowitz
Sontag
James Baldwin
Lorraine Hansberry
Zora Neale Hurston
Virginia Woolf
Lives of the Artists by Vasari
Milton
Keats
Twelfth Night
Oscar Wilde
Vita Sackville-West
George Eliot

Read 111 of 2022. These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy. Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor

These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy

Title: These Possible Lives: Essays
Author: Fleur Jaeggy
Translated from the Italian by Minna Zallman Proctor
Publisher: New Directions Books
ISBN: 9780811226875
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 64
Source: The Boxwalla
Rating: 5/5

This short luminous book consists of three essays of these lives – Thomas De Quincey, John Keats, and Marcel Schwob. These writers, whose lives were brief, but perhaps full – each life ultimately centred on death by the author.

Jaeggy’s brevity shines on each page. She doesn’t find the need to ramble on about each of them – saying what she must, and does so with great simplicity, sometimes wit, straightforwardness, and for some maybe not enough, but worked beautifully for me.

The biographies (if I can call them that) extend themselves most naturally to the subjects’ habits, physicality, to their friends, their lives, and finally leading all to death. There is so much going on in these essays, using history, masculinity, the violence, and melancholy that runs throughout. Proctor’s translation makes it even more lyrical, though fragmented, disjointed, and surreal – reading as prose poems more than anything.

They draw you in, and I am sure I will read more about these lives in days to come. These Possible Lives is a short treat for readers – meditative and emotional.

Read 43 of 2022. Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough

Title: Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing: Essays Author: Lauren Hough
Publisher: Coronet, Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 9781529382525
Genre: Essays, Memoir, LGBTQIA
Pages: 314
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was most curious about this book, well, because of the title, and who wouldn’t be right? I mean we have all been there, when it comes to leaving and being left, in whatever form and manner. And rightly so this collection of essays from Hough’s life and observations, brought me to tears, a couple of essays in.

This book is about so many things – about growing up in a cult, about coming of age, about realising you are lesbian and in the military, about being ousted from service because of your identity, about being taught to please men sexually in the cult since you were twelve years old, and struggling with insomnia, PTSD, and mental health issues.

Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing is a brutal collection of essays. At times it is real, cringe, heartbreaking even, defining so many points in Hough’s life and in relation to the world, it is funny, making all meaning from the trauma and suffering, and above all relatable.

I found so many pieces that I could emotionally connect with – the time she is gaslighted by her superiors at work, or her first time encountering a gaybourhood (though I found that comfort with friends), and a lot also about hope really.

Hough’s writing is as real as it gets. The reader is not spared the details. There are no solutions, neither Hough asks for them. She tells about her life the way it was, and the way it is. You just cannot turn away from it.

Read 267 of 2021. These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

These Precious Days

Title: These Precious Days: Essays Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
ISBN: 978-0063092785
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I remember reading my first Ann Patchett novel in the year 2011, and that changed so much about the way I used to live. Bel Canto did and still does so much to me not only as a reader, but also as a person. I am of the firm belief that if certain books have the capacity to do that, then they must be kept close for the entire lifespan.

Having said that, I started devouring everything that Patchett had written before Bel Canto and in the coming years after. This is mainly about her fiction. Now about her non-fiction. The essays mainly. She writes the only way she knows and wants to perhaps, with utmost honesty. This is what I feel every time I read her – a sense of deep honesty. “These Precious Days” her latest collection of essays made me feel just the same and more.

When Patchett speaks of her three fathers, you are moved to tears, because you are reminded of your own father and men who are father figures in your life. When she speaks of literature, you are tempted to pick up her favourite reads. Patchett has a deep sense of friendship, so of course she celebrates some of her friends in this collection. She speaks of her mother with fondness and wit. The title story of the collection is about her acquaintance with Tom Hanks, and the long-lasting beautiful friendship she shared with his assistant Sooki who was battling pancreatic cancer.

Patchett’s writing is without pretension and that’s what makes it not only relatable but also empathetic. Her writing style is her own – it is enchanting, real, glorious, and unafraid to go into deep corners of the mind and heart and present life the way it is – unpredictable, constantly evolving, and mainly lived through memories.

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Just Us - An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

Title: Just Us: An American Conversation
Author: Claudia Rankine
Publisher: Allen Lane, Penguin UK
ISBN: 978-0241467107
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Black Literature
Pages: 360
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Just Us is not an instruction manual. It doesn’t tell you how to be, or behave, or cannot even teach you how not to discriminate. What it does is take the discussion of race up by a couple of notches. This book is a book that impacted me deeply with Rankine’s conversations with people about race, her stream of consciousness and thoughts as she encounters people and situations.

Rankine packs so much in one book – poetry, dialogue, illustrations, and lots of footnotes that give not only clarity to the topic but also evokes empathy in the reader. While reading this book I was reminded a lot about Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, though it doesn’t chronicle the history of caste as Wilkerson does, but it does have its roots there.

She also speaks of her white husband and how he views the world she inhabits and is a part of, which is very different and how there are still some differences in his understanding of what she goes through. Rankine’s writing is easy, and candid. Though the book is primarily about colour, it is also most certainly about gender, orientation, appearances, and what it takes to be a writer at large.

Just Us is a book that is not only relevant in the sense of what we should do, but also to reflect on what we have been doing. Rankine writes a book that is for all – irrespective of the country you live in – casual racism is prevalent and is something we cannot deny. Like I said, this book will make you introspect and understand the world better – and hopefully make us change our ways, day by day, evolving as we go along.