Tag Archives: memories

My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

Title: My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues
Author: Pamela Paul
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1627796316
Genre: Literary Non-Fiction, Books about Books
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love reading books about books and that experience becomes even better when the book is also a memoir – about growing up and traversing through life with books at your side. Nothing better than that read and somehow it also gives me hope, that no matter what, books will always be round the corner, waiting for you. “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” by Pamela Paul is one such book that I read this month and absolutely fell in love with it. This is also because Pamela Paul is the editor of The New York Times Book Review which is almost sanctimonious to me when it comes to following reviews and other content on books.

“My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” is a book, like I said before, about books and the power they have – to save, to heal, to rejuvenate, to give you a new lease of life and to just be around you. The chapters are based on titles of books (most which she has loved and some not so much) and takes us on a journey of books discovered, loved, wept for, and how Pamela’s relationship with herself and others grew or matured because of books. Pamela doesn’t preach nor does she force you to read (though it would be nice if you would) – what she does is share her world of books and parts of her life with readers, which makes it even more special.

I often wondered while reading this book what would it be like had I kept a record of every book I ever read – which is what Pamela Paul did and named that book BOB (a book about books) and as you read this book you see why is it so important to do so. Every relationship, friendship, life event, travels, and paths she forged for herself was because of books she read or did not.

Another reason I loved this book, is because it helped me discover books which I had not heard of and also give me some courage to read the ones I had abandoned (I will get to them someday I hope). At no point does Pamela Paul try to force these books on you as a reader – she is just documenting her life through these books. I thoroughly enjoyed this book – it is just how a book about books should be – happy, sad, bittersweet, hopeful and full of life.

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The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz

The Book of Memory Gaps by Cecilia Ruiz Title: The Book of Memory Gaps
Author: Cecilia Ruiz
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
ISBN: 978-0399171932
Genre: Comic Strips, Graphic,
Pages: 64
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

The fourth book read this month and let me tell you, that while it may be a short book, it certainly will linger in your memory for a while. Funny how I used memory there when the book is about memory gaps. It is a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges and his meditations on memory and time.

Ruiz tells tales of individuals whose memories have failed them. These individuals’ tales are short – a few lines and the rest of the talking is done by the illustrations accompanying them. These stories have to do with false memories, memories that keep getting renewed each day and getting nowhere, memories that are not wanted and memories that keep going in circles. The instances of not remembering are also witty sometimes – also heartbreaking to a large extent.

Some characters suffer from dementia. Some are just lost. Some are searching endlessly. It is almost like the collection of these small tales represents one emotion: Melancholy. The illustrations also go so well with the text – they are dusky and have this dreamlike quality attached to them. The book resonated with me long after. It is the kind of book that stays with you. I am still reeling from its effect.

The Art of Discovering Books

Discovering Books

There is this subtlety to discovering books. You don’t even know it and there you are, tucked in with a new book by an author you don’t even know, and you are walking out of the bookstore, just waiting to get home to start reading the book. How did it happen? How did you manage to discover the book? How did the process even begin? Also, how does one get to know of titles online? How does then one shop online for books? There is so much happening in the world of books, that a reader can easily get overwhelmed.

Discovering Books is a beautiful experience in itself. It is something that I would never want anyone to take away from me. I remember going through books on books and reading, while growing up, just to get my hands on a new author or book which I had never heard of. I also remember discovering Murakami that way. Just logging on to Amazon.com one fine day in 2001 – the 1st of May, and there it was, the cover, staring right at me, and I knew I had to order the book. That was when my love affair with Murakami began.

Discovering New Books

To wander into a bookstore – old or new and then to find a book which you instantly connect with. The feeling is known to many and yet every time we discover a book or an author, our heart jumps with joy. We identify the feeling with other readers. We want to squeal. We want to share our happiness. That is the pleasure of finding books. Of discovering new worlds. Of wanting to shut out the world and immersing oneself in newer worlds.

I hate when people recommend books to me. I do not like it one bit. I do not ask for recommendations. I am happy searching for books on my own, in the way I like to. There is this magic of finding an unknown Norwegian writer whose name you cannot pronounce, but you Thank God for the translation.

To begin to turn the pages at a second-hand bookstore. To smell the newness or the old smell of a book. To read a paragraph or two and realize that there is no way you will leave the store without picking up the book – that is the magic of finding out. Maybe that is how you will find what books you love reading, what genres will be closest to you when you turn eighty, or which authors will you quote again and again.

