Tag Archives: life

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez

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 booklovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver

upstream-selected-essays-by-mary-oliver Title: Upstream: Selected Essays
Author: Mary Oliver
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN: 978-1594206702
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Sometimes in life, you just need to step back and look at life differently. Mary Oliver’s books often lend that perspective. They make you rethink life and its subtleties and what transpires in our often ignored surroundings – especially nature and how we ignore it, most of the time.

Her latest offering – a prose collection “Upstream: Selected Essays” is a magical book – it speaks of writing, life, nature and creativity – all rolled into one. My only grouse with the book is that it ended too soon. I wish there was more.

“Upstream” is the kind of book that you won’t be able to rush through even if you tried. It is meant to be read languidly and at your own pace. “You must never stop being whimsical” she says and I this one sentence hit home. Mary Oliver says things you want to say and more particularly, feel. Her writing isn’t long-drawn. She comes to the point and the beauty of her writing lies in her brevity.

“Upstream” is an ode to nature, to other writers such as Whitman, Emerson and Poe. Those by far were my favourite essays. Her poetry is of course remarkable but her essays are also not far behind. Mary Oliver is the kind of writer that observes keenly and emotes beautifully through her words.

You are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Soyeon Kim

you-are-stardust-by-elin-kelsey-and-soyeon-kim Title: You Are Stardust
Author: Elin Kelsey
Artwork by: Soyeon Kim
Publisher: Owlkids Books
ISBN: 978-1926973357
Genre: Children’s Books, Picture Books
Pages: 32
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

I read “You are Stardust” because it was the first book mentioned in “The Story Cure” by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin. This book, The Story Cure that is, is like their earlier book “The Novel Cure” but for children, their parents and everyone who has ever wondered what should I gift a child or a teenager. It is also for adults, if you ask me, to relive their childhood by reading or re-reading these gems mentioned in the book.

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So now back to the first book “You are Stardust” – authored by Elin Kelsey and beautifully illustrated by Soyeon Kim. I am of the firm belief that children’s books are not only for kids or teens. They are most importantly for adults – who have lost their child-like innocence, their ability to question, to wonder or to know how the world works.

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This is what the book is about – life, universe and maybe everything (or not). This is the book to cure children of what’s the world all about (that’s what the book says). The book is lovely – when I say this, I don’t mean it loosely. It really is lovely. The illustrations by Soyeon Kim are gorgeous – with every turn of the page, I was only too happy or perhaps more than the last page. This book is perfect to teach kids about the universe, the Earth and in turn about humans.

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Elin Kelsey is an environmental writer (I got to know of it after I read the book) and now I can clearly see the connection that the book is trying to bring out between kids and the natural world. “You are Stardust” is grounded in science, philosophy (most parts really) and stunning dioramas by Kim.

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There is also an app about the book and its creation. I for one cannot wait to download it. Being a picture book, it doesn’t restrict itself to kids. It is most certainly for adults as well. Go pick it up. Read it to your child or nephew or niece and then read it yourself. Be enthralled by it.

I read this book as a part of the reading project (one of the reading projects) I have started: To read all books mentioned in ‘The Story Cure’. It is an ambitious project and I hope to see this through at least. The next book in line for this is: The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

People – His Finest Portraits by Raghu Rai

people-cover1 Title: People: His Finest Portraits
Author: Raghu Rai
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9383064137
Genre: Photography
Pages: 184
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

A picture does say a thousand words and sometimes even more. No one better than Raghu Rai to demonstrate that through his brilliant photographs of people over the years. The portraits in this collection are mostly black and white.

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It is not a book which can be read in the technical sense of the word – but yet it is something you read. You read the faces of common people, the faces of celebrities and common people – people who come to his house, his family and people who you and I wouldn’t look at twice. Raghu Rai, being Raghu Rai manages to capture each and every face so beautifully that is feels surreal and almost magical.

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Most people might think that it would be easy to read (sic) a book of this nature. It is a fast page-turner literally and then you forget about it. If you one of those who would forget about it, then perhaps this book isn’t for you. I don’t mean it in a condescending manner. I just mean it as a matter of fact.

“People” are portraits that will leave you stunned and I am not just saying it because some of them look nice or glossy or pretty or all of them. Most of them are also just caught in the moment and you can see that – the sense of imbalance of the picture, of what it hides and what it conveys and mostly the gaze of the master photographer at work.

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I am not a fan of books such as these but this book has changed it for me. I also have his other book “Picturing Time” with me and I will get to it soon. But for now, I will bask in the skill of this book and how it has managed to convert me. And you must most certainly read the foreword by him on making pictures. It is a concise piece on what photography means to him.

Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

Layout 1 Title: Shelter in Place
Author: Alexander Maksik
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453640
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I thought that “Shelter in Place” would be an easy read. I thought it would not be a demanding book. I was so mistaken. “Shelter in Place” by Alexander Maksik is not an easy read, not because of the language or the complexity of the plot, but because it is scary – it is scary because at some point or the other, we have literally or metaphorically been on the brink and back. The story is about madness, love, family and deeper contemplative thoughts of everything in life and whether it is really worth it or not.

Alexander Maksik also does not give everything to the reader on a platter. The narrator does seem pretty reliable but you never know. There is always this sense of doubt and apprehension as to what will happen next but it is not that difficult to not fall in love with Joseph March.

The story begins with Joe telling us this: His mother beat a man to death with a hammer, he fell in love with a woman named Tess and he battles something black and dark inside of him. With this start the story propels to the summer of 1991 when Joe is all of twenty-one and all of these facts occur in quick succession.

The bipolar disorder (which he assumes to have inherited by his mother) hovers and engulfs him, he tends to a bar in a small Oregon town and there he meets Tess and his mother Ann-Marie kills a man to death, after seeing him beat his wife and kids. Joe leaves Oregon and Tess to be with his father in White Pine, Washington to be near the prison where his mother is serving a life-sentence. I will only say this much about the book or else I would be giving away the plot if more is added.

The book takes on from there with more incidents that span the past and present and narrated by Joe. The writing is so razor sharp that it will cut you. There are passages, more passages and some more that you cannot help but highlight while reading this book. The characters are as human and flawed as anyone you might meet in the middle of the street. From secondary to primary, all characters are often caught unguarded when it comes to their emotions and what decisions to make.

“Shelter in Place” – the title itself says so much about the book – a place of safety, the process of actually selecting a small room with no windows and taking refuge there. To my mind, all characters are looking for their own “shelter in place” – literally or metaphorically. They all want the assurance that everything will be okay and life will be led normally. Maksik’s writing is carefully orchestrated. At no point, the shift between the past and present events seem forced or out of place. The book will take you to your own deep dark recesses and bring you back – wanting to know more about the person you are.