Hmmm so I am the Hungry Reader. The one who reads. The one who is constantly reading or wanting to read constantly. This blog is all about the books I have read, the ones that I am reading and gems that I plan to read in the future or whenever it arrives.
Title: The Book of Memory
Author: Petina Gappah
Genre: Literary Fiction
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.
Title: Lit Up: One Reporter. Three Schools. Twenty-four Books That Can Change Lives
Author: David Debby
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
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.
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 .
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.
Title: All That Man Is
Author: David Szalay
Publisher: Graywolf Press
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
“All that Man Is” is classified as a novel, however to me it was just a wonderful collection of short stories that represent man at a pivotal time in his life. Each story advances age to age and gives us a glimpse of man and his complexities – the way he functions, thinks, and conducts himself. The stories at the same time are also interwoven but by very small details – details that you might even not recognize as you go along and somehow comes full-circle at the end of the book. I would call the book dark but not depressing. It just manages to show you men’s lives and how they are. At the same time, it doesn’t make motherhood statements in any story nor does it endorse the concept of “all men”, which to me was very refreshing.
Szalay’s style of writing is brooding. I like the fact that he spends a lot of time on each story and more than that on each character – giving it the full body and flesh as it should be. Also, might I add that these men are away from home, so that adds another layer altogether to the narrative – which is delightful, fearsome and thrilling at the same time. Also, the locales in which these stories are set are quite edgy in the sense of being melancholic – whether it is a suburb in Prague or a dingy hotel in Cyprus to an Alpine village, the drama of life and death unfolds beautifully through the prose.
The book relies heavily on its characters, more than the locales, which is how it should be, however at some point I thought that the detailing was a bit much sometimes and could have been avoided a little. Having said that, the nine lives could not have been put in any other way than what Szalay has done. “All That Man Is” is a tribute to the contemporary urban life and how we are all a part of this gigantic mosaic that doesn’t fail to amaze us with its simplicity, complexity and zest for life, no matter what.