To go online and go through lists and lists of books (I love Flavour Wire for this and many such websites). To read reviews. To understand the book. To read a sample online (sometimes, even this helps). To walk into a library and find books. To randomly go through a person’s bookshelves and discover something you want to refer to later. Of those hurriedly making notes in a small notebook, which has a long list of books to read and books to buy. Isn’t it that joy which cannot be compared with anything else in the world?

Off late, I have also started discovering books through people’s book hauls and book videos on YouTube. But nothing to beat the good old method of entering a book store. Of looking at the shelves again and again, with the hope of finding something you have never encountered. Like a blind date with a book. Like a thrill running through your entire body. Something you know will stay. An experience you cannot let go off. That is the magic of books, I guess.

So where do you find your books? How do you discover them?

Reading Places and Times

Reading is a form of joy that none other. It can provide pleasure in so many ways that one cannot even imagine at times. With reading, memories are created. Hoards of them and sometimes way too many to remember. This post is one such attempt to chronicle memory related to books, the places they have been read at and positions that one has been comfortable reading them in. All readers would be able to relate to this one, because sometimes sense of time and place is so important to reading, that you cannot forget it in a lifetime.

I remember childhood most vividly. When reading was a luxury, away from studies. Away from the books that one did not have to look at till the next year or till the next term. When my parents would want me to sleep early and I was hiding under the covers with a book and a torch (done that as well). That is probably the first memory that is stuck with books.

Memories related and connected to books have always been special. Be it sitting alone in my room (which I had to share with one sibling) at fourteen when my nose was stuck in David Copperfield (at those times I wished I was an orphan, just to live that life) and my mind was elsewhere by then. Wuthering Heights was read for the first time at Worli Sea Face by sitting on a bench and listening to the sea murmur at intervals. There would have been no perfect setting for such a book. Maybe it was the sea and its memory that added to the charm of the book and to the reason of it being one of my favourite books of all-time.

Books have to be read in a special place and we all have them. It could be the corner of your room or it could be that special spot in the library. The point is that sometimes we can only read there. The place that brings us that required comfort with the book that is loved. I can never read without lying down on my stomach and the sufficient light that has to fall on the book, from a particular angle. That is much needed. The type of food one is used to eating with the book you read is also essential to the reader. Food goes best with reading. My reading food has to be a packet of chips with Diet Coke and of course care is taken before turning the page – a napkin on the side and the Coke can kept far away from the book.

I also remember the time I was at loggerheads with my family and spent hours in my college library reading. The British Library spot right next to the DVD section is most fondly remembered. Virginia Woolf was discovered in that phase – the existentialism narrative and linear thought flow was also discovered in the aisles of the library. Those memories don’t let go and shouldn’t as well.

The journeys undertaken have always been with books. Be it a train journey, on which I cannot sleep and a book is sufficient, as the train whizzes by and the reading process between sips of tea, purchased at a small station at two in the morning. A long flight journey. A bookstore in a foreign land and a café where everyone knows you and is ok with the fact that you order one Latte and read there for hours. The comfort of knowing that helps uninhibited reading.

Reading is as personal and solitary hobby that it can be. It breeds in solitude. It requires that space to allow flights of fancy. Reading does that to you. It creates memories, hundreds of them – of favourite books, of loved writers, of books re-read all the time, of spaces and places, of foods eaten and enjoyed and ultimately love for them, that carries on irrespective.

The Art of Japanese Literature

Japanese fiction needs to be read slowly. It deserves that. You cannot rush through it – even if it is a crime pot-boiler or a love story. It needs patience. Like a good brewed cup of tea. The beauty of Japanese fiction sometimes is only best understood when you read more and more of it and do not generalize it to be flooded by suicides or dark plots.

My introduction to Japanese fiction began when I was sixteen and picked up my first Yukio Mishima. Mishima’s works are dense, full of longing, yes suicides as well and of a Japanese Era gone by – that of aristocrats and empires and emperors. The books written by him are something else – The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy is epic in its scope and story-telling. Moreover, the translation is just perfect. And that is where my love for Japanese literature took place.

