Tag Archives: memoirs

Just Kids by Patti Smith

Title: Just Kids
Author: Patti Smith
Publisher: Ecco Books, HarperCollins Books
ISBN: 978-0060936228
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Rock
Pages: 320
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Just Kids is one of those books that you’d want to read over and over again. This was my first reread and I know I will go back to it. I read it about nine years ago for the first time and as I read it again this year, I found my perspectives and opinions change a lot as the book moved me in different places, which perhaps it didn’t the first time I picked it up. That’s the beauty of some very good books – they make you see, feel and think differently with each read and that to me is a single most parameter for a reread.

Back to Just Kids: This book is the first part memoir written by singer and songwriter Patti Smith. Before she took over punk and rock and roll, she was just another girl who had come to New York to search herself and understand what she wanted to do. She had her poetry and the intrinsic lack of trust in society. In New York she met future photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and “Just Kids” is a document of their life together – as artists, lovers, friends and a trip down memory lane.

The book is razor sharp and has no holds barred. Smith says what she has to and without apology. Robert and Smith’s relationship was mercurial and yet there is something so fulfilling as you turn the pages and don’t want the chapters to end. You want to know more about their lives and for that I recommend you read M Train (where Robert doesn’t feature at all or does but hardly so). Patti Smith just like her songs has this ease of writing to her prose as well – it becomes poetry in so many places and has the capacity to take your breath away. Read it. Be mesmerized.

Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb

avid-reader-by-robert-gottlieb Title: Avid Reader
Author: Robert Gottlieb
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374279929
Genre: Literary memoirs, Biographies and Memoirs
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I am a sucker for literary memoirs or biographies. Anything related to books about books, I cannot resist. I mean, I have to go out there and read all of it on this subject. I chanced upon “Avid Reader” by Robert Gottlieb and this was without knowing who he was (once I did, I was in supreme awe and fascination). So who is Gottlieb? Well, he was the editor at Simon and Schuster and Knopf and his career is enviable, given the kind of authors he has worked with. “Avid Reader” is his memoir of his career in publishing (kinda reminded me of Ashok Chopra’s book) full of zest, gusto and life. It is after all a sixty-old career and that cannot be easy to write about.

Like I said, I love reading everything literary – what happened to this book (I mean one off book and many more in this book by Gottlieb), how it came to be, how did Gottlieb edit it and what was the equation with writers involved, and more anecdotes had me begging for more and more from Avid Reader.

At the same time, at some point in the book you feel that it is nothing but a series of dedications by Robert to the people he has worked with. Having said that, the book doesn’t lose its sense of irreverence and gumption. At the same time, I was amazed by Gottlieb’s sense of determination to make it in the world of publishing and from there come all the insights to the mad world – from excessive use of punctuation in books to fighting over authors to how to market books, it is all there in this one.

What makes this book even more important and a must-read is the relationships built by Gottlieb over the years, which he is very candid about. My favourite parts of the book though were his growing-up years. Something about the 30s and the 40s and the way he describes them is utterly charming and quaint.

Robert Gottlieb is of course great at his writing skills (that goes without saying, doesn’t it?). I couldn’t wait to know more about this industry and its workings. Every anecdote was laced with humour and a lot of pathos. “Avid Reader” is the kind of book that will also ring true to most debut writers and also the seasoned ones. The bottom-line of course is all about getting out a good book and Gottlieb has done that consistently for such a long time and chronicled it in this wonderful book. A must read for sure.

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest & Translated by Heather Lloyd

Sagan, Paris 1954 by Anne Berest Title: Sagan, Paris 1954
Author: Anne Berest
Translated by: Heather Lloyd
Publisher: Gallic Books
ISBN: 978-1908313898
Genre: Memoirs, Literary Fiction, Biography, Literary Biography
Pages: 160
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Some books have an age for it. You just cannot read Catcher in the Rye at 30. You will not get it. No matter how hard you try. The same goes for a beautiful well-known book called “Bonjour Tristesse” whose author Francoise Sagan was only eighteen when she wrote it.

I was eighteen when I read. That was the time I came out to my family and this book was one of those read that year, after I came out, that helped me see myself better and clearer for sure. There is no other way to put it and no better way to pay homage to it than read a book about how “Bonjour Tristesse” became what it did and that’s what I did when I read “Sagan, Paris 1954” by Anne Berest and translated by Heather Lloyd from French.

