Tag Archives: November 2020 Reads

These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

These Violent Delights

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Micah Nemerever 
Publisher: Harper 
ISBN: 978-0062963635
Genre: Coming of Age, LGBT, Literary 
Pages: 480 
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 5/5 

So this book is really unlike anything I have ever read, and that makes it perhaps even more special. There is violence, loads of it. There is also desire and passion, both in the same measure. There is love, but always scared to be spoken out loud. This book has gutted me to such an extent, that I might not recover from it at least in the next couple of months. It is wickedly delicious, and more. A perfect combination of The Secret History with Lie with Me or even Call Me By Your Name, but more sinister in its approach, more real, and cunning to its core.

The novel takes place in the 1970s in Pittsburgh, and centres around Paul Fleischer and Julian Fromme. They are two freshman students and instantly connect during their first interaction in class. The chemistry is evident. They are poles apart from each other. Paul is shy, a loner, and artistic. Julian is wild (well, in a sense), charismatic to the boot, and wicked to the core (or so it seems). They two develop a great fondness for each other, a friendship that grows more intense each day, finally leading to love that is of catastrophic proportions.

This book had me gasping for breath. Their love is nothing that I have read of in books. It is strange, it breaks and pushes boundary after boundary, it begs for more violence – both physical and emotional, and it won’t stop at anything. The conversations are intellectual and provide fantastic insights into their lives, their families, and all about what it is to be good or moral, and the opposite of that.

Their bond could be called unhealthy, an obsession, a kind of love that destroys everything in its path but you just cannot get enough of it. It doesn’t read like a debut. Nemerever’s writing is never reassuring or comforting – it is brutal and you love that as a reader. It isn’t straightforward. Its turns are atmospheric, and scary, and always tipping the balance one way or the other of the relationship between the two young men, more so given it is set in the 70s, when things were way far more difficult for the queer community. I literally couldn’t stop turning the pages.

These Violent Delights is for me one of the best books read of 2020. I say it with much assurance and confidence. It is dark, humane, ugly, brutal, with a dash of murder as well (oh yes, forgot to mention that), it is full of rage, self-loathing, hate, and inner recesses of the human heart where perhaps compassion resides.

 

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.

Essential Items: Stories from a Land in Lockdown by Udayan Mukherjee

Essential Items

Title: Essential Items: Stories from a Land in Lockdown Author: Udayan Mukherjee Publisher: Bloomsbury India ISBN: 978-9390252213
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5 

So, this had to happen. Sooner or later. This is the second collection of short stories based around the lockdown, that I have read in the last seven months or so. And more such books will be published. There will be what will be called “Pandemic Literature” or “Covid Literature” and such and maybe some of it will be really good, but there will be some which will also not be very good. Essential Items by Udayan Mukherjee is a collection of stories falls in the former category.

It isn’t easy to relive the period of lockdown through these stories, I thought to myself as I picked up this collection. And once I thought that, I checked my privilege. I had everything – access to all of it – the Internet, food, shelter, running water, electricity, medicines, and emotional stability as well – to a very large extent. What had the lockdown taken from me, beside my freedom for a couple of months? What had it really taken from me when compared to the migrants, the poor, the displaced, and the ones who even lost their jobs? This pandemic was easy on me, and people like me. We, the privileged. And these stories hold a mirror to our society – touching on all the themes and people during the lockdown.

Stories of common people, and then not so common. How soon is it to start telling these stories of living in a time that was unheard of, unimaginable even? Is it too early? Maybe literature is the only way to make our peace with the times we are living in. Or any form of art for that matter. These stories will make you relate hard with what we have lived and seen others go through.

An elderly couple relies on a social worker for their essential items, and a moment of kindness turns it around on its head. A mountain climber strikes an unlikely friendship with a seven-year old boy in the hills, as the world is in lockdown. A domestic worker is grappling at straws with the situation at her home. Migrant workers travelling the distance, funeral workers trying to find some way of making money, an elderly man trying to make sense of his walking routine that has now abruptly ended, and many such lives in the pandemic that are brought to fore in this surreal and very sensitive collection of stories.

Udayan Mukherjee’s writing is stellar. He takes the ordinary, with a lot of dialogue, and makes it relevant to each reader, whether the experience is lived or not. We are truly all in it together, and yet each going through it differently, which is the core essence of these stories. His writing shines, bringing empathy to fore, with every turn of the page. We never thought we would be witness to something so singularly devastating in our lifetime, and yet here we are, and it is writers such as Mukherjee who know it best how to give words to what we feel.

Essential Items is the story of us, and yet not so. It is the story of people whose lives we will never care to know more about. Whose lives will sadly always be on the periphery of things, while we are cocooned and nestled safe. Essential Items is also an eye-opener to how it is, and what it shouldn’t be. Read it. Like I said, there will be more lockdown and Corona literature coming our way.

Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread by Michiko Kakutani

Michiko Kakutani

Title: Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread
Author: Michiko Kakutani
Publisher: William Collins
ISBN: 978-0008421953
Genre: Books about Books, Essays, Literary Theory
Pages: 304
Source: Personal Copy 
Rating: 2.5/5 

I love books about books. I do. I’m a sucker for them. I was excited for “Ex Libris: 100 Books to Read and Reread” by Michiko Kakutani, the former chief book critic of The New York Times. I was excited given the kind of reading she has done and the books she must have connected with over the years, but I was mildly disappointed to see only most “white” writers on this list, and more than anything else no variety as such.

There’s the same old Donna Tartt, the good old Tolkien, Steinbeck, Atwood, Orwell, Tara Westover, and David Foster Wallace. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I expected more. There is Jhumpa Lahiri, the Márquez, the Zadie Smith, and Colson Whitehead. It somehow doesn’t make me discover or yearn to read a particular title. Some I won’t even bother reading cover to cover. I wish this was a varied and more diverse list. It just didn’t do anything for me. Yes, it’s produced beautifully. The illustrations are quite amazing and all of that. But I wish there was more substance. But by all means pick it up, if you love lists (like I do). I might even try a reading project of this to read and reread all these books (well, or maybe not).