Tag Archives: Non-fiction

Conversations – Volume 1: Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari: Translated by Jason Wilson

Conversations - Jorge Luis Borges Title: Conversations – Volume 1
Authors: Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari
Translator: Jason Wilson
Publisher: Seagull Books
ISBN: 978-0857421883
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 352
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Reading conversations with writers is fun. It is the best thing ever according to me. Their views, thoughts, expressions, blatantly calling out bull shit sometimes and most importantly their perspectives are to be cherished and worth going back to every once a while.

For me, reading about conversations with Jorge Luis Borges was a stunning experience. He doesn’t leave any stone unturned. His conversations are with Osvaldo – a poet and a university professor.

Jorge Luis Borges has always been my idol. I love everything he has written – from prose to non-fiction to his poems. They all make for some marvelous reading. What makes these conversations different, you ask?

These are two intelligent people discussing literature, art, poetry, politics and more. How much better than this can it get for you, humble reader? The sections are short, which means that you might read them fast, but it takes time to soak in all that the master (well to me he is) is saying.

The forty-seven pieces in the book are as varied and diverse than perhaps anything you’ve ever read. My favourite portions of course in the book are when they are discussing literature (which is almost all time) – from Dante to Henry James, on poetry, realist and fantasy literature (my most favourite piece in the book) to the detective story.

Borges’ fiction was always infused with dreams and so much magic realism – it makes you dizzy after a while but when you sink into the prose, it is something else. He speaks of his works (another aspect that intrigued me a lot) and the socio-economic condition (then) of Europe and the political atmosphere. Like I said, no stone is left unturned. To top it all, there is also a second volume in line which I will speak about soon. For all literary lovers, this is a treat like none other.

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Conversations, V 1

Conversations, Volume 1 (English)

About Women: Conversations between a Writer and a Painter by Lisa Alther and Francoise Gilot

About Women by Lisa Alther and Francoise Gilot Title: About Women: Conversations between a Writer and a Painter
Authors: Lisa Alther and Francoise Gilot
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
ISBN: 978-0385539869
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When a writer and a painter come together (and both of them are women) and speak of women issues, their lives, emotions, growing-up years and everything else in between, you get a fascinating conversation book titled “About Women: Conversations between a writer and a painter”. The two women talking are author Lisa Alther and painter and writer Francoise Gilot.

I came across this book randomly online and decided to read it, the minute I finished reading the synopsis. The book is about their lives and experiences. It just gives you a feeling of being in a salon and hearing them speak and hoping that the conversation will not end.

They have been friends for more than twenty-five years. They come from different backgrounds – Gilot from Paris and Alther from Tennessee. They also belong to different generations but the conversations are so intriguing – from arts to parenthood to feminism and how all of this impacted their lives and more importantly their art.

“About women” is divided into eight sections and each section gives you a different perspective on living and how art is so intricately linked with our lives. The book is all about being a woman – through generations of women and how each generation views womanhood. It is not so much about feminism as it is about making a point by doing what you wish to, whatever the circumstances. The conversations are beautifully drawn – even though they might seem random sometimes; they interconnect and fall right into place.

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About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter

About Women: Conversations Between a Writer and a Painter

El Iluminado by Ilan Stavans and Steve Sheinkin

El Iluminado by Ilan Stavans and Steve Sheinkin Title: El Iluminado
Author: Ilan Stavans and Steve Sheinkin
Publisher: Basic Books
ISBN: 9780465032570
Genre: Graphic novel
Pages: 208
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

“El Iluminado” reads like a Dan Brown thriller, which is good in many ways, because after all who doesn’t enjoy a good thriller, right? At the same time it is in graphic format – so that’s a double whammy right there for you.

This is the kind of book which is thought of quite rarely and now that it is out there, I recommend it to all and sundry.

What is the plot?

A man by the name of Rolando Perez falls to his death from a cliff outside Santa Fe, Mexico and this is where the story begins. How did he die? Was it suicide? Was he killed? What has this got to do with the Catholic Church and the Jews?

In all of this arrives Professor Stavans, who is just there to give a theological lecture on the history of Jews and talks about “crypto-Jews” of that area and how did they manage to come out to America from Europe. This of course is depicted as the “fictional” Stavans.

Without even knowing, Stavans is drawn into the mystery of Rolando’s death and to find some documents that could hold the key to it all. But that’s not it. In the midst of all this, there is another angle – of Luis de Carvajal also known as “El Iluminado” (the Enlightened One) – who was a sixteenth-century Spanish Catholic, who but obviously is a “crypto-Jew”.

So who are these “crypto-Jews”? Who are these mysterious people that keep popping up helping Stavans or not in his quest?

I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel. Stavans writes with great clarity and Sheinkin’s illustrations are simple and add to the story quite well. There are hints of it being real but largely this story is fictional. If you are fan of religions and want to know more about the displacement of the Jews and right from the sixteenth century or earlier than that, then this book is for you.

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El Iluminado / The Enlightened One

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Iluminado: A Graphic Novel

Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks

Where I'm Reading from by Tim Parks Title: Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books
Author: Tim Parks
Publisher: New York Review Books
ISBN: 978-1590178843
Genre: Non-Fiction, Reading, Bibliography
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher:
Rating: 4/5

Ever since I remember, I have loved books about books. It helps me discover new books. It helps me widen my reading horizon. It also makes me see how other people view books and reading. Tim Parks, given his portfolio on books and reviewing, him being a writer, critic and everything rolled into one, there could have been no better person to write about books and the love of reading them.

