Tag Archives: Writers

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.

Advertisements

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Chris Riddell Title: Art Matters
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Chris Riddell
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group, Headline Review, Hachette Books
ISBN: 9781472260086
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

It has been established the world over (if not, then it should be) that Neil Gaiman is one of the most prolific writers that we have, and we must never forget that. In fact, we must cherish what we have every single day and celebrate him by reading more of him, but obviously, day after day.

Art Matters is a collection of his short essays (all previously published individually and collectively in The View from the Cheap Seats) about art, reading, libraries, and why all of it is so important even more so in today’s time and age.

I love what Gaiman writes, and even though I’d read these pieces earlier, with Chris Riddell’s illustrations, they seemed different, more invigorating, and captivating to say the least. There is something about the power of the written word, isn’t it? That’s what this book is about primarily – about words, reading, and how the world can be changed, one book at a time.

Of course, the piece that stands out for me is Make Good Art, in which Gaiman talks to us about how he started writing books, how to do what you really want to do, push boundaries, and be what you set out to be. Yes, it does sound self-help like and maybe it is, but coming from Gaiman, everything is great and achievable and inspiring.

I am not saying this as a fanboy, it’s just that this book really inspires you to step out and make good art. And not to forget that the Make Good Art piece has come from his commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in May 2012, which I am linking below. The illustrations by Chris Riddell are as usual stupendous and go hand in glove with Gaiman’s prose. Though, I would love to see how this book comes alive in colour as well. Maybe, even a graphic version of these four pieces and more.

Make Good Art just makes you want to go out there and create. Be it anything. A sentence even, or just those two hundred words you’ve been telling yourself you will write, or the composition you are stuck at, or when you feel that you just cannot create anything, this book will at least inspire if nothing else. Read this. Read it again like me, if you have already read them. The illustrations and the reminding of what great art can do is absolutely worth the experience.

Link to the commencement speech:

 

A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Phillips

CP Title: A View of the Empire at Sunset
Author: Caryl Phillips
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374283612
Genre: Literary Fiction, Biographical
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 stars

First, read this book. Then read all works by Jean Rhys, besides Wide Sargasso Sea. Or read all works by Jean Rhys and then read this book. Anyway, please do read Jean Rhys. She was a wonderful writer and I am only too glad that we have more of her to read, or even more about her, which Caryl Phillips does a brilliant job of in his book, “A View of the Empire at Sunset”.

And might I also say that this book will not be a happy read. It is dark, sullen and unforgettable (at least to me it was and still is). The book is a fictionalised telling of the life and times of Jean Rhys. Caryl Phillips does a brilliant job of fictionalising the life of Gwen Williams (Jean Rhys’s real name), the Welsh doctor’s daughter, who always wanted to be an insider to an English world, but was never one. The constant theme of home and missing what is home and then the back and forth to find home will keep you hooked and yet there were places where I thought: Wish he had written more about her writing life.

“A View of the Empire at Sunset” is about Gwen’s loves, her failed marriages and what she kept searching in men – and the translation of that in her novels and short stories (that is if you have read works, you can for sure see glimpses of those men and her in them). Her constant disappointments in love, miserable assessment of self and alcoholism loom large through her characters in Voyage in the Dark, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight.

The place and setting of A View of the Empire at Sunset is for sure atmospheric – set in the waning years of the British Empire – Gwen thus is always an outsider from her West Indies birthplace, to her return now and then. The novel begins and ends in 1936, thirty years after she was sent to school and thirty years before she published Wide Sargasso Sea, which gave her career a boost like no other.

Having said that, Rhys’s travails are painful. At times, I just couldn’t bear to read about them. In all of this though, there are snatches of pure beauty and grace in the book, that Phillips manages to give us quite elegantly. Please do read this book if you want to know more about Gwen Williams the person and lesser about Jean Rhys, the writer.

 

Interview with Anand Neelkantan

Here’s an in-depth interview with the author of Asura, Ajaya and the soon to release the sequel to Ajaya, called Rise of Kali.

Ajaya Cover

1. What does AJAY signify in the title of the book?

Ajaya means unconquearable. The Kauravas were never conquered, they were decimated to the last man. Ajaya is also a play of words to show what is not Jaya, the original name of Mahabharata. Though Ajaya does not mean what is not Jaya, it is to imply that this is Mahabharata from the other side

2. After all your writing and research, what is your final opinion on Duryodhana as a man and a leader?

Suyodhana was a man far ahead of times. He had his flaws, he trusted his friends too much and took unneccessary risks, was more sincere to Karna than Karna was to him and was passionate to the core. He believed in certain ideals, was sometimes naive and sometimes arrogant, but he never tried to justify his deed behind the cloak of dharma. He was a rebel, far ahead of his times and he paid the price.

3. Did the Kurukshetra war have any winners? What did it achieve? Can it be justified?

I think sage Vyasa gave the named his epic, “Jaya” to bring out the irony. There were no winners for the war. If the war was the victory of good for evil, after the war the evil age should not have started. This reasoning that it was fought for restoration of dharma fails, when we see that it is the age of Adharma that had risen after the war. So what was the purpose of war, as Balarama asks?

