Tag Archives: February 2017 Reads

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.

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Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

invisible-cities-by-italo-calvino Title: Invisible Cities
Author: Italo Calvino
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
ISBN: 978-0156453806
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 165
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Italo Calvino is a genius and one must read everything he has ever written. I first got to know of him when I was in college and a friend was reading The Path to the Spiders’ Nest without really understanding it. I think he reread it and loved it. That’s how I heard of Calvino. My first book of his was “If on a winter’s night a traveler” and I fell in love with his writing. I knew I had to read more, and more by him. My job at Crossword bookstore in 1999 as an intern changed that. I was all of sixteen and knew that I just had to read everything written by him. I then chanced on “Invisible Cities” and loved it. It was kind of the first magic realism novel I read and I wanted more from that genre (till of course Rushdie killed it for me, but may be more about that at a later time).

“Invisible Cities” is not an easy book to read. It demands a lot of time and attention for a 165 page book. You might think it will be easy, but trust me, it won’t be. This should not deter you from reading it though. What is the book about? Well, here is the premise: Marco Polo and Kublai Khan talk about cities – more so Polo and he describes cities he has been to, to Khan, and surprisingly all of them seem the same and do not. Each city is magical and has its own aura and yet they all feel the same – they all seem to be Venice. The design of cities might be different, also the essence and what it is made of, but inherently they are all the same and how the entire book then converges with Polo and Khan’s dialogues is something you must read and find out.

There is the study of humans in this book, followed by the study of cities and how we inhabit them and sometimes how they inhabit us and last of all, I thought it was about fantastical tales – of how far imagination takes us and intermingle then with the philosophy of life and what happens next. Calvino’s style of writing is different and inimitable. I cannot think of any writer who has succeeded writing like him. You just cannot. Calvino’s imagination pervades every page of the book and moves on then to inhabit every city. Of course the book is poetic – the description is wondrous and each account is a metaphor for memory and loss.

Calvino writes like a spy in the darkness – he uncovers what is hidden, and will force it to sneak in your consciousness. I thought I almost knew how to classify this book but then I didn’t and I did something: Not trying to pigeonhole it and go with the flow. “Invisible Cities” as a book is a rarity and the translation is so beautiful that it makes you want to read the Italian edition.

Zen Series by Jon J Muth

For those who have still not experienced the Zen Series by Jon J Muth, I guess this is the best time to. Also, might I add, that you are very lucky to have not encountered them yet, because they are wondrous and heartwarming at the same time and you are in for a treat.

zen-ghosts

The books are not really children’s books according to me – their lessons are meant for all and these are things that perhaps we already know of, but do not take the time to ponder or act on. May be that is the biggest problem of our age – just sitting and wondering and doing nothing about things.

zen-shorts

Jon J Muth’s series starts with Zen Shorts, where Michael, Karl and Addy discover a giant panda in their backyard and then the Panda starts telling them stories – Zen stories. His name is Stillwater (kinda obvious). The book is wonderful.

zen-socks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The watercolour illustrations and the stories go so good together that it feels like you are in a dreamland or something. Zen Shorts was followed by Zen Ties, Ghosts and the latest one was Zen Socks.

zen-ties

The series of these books is something else. I think it rings so true is because it is inspired from life – it is what we go through and live every single day, may be that’s why I was able to connect with them the way I did. The writing is simple and more characters get added as you move along the books – there are so many lessons in these books but they do not sound preachy even once. It is all about living and finding it out for yourself. These 4 books, Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, Zen Ghosts and Zen Socks will leave with with a big smile on your face and maybe even some wisdom.

The Words Hurt: Helping Children Cope With Verbal Abuse by Chris Loftis, Illustrations by Catharine Gallagher

the-words-hurt-by-chris-loftis Title: The Words Hurt: Helping Children Cope with Verbal Abuse
Author: Chris Loftis
Illustrated By: Catharine Gallagher
Publisher: New Horizon Press
ISBN: 978-0882821320
Genre: Children’s Books
Pages: 45
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

This was the fourth book which I read as a part of the “Story Cure” reading project and was moved by it, nonetheless. It was a book suggested by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin as a part of their book “The Story Cure” regarding abuse of children. This one deals with verbal abuse and how to control it and thereby understand your child’s needs in a more evolved manner.

The book’s plot (for lack of a better word) is simple – it is centered on a child and the verbal abuse he receives from his father who is going through a tough time. This is a primer for parents on how to understand your children and not vent your frustration at them.

I think there need to be more of such books to help parents learn how to behave with children. Abuse, more so verbal is often ignored. In fact, in India it is even encouraged in most families – the adage – spare the rod, spoil the child is so regressive that it needs to be banned in my opinion. But I am happy that there are such books out there that make an attempt to bridge the gap between kids and parents and more so for parents to realize their actions.

I know I am sounding preachy but there is no other way to do this. I think verbal abuse is so sensitive an issue that it needs to be looked at more often than just ignored. The Words Hurt by Chris Loftis is a simple and beautiful example of what needs to be done with some lovely illustrations by Catharine Gallagher. Do pick it up.

Misery by Stephen King

misery-by-stephen-king Title: Misery
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton, Hachette UK
ISBN: 978-1444720716
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 400
Source: Personal Copy
Publisher: 5 Stars

There is this insane, crazy, bordering psycho side to all of us, which is conveniently hidden and tucked for good (or so we think) till it snaps. When it snaps, I think, or rather I most certainly believe that all people are capable of harming, of doing things beyond their wildest imagination and some of us also regret what we do and some don’t. That’s really how the world functions sometimes and you live with it, as you do with everyday kindness. Scarily enough, at times you also live with everyday cruelty and that’s what the master of horror, Mr. Stephen King reveals to us, book by book.

My affair with King’s books started when I was thirteen. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I thought I had read all his books (not the ones written as Bachman – I cannot stand those) and then I realized very late in life (as late as last month) that I hadn’t read Misery. Had this been me two years ago, I would have flipped knowing how I missed this, but today I looked at it as an opportunity to read this one and boy oh boy was I in for something!

“Misery” is almost Meta and then again it isn’t. You would almost be fooled into believing that King was drawing from his experiences (and maybe he was) but some of them could be taken from his life – the way a writer thinks, agonizes over and finally ends up writing a book or more than just a book. “Misery” is about a writer – Paul Sheldon and his so-called number one fan Annie Wilkes. Paul is a very successful writer because of his Misery Chastain series, but now Paul has had enough of her and kills her in his new novel. Unfortunately for Paul, he meets with an accident and is rescued by Annie, who is very very unhappy about Misery dying and wants to take matters in her own hand, by keeping Paul captive and asking him to write a new Misery novel for freedom. This, in brief is the plot of Misery.

Now to the characters: Annie Wilkes gave me the chills. I don’t want to meet someone like her ever, not even for the curiosity of it all. I would rather be safe than sorry. King knows his characters inside out – well of course, but the edginess and knowing that they can fall off the sane balcony any given day is what intrigues me to his books. His writing we all know is impeccable; the eye for detail, the scenarios and specifically in this book to imagine the torture inflicted on Sheldon is simply stunning. I couldn’t stop reading this one – and there were also times when I just had to stop because I was scared and mind you, this one is not a horror novel, but pretty much there.