Tag Archives: Women Writers Reading Project

Figuring by Maria Popova

Figuring by Maria Popova Title: Figuring
Author: Maria Popova
Publisher: Pantheon
ISBN: 978-1524748135
Genre: Biographies, Memoirs, Science
Pages: 592
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

How does one begin to explain a book like Figuring? Honestly, I don’t know, however, I shall try. The book Figuring is much like Popova’s site, brainpickings.org: it is sort of a Russian doll, revealing layer after layer after layer, only if you wish to see it, or perhaps experience it. Figuring is a book that you should read with the mindset of allowing the book to take it where it wants to, without expecting something too traditional or run of the mill.

Figuring is a beautiful combination of science with art. The alignment sticks – how each of them is intertwined and how art inspires science and vice-versa. It is like her website, only more detailed – pieces that go on and go and that’s what I loved as a reader, knowing I didn’t have to scroll up or down and could be after reading one paragraph or two and going back to it after a cup of tea.

Maria Popova’s book brings the wonder of scientists and then combines it with hearts and emotions of people, mainly women scientists and that to me was most unique. Figures looks at love, and truth through the interconnected lives of historical figures across four centuries. She begins with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and it ends with Rachel Carson who was so important in the environmental movement.

And in all of this, Popova includes more artists, writers, and scientists (which makes it even more fun to read) – women, and queer and their contribution. What I love about Figuring is that it is like a rabbit hole that you would love getting into. Maria Popova interconnects, segregates, and makes you question matters of life, love, and the heart and what are we doing to leave an impression on the world.

Figuring asks big questions and it isn’t afraid of doing that. There is so much happening in the book that it takes some time to assimilate all of that, and only then can you get into its groove (or at least that’s what happened to me). Figuring would seem disconnected and disjointed in most places, till it all falls into place and that’s when you as a reader start seeing it for what it is. The book is a marriage of art, life, science, music, philosophy, feminism, decline of religion, free love, astronomy and poetry, and honestly no one better to do it than our very trusted Brain Picker.

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Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli Title: Lost Children Archive
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 978-0525520610
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

Lost Children Archive is a book that should be read by everyone. I think more so because it is so relevant for the times we live in, and also because it is written with such grace, delicacy, and at the same time rawness that is unfathomable. It is one of those rare books that once you start you don’t want it to end. It is like an experience that is immersive and yet so heartbreaking. You don’t want to read it, and yet you do. The wanting to read is obviously far greater, so you do – you read it, if you are me you also constantly mark, highlight, and annotate. Lines resonate, words linger, emotions are so deep-rooted that even if you haven’t experienced any of them, you feel for the characters, though they are nameless.

In 2017, Mexican-born novelist Valeria Luiselli, published a book called “Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions”. This book was a result of her volunteering as a court interpreter for children – the “illegal aliens” (as they are called), helping them with intake questionnaires that might establish a case for asylum for them. The book is about her experience of also applying for a green card as she fights for the children.

Lost Children Archive, her much-anticipated new novel (and the first one written in English) is about these refugee children and their lives, it is about a family at the core of it – their lives, and ultimately about ties that bind us and the ones that don’t. Luiselli touches on a topic that is so relevant, so utterly terrifyingly heartbreaking that sometimes as a reader, it took me time to digest, assimilate, and then process my thoughts and emotions.

What I must not forget and mention here is that Lost Children Archive is a “road novel” as well. It is a journey undertaken at the start of the novel by a family – a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter. A family that came together when the father and the mother, two single parents fell in love while recording the sounds of New York City. Their marriage is drifting. They are losing grip on who they used to be. The husband plans a new project to travel to the ancestral homeland of the Apaches in Arizona, she decides to go along with her daughter and his son. She plans to document sounds of refugees at the border, and also wants to find two missing, undocumented daughters of her immigrant friend.

