Tag Archives: NonfictionNovember

The Bookseller’s Tale by Martin Latham

 

The Bookseller's Tale

Title: The Bookseller’s Tale
Author: Martin Latham
Publisher: Particular Books, Penguin UK 
ISBN: 978-0241408810
Genre: Books about Books, Books and Reading 
Pages: 368 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This is one tale that Chaucer forgot to include in The Canterbury Tales. This is perhaps the only tale from the book that I would have actually read. I think books about books and reading do that to me. They make me understand what others feel about books – just the way I do, and so many others just like me. They make us a collective – a tribe of the crazy, the insane, the lost, the dreamers, the ones who are forever seeking the new, but are also quite content with the old.

The Bookseller’s Tale is essentially about Martin and his love for reading, and in that he takes us through a brief history of the book so to say, along with his reading, his thoughts on authors and everything bookish. Martin Latham, the service manager (bookseller really) at Waterstones Canterbury for over three decades now and this book is his dedication to books, the art of reading, selling books, and meeting people who love the written word.

As soon as I started reading the book, I was immersed in a world that was not mine and I was so glad for that. In such tough times, we need more book such as this one to transport us to times and places where it all seemed so simple and just to know that there is this pure comradeship that books provide. Latham speaks of marginalia – about how beautiful it is, he goes on to speak about chapbooks and book pedlars and the role they have played in shaping cultures, with some charming anecdotes of writers visiting the store and customers who lend to the stories.

My most favourite parts of the book were the ones about comfort reading and reading in adversity, and both seemed so perfect for the times we are living in. We need to read without judging, without being judged. We need that safety need of books when all else is taken away from us, which is happening as I write this. We need books and reading to survive this time.

The Bookseller’s Tale is about a shared love of books that transcends it all. It doesn’t take into account gender, age, background, caste, nothing at all. It is just the written word and you. No matter the language, and no matter the place. Latham’s writing is like a dream – like I said, it transports you to another world and place. The historical references are plenty – reading between wars, the invention of reading terminology, the old books he speaks of, and the art of collection. At the same time, he makes you see the reality of independent bookstores, of online buying, of the booksellers of France and New York and London and Bombay. I wish there were more stores and more countries to cover, but maybe that is for another book.

The Bookseller’s Tale is a book to be read and enjoyed by every reader. For me it was the best read of the year. Hands down!

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad

 

White Tears:Brown Scars

Title: White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color
Author: Ruby Hamad
Publisher: Catapult
ISBN: 978-1948226745
Genre: Cultural Anthropology, Essays, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

This book is much-needed for the times we live in. Actually for any time – past or present or even the future sadly, given how situations play themselves out over and over again. Situations where white people have set certain standards of humanity and how to live and even love for the rest of the world. Situations where they do not give any agency to people of colour, more so to women of colour, and even if what is perceived as agency isn’t really that. Ruby Hamad’s explosive and very important book “White Tears/Brown Scars” brings to fore and speaks of how white women use their tears to avoid speaking of and mainly confronting their racism.

This book is an off-shoot from Hamad’s article on the same topic that came out in The Guardian in the year 2018, and how that further led to Hamad being contacted by various women of colour with their stories of being betrayed by white women and their tears.

This book is extremely well-researched and an account of the white woman’s role in colonialism, in racism, and in oppressing the people of colour. It doesn’t restrict itself only to the women. It goes beyond that , to men of colour as well. Ruby’s book is global in nature and we all can see how we sometimes behave around white people. We who were once colonised, still carry that burden and remain forever apologetic. This is exactly what happens when a women of colour confronts a white women about her racism – she is apologetic to the white woman, as though it wasn’t her place to call out casual racism.

White Tears/Brown Scars should make people uncomfortable, more so the white people and make them realize what they are doing or have been doing over the years. It is necessarily uncomfortable. Hamad doesn’t write only about the US of A. She ropes in other countries as well – whether it is about the history of Aboriginal women in Australia and how they are treated or the Arab women at large in the world – these are perspectives and stories that must be heard, read, and internalised.

Hamad’s book is a revelation to me (I think it would also be the same for most people). The writing is razor-sharp and she doesn’t hesitate from calling a spade, a spade. It delves into performative victimhood and the truths aren’t palpable. In some cases the book reads like an oral history and maybe that’s what it is – experiences of women of colour with White women’s defensiveness and gas lighting in personal and professional settings.

“White Tears/Brown Scars” is a book that should be required reading for anyone interested in intersectional feminism. It is about the imbalance of power, and how it affects feminism. She takes a view of all of it – history, culture, research, and ultimately the lives of women to make us understand the role of white supremacy in all of it. Please read it.

