Tag Archives: Scribner

Self-Portrait with Boy by Rachel Lyon

Self-Portrait with Boy Title: Self-Portrait with Boy
Author: Rachel Lyon
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1501169588
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 384
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

2018 is already turning out to be an exciting year for books. I say this because all the books I’ve read so far, the ones published this year, have been superb reads. And “Self-Portrait with Boy” is the latest addition to that list.

Lu Rile is a young photographer struggling to make ends meet. She has an aging father. She has no permanent house. And then one fine day, in the background of a self-portrait, Lu accidentally captures on film a boy (Max) falling past her window to his death. This picture turns out to be perfect – the best that she has done. This picture could change her life for the better. At the same time, the boy was her neighbor’s son and soon enough Lu forms a bond with Kate like no other. The question then is: Will Lu use the picture to advance her career or not? For that, you would just have to read the book.

I loved the premise of “Self-Portrait with Boy”. It is intense, profound and heartbreaking. While it is one of those conundrum plots, it is also about empathy, loneliness in the city and the relationship we share with death and redemption. You know at one point, the plot may also not seem original to most, but what does stand out for sure is Lyon’s writing.

Lyon is no-holds-barred with this novel. She is all guns blazing. I love the setting of the book – the ​early 90s in Brooklyn. The world is on the ​ significant brink of change and amidst all of that, anything can happen and it does. Lu and Kate aren’t easy characters to deal with. The other residents of the building are beautifully etched.

There are so many questions that need to be answered while reading the book and there comes a point when you are strangely okay as a reader at those not being answered. It has a lot to do with Lyon not finding the need to those being addressed and making you comfortable as a reader, while turning the pages. Part-mystery, most parts literary, “Self-Portrait with Boy” is a book with so much empathy and loneliness of the human heart, that you will find yourself weeping and stunned by the prose.

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Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift Title: Mothering Sunday
Author: Graham Swift
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1471155239
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 136
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have not read much by Graham Swift. I have always found his books to be slow and kinda dragging, however this time round when I did read his latest, “Mothering Sunday” – I was left with a tingling feeling of melancholy, happiness and some bittersweet feeling that I couldn’t place my finger on. In short, I loved what I read. The book is different. It is short – almost a novella and it takes you on a rollercoaster of emotions like no other book I’ve read in recent past.

“Mothering Sunday” is about a day that changes everything – 30th March 1924. The day is Mothering Sunday. The question is how Jane Fairchild, an orphan, spends her time when she clearly has no mother to visit?

Jane Fairchild is only twenty-two, working at a house as a maid since she was sixteen. She is in love with Paul Sheringham, young heir of a neighbouring house. The two you guessed right, meet again on that Mothering Sunday and life isn’t the same ever again.
The book is about her life, the love that she stumbles on and what happens thereof. I wish I could say more but I just cannot. You would have to read the book to figure that one out. The writing is superlative. People say that “Waterland” or “Last Orders” is his best work. I think hands down this one is. The writing is precise and yet says so much given the scope of the book.

The story is of Jane’s understanding of the world and how she comes to the conclusion and learns to make peace with her situation. All I can say is that the book has these fantastic metaphors and one-liners that will stay with you long after you have finished the book.

Book Review: On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz

On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz Title: On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes
Author: Alexandra Horowitz
Publisher: Scribner
ISBN: 978-1439191255
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

We think we see all the time. We think we observe. We also think we possibly know the world around us the way we are meant to. We see what we expect to most of the time. Maybe our mind conditions itself to show us only those things which we want to and the ones that we do not want to, well, they just get hidden. It could happen anywhere. In a familiar neighbourhood or maybe in a place you have never been to before. Maybe it is all about perspective or maybe about security, however it exists in all of us. The way we see and perceive of our surroundings or rather what we do not see.

“On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes” by Alexandra Horowitz is a book that maybe does not teach you how to look, but definitely provides some refreshing perspectives on the subject. The premise of the book is simple: Walking around the same path in a city with different people, almost eleven people or as she says twelve, and getting their point of view. The people ranged from her son to well-known illustrator Maira Kalman to a sound designer, bringing not only different perspectives but also making her and the readers think about our own perceptions.

I have loved almost everything about the book. From the way it is written to its premise. Sometimes it did become a little stretch; however I ignored it very easily with the turn of the page. “On Looking” brings together several elements at one time – it speaks of a simple everyday act, of different people performing it, through the same track and yet provides so much in the form of perceptions and how different people discover different things.

The book is definitely interesting and well written. Very rarely do I come across something in the non-fiction genre that catches my attention, but when it does, I savour it and mostly end up enjoying it as well. We hardly pay any attention to our senses and this book is a reminder of that fact. What it also does with its simplistic writing and views, is makes you want to see things differently. To me that is the highlight of this wondrous book that ultimately speaks of seeing things closer to you than to go in search of them far and beyond. A great read for sure.

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Book Review: Memory Wall : Stories by Anthony Doerr


Title: Memory Wall: Stories
Author: Anthony Doerr
Publisher: Scribner
PP: 256 Pages
ISBN: 9781439182802
Price: $24.00
Source: Author
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Aldous Huxley once famously said, “Every man’s memory is his private literature.” In this luminous collection of short stories (including an 83 page novella), Anthony Doerr probes the fragility and endurance of memory, in locales that vary from South Africa to Hamburg…from Lithuania to Wyoming…and from the heinousness of the Holocaust to an immediate dystopian future.

This masterful collection is bookmarked by an opening and an ending story with two diverse elderly women as key protagonists. The title story, Memory Wall, presents the elderly Alma, who lives in South Africa where she undergoes periodic “harvesting” of memories, stored on a series of numbered cartridges. By “hooking herself up”, she is able to recreate experiences to stave off her worsening dementia. She falls victim to a criminal and his accomplice “memory hunter” who attempt to rummage through these cartridges to find the location of a rare and lucrative gorgon fossil – one that will be the ticket to the good life that has been denied them. The young accomplice muses, “Dr. Amnesty’s cartridges, the South African Museum, Harold’s fossils, Chefe Carpenter’s collection, Alma’s memory wall – weren’t they all ways of trying to defy erasure? What is memory anyway? How can it be such a frail, perishable thing?”

The ending story also focuses on an elderly woman – in this case, Esther, an orphan and an epileptic, who was spared the fate of her many close friends in Birkenau. Now in her early 80s and living in suburban Cleveland, her seizures are getting worse and she returns again and again in her mind to poignant, nightmarish memories of her times in ravaged Hamburg, as she relives her survivors guilt. As he watches her deterioration, her grandson Robert reflects, “Every hour…all over the globe, an infinite number of memories disappear, whole glowing atlases dragged into graves. But during the same hour, children are moving about, surveying territory that to them is totally new.”

As in most short story collections, each reader will likely have his or her favorites. One of mine is the fable-like Village 113; the Three Gorges Dam is about to be built, submerging a village and forcing its inhabitants to relocate. The tale is relayed by seed keeper, whose engineer son is spearheading the project. Doerr writes, “Memory is a house with ten thousand rooms; it is a village slated to be inundated.” The seed keeper and the schoolteacher are quite literally drowning in memories.

Each of Anthony Doerr’s well-crafted stories focuses on the most important things in life: birth, death, survival, solace, but most of all the memories that – according to the epigraph from Luis Buñuel – are “our coherence, our reason, our feeling, even our action.”