Furthermore, there are boxes of the family that travel with them – boxes that are filled and some that aren’t. Boxes that mean something, that are heavy with meaning and emotion, of work documented by the husband and the wife and what remains of their union. Luiselli captures the voices of the children beautifully. The 10-year old son (from the husband) and the 5-year old daughter (from the wife) are seamlessly integrated into the narrative of adults – asking, wondering, sometimes taking pictures (you will learn of this as you read along), and questioning their identity and family as a unit.

Luiselli breaks the mould so many times as she tells the story – over and over again. With the contents of the boxes, the small chapters that integrate, the characters’ voices that seamlessly integrate and also stand-out most often, but above all the last twenty pages of the book are something else – a long sentence that reaches its ending with so much to already chew and mull over, leaving a void in your mind and heart.

Lost Children Archive is most certainly the novel of our times (and sadly as well). It is so many things and yet it is up to the reader what they want to take from it. The story of the refugee children is constantly told from various points of view and done so strangely and beautifully most of the time. Not to forget the character that is the US of A. Home, perhaps. The roads, the motels, the diners, the billboards, and the borders we create are covered with such eye for detail that you wonder if she wrote the book as she travelled. Maybe she did. Maybe she didn’t. It is about family – the breaking of one and where do other families fit in, the ones that have been broken through displacement, still seeking refuge?

Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country by Pam Houston

Deep Creek by Pam Houston Title: Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country
Author: Pam Houston
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
ISBN: 978-0393241020
Genre: Non-fiction, Memoirs
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Pam Houston’s Deep Creek has to be read, actually savoured with enough time on your hand. It cannot and shouldn’t be rushed with. This book is about home and place and what is their meaning to someone who has spent half her life travelling around the world. More than that though, it is about the places we inhabit, the landscapes we belong to, the daily rituals of living and caring for people around you. Deep Creek is all about celebrating nature, and above that survival not only in the wilderness, but also around you.

The book is about Pam’s 120-acre homestead high in the Colorado Rockies. It is about more than that though. It is about what it means to take care of land, nurture it, care for creatures on it, and finally make it such a part of you that nowhere else really is home. Pam Houston’s book isn’t something others perhaps haven’t written on or dabbled with. What makes this book special then? In all honesty, and to put it as simply, and as clichéd as it might sound: The writing.

What struck me the most delightful about the book is the connections Pam makes between her ranch and the travels she undertakes. At the same time, the beauty of it all in the ranch being the only place she sees as home and almost a sanctuary – the place that provides her much comfort and solace, after going through a childhood of parental neglect and abuse. So that’s another aspect to the book, but Houston for once doesn’t stray away from the core of the book as it were.

Pam’s writing to me is as lucid as the air she breathes. It is as stunning and clear as her experiences with nature – land, animals, seasons, the fire experienced, and in all of this the person she becomes or evolves to be. The thing is that while reading the book, I wanted to be a part of the landscape that Pam inhabited, with every single turn of the page. At times, I thought there was more to every chapter, but more than happy with what is written as well.

Deep Creek is the kind of book that makes you soak in all of it – it is a memoir,    it is written from the heart (to me any book that does that is more than enough worthy to be read and it shows), and more than anything else it is absolutely fascinating to see what it feels like to lose contact with land and then to regain it (this will become clearer as you read the book).

The stories in Deep Creek are real (but of course) and motivated mainly by gratitude – for spaces that are available to us, and nature that surrounds us. There is this sense of comfort, longing, and delight while reading it. I read it over a period of time – a couple of chapters here and there and loved it even more. Deep Creek to me, must be read by all, cherished, and passed over to spread the hope and perseverance.

 

 

Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine by Sonal Ved

TiffinTitle: Tiffin: 500 Authentic Recipes Celebrating India’s Regional Cuisine
Author: Sonal Ved
Publisher: Roli Books
ISBN: 978-8193704967
Genre: Food Writing, Recipes
Pages: 496
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 stars

Okay, I have to say this right at the onset: This is book that should be owned by everyone who loves food – eating, cooking, or talking about it. Tiffin is the kind of book that may not seem unique at first glance. Sure, you have seen this format several times. Dishes from every part of India, and so on and so forth. Tiffin encompasses all states and union territories. Sonal’s research is spot-on and every recipe isn’t just a recipe, but a footnote of sorts to the world she opens up for the reader/chef/cook.

