Tag Archives: Non-fiction

Granta 130: India: Edited by Ian Jack

Granta 130 - India Title: Granta 130 : India: Another Way of Seeing
Author: Various; Edited by Ian Jack
Publisher: Granta
ISBN: 9781905881857
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Granta magazine has always known how to bring great stories – fiction and non-fiction, the one told through pictures and the ones told through poetry to life to its readers. They constantly strive to bring new writing to the reader and this is what keeps me going to read issue after issue of Granta. I distinctly remember when the Granta Pakistan issue came out and I was absolutely taken in by what it had to offer. There was also another Granta on India and now in January 2015, they came out with Granta 130: India – Another Way of Seeing, edited by Ian Jack.

I am absolutely floored by the pieces in this Granta. This issue takes on India in the new role that she is playing for the world to see, and at the same time quite ironically tackles matters that have been at the core to the country – poverty, homelessness, socio-economic divide, etc. The magazine has some fantastic and quite interesting pieces – right from Deepti Kapoor (author of A Bad Character) to Raghu Karnad, whose debut book will be out this year to Aman Sethi’s work, “Love Jihad” – the concept that was highly popularized in 2012 (one of my favourite pieces) to Katharine Boo’s pictures with Vijay Gadge, Devo Kadam, Sudip Sengupta and Unnati Tripathi, titled, “Annawadi” – a glimpse of what it took for her to write “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”.

Granta 130 has all in all, 20 pieces for this edition and for me each one was better than the other. I loved the way the pieces are also set together. The writing depicts India like never before and also trying to break free from the perception that people have had of it for a very long time – the serpent rope dance impression is quite fading and very soon at that, which is much needed.

My favourite pieces from this collection are: Drone by Hari Kunzru, Pyre by Amitava Kumar, The Ghost in the Kimono by Raghu Karnad (my most favourite piece), Breach Candy by Samanth Subramanian (maybe because I am from Bombay and it just felt like home was so close, though I am in Bangalore as of now), and Sticky Fingers by Arun Kolatkar.

Granta 130 – India is an issue not to be missed out on. It will in all probability open your mind to the country that maybe we see with different lens and eyes.

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A Reading Diary : A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel

A Reading Year - A Year of Favourite Books by Alberto Manguel Title: A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
Author: Alberto Manguel
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN: 978-1841958217
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs, Books, Reading
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

We all must keep a reading diary. Something that chronicles what we read and its impact on our lives or what lives we lead and its impact on what we read. Basically, the idea is to make notes, and not on a laptop or any other electronic device, but handwritten notes, which are so important in today’s time and age.

“A Reading Diary” by Alberto Manguel is one such book. It is about the twelve books that Alberto read or rather reread in a year. Those are his favourite books or at least some of his favourites. He makes the reader sees ways in which time can be spent with a book and good quality time. He makes us see how the mind wanders with one reference made in the book to several made or recollected from memory in other books. That to me is pure genius when it comes to his writing.

There are lists as well in the book – random and some not quite random. There are snatches from Manguel’s life which is a treat to someone who is an ardent fan like me. He speaks of his favourite books and with great passion he tells the reader what he likes and perhaps even does not like about them.

There are so many possibilities in this one for the reader. To take a chance and read all the twelve books listed by him and more that you would come across. He treats his favourite books with great care and could talk endlessly about them and to me that is the beauty of this book. He attaches memory to books, which most readers, should do. He takes memories and conjures them to something magical in front of readers.

“A Reading Diary” is highly recommended by me to most book lovers and people who know the value of life and reading and its true integration.

List of Books read by Manguel:

1. The Invention of Morel (Adolfo Bioy Casares)
2. The Island of Dr. Moreau (Wells)
3. Kim (Kipling)
4. Memoirs From Beyond the Grave (Chateaubriand)
5. The Sign of Four (Doyle)
6. Elective Affinities (Goethe)
7. The Wind in the Willows(Graham)
8. Don Quixote (Cervantes)
9. The Tartar Steppe (Dino Buzzati)
10. The Pillow Book (Sei Shonagon)
11. Surfacing (Margaret Atwood)
12. The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (Joaquim Maria Machado De Assis)

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Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit Title: Men Explain Things to Me
Author: Rebecca Solnit
Publisher: Haymarket Books
ISBN: 9781608463862
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Pages: 130
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Rebecca Solnit takes the topic of feminism and women issues by the horns and tells you all about it, without mincing her words. “Men Explain Things to Me” was on my bookshelf for quite some time. I was a little hesitant to read this because I thought it might be too preachy, but when I did get down to reading it, it broke all my misconceptions.

