Tag Archives: Farrar Straus and Giroux

The Answers by Catherine Lacey

Title: The Answers
Author: Catherine Lacey
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374100261
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It is not easy to write a review for a book like “The Answers”, however I shall try. The book essentially is about love, it is also about dealing with life, mental disorder, some more life, and how is it possible to live in isolation and still love? The book questions – at every step – about relationships, love, friendships and technology. But don’t be fooled in getting answers to how to live. “The Answers” by Catherine Lacey is a primer for our times – where we constantly yearn for love, but perhaps want it pre-programmed for us, so the investment is minimal.

Mary needs a change. In fact, she needs a new life. She is burdened by debt, works at a travel agency – a job she doesn’t particularly like, seems agonized by multiple ailments and just needs a change. Her best friend, Chandra recommends she finish a course of Pneuma Adaptive Kinesthesia (PAKing) which helps her get rid of the physical ailments. However, the course is expensive and Mary has to think of another way to make more money to be able to afford this.

The second job comes in the form of playing an “emotional girlfriend” amongst several other girlfriends (anger girlfriend, IT girlfriend, redundant girlfriend, etc) to a Hollywood actor/director in the name of a research project to gauge how these women would react and behave given the certain need they would fulfill for that star. The project is called GX – The Girlfriend Experiment and of course that forms the crux of the story. What makes it more exciting (so to speak) is that Mary has never heard of this film star, so she is the only one who can approach him neutrally. How come she hasn’t heard of this star? That is because she was homeschooled by her parents and escaped to live with her aunt Clara, ending up in New York. This in a nutshell is the plot of the book.

A book like that needs a deft emotional hand and Lacey’s writing proves that no one could have written this book better. Jumping from first and third-person narratives, the book tries to encompass almost everyone’s point of view and that is the only time I thought it felt kinda short but got up right back due to the nature of love and its treatment. At first, it does take some time to warm up to Mary but when you do; you can actually hear her thoughts in your head long after you have finished the book. The writing is taut and at no point I felt that the book could do with some more editing. The Girlfriend Experiment project is scarily real and could easily be a possibility where you are told how to love and you make money instead of loving with all your heart and the way you feel becomes artificial.

“The Answers” is a take on modern love. I think I can say that. It is also a meditation on the nature of loss, acceptance and above all whether or not we need to define ourselves by the constructs laid out by the society in order to live or not. At the end of the day, this book will leave you with more questions but it is worth it every step of the way.

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb

avid-reader-by-robert-gottlieb Title: Avid Reader
Author: Robert Gottlieb
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374279929
Genre: Literary memoirs, Biographies and Memoirs
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am a sucker for literary memoirs or biographies. Anything related to books about books, I cannot resist. I mean, I have to go out there and read all of it on this subject. I chanced upon “Avid Reader” by Robert Gottlieb and this was without knowing who he was (once I did, I was in supreme awe and fascination). So who is Gottlieb? Well, he was the editor at Simon and Schuster and Knopf and his career is enviable, given the kind of authors he has worked with. “Avid Reader” is his memoir of his career in publishing (kinda reminded me of Ashok Chopra’s book) full of zest, gusto and life. It is after all a sixty-old career and that cannot be easy to write about.

Like I said, I love reading everything literary – what happened to this book (I mean one off book and many more in this book by Gottlieb), how it came to be, how did Gottlieb edit it and what was the equation with writers involved, and more anecdotes had me begging for more and more from Avid Reader.

At the same time, at some point in the book you feel that it is nothing but a series of dedications by Robert to the people he has worked with. Having said that, the book doesn’t lose its sense of irreverence and gumption. At the same time, I was amazed by Gottlieb’s sense of determination to make it in the world of publishing and from there come all the insights to the mad world – from excessive use of punctuation in books to fighting over authors to how to market books, it is all there in this one.

What makes this book even more important and a must-read is the relationships built by Gottlieb over the years, which he is very candid about. My favourite parts of the book though were his growing-up years. Something about the 30s and the 40s and the way he describes them is utterly charming and quaint.

Robert Gottlieb is of course great at his writing skills (that goes without saying, doesn’t it?). I couldn’t wait to know more about this industry and its workings. Every anecdote was laced with humour and a lot of pathos. “Avid Reader” is the kind of book that will also ring true to most debut writers and also the seasoned ones. The bottom-line of course is all about getting out a good book and Gottlieb has done that consistently for such a long time and chronicled it in this wonderful book. A must read for sure.

Daydreams of Angels: Stories by Heather O’Neill

Daydreams of Angels by Heather O'Neill Title: Daydreams of Angels: Stories Author: Heather O’Neill
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374280420
Genre: Short Stories, Literary
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Stories, stories and more stories is what should also majorly be a part of life. What else is there to life but that? “Daydreams of Angels” was my seventh read this year and as the other reads, this one also did not disappoint. Keeping my tradition of fairy tales and the surreal and sublime, this one followed close on the heels of “A Wild Swan and other tales”.

This is a weird bunch of short stories – of angels, monsters, of animals and children – just that they aren’t set in the age old world but in the world where we live and are a part of us all. The stories are brilliantly thought of and written. I remember talking about “Sting like a bee” which was extremely surreal and hit the spot.

