Tag Archives: Macmillan USA

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood Title: A Single Man
Author: Christopher Isherwood
Publisher: Picador Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-1250239372
Genre: LGBT Classic Fiction, LGBT Fiction,
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Literature can save you; they say. Literature heals. Literature mends a broken heart, and literature also hurts. Literature takes a part of you and has the capacity to rip it apart as well. That’s the power of literature too.

 A Single Man is a reread for me. I think I read it again for the fourth time or so. I first read it in 2002 I think or was it 2003? I don’t remember the year. Sometime then, I suppose. Anyway, I then watched the film in 2009 and my heart was a mess. It was a wreck when I read the book and the movie did its bit as well. Of ruining and moving on.

 A Single Man when read in the 30s gives you a totally different perspective of what life might be as you age, and that too for a gay man. It will not be easy. The book set in 1962, tells the story of George – a middle-aged Englishman who is a professor at a Los Angeles university. It is a circadian novel (one that spans through a day), and a very effective one at that.

In all of this, the book takes us through George’s life – sometimes as a gay man, sometimes more than that, sometimes just as a man who is lonely and yearns for company, and at others a man who is almost done with the world and not quite so. Isherwood’s writing is fulfilling, brutal, and very real.

For instance, this depiction of two men who are lovers and living together, is perfect. One might think it is written so simply and yet it conjures so many images:

“Think of two people, living together day after day, year after year, in this small space, standing elbow to elbow cooking at the same small stove, squeezing past each other on the narrow stairs, shaving in front of the same small bathroom mirror, constantly jogging, jostling, bumping against each other’s bodies by mistake or on purpose, sensually, aggressively, awkwardly, impatiently, in rage or in love – think what deep though invisible tracks they must leave, everywhere, behind them!”

A Single Man is a story of two Georges as well. The one who wants to say so much, and the one who doesn’t. The book is full of internal monologues – his life sometime in the past and in the present. I think the time in which the book is set is also so indicative of everything that was homophobic, xenophobic, and yet professing free love to the moon and back.

Isherwood writes as an insider, and yet it always seems he is an outsider looking in – maintaining a perfect balance, a dance almost, with wit intact, and prose that is poignant to the brim. The question of death and life are the core of this most beautifully rendered novel. It addresses bigger issues of loneliness and isolation, seen through the lens of a gay man is purely coincidental. There is also a lot of self-loathing for just being who he is that made my heart go out to George.

A Single Man is a book that needs to be looked at very closely – without bias, and read over and over again to make true sense of what Isherwood wants to tell us – of what it is to be single and left out, in a room full of people – in a world that is too crowded.

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid

A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid Title: A Small Place
Author: Jamaica Kincaid
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374527075
Genre: Nonfiction, Jamaica Caribbean & West Indies History, Memoir
Pages: 81
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

So, this is my first Kincaid read, and all thanks to the 2020 Reading Women Challenge. Their first prompt is an author from Caribbean or India. Since I’ve read a lot of women from India, I thought let’s give the Caribbean a shot and started with A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid – a rather short, but extremely powerful and engaging book about colonialism and its effects in Antigua. There were so many things I wasn’t aware about Antigua till I read A Small Place, and like I said I was only too happy to read something out of my comfort zone and thereby discover the writing of an author I had intended to read for a while.

A Small Place is a memoir, it is also a history of Antigua in a way, it is also an essay of anger against the people who colonised Antigua, it is also a voice of great empathy that Kincaid has for her country and people. The book begins with an attack on tourists who visit Antigua – what they expect and choose to see versus what the place is.

A Small Place is a short book – but extremely powerful and angry. Kincaid writes about home – about what it meant to her, and what has become of it. Of how the English ruled them, and how their independence has only worsened the situation because of corruption and bureaucracy. Jamaica Kincaid speaks candidly – almost to the point of being brutal – there are no holds barred. The prose comes from an extremely personal space and therefore the writing shines the way it does.

For instance, when she speaks of lack of clean water in the country or even about the beloved old library that was destroyed in an earthquake and how nothing was done to build the new one. And now that there is a new one that has been built (way after the book was published), but there is still doubt if it is open to public or not.

Kincaid’s book is large – very large not only in its scope but also in what it has to say – and how she manages to say it in all in less than hundred pages is nothing short of a feat. That explains the writer she is – succinct, bare-boned, and yet so deeply emotional that every emotion is reflected on paper, and in turn is felt by the reader.

When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan

When Brooklyn Was Queer Title: When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History
Author: Hugh Ryan
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-1250169914
Genre: LGBT Nonfiction, Social and Cultural History
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I had never read something like this before – yes cities and the queer culture did merge in books and I have read parts of it, but nothing like this book. I honestly also believe that every city’s culture needs to be talked about through the people who live on its margins, and maybe that’s why this book hit a nerve the way it did. When Brooklyn Was Queer: A History by Hugh Ryan is the kind of book we all need to read, irrespective of orientation and labels.

