Tag Archives: Literary Memoirs

Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth by Benjamin Taylor

Here We Are - My Friendship with Philip Roth by Benjamin Taylor

Title: Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth
Author: Benjamin Taylor
Publisher: Penguin Books USA 
ISBN: 978-1524705787
Genre: Literary Memoirs
Pages: 192 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 3/5 

With the passing of time, and as you become older, you are set in your ways. There are some things you cannot change, and perhaps don’t wish to either. And somewhere down the line, much against your will (I think), you end up making new friends, and somehow, they stay. Them coupled with the ones who know you and who you know inside-out. I thought this book would be about that – a friendship.

Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth by Benjamin Taylor is exactly what the title says or should’ve been. It started off with so much promise – the first two chapters of a rather small book, and then you got to see the promise only in the last two chapters and that was that. I expected more. I expected glimpses into their friendship, but all I got was Benjamin Taylor gushing over Roth’s works. Well, it is a literary memoir, but then why tell us that it is a friendship with Roth, and then not reveal enough to feel something.

This is the second book read this year, and once again not very impressed by it. The writing like I said shines in places, and leaves you wanting more. Taylor speaks of Roth and his thoughts on being Jewish in the world. Of his characters, his parents (very briefly), his wives (again not too much other than speaking of Claire Bloom), and about being an atheist and such. But never does he speak of what it was to be his friend and vice-versa, except till the very end. Taylor knows so much about Roth, and yet the reader is left with nothing. There are several literary references – more than enough books (Roth’s and others’) that are mentioned. It makes for a great reading list but that’s about it.

Books and Authors mentioned in Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth:

Playlist for Here We Are: My Friendship with Philip Roth:

  • The House I Live In by Frank Sinatra
  • On A Note of Triumph by Norman Corwin
  • Emerson Quartet
  • Friends will Be Friends by Queen
  • Bach
  • Beethoven
  • Brahms
  • Piku’s Sarod Theme
  • Pather Panchali Theme
  • Who Wants to Live Forever by Queen

Brother & Sister: A Memoir by Diane Keaton

Brother & Sister - A Memoir by Diane Keaton Title: Brother & Sister: A Memoir
Author: Diane Keaton
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0451494504
Genre: Memoirs, Autobiographies,
Pages: 176
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3/5

I finally got a chance to read Diane Keaton’s memoir of herself and her brother. It brought out a lot of emotions in me as a sibling. This book is of course about the love she has for her brother Randy, but it is also about the love that doesn’t see after a while, the kind that is oblivious to what is going on with the other.

The book starts off with them being an ordinary family – one big sister, one little brother, Mom, Dad, and some more siblings, all in the middle-class California of the 50s. Things are obviously fine on the surface – the picnics, the family trips, the camps, and such as the other side beings to reveal itself. Of how things go wrong – when you grow up, do not keep in touch, become involved in your respective lives, how the brother is diametrically opposite of his sister, and how he lives a life that isn’t considered “normal”.

Brother & Sister is a book about relationships, and how mental health illness and alcoholism can be and is a real threat. This is also seen through the scrapbooks, journals, letters, and photographs kept by Diane’s mother – it is almost a progression of sorts.

Brother & Sister isn’t about judgment as much as it is about trying to understand someone you love so deeply, about what went wrong with them, why did the relationship suffer, and perhaps a way to piece it all together. Sibling relationships aren’t easy at all. But the idea of perhaps confronting demons and deep-diving into the family history to understand relationships and people makes this book so readable, relatable, and extremely relevant.

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached

I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached Title: I Remember Beirut
Author: Zeina Abirached
Publisher: Graphic Universe
ISBN: 978-1467744584
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

It doesn’t take time to read a graphic memoir. However, it does take time for it to settle in your heart and mind, if you allow it to that is. I Remember Beirut is one such memoir – I don’t think it is spoken about all that much as Persepolis or Maus, but it is in the same vein and extremely relevant (sadly) even today, given the times we live in.

Zeina Abirached writes about growing up during the Lebanese Civil War. She remembers things that happened in Beirut and what it was like to be a child in such a time. Zeina remembers all sorts of things – the darkness, being hugged by her mother, the holes in her mother’s Renault, the colours, how her brother loved collecting shrapnel for his collection, and her backpack that had everything she wanted, if they ever had to be on the run.

