Tag Archives: literature

Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith

Feel Free - Essays by Zadie Smith Title: Feel Free: Essays
Author: Zadie Smith
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House
ISBN: 978-0241146897
Genre: Essays, Non-Fiction
Pages: 464
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

My association with the works of Zadie Smith started somewhere in 2003, with White Teeth. It was one of those books that are actually unputdownable (I have always been of the opinion that terms such as these are nothing but marketing gimmicks). Since then, Smith has been one of my favourite writers and with good reason. Her prose is like biting into a plum – tart and sweet and almost awakens you from your stupor. It makes you stand up and take notice of how the world works and perhaps what it always was. Smith doesn’t mince her words. Her characters are everyday people who speak their mind and this is also reflective in her new collection of essays, aptly or ironically (given the world we live in) titled, “Feel Free”.

“Feel Free” to me is one of the books of our times. The kind of book that doesn’t preach but makes so many relevant points that you want to see the world and put it so eloquently as Smith does. It is the collection of essays which are spread over five sections – In the World, In the Audience, In the Gallery, On the Bookshelf and Feel Free. These sections pose questions that we recognize and perhaps want answers to: What is the Social Network? What is joy and what is the tolerance of it, if there is something like it? How many kinds of boredom make up life? Who owns the narrative of black America? There are many such questions over a diverse range of topics and that’s what makes Zadie’s essays stand out.

Feel Free speaks of pop culture, culture, social change, political debate, the ever-changing fabric of society and what it really means to be human in the 21st century. Some of these essays have appeared before and some are new. At the same time, all of them are relevant and essential to most areas of our lives.

Smith’s essays are sometimes written with the perspective of an insider, but mostly she is an outsider looking in. It isn’t difficult to understand Smith and to me that was the most brilliant aspect of this collection. For instance, when she writes about a book, you want to get up and go read it. When she speaks of Joni Mitchell, you just want to listen to “River” and “Circle Game” on loop. To me, that is the power of great writing.

Essays are often tough to read and since they are so personal in nature, it becomes even more difficult to gauge the place they are coming from. This does not happen when you are reading “Feel Free”. Zadie’s essays are personal and yet appeal to all. The universal quality of her words is too strong to not be understood and related to. “Feel Free” is the collection of essays that needs to be savoured and pondered on. The one that you will not forget easily.

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The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The Book of Memory Title: The Book of Memory
Author: Petina Gappah
Publisher: Picador
ISBN:9781250117922
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source:Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“The Book of Memory” is the kind of book that creates ripples in your heart and you will not be able to control how you feel. I think that happens to me the most when I read books that have unreliable narrators. There is this sense of thrill and caution and at the same time, a strange sense of empathy that emerges for such characters. I like books that the central character is so strong and yet doesn’t overpower the entire book. This one is that sort of a read.

Memory is an albino woman who is in Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe. She has been convicted of murder and as a part of her appeal, she has to write exactly what happened. And this is where the unreliable narrator angle begins (coupled with the wordplay on the name Memory, which as one goes along in the book means and stands for so much more). She has been convicted of murdering her adopted father, Lloyd Hendricks. Why did she kill him? Did she kill him at all? What exactly happened?

Gappah creates a book that might seem repetitive in terms of plot but isn’t when it comes to her writing for sure. And then again, once you are about half-way into the book, the plot also doesn’t seem repetitive or something you have read before. The characters are strongly etched and to me beside all this, it was only the writing that took the cake and more. What is also strange according to me is that Memory’s parents send her away when she is eight years old and that is not brought up again in the entire book. I thought it was oddly weird.

Having said that, “The Book of Memory” sometimes reads like a thriller and sometimes just a literary fiction book which has so much to give. The mutable nature of memory is there throughout the book – that is what makes it so unique and mysterious at the same time. All in all, this one was a hugely satisfying read.

Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives by David Denby

Lit Up Title: Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives
Author: David Debby
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1250117038
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

How does a teacher ensure that children read? How does he get teenagers who are constantly on social media and on their phones to get to pick up a book and explore the world in its pages? As an English teacher, that was the biggest task in front of David Denby. It would be an awkward start for sure – one to convince them to read, get them interested in books, which were an alien concept to them and second how to go about that.