The story begins in 1855 with the publication of Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman and ends in the 1960s when Brooklyn’s queer identity declined, due to several factors. You have to read this book only because the way Ryan unearths how there was a systematic erasure of the queer history of Brooklyn. What must one remember then? Who decides that? What is at the core of people’s histories and more than anything else of places?

Not only this, this book is fantastic if you want to get to know people’s voices and lives – queer lives – right from the famous drag kings and queens of the 1800s, of a black lesbian named Mabel Hampton and how she worked as a dancer, of a WWII gay spy scandal and so much more between its pages.

Ryan’s writing is never just a dry documentation of facts. There is so much more to it. There is tenderness and empathy and above all it is a voice that strives to let people know more. Also, the nuances of gender identity, orientation, and sometimes even race are handled with such a sense of larger understanding of issues, that it makes you want to read more.

More than anything else it is about resistance and no matter what governments do or stand for, people will always continue to live the way they want to, which should be at the core of every identity battle. Ryan’s research is spot-on, so much so that you instantly feel that you are in that world, the minute you start reading the book. He shares letters, diary entries, and publication excerpts to support and validate his arguments of what was erased and how it was found.

What I loved the most was the beautiful prologue – a short one at that but so effective – a glimpse into the lives of Gypsy Rose Lee and Carson McCullers, and from thereon begins what it means to be “queer”.

When Brooklyn Was Queer is one of those rare books that makes you want to sit up and take notice of what’s going on in the world. The past, present, and future merge seamlessly in this account of what history allows us and what it doesn’t. The small joys, sorrows, the sacrifices made, the lives that carry on regardless, and most of all what it means to be queer is what this remarkable book is about. Do not miss out on this read.

 

If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi by Neel Patel

IYSMDSH Title: If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi
Author: Neel Patel
Publisher: Flatiron Books
ISBN:9781250183194
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

A short-story collection that is written well and paces itself beautifully always lifts my spirits. It is the feeling of the book never ending. A feeling that it should last a little longer, even though it might end. Some more. And that’s exactly what I felt but of course while reading If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi.

Neel Patel’s stories are quiet and tender. They pack a punch nonetheless when they have to. What lends to them superbly is the writing – the in-depth and heart-wrenching intimacy of this collection, and more than anything else, the tapestry of the lives of second-generation Indians – their lives and loves in the US of A.

Relationships are at the core of this book and no one is judged. These eleven stories pack a punch every time. The stereotypes grow with every turn of the page and then Patel shatters them with one giant stroke of the hammer. Whether it is a younger gay man involved with an older one, three women who want to defy every norm of society there is, a young couple trying to carry on with their lives amidst gossip, and whether it is standing up to arranged marriage, every story is layered and compelling.

Neel Patel’s prose isn’t sugar coated. His characters betray, regret, and realize that living is perhaps all of this and more. That makes it real and relatable, no matter where you live. The landscape doesn’t matter. The stories do for sure. They speak to you. You can see these characters around you and that’s where I guess Neel also gets his inspiration from.

“If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi” is a collection of stories that must be read this year. A debut that is so strong, introspective, and will make you perhaps see the world a little more differently than you are used to.

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

The Shepherd's Hut Title: The Shepherd’s Hut
Author: Tim Winton
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374262327
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

“The Shepherd’s Hut” by Tim Winton is unlike anything I have read this year. It is experimental, it is thrilling and takes the reader on a self-discovery along with the protagonist in so many ways. There are elements to the novel that the reader realizes only either half-way in the book or when the book is done with and you are ruminating over it. Because ruminate you will. It is that kind of book.

The story is about Jaxie Clackton, a brutalized rural youth who is on the run from the scene of his father’s violent death and heads to the wilds of Western Australia. All he wants is to be left alone and he thinks he will survive with a rifle and a water jug. He is so mistaken about that. He ends up meeting once a priest, Fintan MacGillis and there begins the story of an unlikely friendship, love and yearning.

I loved Cloudstreet. That’s the only other book I have read by Winton. In comparison, it was an easier read. The Shepherd’s Hut doesn’t make it easy at all when it comes to cultural references. I found myself reaching to Google after almost every chapter. Barring that, Winton has captured the essence of isolation and solitude beautifully, almost close to perfection. The dreadful landscape, the tension of the characters and the connecting storyline falls perfectly in place with the harsh truth – just like a jigsaw puzzle.

You find yourself empathizing with both characters, their intentions, their aspirations, but it is Jaxie who will eventually take your heart away. What I also found most surprising is that I never got bored in the entire book given that it had only two major characters and almost no one else. Winton does a marvelous job of keeping the reader engaged throughout the book. The characters are not only fascinating but also extremely engrossing. It is the language, landscape and Jaxie and Fintan that make this book what it is – a heady ride of self-discovery and friendship.