I Remember Beirut is a book of childhood remembrances as seen through the eyes of a child. A childhood that was partially lost, a childhood that also had so many happy things in it – songs, laughter, and fun in the most unusual ways.

Abirached uses black and white drawings for this book and it works wondrously. Sometimes all you have is pitch black panels depicting what they have to in the most subtle manner. At others, the combination reflecting violence, happy times, or just humour works splendidly, with clean lines and patterns that add the extra touch to the memoir. Also, though quite short it worked for me, and also kept me wanting more.

I Remember Beirut is a marvellous look at East Beirut during the Civil War through the eyes of not only a child, but also involving her family, friends, and slowly coming to some realisations of how life can be during wartime.

Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir by Hilary Mantel

Giving up the Ghost Title: Giving up the Ghost: A Memoir
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250160669
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Hilary Mantel is an author that should be read by everyone. I don’t mean it because she is a Booker-Prize winner (twice at that, and consecutively so), not because her fiction is par excellence, but because of her memoir. The memoir that will break you, make you smile, make you relate, and feel all sorts of emotions. At the same time, it is about feminist literary circles, about women who write and without fear, and literally about “Giving Up the Ghost”.

I cannot talk about the book in a linear manner because it is also not written that way. This memoir is about how a poor child of Irish origins, from a disadvantaged family, grew to become one of the world’s most celebrated novelist. Through her story, Mantel touches on other stories – the ones that we can relate to the pinnacle and back. She speaks of home, growing up, books, and more books and above all how she was subject to visions, to “seeing things” that weren’t there. Spooky, isn’t it? Were they real or just a condition because of her hormones as she had undergone an early hysterectomy?

The pain and clarity in the writing is astounding. She speaks of her novels as the children she would never have. All along she speaks of women – literary women mostly and their lives – and also strangely ties in the century and its on goings.

At no point does Mantel’s writing become pitiful or self-loathing or wanting attention. It is what it is and she has written it in a very matter-of-fact tone. The book doesn’t meander or amble and combines all of it quite beautifully. Honestly, you don’t even have to read her novels to read the memoir. Just dive in and be prepared for a fantastic, heck of a ride!

 

Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography by Ruskin Bond

71uPk+sgj5L Title: Lone Fox Dancing: My Autobiography
Author: Ruskin Bond
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
ISBN: 978-9386338907
Genre: Autobiography, Memoirs
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

When you have grown up reading an author’s work, then to suddenly read his autobiography is a pretty gratifying experience. Ruskin Bond is an author who is at it – from novels to short stories to ghost stories to children’s books to novellas and now an autobiography wistfully titled “Lone Fox Dancing”. I was a little apprehensive initially as I picked this book, but it most certainly grows on you. The book is also magical in a way given the time and place Mr. Bond was born and grew up in. He has truly seen it all and I was most certainly envious of the life has led till now (and continues to) as I turned the pages.

Most autobiographies tend to be a little long-drawn and tedious. But while reading “Lone Fox Dancing”, I just wanted it to go on and on and on and never end. There is this sense of nostalgia (but obviously) that seeps deep into your bones as you read this book. Might I even call it magical to a large extent. Ruskin Bond makes his life seem very effortless and yet there yxzsis so much going on – from his birth in the 30s to his boarding school days in Shimla and the time spent in Dehradun, and of how he discovered some great books and the love of reading to finding his calling – writing.

I was most curious about his craft (he doesn’t speak of it in detail but does to some extent) and how he weaves dreams through his books. The part of how The Room on the Roof came to be is most interesting. The book traverses his entire journey to where he is now – Mussoorie and how content he is amidst the nature and the family he has made his own. With every page, you can feel the years passing and how each phase of life of Mr. Bond’s was different from the next. “Lone Fox Dancing” is full of anecdotes, and why shouldn’t it be, given the rich life he has led. I am sure half of them had to go in the edits.

To me what also was intriguing was the time period – by default the book takes you through the 40s, the 50s, the 60s, so on and so forth till present time. The book oozes with honesty and truth – it has the ring of the whimsical and stark realities of living at times. “Lone Fox Dancing” is the kind of book that deserves to be reread. Well I won’t get back to it immediately, but soon enough for sure.