4. Was Draupadi perhaps the greatest victim in the Mahabharata?

Draupadi, like many other women and children, was also a victim of the war. All the women of Mahabharata are victims, trampled by a masculine world. Gandhari who lost all her sons, Kunti who lost all her grandsons and a son, Draupadi who lost all her sons, the Nishada woman who lost her life and all her sons, Hidumbi who lost her son, Uthara who lost her husband, Bhanumathi who lost both her husband and son- the list is endless. There is no justification in singling out Draupadi.

5. How do you explain Gandhari’s 100 sons and 1 daughter?

The ratio is perplexing. The entire Kuru race has 106 sons (including the Yuyutsu, the Vysya son of Dhritarashtra) and 1 daughter and may be Lakshmana is the only another woman in the household. Or may be all the 100s are not sons of Gandhari, but perhaps sons of Dhritarashtra (there are many other sons mentioned in some texts) and the daughters are not mentiones with the same importance as Dushala (Sushala) since they are not from the Royal womb of Gandhari. We do not know and we can only speculate. As I said, it was a man’s world, not much different from now, where only lip service is given to the divinity of women.

Anand 1

6. Did any Kaurava survive the war?

Dhritarashtra, the real Kaurava was the ultimate victor

7. Do you feel a sense of catharsis having finished the book?

Writing any book is hard work, it is doubly so when the subject is the most complicated and biggest epic in the world

Rise of Kali

8. What are you working on now?

I am working as an episodic story writer for Star TV’s upcoming serial Siya ke Ram. I am working on a fantasy thriller based on Mythology, tentatively titled Devayani. I have also signed up for a Hindi/Telugu bilingual and discussions are on for Asura to be made as Hindi/Tamil/Telugu trilingual film

9.What do you think made Leadstart take your book when other Publishers had not?

Leadstart took the book when not many were willing to publish mythology books. They saw the potential in Asura when others did not. Asura was an unusual book in the sense that it went against the conventional way of writing mythology. It is a disturbing book, not offensive, but something that would challenge the long held belief and give voice to the sceptic inside the reader. Not many publishers would take that risk.

10. How did you think of this concept? What got you inspired?

This was something that I have grown up with and I write about things that disturbs me most. The other side, hidden in the shadows, is always exciting to explore.

11. What do you think about writing as a profession in India?

Writing as a profession is yet to come of age in India. Except a few authors who have made it really big, it is difficult to earn a living out of writing. Despite spectacular success of Asura and Ajaya, I am yet to resign my job. There are many like me with a string of best sellers who still work for a living or are businessmen. Except Chetan Bhagat, Amish or one or two others, if we take the top 10 writers of the country, most of us are either businessmen or employees. There is a long way to go for us to see Indian writers owning private jets and mansions like what they do in the west. But apart from money, writing gives a lot of satisfaction which no other profession can. Writing in India, can be a rewarding hobby, at best and not a profession.

12. Any message you would want to give to your readers?

Read the book with an open mind. Read good books not to get answers but to simulate more questions in your mind

Looking forward to Rise of Kali! I am sure it will be a great read.

Interview Courtesy: Booksense

You can follow Booksense on Twitter @Booksensed

Book Review: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books: Edited by Leah Price

Title: Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books
Edited by: Leah Price
Publisher: Yale University Press
ISBN: 978-0-300-17092-4
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 201
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

Books can do many things – they can make you disappear in a world of their own, they can enchant the pants off you, they can make you forget what time it is, and at the same time make you realize the workings of the world. Books have that effect on most readers and also on authors. Keeping this in mind, Leah Price has edited a brilliant book for bibliophiles, titled, “Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books”. The title is self-explanatory and the book is a great watch.

The reason I say a great watch is because Leah Price and her team have managed to capture thirteen writers’ libraries, up close and personal and let me tell you it is a visual treat. The writers are not only in conversation with Leah but also have had no qualms in sharing what their libraries look like.

I loved the lineup of writers that contributed to this book: From Jonathan Lethem to Edmund White to Sophie Gee to Junot Diaz, the stories are well-shared. Each writer also shares with readers his/her Top 10 books.

As a book lover, it was a great feeling reading what writers think about the advent of e-books, when they first started buying books and what does reading mean to them. For instance, this is what Junot Diaz has to say about reading, quoting from Toni Morrison’s Beloved, “She is a friend of mine. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order”. This is one of the most beautiful ways in which I have read books being described.

Leah Price knows how to compile a book about books. The questions in the interview were perfect, ranging from how the writers shelve their books to how did they come about the list of top 10 recommendations to what will happen to their books when they die (a bit morbid though). I recommend this book to every bibliophile. It would be a great addition to their library and also a great reference to what should be read next.

Affiliate Links:

Buy Unpacking My Library: Writers And Their Books from Flipkart.com

Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books (Unpacking My Library Series)