The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati. Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein

The Night in Gethsemane - On Solitude and Betrayal by Massimo Recalcati

Title: The Night in Gethsemane: On Solitude and Betrayal
Author: Massimo Recalcati
Translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein
Publisher: Europa Editions, Europa Compass
ISBN: 978-1787702592
Genre: Non-fiction, Essay
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Betrayal. The word conjures so many emotions in us. Anger, melancholy, a sense of loss, of love lost, and even pity. Massimo Recalcati’s brilliant short book, “The Night in Gethsemane” is a book about Jesus’s betrayal by Judas and Peter. Of how Judas arrives with armed men in the olive grove, abandoning Jesus with a kiss. It is the time of being forsaken not only by the ones dearest to him, but also by his father, his God. This is what this short gem is about.

At the same time, it will also make you see and realize and think upon your betrayals – the ones you’ve been guilty of, and the ones done to you. But it is also about suffering, and who is there when we hurt the most. Who is there in our most painful moments? Who was there for Jesus, son of God? How did he fall and more than anything else how did he survive the fall?

While Recalcati looks at Jesus as son of God, of someone Divine, he also looks at him as human. All his emotions are analysed. The prophecy of Jesus being betrayed – when he said that someone close to him will betray him at the last supper. That’s when it happened, right after. Of the different natures of betrayal of Judas and Peter. In all of this we as readers are exposed to the loneliness of the human experience. When one is betrayed, how does one feel? It is as though the person enters an abyss of loneliness that is difficult to get rid of. Ann Goldstein’s translation from the Italian is as always to the point, exercising great brevity, and nuance. The Night in Gethsemane is all about questions of the ordinary, brought to light through the extraordinary. A great feat.

Curry: A Global History by Colleen Taylor Sen

Curry - A Global History by Colleen Taylor Sen Title: Curry: A Global History
Author: Colleen Taylor Sen
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited
ISBN: 9789386338839
Genre: Nonfiction, Cooking, Food
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 stars

I am a fan of Indian food, and but of course because that’s what I grew up eating. Give me a good portion of Butter Chicken and I am capable of forgetting the world. The same goes for Biryani (is it Indian though, I wonder?) and Desi Chinese. Books about food, more so Indian food have fascinated me. Whether it is Rude Food by Sanghvi or a collection of essays by Madhur Jaffrey, each book on Indian food brings a unique perspective, and so does Curry: A Global History to some extent.

Curry gives you a lot of facts about how “curry” came to be – in India and then how it travelled to the rest of the world, thereby now becoming a global dish so to say. The book speaks of how the East India Company officers took to the Indian cuisine, thereby carrying our food with them “back home” and cooks from India, who eventually settled in Britain and some of them opened restaurants. Of how Butter Chicken was invented and became a sensation. Also, me being a lover of food had no idea of the number of curries which this book names and speaks of.

My favourite section was the one on the United States of America and how our food travelled there. The book covers all ground and how our food travelled mainly because of the colonial rule and influence – Singapore, Trinidad, South Africa, Burma, and others. Curry provides an education into the humble curry, its types, the way it is cooked, the spices used for various curries, making it extremely engaging, and yet falling short on not being comprehensive enough and seems rushed in the process. Nonetheless, a great book to know more about Curry and its place in the world.

This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life by David Foster Wallace

This Is Water by David Foster Wallace Title: This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life
Author: David Foster Wallace
Publisher: Little, Brown
ISBN: 978-0316068222
Genre: Non-Fiction, Speech
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

I have read quite a few commencement speeches by authors. Authors who celebrate creativity (Rowling), some who talk about making art great again or creating good art (Gaiman) and some others who speak of the future and what it has in store (Saunders). And then there is someone like Foster Wallace who gives it to you the way it is – the real world, with no sugar-coating whatsoever.

I knew that would be the case once I received this backlist title from the good folks at Hachette India. David Foster Wallace has left behind a legacy. A cannon of work that I at least read in bits and pieces because sometimes what he says is too much to bear.

This is Water is a speech given by Foster Wallace to the graduating class at Kenyon College in 2005. He starts with a little parable – the one that seems like one, and quickly goes on to break that mode of starting a commencement speech. David’s speech is a trove of wisdom and compassion, thought provoking, and what it means to live in the 21st century.

I think the thing about such books that there is no single universal message. There is something that relates with everyone. The message of giving up on the rat-race (is that even possible?), the one that speaks about awareness, self-consciousness before saying or doing what we say or do (this one hit home real hard), or just the one to understand what it means to give and sometimes sacrifice a little bit, if you have to.

David Foster Wallace doesn’t speak of glory in the most basic terms. There is glory in empathy. There is glory in understanding. There is glory in small efforts as he rightly puts it. This is Water is the kind of book that is needed at every stage of life. The speech will resonate throughout.

I will leave you with this thought that is my favourite from this read:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”