“Men Explain Things to Me” is about women and men and how we all are when it comes down to the dynamics between the two. The essays in this book are thoughtful, insightful and reflections on photographs and what is going on in the world, when it comes down to violence against women and making them subversive.

Women face a crueler world. They do and Solnit makes no bones about stating that. At the same time, she presents a world that is ridden with male privilege, misogyny and sexual entitlement, no matter how much we refuse to face it. That is what it is.

Rebecca Solnit looks at incidents all over the world and does so with a microscopic angle. She takes into account the political, sexual and daily work perspectives as well, when talking about men and women.

“Men Explain Things to Me” is quite an eye-opener about the world we live in and it is just sad that even though we know about what goes on, we sometimes turn a blind eye or think that everything is right. I cannot stop recommending this book to anyone. It is meant for us all. To realize what can be saved while we still have time and conscience.

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Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird Title: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Author: Anne Lamott
Publisher: Anchor, Vintage, Random House
ISBN: 9780385480017
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

I had wanted to read “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott since a while now. I think the very nature of the book appealed to me. Thoughts on writing and life seemed quite interesting and insightful. Anne Lamott’s writing style coupled with it, only makes the book more interesting and worth the read.

“Bird by Bird” is not just about writing. There are life lessons in this one which like I said make the book better. Lamott’s writing is not inclined to making this a “how-to” book. It is not that, nor does it intend to be that. It is also not a self-help manual. At the same time, this book is not specifically for writers. It can be read by anyone who wants to write and does. This is for some of us who are struggling with writing and at the same time are embroiled in following rigid rules, which Lamott is completely against.

She makes writing seem very simple and of course admits to it being hard work. Writing to Lamott is about facing truths, growing up with your drafts, about revelations and most of all it is about determination – the idea to not give up and keep at it, page after page.

“Bird by Bird” is all about bettering oneself at writing and gradually at life. Her personal stories are out there and as a reader I was in awe of her writing skills and the life she leads. This is the kind of book that does not restrict itself to a certain audience. Lamott makes you see things and urges you to experience life, your characters, the plot you have devised and see it through. I strongly recommend “Bird by Bird” for any upcoming writer and also for an established writer who wants to work on his or her craft.

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My Name is Abu Salem by S. Hussain Zaidi

My Name is Abu Salem by S. Hussain Zaidi Title: My Name is Abu Salem
Author: S. Hussain Zaidi
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143423591
Pages: 248
Genre: Crime, Biographies and Autobiographies
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard a lot about S. Hussain Zaidi’s writing but had never read anything by the man. I do not know why. Perhaps, there was always this perception that maybe the writing will not live up to my expectations as a reader or maybe I would not enjoy knowing about the Bombay Underworld and about the other world, so to say. But I was proved wrong the minute I picked up, “My Name is Abu Salem”, the latest by journalist and writer, S. Hussain Zaidi.

Going by the title, the book is about the life of Abu Salem and let me tell you that while it does scare you as a reader to know what kind of people exist in the world, it also makes you hate the man a lot more. I mean, I can never imagine having any empathy for a man who killed people at will, who had not the slightest remorse at how he behaved and to top it considered himself to be the lord and master of everyone influential who did and did not come his way.

Zaidi’s writing style makes the book one breezy read and also makes you think about the situations (right time, right person) in which Salem grew to become an underworld don – a boy from a small town of Azamgarh to becoming one of Mumbai’s most feared Don, the one who only wanted fame, name and glory and perhaps still does.

For most part of the book, I just kept wondering: How people lead such lives? Salem had bedded a beauty-queen who then became a film-star, he had every woman he could and wanted, he never cared about his wife Sameera and his son Amir and of course the core of it all – the crimes committed by him and his men. In all of this, I could not stop thinking of the effect a man has and the control he commands. Abu Salem’s personality went beyond who he was and maybe that was another factor that added to his aura.

There are times while reading the book, you do feel that Zaidi is not revealing or telling all, but I think it has to do only with about whom he is writing. At the same time, he is just skimming through some parts, like Salem’s formative years. Zaidi does mention the main parts and there is a lot of information which otherwise no reader would know, like Sameera’s interview transcription on what was it like being Salem’s wife for ten years or Monica Bedi’s confusion when it came to him or for that matter the way Bollywood and the construction industry perceived him.