“Lit-Up” is a story. It reads like that for sure. How David went about doing this not in just one public school but three of them, sure is motivating. For me, it was the honesty of the writing that came through and stuck. David talks about his challenges with the same enthusiasm as he highlights the small successes. How his encounters with students shape him as a teacher and a person and through that how he started enjoying some books a little more filled me with so much joy.

What is interesting also is the selection of books – the twenty-four books are quite diverse – from Faulkner (very challenging you think? Not for Denby’s students) to Plath to Huxley and Orwell (both seem so relevant as of today) and more. At the end, what Denby really has to say is “choose what you want to read and read as much as you can”. This level of engagement with students is what will suck you into the book.

“Lit-Up” is one of those rare books that makes you want to get up and make a change – no matter how small or big. It just makes you want to do something worthwhile with your life and teachers do it so well. They just reach out to you and make that one difference in your life. Denby chose to do it with books and reading. A read that hits all the right chords.

101 Haiku by Dinesh Raheja

71CdrcSI0fL Title: 101 Haiku
Author: Dinesh Raheja
Publisher: Om Books
ISBN: 978-9352762781
Genre: Poetry, Haiku
Pages: 94
Source: Author
Rating: 4 Stars

I am not a fan of Haiku. I like poetry but not Haiku so much. But when I read Dinesh Raheja’s 101 Haiku (literally just 101 Haikus handpicked by the author), I fell in love with the minimalistic form of Japanese poetry. There is something soothing about this form, besides it being short. And don’t for once get fooled by its format (written in 5/7/5 syllable count), as it does so much more for the reader. A good Haiku makes you think about it long after you are done reading it. Some of the pieces did that to me. Some did not. But that’s alright because you will not like all pieces anyway.

Dinesh Raheja’s style is very easy-going. It feels that Haiku just comes to him naturally and he doesn’t have to try too hard anyway, which perhaps is the case. Also, there is this gentleness to his Haiku – it doesn’t flow with force, but just ambles along taking in the sights and sounds. Raheja’s Haiku is divided into small sections of animals, God, nature, life, etc and that helps give context to someone who is experiencing Haiku or even poetry for the first time. Some of it is also quite hilarious and relevant to our times.

For instance, Haiku about a goldfish opening a Facebook account or a pigeon on the top of the Empire State Building are funny and yet so profound that you perhaps have to reread them to get the essence. At the same time, there were some Haiku which I didn’t take to but I guess you cannot love them all. Dinesh’s style is easy-going, inspired from life and will leave you with a smile on your face as you go from one Haiku to the other .

The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson

71iKMkHjSHL Title: The Argonauts
Author: Maggie Nelson
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977351
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Well, I am sure that you wouldn’t have read anything like “The Argonauts” ever before. It is a memoir for sure but not the kind that you’d expect. It doesn’t start-off like that nor does it feel like you are reading a memoir, but a memoir it is. It is the story of Maggie Nelson and her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge. It is also the story of her life and what was, could have been and what eventually came to be. At the same time, Nelson also speaks of so many things that your mind will be pulled in a hundred different directions and you will only enjoy the ride as you read further.

The book didn’t seem strange to me at all (though a lot of people who I know of read it and thought that way). In fact, if anything it seemed very normal to me as she traversed the landscape of sexuality (Harry is neither man nor woman), how it felt (feels) to love Harry, how they got married facing a lot of criticism and yet at the core of this book all I read about was love. Maggie also becomes pregnant with a sperm donor at the same time as Harry takes testosterone and has breast removal surgery. I don’t even know if I can call this queer or anything else. Why must anyone label it?

“The Argonauts” moves beyond all of this. It is about love – maternal, paternal and more. It is about building a home and making a family just like yours and mine. The personal experiences of Nelson merge with the exploratory, bordering intellectual as well. The writing at any point does not feel sentimental. It is matter of fact and not meant to scandalize anyone. I loved the small parts of the book – single sentences that made so much sense when viewed within the larger picture. Also the notes in the margin will make the reading experience even better. “The Argonauts” to me is just an honest account of love, faith, and joys of family-making, which every reader will relate to and enjoy.