Tag Archives: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Title: Black Buck
Author: Mateo Askaripour
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0358380887
Genre: Literary Fiction, Satire
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

This book is unlike anything I have read in a while, after reading The Sellout. It is farcical, it is biting, and makes you question so much about privilege and class. 

At the same time, it isn’t a laugh-out-loud satire. It takes its time to grow on you. I persisted, and I am glad I did. Black Buck is about what happens when a young unambitious twenty-two year old black tries to emulate a white man.

Darren is happy working at Starbucks, waiting for his opportunity to arrive. That comes in the form of working as a salesman at a start-up company. He is the only Black person in the company, nicknamed, “Buck” because of where he worked earlier (some things just don’t change). And then of course things change, situations develop, and Buck takes charge to change the sales force of America by getting more black people into it.

The racism that exists in corporates these days is so vague, so blended in with the idea of being woke and liberal that sometimes we just cannot see it. Or we think we have but we pacify ourselves with the thought that it doesn’t exist, till we know better and experience otherwise.

Askaripour’s writing is hard-hitting, sometimes sugar-coated with humour bur mostly intending to do what it wants to – hit you where it hurts and it does. I liked the entire breaking of the fourth wall – of the narrator speaking to the reader (highlighting his thoughts – extremely engaging technique), of how the book is written in the form of a sales manual (very clever), and most of all showing us the transformation of Buck, and how it impacts everyone he interacts with.

Black Buck is a book that takes time to get into. More than that, it is a fun read, over the top, and sometimes unrealistic, but please read it keeping all of this in mind. And what Askaripour says in the book, “If you’re not black but have this book in your hands, I want you to think of yourself as an honorary black person.”






The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only book-lovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi

Call Me Zebra by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi Title: Call Me Zebra
Author: Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0544944602
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while, there comes a book that infuses literature and life so brilliantly that you can’t help but reread it the minute you are done with it. That is what happened to me when I just finished reading, “Call Me Zebra” by Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi. I had to reread it. To experience the prose again, the beauty and sadness of it and to find comfort in the fact that there are people who seek refuge in literature, just like me.

22-year-old Zebra is the last one standing in the long line of “Autodidacts, Anarchists, Atheists” of a family exiled from early ‘90s Iran. Years after her family’s harrowing and long-winding escape, alone in New York (after her father’s death; her mother died while they were escaping), Zebra decides to retrace her family’s dislocation and compose a grand manifesto on what really is literature.

I cannot stop gushing about the book. Yes, it did take me some time to get into it but when I did, it was a breeze. It was like going on a road trip with a friend and being privy to their life and secrets. There is wit and absurdity and love (some sort of love) with Ludo Bembo. There is a strange obsession with death, art, history and life. Oloomi has drawn a character so rich, with all her flaws and character strengths that you cannot help but fall in love with Zebra.

Ludo and Zebra’s love is eccentric. It is the kind of love you want and don’t want. You might yearn for it and then think about not wanting it. I loved when that happened to me while reading this book. “Call Me Zebra” breaks all form in terms of writing, inner monologues, character and above all the way a story is to be read and savoured.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays by Alexander Chee

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel - Essays by Alexander Chee Title: How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays
Author: Alexander Chee
Publisher: Mariner Books, HMH
ISBN: 978-1328764522
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

It isn’t easy to write a book of essays that charts life. And when you come across a work that is so lucid, questions the world and has so many identities rolled into itself, that you just have to sit up, take notice and devour it cover to cover. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” by Alexander Chee is one such collection of finest essays of our times and that is mainly because it is as honest as it can get. There is something about books that come from the heart – they manage to get through to you breaking all pretense and that’s what this collection of essays does to you. It gets through.

Alexander Chee’s writing was only known to me through his earlier literary fiction works, “Edinburgh” and “The Queen of the Night” which I loved immensely. This is his foray into non-fiction and I just hope that he continues writing many such essays. What I found a notch above the essay collections I have read in the past couple of months in this one was just the candid and heartwarming way in which they are written.

Chee doesn’t shy from talking about his life, his struggles and his perception of the world at large. When you write non-fiction, you become more susceptible to judgment than when you write fiction. Everyone may not have an opinion about the storyline or characters but one sure does have an opinion (maybe more) on the world and its issues.

Chee’s essays range from growing-up in America and how different identities take over his life – a son, a Korean American, a gay man, a student, a teacher and a novelist amongst others. I loved the way he connected his life to his country and its issues and everything just seemed one. For instance, the section on AIDS and then again on 9/11 were most hard-hitting to me. When he speaks of literature (there are so many references throughout the book), you just want to sit up and listen. I for one, remember re-reading so many passages about writing and what it takes to be a writer.

Alexander Chee’s essays are wry, real, political (everything is political in today’s time and age), and above all makes us ask questions of art and life and what happens to it all, when they come under attack. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” is hands down one of the best essay collections of 2018 and I am not speaking too soon.

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood & Illustrated by Renata Liwska

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood Title: The Quiet Book
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrated by: Renata Liwska
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 978-0547215679
Genre: Children’s Books, Picture Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The beauty of stillness is something else. Not to forget what happens when there is a certain kind of hush all over the world. There is almost something magical about silences. When no one needs to say a word and maybe that is good enough. In hindsight, maybe that is how the world is supposed to be. And what better place for the world to start learning these lessons than from a children’s book.

The Quiet Book - Image 1

I honestly believe that children’s books aren’t written for children alone. There is a lot that adults can learn from these books and apply in our day to day lives.

The Quiet Book - Image 2

“The Quiet Book” is about simple twenty-nine kinds of quiet that children go through in their daily life. What makes it so special is that it is so relatable even to adults. We have all been children at some point, so we know how it was to experience the quiet before we have to yell “Happy Birthday” surprise (which we still do) and also the kind of quiet when we do something not so good.
There are all types of quiet in the book – happy quiet, sad quiet, also pondering quiet (for instance when you are the last one to be picked up from school) and many more.

The Quiet Book - Image 4

The idea really is to introduce children to “types of quiet” and the serenity they bring to life. Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska’s combination when it comes to words and illustrations is simply terrific. It is adorable. It is cute. It is a book full of heart and soul.

The Quiet Book - Image 3

No word or illustration is out of place and that is how a picture book should be. I have as an adult read it close to five times now, just because it helps me find my calm. I can then only imagine the effect it will have on children. If you are stuck on what to gift a child, I highly recommend this book.

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