The book obviously ends open-endedly because no one knows what will happen next in Salem’s life, given that he was sent from Portugal to India and that is how the Indian Government was able to nab him. And in more than one way, that is how the “downfall of the Don” began. “My Name is Abu Salem” is a fast-paced read with a style of writing that does not once bore you or make you leave the book.

And Then One Day : A Memoir by Naseeruddin Shah

And Then One Day by Naseeruddin Shah Title: And Then One Day: A Memoir
Author: Naseeruddin Shah
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
ISBN: 9780670087648
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 328
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5/5

There are times you take stock of life. You evaluate what is there and what is not there. Perhaps one day we will all go through this. It is but eventual I think. While reading Naseeruddin Shah’s memoir, “And Then One Day”, this was my foremost thought. The book of course is written I guess keeping that in mind and at the same time, the tone of Mr. Shah is unique to him – sometimes brash, others haughty, sometimes also hypocritical, at other times contradictory and mostly funny and true. This is probably one of the reasons why I could not stop turning the pages.

“And Then One Day” to me is a mix of both, the man and the actor, after all one cannot separate one from the other, or maybe one can, which I am not aware of. The book chronicles the life of Naseeruddin Shah – from his childhood till his marriage to Ratna Pathak Shah. I think it is the candor with which it is written is what attracts the reader to the book and perhaps the credentials he holds as an actor.

The magnificence of the personality shines on every page. There is the struggle of becoming an actor to unabashedly admitting to roles done because he needed money. I must admit that sometimes I thought the tone was condescending and patronizing even, but the writing was so good that one can ignore that.

While I was reading the book for the first time (yes, I have read it twice), I thought it was ghost-written. However, it is not. The writing is clear, crisp and almost makes you picture incidents as you turn the pages. There are also a lot of times when Mr. Shah indulges in some self-deprecating humour which is also quite brilliantly written.

It is not easy to talk about one’s life. I am sure it is very cathartic and sometimes also brings back memories that you do not want to encounter. At the same time, there is a lot of clarity in the thought process of the writer about this book. Yes, there are times when there is a lot of back and forth between the past and present, but then I also think that this is the only way to write a memoir.

Mr. Shah excels at this book and it does not seem that he does not know how to write, like I mentioned earlier. The book is practical, it is real and it also comes from the heart so many times – especially when he is speaking of his daughter and his relationship with her. “And then One Day” is a book which talks about acting, the actor, the man, the human being and it does so with no holds barred.

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Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology by Caroline Paul & Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton

Lost Cat by Caroline Paul Title: Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology
Author: Caroline Paul and Illustrated by Wendy McNaughton
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
ISBN: 978-1608199778
Genre: Pets, Lifestyle, Non-Fiction
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

All one needs on dreary days is a book which warms the cockles of the heart and leaves you spellbound, more so if it is a true story, and a true story of a cat at that. It is about cats and animals in general and the love one has for their pets. It is beautifully penned – simple and straight from the heart. “Lost Cat” is a true story of love, loss, and the meaning of life, written by Caroline Paul and illustrated gorgeously by her partner, Wendy McNaughton.

Lost Cat - Image 1

One fine day, Caroline was in a plane crash and life changed completely for her and her partner. She was at home for the longest time with her two cats Tibby and Fibby. Fibby was the feisty one and Tibby the silent, scared cat. Tibby disappears one day and returns home after a while. Caroline was relief beyond words and yet in some way Tibby had changed. It is then that Caroline started wondering: Where did Tibby go? What had happened to him?

Lost Cat - Image 2

This is where the book begins. Caroline decides to use modern technology to find the tracks of Tibby. She wonders what happened. She and Wendy are distraught. “Lost Cat” is the story of what happens after. The book seems to be a book for children, but it is for adults. It is about the places we go to when pets disappear, when they are back and what happens when we try to find out more about their behavior and life.

Lost Cat - Image 3

The illustrations are adorable. Wendy McNaughton has done a wonderful job of bringing their story to life through these drawings. “Lost Cat” is a story that will make you smile, make you cry, make you feel a lot more and will immediately want you to go and hug your pet – dog or cat or hamster.

Lost Cat - Image 4

Here is the adorable book trailer of Lost Cat:

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