Tag Archives: vintage books

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes Title: Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
Author: Roland Barthes
Publisher: Vintage, Random House
ISBN: 978-0099225416
Genre: Photography, Art, Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I was never interested in photography. Somehow, it just did not interest me. However, after reading “On Photography” by Susan Sontag and also “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger, I started taking some interest in the subject and I had known of Roland Barthes. Coupled with this was the fact that he had written on photography, so it was just only a matter of time before I would read it.

What the Photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the Photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially.

“Camera Lucida” is about photos, life, and death and about the cultures we inhabit. The book is not just about photographs and photography. It is a lot more on actually how we see and how we are conditioned to see.

“The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star.”

The book is all about art – about how paintings came to lose some significance with the invention of the camera and how that was not the case after a couple of years. “Camera Lucida” is a collection of essays on “the photograph by onlooker” than what a photographer may think of his or her photograph. He questions what it means to take pictures and what the probable outcomes of it are.

It is not an easy read, but it is highly satisfying. Barthes draws on examples from life, what surrounds us and how it feels like to have a relationship with a still image in an age of constant movement and newer digital means.

“Camera Lucida” is about interpretation, imagination and art. It is more so about living and what it takes to make sense of art that is all-pervasive. The book is short and just right to know more about photography and the medium that it is. I will of course go back to it at some point. I must also say that it is not a read that you can fly by, however once you sink your teeth in it, it is an excellent read.

Book Review: The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi; Translated from the French by Polly McLean

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi Title: The Patience Stone
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Translator: Polly McLean
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 9780099539544
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 136
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I first heard of Atiq Rahimi while going through the “A Year of Reading the World” blog. I hadn’t heard of him earlier and I am glad I did now. “The Patience Stone” was a revelation of sorts. I could not for one stop reading it. Neither could I stop talking about it to people I knew or didn’t know. There are some books that evoke all possible emotions in you and this is one of them. It is short and sparse in its prose but does a fantastic job of communicating what it has to.

Atiq was born in Afghanistan in 1962 and then had to flee to France in 1984. Since then he has been in exile. He has returned to his country a couple of times, however he lives in France. May be because the expression of the novel was in French, Rahimi could write what he had to without any censorship. Why the need to censor this book? You will soon know.

“The Patience Stone” is set somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. An unnamed woman is in her house with her husband (unnamed) who is in a state of comatose. The city is in a state of war. Her children are all she has and she waits patiently for her husband to get out of the coma. She does all she can – from praying to reciting the 99 names of Allah, to patiently waiting like a wife should, till the time she starts talking and he becomes her patient stone – her sang-e sabur – who will listen to her pains, her joys, her frustrations, her existence as a woman in a world of men who only know war, her fears, and her deepest desires and secrets. She does this – waiting for him to explode (as per the myth) and for her to be free.

As she confides in him, the exterior and the interior of the novel changes drastically. The war intensifies. Rahimi does a great job of the war being seen only through the eyes of the woman and doesn’t narrate the conditions of war as is. That to me was a superlative aspect of the book. What also is refreshing that Rahimi’s character isn’t subdued nor is she looking for validation. She is as is – human, intense and without any apologies.

The stream of consciousness narrative takes getting used to, however as a reader once you are in it, you will only keep turning the pages and go back to take in some more all over again. “The Patience Stone” is one of those few books, according to me, that not only defy society and its ways, but also is quite direct about it. The woman lashes out at war, at its aftermath, at what it does to women, but above everything else, she speaks of freedom, even if the opening for it is through voice, through speech and the need to be heard. That is the essence of the book and runs deep at every single level – from her desires to her suppressed feelings. You would not have read anything like “The Patience Stone” before. Read it. You will thank me.