Most stories are just like that – they manage to engulf you and take you to another world. The other thing that I felt or did not feel was that these stories were too childish or whimsical for me as an adult. In fact, most of them make a lot of pertinent points under the layers of being just stories. O’Neill’s strength is in her declarative sentences – she just announces what is happening and is not afraid of showing all her cards to the readers. To a very large extent, this kind of writing always works with me.

There is a story of Pooh Bear writing an apology letter to Piglet, who has been kidnapped. Then there is the tale of Violet who escapes her stepfather who lusts after her in “The Saddest Chorus Girl in the World” and she also thinks it is sad when you fall in love with someone. This is so much like Great Expectations minus the stepfather.

Some of the metaphors and images in this book are completely heartbreaking. As a reader, I could not get more of them and just wanted to re-read some of the stories. In my opinion, if a book manages to do that, then the author has just hit the nail on the head with her narrative and style.

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A Wild Swan and other Tales by Michael Cunningham

A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham Title: A Wild Swan and other Tales
Author: Michael Cunningham
Illustrator: Yuko Shimizu
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374290252
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories, Fairy Tales
Pages: 140
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I think it is extremely difficult to take age-old fairy tales and to turn them to something new. To give them new life, if you would like to call it that. I am also not a believer of taking these fairy tales and giving them a new voice or shape, however when it is done by Michael Cunningham (whose traces we have seen in The Snow Queen), then it is a different matter altogether. Then you know that reading the collection of tales will be nothing short of a surreal experience. The book that I am talking about is “A Wild Swan and other Tales”.

This is one of those books that just happen to readers and there is no noise made around it. It is almost subliminal in every single way – even marketing if you could say that. The book in all has 11 tales and each of them tells you what the original tales forgot to tell or missed out deliberately. I love the spin or the touch these tales have got. Cunningham’s genius but obviously is in the power of telling stories and for me that stood out page by page, story by story.

My favourite stories are “A Wild Swan”, “Jacked” (on Jack and the Beanstalk), “Crazy Old Lady” (based on Hansel and Gretel), “A Monkey’s Paw”, “Steadfast: Tin” and “Her Hair” (which I reviewed yesterday). The entire collection no doubt explores different facets of fairy tales, but for me these six stories stood out and perhaps did what the other five could not.

These stories are about people you might encounter in your daily life: The beast might be your neighbour, Jack could be the person living with his mother who has no ambition whatsoever, you might know Snow White and her prince charming trying to infuse some chemistry back into their marriage or for that matter the perspective of the witch and how two mean children just ate her house through.

I liked the perspectives. I enjoyed knowing about the other side in this book; it isn’t exactly that though – I think it is more to do with: Is there more to these fairy tales? Has all been said about them or are there other details? The art by Yuko Shimizu for every tale are breathtaking and you will go back to them and keep looking and searching for finer details.

The macabre, the perverse, stuff what nightmares are made of, the not so angelic, the terrifyingly real, the twisted, the deranged and damaged and the ones that do not fit well into our so-called society is what these tales focus on. It is something that won’t let you go that easy. I know for a fact that this book was right up my alley. I was talking about it to my friends and cannot stop recommending it.

2016 has begun well with 3 books that I have read and all 3 of them are great reads. As the year progresses, there are only good books to choose and read from.

Michael Cunningham reading from the book:

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Book Review: Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman Title: Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Author: Anne Fadiman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374527228
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 162
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always been attracted to books about books and reading. There is something that makes me feel connected to such books as a reader. There is always this sense of camaraderie that strikes within the first few pages and continues, perhaps for a lifetime. Writers are readers first, no matter what one says. I have always believed that they have this special relationship with books and reading and it is true. Authors who write about books and the experience of reading hold a very special in my heart, from Manguel to Borges to Fadiman. I always revisit “Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader” at least once a year and this time it had to come to me again.

“Ex-Libris” is a light, heart-warming, witty book of essays on the reader and what she goes through with a book and her experiences – from the past and the present. This book is a small gem – which you will cherish as a reader and go back to it again and again. The opening essay, “Marrying Libraries” always manages to leave that much needed smile on my face. In this one she speaks of her husband and her finally marrying their libraries after years of togetherness. It is stunningly heart-warming. Then there is another one called, “Never Do That To A Book” which had me in splits. She speaks of the reader who cannot bear a broken spine, though according to her, it is all about reading a book over and over again, the wear and tear that conveys your love to it.

Fadiman takes the reader through various phases of her life and at every phase she can only remember books and reading, more so for the kind of book this one is. From her odd shelf to the way she and her brother read, it is personal and yet the reader can connect with every turn of the page.

Anne Fadiman’s writing is not intimidating. She doesn’t speak of books and reading like an academician. She connects with her readers and that is most needed, because she is a reader first. It is almost infusing ourselves into the novels we love and have loved over a period of time. It is about reconnecting with your bookshelves, to pick up the books you have loved and cherish them all over again.

Here are some lovely quotes from the book:

“If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs.”

“I have never been able to resist a book about books.”

“Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves.”

“In my view, nineteen pounds of old books are at least nineteen times as delicious as one pound of fresh caviar.”

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