Tiffin 1

I have always wondered how does one review a book about food. Does one cook the recipes and talk about it? Does one just read and imagine the taste? Does one get it cooked through someone else and then talk about it, after tasting it of course? It could be done anyhow I suppose but taste you must and that’s what I did. I also then came to the conclusion that the styling of food in those pictures in books is way better than what you or I could at our homes. That being said, the taste is what matters. Isn’t it?

Tiffin 2

Tiffin ensures flavour in every bite. Sonal has chosen the recipes carefully – after having interacted with local cooks, chefs, and people who cook at home day in and day out. Of course the most obvious thing which I loved about the book is the depth of research done. The book of course speaks of the most obvious dishes – the butter chicken, the dhansak, dum aloo, etc, but what it also does most beautifully is go beyond all of this to truly discover Indian food across regions.

Tiffin 3

The book is divided into 6 sections – North India, Central India, West India, South India, East India, and Northeast India. Furthermore, it is then divided into these for every section: Appetizers, Poultry and Eggs, Meat and Pork, Fish and Seafood, Vegetarian, Rice and Breads, and Desserts. So the arrangement is very easy to follow and refer. Moreover, if you even go by index at the end of the book, that has its own charm – almost feels like jumping from one region to another.

Tiffin 4

Tiffin is also the kind of book that while it may seem that it caters more to an audience out of the country, that is not the case. I personally think that it in fact lends more to the people living in India and what we can learn from it – right from basic recipes (a wonderful section at the beginning of the book) to the intense heavy-duty cooking. Might I also add that Sonal is an accomplished food writer and food editor at Vogue India (something which I got to know only after I read this book). All in all, Tiffin is the kind of book that you must own – even if you don’t cook, especially if you don’t cook, so it can inspire you to step into the kitchen and cook something entirely different – from any part of the country.

Book Love by Debbie Tung

booklovebydebbietung Title: Book Love
Author: Debbie Tung
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
ISBN: 978-1449494285
Genre: Comics, Humour
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

What better moment for readers than to see themselves in a book? To relate to it so hard and strong that with every turn of the page, you know every situation because you have been in that or multiple situations more than once.

Book Love by Debbie Tung is that kind of a book. It is a book about loving books (as evident by the title), but more than that it is about readers and how we function around books and our relationship to them. Book Love is the much-needed warm blanket on a winter’s night. It is the cup of tea that hits the right notes and lingers long after you’ve drunk it.

booklove1

Being a book lover, I just didn’t want the book to finish. It is a book of comic strips depicting our collective love of books and reading. This transcends everything – colour, race, skin, creed, caste – just about it all. Because when it comes to reading, you and I, and all of us, are the same people. We are the tribe of readers and Tung has a way of putting that beautifully through her comics. The words and images combine to present a beautiful gift to the reader. I know I am getting all sappy, but hey this is a book about books and I shall get this way.

booklove2Debbie Tung’s concept is not new, but the execution is brilliant and well-done. The book captures it all: book lovers in bookshops, in libraries, in their favourite reading spots, how readers feel when a good book ends, and how we pack for a vacation. With every turn of the page, all I did was nod my head in agreement, because there was nothing else to do. Most readers are guilty of what Tung expresses and only more happy for that.

booklove4

Tung knows how readers are and that can only come to you if you are a reader and feel the same. Tung’s illustrations always manage to hit home and that’s the beauty of a book such as this one. Where essays could be written about every situation (and that is also quite delightful to read), simple drawings depicting who readers are does the trick and more. Book Love makes you want to reach out to your favourite books and hug them for being a part of your life. A must-read for all lovers of books and reading, and also for ones who are just starting out.