“Sagan, Paris 1954” traces the life of Francoise Quoirez, before she became a literary sensation. It is of the months in 1954 that led to the publication of her legendary novel. Berest writes the book in the form of a paean – a poetic-prose meditation on the young author’s life – the atmosphere in which she grew, her friends, her parents, her brother and her life in Paris. The book reads like a journal – a journal of Sagan (in some bits – some fabricated) as written by Berest. The reader sometimes doesn’t know whose perspective or whose life is being talked about – I liked the intermingling. It worked for me for sure.

If you are looking for writing tips or how it is to be a writer at eighteen, then this book is not for you at all. This book is for lovers of literature who want to know more about Sagan and how she became what she did. Berest’s writing will keep you turning the pages and leave you hungering for more. Lloyd’s translation is precise and cuts clean through the book.

As a reader, I loved how Berest took me through the journey of a confident writer who knew that the only way she would be was in writing and getting a book published. She was never short on confidence. Sagan’s life in these couple of months was nothing short of a rollercoaster ride which Berest intricately and with great brevity takes us through. I love this book – it is a great mix – a take on real life and life that is closely reimagined – taking some liberties but which could very well be true.

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas

A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas Title: A Three Dog Life
Author: Abigail Thomas
Publisher: Mariner Books
ISBN: 978-0156033237
Genre: Memoirs
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I chanced upon this book through “By the Book” and I think it was one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s favourite books and since I love what she writes, I went by her recommendation and read this one. This book is not a happy read. But it is honest, heart-wrenching, true and hopeful as well.

Abigail’s life comes to a standstill when her husband Rich gets hit by a car and his brain is shattered. He cannot comprehend anything. He remembers her in bits and pieces and her life is completely torn apart. She has to rebuild her life around this tragedy, and her new family is of three dogs and hence the title.

The book is deeply profound and emotional. Abigail’s views on life, death and continuing after the partner is no longer able to even recognize you is extremely touching and strikes a chord with readers. She grapples with guilt, with relationships that exist and with living a single life, thinking about the husband who isn’t dead but isn’t alive either.

The writing is so poignant and yet so hopeful with the dogs providing so much solace and comfort. The bonds that are formed between man and animal are so beautifully portrayed in this book. To me “A Three Dog Life” is a quiet meditation on what life goes through when it falls apart and how it heals and repairs beyond everything and more.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison Title: The Empathy Exams
Author: Leslie Jamison
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 9781555976712
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 226
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

There is a certain lack of empathy in the world. That is the conclusion I have come to given my interactions with most people and I wish it were different, but sadly it is not that way. There is cruelty everywhere – offline and mostly online. There is this sense of superiority that comes with making fun of someone, assuaging one’s insecurity I guess, and the fact that maybe you cannot do but bully someone or a set of people, just to show who the boss is. I have never understood this behavior and never will I guess.

There was also this Twitter incident that occurred last week and that clearly showed that we do not live in a world with enough empathy. There are bullies. There are people who mock. I know I am coming across too strong in this review, but a fact is a fact is a fact and there is nothing we can do about it, or wait, there actually is. We can try to be kind. We can be more empathetic. We can understand people – bit by bit and not be insensitive and unkind.

“The Empathy Exams” by Leslie Jamison is a book that opened up a lot of these thoughts stuck in my head – page after page and I loved every bit of it. Jamison talks about empathy through her life-situations and what she has gone through. While reading the book, there were so many thoughts that ran in my head and I just could not stop thinking about how we are unkind and insulting most of the times. Being a Gay man, I have faced it way too many times and I know how it feels. It feels terrible. Jamison’s book takes center stage on this and begins to uncover layer by layer on the whats, whys and why-nots of empathy.

“The Empathy Exams” is a personal book. Jamison makes the reader experience empathy, she talks about her wounds and her life (baring it all out in front of the readers, which is one mean task to do, according to me), and how it really is to be empathetic. The writing is real, raw and extremely honest. Leslie makes us realize the limitations of empathy and why is it so important for us to not let it be restrictive.

Why did the book resonate with me? Like I said, we have forgotten what it is like to be considerate, to be kind, and we just want to be mean. The book made me think of everyday situations and how we choose to deal with them and to me that is something. The fact that a book can do that to you and those ideas stick with you long after you have finished reading the book. “The Empathy Exams” is an introspective read and will tell you a lot more about you as a person than you have ever known. Read it and learn from it. I will try to. Every single day.

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