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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff Title: 84, Charing Cross Road
Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0140143508
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 112
Source: Personal
Rating: 5/5

For the longest time now, I had been wanting to read “84, Charing Cross Road” by Helene Hanff. It was one of those books that were on my shelf for a while and every time I tried reading it, it did not go down that well. For such a book, I was surprised when I finished it in a day’s time.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a true story of two people who love books and mull over life and everything else in between through letters, without meeting each other at all. The epistolary use of form is fascinating, crisp and to the point in this book.

The book is written plainly in parts, discussing love of books between an emerging writer in New York and a second-hand bookseller in England. It is about Helene’s experiences with Frank and how their lives merge because of love for books.

The entire book is in the form of letters between the two and also between Helene and other people working at the bookstore, “Marks & Co.” The correspondence runs from 1949 until 1969, where they exchange gifts, news of their families and friends and about the love and tenderness people can have without meeting each other. Books of course play a vital role and are at the core of this book.

“84, Charing Cross Road” is a friend which will warm you on a cold night. It is something which is needed for the book lover’s soul and comes highly recommended from me. It is the kind of book which every book lover should have a place for in his or her library. I cannot stop recommending it to everyone I meet. Might I also add, that I have just received the DVD and cannot wait to watch the movie version starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

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.

Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer by Ann Morgan

Reading the World by Ann Morgan Title: Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer
Author: Ann Morgan
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846557873
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

It was about a year ago, when I was led to a site where I discovered a lady who was reading a book from every country. It was her reading project for the year and I was most intrigued by the concept. I then knew that I had to read the book of how it all began when it came out.

“Reading the World” by Ann Morgan is literally about a woman’s journey across the world through books from each country. It is obviously not as simple as this. There is more to the entire process and revelation which this book is all about.
I am a big fan of books about books and that also blends in cultures of various places, which Morgan manages to do beautifully in this book. I agree that initially I did have a problem getting into it, given the tone and structure, but once you do, it is an effortless read (at least for some I am sure).

If you are expecting reviews of every book she read, then you should check out her site, ayearofreadingtheworld.com and not the book, because the book is not about that. The book is about Morgan’s experiences to get to the project and how people all over the world contributed to it. “Reading the World” is about how she chose the books for the project, the things she learned about literature and the experiences that made her question everything.

Books about books and the experience of reading just goes to show that there is so much hope for the world. I say that because I genuinely believe in the redemptive power of books and each book that Morgan picked up led her to questioning, working it all over again and reading books which she otherwise would not have. I urge all book lovers to get hold of this one and read it. It will make you more mindful of the literature that exists in the world, which is not ridden only by American or British literature, but a whole lot more.

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An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine Title: An Unnecessary Woman
Author: Rabih Alameddine
Publisher: Constable and Robinson, Hachette Book Group
ISBN: 9781472119155
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What does an old woman think about? What are her thoughts? Does she think of loneliness, or love, or of life, and lust? What if she is independent at that? What if she is surrounded by books and her life comprises of nothing else? This is the story that Rabih Alameddine has conjured for us in the form of his latest book, “An Unnecessary Woman”.

Aaliya (above it all as her name implies) is a woman in Beirut in her early 70s. She is the heart and soul of the book. She is to me more than a mere protagonist. You don’t come across such strong characters every day in books and when you do, you cherish them as you must with this one.

Aaliya is a woman of great intelligence in a society that does not expect its women to be that erudite. She is an observer of things, incidents, people and times. The book chronicles her life and more than anything else it is a book of her relationship with books and reading. She translates popular books from English to Arabic for her own pleasure. Men have disappointed her. Books do not. She takes refuge in them. She also works at a bookstore and tries to avoid her family as much as she can. At one point, I almost felt that I was her, or in time I would be her. That day maybe isn’t far off.

At every given time in the book, Aaliya is trying to work her way through feelings of uselessness and loneliness. That is where the title of the book fits in. So much so that when she accidentally colours her hair blue, she lets it be. That is the only newness in her everyday monotony.

Alameddine is a fantastic storyteller. He has managed to tell a tale of a woman, without letting his manhood get in the way and that to me is a mark of a great writer. The book cuts across barriers of language and nationality and tells a tale that is universal to all – about loneliness, aging and how to cope in this world that is constantly judging and will not let you do. He speaks of these issues without bringing the reader down, also with some humour at most times. “An Unnecessary Woman” is a must read for all lovers of literature. It is almost a love song, dedicated to reading and readers everywhere.

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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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The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry

untitled Title: The Library of Unrequited Love
Author: Sophie Divry
Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-1780870519
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

An unnamed lone librarian (also old before her time and quite bitter) in France. A stranger in the library. The librarian works in the Geography Section in the basement and that is where this story begins. A hundred-page monologue on the life of a librarian, on the beauty of books, reading, the world, love, losses and her crush on a reader named Martin who visits the library very often.

This in short is the exquisitely told story of “The Library of Unrequited Love” by Sophie Divry. It is sparse and yet so magnificent in its scope and treatment. What I loved about the book is that it does not exclude the non-readers. In fact, it just gives them the space to grow in a library and discover themselves.

In fact the narrator might come across as angry sometimes, but she is also very warm and speaks of the years gone by, literature and the Dewey Decimal System with much fondness. Her ranting then doesn’t seem half-bad as you go along in the book. The protagonist is fierce and melancholy and tragic, all put together but what carries her on regardless is her love for books and the written word, which again reflects immensely in Divry’s writing.

There are no traces of sentimentality at all, though it could get that road quite easily. Divry leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination as we turn the pages, which works very well when it comes to a book as short as this. The translation from French by Sian Reynolds encapsulates the rhythm of the original beautifully, while also talking of French History and Culture which is quite accessible.

“The Library of Unrequited Love” is a book for everyone who loves books and reading. It is for everyone who has ever faced or gone through unrequited love. Get that cup of hot chocolate and get started with this one. Savour it. You will be done in less than two hours and yes, the taste will still linger.

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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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