Yasunari Kawabata is another under-rated Japanese writer in my opinion. He had written all in all around twelve books and that’s that, most of which aren’t even translated to English. Having said that, most that are translated are small gems of brilliant literature. His language is simple and subtle, almost like haiku, almost like enjoying a cup of sake and not being too greedy about it as it satiates the mind and the soul anyhow. Yasunari Kawabata in his time wrote of social issues at hand – a love story between a Tokyo dilettante and a Geisha, depicted beautifully in Snow Country to another ill-fated love story as seen in Thousand Cranes. Kawabata’s short stories are full of eroticism (which is not in your face) and desire that stems and grows. In short, he is one writer; I would urge you to read.

Then came the significant time in my life when I read the first novel so to speak, “The Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu, who was a Japanese noblewoman and a lady-in-waiting. It almost changed the way I viewed fiction and its importance in my life. It has all the elements of the modern novel – and is considered to be a psychological novel – probably the first of its times. The characters are defined by their function in the book, rather than their name and that stood out the most for me, giving an insight to early Japanese culture. The book recounts the life of a son of the Japanese Emperor, known to the readers as Shining Genji. The Tale of Genji takes us through his romantic life, the aristocratic society then and the barriers. It could have very well been an ancient Romeo and Juliet. The fact of the matter is that it is a great read, though strenuous at times.

I then lapped up Natsume Soseki’s “I am a Cat”, which spoke of a Cat’s life and the world through its eyes over three volumes. What I enjoyed about this one was the one singular voice of a Cat and the impact it had on me as a reader. The cat is aware of the human world and its fallacies and depicts it with great humour, sarcasm, and wit. So there is also the funny side of the Japanese writer.

Very soon other writers joined the bandwagon. The urge to read more Japanese literature was like no other. I wanted to know more about the culture – their behaviour patterns, the way they thought, the society formed – the way of thinking – ancient and modern and the conflict within. No better writer than Junichiro Tanizaki to put that in perspective. I have read five of his books, and each book down the line spoke of two themes – sexual freedom and the free will to think and act. Tankizaki’s characters are strong, with the hidden weak side that they do not want anyone else to know and that as noticed and understood through his writing is a treat.

Kazuo Ishiguro joined the forces very soon. Ishiguro, a native of Japan and now settled in England, speaks of varied themes. From cloning and unrequited love as depicted in Never Let Me Go (a brilliant film also) to the state of butlers and maids in The Remains of the Day, his novels are not traditionally Japanese – except for two, but his sensibilities sure are and that is what makes him a great writer – the sensitivity, the sparing and effective use of language and the best judgment displayed in making his characters feel and speak the way they want to.

Japanese Literature is not everyone’s cup of tea, quite literally at that. There are close to a thousand nuances probably out there in every second book. The plot doesn’t reveal itself till it wants to be seen. The reader almost gets frustrated and his patience levels do not sustain the beauty of the language at times. I have seen that happen to most people. One such Japanese writer who has currently taken the literary scene by storm is but definitely Haruki Murakami. Murakami’s works again are not easy to understand and yet he connects with his readers in a manner unlike anyone else. It does take time to seep in to his books, but once you have, then there is no way out for you. You will read and re-read and quote and be dizzy with his words and the beauty of translation. From unrequited love to a detective story to parallel universes and subtleties of love and heartache, Murakami touches on these topics and more like a true genius. My love affair with him started with Sputnik Sweetheart and still continues to this very day. Thank you for writing the way you do.

Akutagawa entered my life after I watched the film, “Rashomon”. On knowing that it was a short story on which the film was based, I had to read it. Sure enough, the short-stories written by Akutagawa were spectacular. It revolves around the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife, followed by four versions – the bandit’s story, the wife’s story, the samurai’s story and the woodcutter’s story – each version with a different twist and re-telling. I loved the stories. For me, that was a hallmark of short-story writing. There was so much there which was done in terms of language and description and yet so much left to the reader’s thought process.

I could go on and on about Japanese Literature. However there are so many writers I would urge you to explore if you have not already – Banana Yoshimoto being one of them, with her classic themes of loss of identity and voice, Osamu Dazai, well known for his character sketches and romanticism, Kobo Abe, with his skill in explaining the gore and the unknown nature of man, and Kenzaburo Oe, with his ruthless description of the dark corners of the human mind and soul.

Japanese Literature for me in most ways is the mirror to my soul. Every book read and every author speaks to me in different ways and on different levels.