Tag Archives: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

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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The Quiet Book

Book Review: The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo Title: The Creation of Anne Boleyn
Author: Susan Bordo
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-32818-8
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Pages: 343
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If there is any Queen that has been most speculated about, then according to me that would have to be Anne Boleyn. There has been so much written and spoken about her. What was she? Was she really that vicious? Or was she merely misunderstood? What was her nature? We all know (or well most of us do) how she came to be the Queen of England and Henry VIII’s second wife. She was a mistress, a plotter, a woman who was in charge and wanted it all and like I mentioned may be a lot of the parts she must have been highly misunderstood.

I have always been drawn to Anne Boleyn, wanting to know what led to her execution. Did she even deserve it all? There are so many questions surrounding her that it would probably take a lot of books for me to read and movies to watch to get a sense of the person. However, for now I have just finished reading a book by Susan Bordo called, “The Creation of Anne Boleyn”, where she uncovers the persona, the myths in a logical manner about this Queen and her life.

“The Creation of Anne Boleyn” charts the entire life of Anne Boleyn and with it Bordo also talks about the influence of every single form of media that has led to people perceiving Anne the way they do. To make her point, Bordo breaks all myths and conventions with more than enough proof and that had me going page after page. The structure of the book is also simple and quite understandable: the first part speaks of Anne and how she came to be Queen, the second part takes readers through what happened after Anne’s death and the third part is all about the media and how it has come to view Anne Boleyn.

The writing is insightful and shows the research gone into this book. I loved the instances and reasoning provided by Bordo. She takes readers on a fascinating journey of trying to uncover the mystery behind Anne Boleyn and her ambitions. It is a cultural examination which is highly readable and also witty in most places, which is very difficult for a non-fiction or a book of a historical context to achieve. She speaks of Anne as a person – physically and mentally and that clarity is par excellence. At the same time, Bordo takes into account what happened and why. She talks of roles of other members of the King’s court and their role in it. Katherine of Aragon is heavily featured, considering it was she that Henry wanted a divorce from to marry Anne and he waited the longest for it, only to end up executing Anne. This irony and complexity is simply told in this book. For anyone who wants to know more about Anne and the myths surrounding her life, I definitely recommend this one.

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Book Review: Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

Frances and Bernard Title: Frances and Bernard
Author: Carlene Bauer
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0547858241
Pages: 208
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This has to be hands down one of the best books I’ve read this year. I am not a fan of epistolary novels however this one grasped my attention and did not let it go, till I had finished the book. There are very few books that manage to do that. This is one of them. “Frances and Bernard” by Carlene Bauer is more than just an epistolary novel. It is also a literary homage of sorts to two giants – Flannery O’Connor and Robert Lowell, on whom the characters are based. This made the book twice as much fantastical for me.

Frances and Bernard are very different from each other (but of course, they couldn’t have been similar, given the nature of this book). They meet at a writer’s colony in the summer of 1957 and begin their correspondence. They meet some more times after that and recognize a kindred spirit in each other. They write about almost everything to each other – from friends, to lovers, to affairs, to their writing, their pitfalls, about their manuscripts and even their faith. There are other people whose letters are also in so the reader gets a complete understanding of Frances and Bernard – there is Claire, Frances’ best friend, Bernard’s friend Ted and their joint publisher John. Reading the letters is the perfect way to get into the skin of characters. It is the difference in the characters’ views and opinions that make the story what it is.

The book by covering almost every ground (as mentioned in the above paragraph) only shows us a glimpse of what Bauer’s writing is capable of. The voyeuristic urge is present in every single one of us and novels such as these only cater to them and sometimes even succeed brilliantly in satisfying them. The letters are sometimes rich in their content and sometimes flippant and yet that is what will keep the reader going with every turn of the page. The entire novel is formatted very well and doesn’t seem hurried or too slow. The pace is just perfect.

The love of reading and writing is what struck me and stayed with me long after I had finished reading the book. The ending is unpredictable (of course) and for throughout the novel I could almost imagine Flannery and Lowell sharing correspondences of this nature. As a reader, I could only hoot again and again for the written word and I hope that more people read this gem of a book.

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