“Where I’m Reading From” speaks of books in the past, how they are viewed in the present and what is really the future of books. The book is extremely thought-provoking and makes a lot of sense most of the time. I did find myself disagreeing on some of his essays but I guess there is always this dialogue between the reader and the writer which must take place, whether it is pleasant or not.

The book is divided into four sections – the world around the book, the book in the world, the writer’s world and writing across worlds. Each section makes you nostalgic about books and reading. Each section is about how we read and how it impacts every stage of our lives.

Of course, Parks is highly opinionated but then that is how it works when it comes to most art forms and critics alike. These essays are all about the world and its connection to books and readers. For one, I was thoroughly engaged and at the same time I had to keep the book aside and just think of what I have read in the past and what I am reading now.

“Where I’m Reading From” takes its name from Raymond Carver’s beautiful short story “Where I’m Calling From” and does justice to the title in every way. The collection of essays is stunning and makes you think of books over and over again as a reader.

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes Title: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Author: Roland Barthes
Publisher: Vintage, Random House
ISBN: 978-0099225416
Genre: Photography, Art, Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was never interested in photography. Somehow, it just did not interest me. However, after reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag and also “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, I started taking some interest in the subject and I had known of Roland Barthes. Coupled with this was the fact that he had written on photography, so it was just only a matter of time before I would read it.

What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.

“Camera Lucida” is about photos, life, and death and about the cultures we inhabit. The book is not just about photographs and photography. It is a lot more on actually how we see and how we are conditioned to see.

“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”

The book is all about art – about how paintings came to lose some significance with the invention of the camera and how that was not the case after a couple of years. “Camera Lucida” is a collection of essays on “the photograph by onlooker” than what a photographer may think of his or her photograph. He questions what it means to take pictures and what the probable outcomes of it are.

It is not an easy read, but it is highly satisfying. Barthes draws on examples from life, what surrounds us and how it feels like to have a relationship with a still image in an age of constant movement and newer digital means.

“Camera Lucida” is about interpretation, imagination and art. It is more so about living and what it takes to make sense of art that is all-pervasive. The book is short and just right to know more about photography and the medium that it is. I will of course go back to it at some point. I must also say that it is not a read that you can fly by, however once you sink your teeth in it, it is an excellent read.

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna

Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna Title: Mrs Funnybones
Author: Twinkle Khanna
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143424468
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 248
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Books that take you out of a reading slump are hard to come by. If those kind of books are funny, then all I can say is that go for them because funny books are hard to come by, well at least for me, who is not taken in by them till I finished reading, “Mrs Funnybones” and my jaw was actually hurting from laughing out loud.

I honestly though didn’t have any expectations from this book. I mean I had heard of Twinkle Khanna’s column in DNA and TOI but did not expect anything from the book. I had not read any of her columns. However, I can safely say that all of you and I mean every single one of you must read “Mrs Funnybones”. It is hilarious and I cannot stop recommending it enough.

“Mrs Funnybones” is about a regular woman’s (not quite so given her celebrity status) often irregular and chaotic life with her celebrity husband, kids, mother-in-law, dog, domestic help, a vivacious mother, and many more characters that keep popping in and out of chapters. I could not stop turning the pages. I could also not stop giggling like a school girl. There is also a lot of profundity in the book without it being too preachy and that is what I loved second best after the humour.

Twinkle Khanna writes with a lot of ease and it’s almost effortless. The writing just flows and humour is sometimes obvious and sometimes not, which is what I call, balanced. Whether she is talking about her man Jeeves (whom she calls desi Jeeves and that somehow cracked me up) to the time she was on a flight to Delhi and had to deal with a mother and her baby who decided that it was potty time on flight and what followed later was just laugh-out-loud and disgusting at the same time, she conjures life as is, without any frills and pretensions. We need more honest writing like this I guess.

My favourite parts were the ones that involved her Mom – how she was made fun of as a child and also of how she keeps getting these emails from her with her baby and teenage picture attachments. It was a laugh riot and at times I could not help but think of what she says about growing up, life, and everything in between.

“Mrs Funnybones” is the kind of book which will appeal to everyone. There is something which everyone can relate to – if not house issues, then about the state of the country, issues which she deals with great subtlety and wit. Like I said, I cannot stop recommending this book to everyone. It sort of reminded me of Moni Mohsin’s Diary of a Social Butterfly. I will get back to it in bits and parts when I am feeling down and about, so I can laugh and forget what is going on around me, at least temporarily.

Ongoingness : The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso

Ongoingness - The End of a Diary by Sarah Manguso Title: Ongoingness: The End of a Diary
Author: Sarah Manguso
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977030
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Pages: 104
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What is “Ongoingness”? What does it mean and how does it come to be defined? Is it even a word like that? Is it okay for anyone to invent something like that? And does it also then mean that it is all okay and to just experience moments as they come by? “Ongoingness” by Sarah Manguso is a diary – it is however, not your usual run-of-the-mill diary either. Come to think of it, it is not like something I have read in a very long time and trust Ms. Manguso to come up with something so uniquely different and contemplative.

Of course you can finish this book in one sitting and that is the idea. However, I also had to pause in most places and keep contemplating about life. The book is about Sarah’s life as a mother and how memory and loss of it played a major role for some time then. This diary is just a series of fragments on time, memory, the nature of the self and how one connects with the internal and the external world.

The memoir is barely only about 100 pages long and yet there is so much you will see in this book which perhaps no other book will be able to communicate or show. Manguso has dealt with the passage of time beautifully from the time when she was not a mother to the time she became one and how things changed drastically.

“Ongoinginess” is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It is about relationships and life and yet Manguso has a different perspective and outlook in everything. It is a poetic meditation on our need to remember and capture life through words, images and sounds.

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