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Book Review: The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje Title: The English Patient
Author: Michael Ondaatje
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0679745204
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 305
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

There are books that one reads and remembers a little of and then forgets. There are books that one reads and instantly forgets. There are then those books that one reads and can never forget. Those are the kind of books that I want to read and talk about. Because may be somewhere down the line in life, there is no place for bad or mediocre books. These days reading the first chapter is enough to tell you that and for me that is the deciding factor most of the time. However, there are those books which have been parts of your life throughout and you just invariably go back to them again and again. “The English Patient” by Michael Ondaatje is one such book in my life.

“The English Patient” takes place when the World War II has just about ended. The troops are returning home – broken or fixed or just as a consequence of the end of the war. This story is of four people – damaged and broken, living in an Italian villa as the war ends and the world changes around them. They ruminate on the past, links are drawn, relationships are renewed and they all somehow are just looking for redemption. At the heart of the book’s title, is literally, a patient, unknown to the three others, whose face is disfigured and he lays all day on the bed. Hana, the emotionally wounded army nurse who will not leave the patient alone and therefore has decided to stay in the villa. There is Caravaggio – the thief and spy, a friend of Hana’s father, who is drawn to Hana in many ways and has a past with the patient as well. Last but not the least is Kip – the brooding and detached Indian sapper, who loves Hana with all his heart and struggles to make sense of it.

All three of them are united to each other by the patient. Who is he? Where is he from? What is his history? Such questions and many intricate plots make this book what it is – a masterpiece at that. The sub-plot of the patient is my most favourite part in the entire book. His love affair with a married woman (cliché as it may sound) and its doom breaks the reader’s heart all over again. There is more to his story which I will not giveaway here. You obviously have to read it to know.

There is a lot of angst in the book and I can only trust Ondaatje with his superlative writing skills to display it with precision and great skill. The lines are almost poetic in nature. The setting is almost surreal. With every page you turn, you can only anticipate what is to come next and when it does, it takes your breath away. Of course the movie is different from the book and that is why I recommend that your reading and viewing pleasure should not be compared. I also love the way the movie has been made. Reading this book is almost like a dream-like experience. It is almost a feeling of déjà vu and yet you want to keep carrying on. The passages string together a tale of love, sadness, madness and as I said redemption. Each of Ondaatje’s character is searching for something or seeking forgiveness. The force of his writing lies in the lyrical quality of the narrative. The writing at most levels is spare, which I wish could have been longer.

The book will capture your heart and soul and not let go. This was the fifth read for me and every time I read this book, I cry. May be also because this copy was gifted to me by someone who once loved. I come out of a trance-like experience and I am only sad that the experience has ended. I cannot recommend this enough. And yes, there is only this much life left. Go on and read good books while you are at it. And while I am at it, here are some of my favourite parts of the book:

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”

“I believe this. When we meet those we fall in love with, there is an aspect of our spirit that is historian, a bit of a pedant who reminisces or remembers a meeting when the other has passed by innocently…but all parts of the body must be ready for the other, all atoms must jump in one direction for desire to occur.”

“She had grown older. And he loved her more now than he had loved her when he understood her better, when she was the product of her parents. What she was now was what she herself had decided to become.”

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Book Review: Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman Title: Einstein’s Dreams
Author: Alan Lightman
Publisher: Vintage
ISBN: 9781400077809
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 144
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I have always gone back to this book. Read and reread it and this time I was rereading it for the fifth time or so. It was recommended to me a long time ago, when I was in college, by my mother’s friend and I cannot thank her enough for this. Every time I read this book, I feel something new with great fondness for the writing and the book’s plot. There are very few books one can go back to again and again and this for me is one of them. It is about time and human beings in it, whether we like to be in it or not, we are right there, at the core of time and its existence.

“Einstein’s Dreams” as the title suggests is about Einstein and his dreams pertaining to time. The book is written in the form of his dreams – all about time and the different aspects and the overall nature of time and the role it plays in our lives. Time is the hero of this collection of dreams. The different ways in which it can evade into people’s lives and change the way they are, the way they see the world and the way they see themselves. The dreamer of these dreams: But of course Einstein. The book is about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, but the way Lightman does it is beyond superlative. It is about his ideas and dreams and how he shares them with his friend Besso. That bond is also very well done in the book. The dreams are almost like fables – magical, surreal, almost something that makes the reader want to live in those different time spans, experience all of it. I for sure felt that way every time I read the book.

