Tag Archives: reading

Book Review: Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman Title: Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Author: Anne Fadiman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374527228
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 162
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always been attracted to books about books and reading. There is something that makes me feel connected to such books as a reader. There is always this sense of camaraderie that strikes within the first few pages and continues, perhaps for a lifetime. Writers are readers first, no matter what one says. I have always believed that they have this special relationship with books and reading and it is true. Authors who write about books and the experience of reading hold a very special in my heart, from Manguel to Borges to Fadiman. I always revisit “Ex-Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader” at least once a year and this time it had to come to me again.

“Ex-Libris” is a light, heart-warming, witty book of essays on the reader and what she goes through with a book and her experiences – from the past and the present. This book is a small gem – which you will cherish as a reader and go back to it again and again. The opening essay, “Marrying Libraries” always manages to leave that much needed smile on my face. In this one she speaks of her husband and her finally marrying their libraries after years of togetherness. It is stunningly heart-warming. Then there is another one called, “Never Do That To A Book” which had me in splits. She speaks of the reader who cannot bear a broken spine, though according to her, it is all about reading a book over and over again, the wear and tear that conveys your love to it.

Fadiman takes the reader through various phases of her life and at every phase she can only remember books and reading, more so for the kind of book this one is. From her odd shelf to the way she and her brother read, it is personal and yet the reader can connect with every turn of the page.

Anne Fadiman’s writing is not intimidating. She doesn’t speak of books and reading like an academician. She connects with her readers and that is most needed, because she is a reader first. It is almost infusing ourselves into the novels we love and have loved over a period of time. It is about reconnecting with your bookshelves, to pick up the books you have loved and cherish them all over again.

Here are some lovely quotes from the book:

“If you truly love a book, you should sleep with it, write in it, read aloud from it, and fill its pages with muffin crumbs.”

“I have never been able to resist a book about books.”

“Books wrote our life story, and as they accumulated on our shelves (and on our windowsills, and underneath our sofa, and on top of our refrigerator), they became chapters in it themselves.”

“In my view, nineteen pounds of old books are at least nineteen times as delicious as one pound of fresh caviar.”

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Book Review: The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel

The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel Title: The Library at Night
Author: Alberto Manguel
Publisher: Yale University Press
ISBN: 9780300151305
Genre: Non-Fiction, Books, Reading
Pages: 381
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When Alberto Manguel speaks of books, you just sit back and soak in the words. You do not question his views, because he is so lucid and so bang on with what he has to say about reading and the mystery of words and books and authors and everything else connected to them. I first heard of him when I heard of, “A Reader on Reading” and since then I have not looked back on what he has written. I think by the end of the year, I would have read everything written by him. The thing with Manguel is that a reader cannot get enough of what his views are on reading and everything related to it. The book in this case being, “The Library at Night”.

The title is a strange one. For some it may also seem quaint and wistful, while it may sound absurd and creepy to yet another crowd of people. “The Library at Night” gets its name from the fact which Manguel believes in – libraries come to life more so at night-time, when the world is silent and the reader can actually enjoy the magic of reading and the power of words a lot more, than he or she could have during the day-time. He speaks of how a library changes form and shape at night and its impact on the reader.

From this idea on, Manguel speaks of libraries through the entire book and if it may seem boring to you, let me also tell you that it is not. It is anything but monotonous and tedious. He speaks of libraries of the world – personal, public, the ones plundered and the ones that just disappeared after a while. Alberto writes with a passion that is evident – he traces not only libraries and their purpose in today’s times but also speaks of his relationship to books and reading. This is what makes you feel close to a writer. A reader always wants to know how the writer feels. It is of paramount importance, I think.

“The Library at Night” is spread over fifteen chapters and each one is uniquely speaking of the library – as a myth, as order when it comes to cataloguing, as space – and the constraints of it, as an island, as a workshop, as imagination, survival and lots more. “The Library at Night” is fit for everyone who holds reading close to their heart and sometimes reading becomes the very reason of survival.

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Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind Title: The Shadow of the Wind
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Publisher: Penguin Books
ISBN: 978-0143034902
Genre: World Literature, Literary Fiction
Pages: 487
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always believed that a book finds you, if it wants you to read it. I think that happens to most of us – to the reader who waits patiently for the book to come along and take him or her on a ride that cannot be forgotten. Two people and very different people at that told me to read, “The Shadow of the Wind”. I always wanted to, but did not. I guess my time had to come on its own. I had to wait for the book and it has been a wait worth it like no other.

“The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is everything you expect from a well-written book. The plot makes you turn the pages. The sentences and language make you fall in love with the writer’s thought process. The characters make you connect with them at all levels of human emotions and more than anything else, this book is about love for literature and reading, and not letting the written word die.

The book is about the search of a boy, Daniel Sempere for the truth about the fate of Julian Carax, the author of a mystery novel (also named The Shadow of the Wind). Daniel adopts the book when his father, a bibliophile and a bookseller takes him to the metaphorical (or real) Cemetery of Forgotten Books and it is there that he owns the book and gets embroiled in its author’s life. He sets out to search for more books written by him and to know what happened to him. In all of this, he learns of someone who is named after one of Carax’s characters and has set out to burn every single copy of Carax’s books and will not stop at anything. Daniel gets involved with him as well and the story thickens. It is one tale after another, intertwined and encompassing the length and breadth of great storytelling, till the reader with bated breath reaches the end of the book.

The book is about Barcelona’s deepest and darkest secret that is about to be revealed, which of course the reader has to discover for himself or herself.

Zafon’s characters are haunting and well thought after. He is the master of mood setting. Every page speaks of scenes with mists, clouds, evenings, darkness, the pale lamplight, thunder, rain and Zafon brilliantly so makes the reader a part of his atmosphere and setting, so much so that I actually thought I was living all of it in Barcelona (where the story is set). Zafon speaks of books like living beings, which I also think they are and he makes them real for the readers in his book.