The beauty of the book is that there is just going on and on continuous chapters on time and the people around it in Berne, Switzerland, where Einstein worked as a clerk while working on the theory of relativity. Lightman’s language is lyrical and beautiful to no end. Lightman does not spoon feed his readers and neither is he too vague about what he wants to say. It is as clear and yet as complex. It is not a book about science alone. It is a book if I can say, mixed, both with the right amount of science and the right amount of emotion which is much needed. To use the barest of plots and no specific technique, Alan Lightman has created a marvel of a book – the one which constantly takes you by surprise and is a jaw-dropper for sure. I highly recommend this book and hope that you are as fascinated by it as I was.

Here is a little something from the book for you:

“Consider a world in which cause and effect are erratic,” writes Lightman. “Scientists turn reckless and mutter like gamblers who cannot stop betting…. In this world, artists are joyous.” In another dream, time slows with altitude, causing rich folks to build stilt homes on mountaintops, seeking eternal youth and scorning the swiftly aging poor folk below. Forgetting eventually how they got there and why they subsist on “all but the most gossamer food,” the higher-ups at length “become thin like the air, bony, old before their time.”

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Book Review: Runaway by Alice Munro

Runaway by Alice Munro Title: Runaway
Author: Alice Munro
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-099-47225-4
Genre: Short Story
Pages: 335
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

When you read a collection of stories by Alice Munro, you need to give yourself a lot of time to intake what you have read. To so to say, “soak in” the experience. Her stories speak to you, they communicate in a manner you never thought they would. They astound you, they leave you speechless and sometimes they also wrench your heart – that is the power of Alice Munro’s short stories.

“Runaway” by Alice Munro is the first read of the year for me and I could not be happier for choosing this one. Her characters are lost and sometimes miserable. They are regular people, spread across the terrain she knows best – Canada. Having said that, the emotions and situations almost remain the same. It could happen to anyone, what happens to her characters – they fall in love, they experience the disappearance of a loved one, they are unsure and above all they are just human.

Alice Munro’s writing is of a quiet kind. Nothing monumental happens at the start of the story. It is just a build-up to what takes you by surprise or sometimes shock at the end of the story or in the middle. There are layers to her short stories, which sometimes cannot be found in a novel.

“Runaway” is a collection of stories about men and women who while appear sane and normal on the surface (so to say), there is a lot of emotional burden seething under. At the same time, they flow with the tide and give in to situations. Be it a housewife who wants to run away from her husband and life in the title story to a collection of three inter-linked stories about a woman Juliet and her life as it spans across time and relationships. Or it could also be of a girl grown up with her hippie and care-free parents, and waits as life unfolds in front of her, in an unexpected manner.

There is no other short-story writer I have loved more in recent times than Munro. Maybe Lydia Davis but that’s that I guess. A short story according to me anyway is more difficult to write a novel. As Jonathan Franzen, says in his introduction to the book, “I like stories because they leave the writer no place to hide”. This is so true. Short stories demand a lot from writers and sometimes only a master at her craft like Munro can deliver almost every single time. I would also highly recommend Franzen’s introduction to the book, which is a superb insight to the art of short-story telling and available only as a part of the UK edition.

I am very happy that I have read only two of her collections, because there is so much more to read of hers, so much to take in – the charm and lives of small cities, of how life goes on, of how it unfolds, little by little and does not stop there. Munro’s characters take a shape and form of their own. Her words get formed, slowly and steadily, till they become solid structures, which readers can go back to time and again. Here is one writer, who I hope continues writing, a lot more.

Also by Munro which I read and reviewed:

Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro

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