To a very large extent, the book is extraordinary because of the way the author is treating every word – with great caution and love. When this happens in a book, it is but natural that the reader will also read every word with great love and joy.

With reference to the setting, which is Barcelona before the Spanish Civil War, Zafon talks of politics and life with great passion and almost wants the reader to know how important the setting is to the story. Books about books have always fascinated me and this was also one of those reads. It is very difficult to classify “The Shadow of the Wind” in one genre and yet to a large extent I think the book belongs to Literary Fiction as it covers almost every aspect of life and living. There is courage, intrigue, love, fairy tale quality, Goth, redemption, politics, love, hate, passion and almost every other emotion and characteristic that you can think of in the book. The quality of writing, the old school setting, the power of storytelling, the characters and the plot, all come together and speak of books and reading and the love for them. I could go on and on about this book and the writing, but you know what I mean when I say: Read this book soon or let it find you the way it found me.

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Book Review: The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett Title: The Uncommon Reader
Author: Alan Bennett
Publisher: Picador USA
ISBN: 978-0312427641
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 120
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I do not know why I had not read this book in a long time. It was there next to me, all the time and I did not pick it up. I guess the time wasn’t right. Books have to choose you and only then can you read them. It doesn’t matter what kind of reader you are – common or uncommon, the book chooses you. And with this thought I now pen my thoughts on the magnificent little gem titled, “The Uncommon Reader” by Alan Bennett.

The ‘uncommon’ reader in question in the book is none other than Queen Elizabeth II, who takes a fascination to reading and books. She chances upon a mobile library at the back of her castle by chance and as all things go by chance, she starts devouring books and loves them for what they are. At the beginning of the book we see her making acquaintanceship with Norman Seakins, a young man who works in the royal kitchen. She moves him from there and makes him her personal reading guide. The Queen forgets her day-to-day duties and activities under the influence of the ‘book’ or many ‘books’. She is delayed in opening the Parliament and converses less with people (unless the conversation is steered toward reading) and this leads to dire consequences being taken by the Prime Minister and her private secretary.

Alan Bennett conjures a world of reading and writing and how is it accessible to everyone. He explores the effects of reading and writing on our lives through a warm and sometimes funny novella. I had to finish this book in one setting, considering it was a short read – around one hundred and twenty odd pages and yet every page brims with reading wisdom and anecdotes from The Queen. For instance, her tea session with authors is hilarious and also the times she ponders about how she did not get to meet certain writers she would have liked to and now cannot as they are dead.

For such a slim volume, Alan Bennett puts in a lot of ideas and themes – how reading can change you, how it can make others uncomfortable – especially the ones who don’t read and how it can lead to writing and explore oneself and other worlds. The idea that the Queen’s reading would make the rest of Britain read is a wonderful thought – another theme that comes across in the book.

“The Uncommon Reader” was a pleasant read for me. I loved the book a lot. In fact, it has to be one of the best reads for me this year. I will definitely reread it. For the beauty of books and reading and but obviously for the reader.

Book Review: Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? And Other Instances of Literary Love by Veena Venugopal

Would-You-Like-Some-Bread-With-That-Book Title: Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? And Other Instances of Literary Love
Author: Veena Venugopal
Publisher: Yoda Press
ISBN: 9788190666855
Genre: Non-Fiction, Literature, Reading, Books
Pages: 120
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

Books about books and reading always fascinate me. It almost reminds me of the huge community we are – a community of readers. A community that can never go out of style (Hey! It is not a fad you know) and primarily a sense of togetherness that comes with it, knowingly or unknowingly. So I am always on the lookout for books about books. To read about someone else’s experience about reading and what books mean to them. It is a feeling I cannot describe. From reading Alberto Manguel’s thoughts on reading to discovering newer books and authors like this one.

I must admit that I picked up, “Would You like Some Bread with That Book? And Other Instances of Literary Love” by Veena Venugopal, primarily for the title. I could not see how a reader could go wrong with such a book, or for that matter, how a writer could go wrong with writing a book on literary love. The book proved me right. Not at all times, but mostly, it did.

From returning to rereading, “To Kill a Mocking Bird” in her childhood home (the only essay in the book which brought me to tears) to talking about books she read during her pregnancy and the impact they had on her, each essay is personal and unique, which lends the much required warm and funny tone to the book.

While I rushed through the book (and read each and every word), there were times I felt that Veena also rushed with the writing. This thought came to me only with chapters seven and eight, which I did not like as much when compared to the others. The one titled, “Love in the Aisles” is my favourite, where she speaks of finding love in bookstores. It is funny and it is one essay, every book lover, bibliophile and reader will so relate to. The chapter on Saudi Arabia and the books on the country are fascinating, heart-breaking and ironical all at the same time. Veena sure has the eye for details and how to weave them into words.

Books on books also serve a huge purpose – that of discovery. Every time I read a book about books, I end up knowing a whole lot of new authors and books which I would not have otherwise, or probably I would know of them but would not read them. A fresh perspective is always nice, and then it is the individual’s choice to accept or dismiss a read.
I laughed out the loudest when I came across a part in the book, where Veena dismisses what everyone else is reading. The literary snob is truly a rare breed and should be respected, according to me. It is may be because I am one. I would never judge someone basis what they read, but I would never read that author. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.

What Veena does in the book, is what every reader can relate to – she makes books her own. She possesses them and talks about them with most admiration and adoration. She makes you relate to everything written and that very few authors manage to do. All in all, “Would You Like Some Bread With That Book? And Other Instances of Literary Love” is a small gem, not to be missed, especially if you like reading and love books.

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