Monday, 27 January 2020

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck- a slim book capturing the ambiance and human nature perfectly.

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck is said to be his ode to California, the state he spent a memorable amount of time in. And his nostalgia brims in the first few pages where he describes Cannery row, an atmospheric one at that. With his appeasing words he makes it so easy for the reader to visualise this street lined with sardines canneries, the characters and their state of mind;

The book takes us to Cannery Row, a small and close-knit community like place where some fellas(Mack and others) plan to give the doctor (Doc) a party as he is a very humble and good person at heart. This party transpires into a big fiasco gradually and the series of events that lead to it being so can be described as mishaps and comedy of errors. In his very captivating manner, Steinbeck not only frames a brilliant story around the Great Depression-era but highlights human nature eloquently. Some very wise words hidden in the form of dialogues amidst a conversation are a clever way of putting substantial content across. The writing is very crisp, ambient and engaging. Interesting characters and situations peppered with wit make this slim novel very flavorsome.
A sliver of his writing below: (my most favourite excerpt from Cannery Row by John Steinbeck)

“It has always seemed strange to me”, said Doc. The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitant of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

In 2020 I plan to read books by Steinbeck, majorly the known one’s. Cannery Row proved to be a good start for this journey. Looking at Of mice and men next.

My Rating:

Sunday, 26 January 2020

The collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang- A very insightful attempt to educate us about a terrifying state a mind can reach and thrive in.

The collected Schizophrenias is a collection of personal essays holding in its depth immense information about mental traumas, mental health in general and laying bare everything about Schizophrenia. It talks about how it affects the victim and the people around them. The kind of life they lead and the gruesome accidents that happen. It can sometimes feel like living in delusions and illusions, very easily losing track of what is real. The thought itself is very harrowing and when it is supported by real-life stories, it isn’t very easy to stomach these facts. While the author talks about her own schizophrenic disorder journey from first being diagnosed, she puts into consideration other people’s accounts of surviving and sailing through the same. With a nuanced narrative, the essays feel extremely personal. Very effortlessly Esmé slips into her prose important questions like- is heavy art, creativity, and success often accompanied by lunacy? Can appearances mislead taking into account someone’s mental state? These questions stem from the fact that our author here is a fashion enthusiast and a geek brainy individual. She talks about her time in Yale and how she was made to leave it, about Stanford and her lectures on this terrifying disorder. I carried ‘A knot in my chest’ throughout this book, some incidents shook me. I had to put down the book after I read about the children who suffer from schizophrenia, bipolar disorders and similar such traumatic mental health issues. The book demands time to be read. It needs to be absorbed at one's own pace as there are several topics that might come across as triggering. Nevertheless, It is intelligent, thought worthy at times spiked with some good wit.

Non-Fiction that reads like a memoir is brilliantly authored as Esmé records her own feelings of hallucinations, delusions, therapy sessions and how catastrophic a psychiatric hospital can be. She says it is the worst place a person with such disorders can land into and how they do nothing to improve the mental health of the victim. Calling them and reading them as victims gives me a heartache but succumbed and in full control of a severe disorder can only be called a victim.

With factual writing and placing apt sometimes satirical references of the movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’ the author tries to bring us face to face as much as possible with schizophrenia. Though complex and heavy with medical terms, the book doesn’t take away its essentiality to be read. The writing had my heart, really. Armed with a pencil I couldn't stop myself from writing in the margins and highlighting my favourite paragraphs and excerpts. The emotions crack open through the substantial content just like sunlight splits in through gaps in window beams. It gives you hope and rips it off too, gut-wrenching but informative this is a book one must read at some point in their life. Here was my bleak attempt to review this book. I do not know how best it can be done as it is not our “quintessential” piece of non-fiction. It is definitely something more.

My rating:

I made a mental note of rewatching the movie - A Beautiful mind after reading the book. Highly recommended, both the book and the movie (A beautiful mind).

Sunday, 5 January 2020

Cost of Living, the second part memoir with a feminist voice and piercing words. Deborah levy, up close and personal.

Cost of Living by Deborah Levy is the second in her memoir part series after the blue book- Things I do not want to know, which by the way is phenomenal. While the blue focussed a lot on her earlier part of life and struggles, as a child and further dealing with writing struggles accompanied by low mental health the yellow book is a compilation of personal essays which talk of her later life- after marriage, her separation, kids and her thoughts as a writer working in a shed which sprouted the concepts for her books Hot Milk, first memoir and Swimming home. It also speaks of how affecting Levy’s mother’s death was. A loss she wasn’t able to recuperate from for a long time.

Levy’s way of authoring is not only varied but stupendous. A familiarity which lingers reminding you it’s all “her”. With her memoirs you see her writing in new light. It is different because it is welcoming and similar because solid wordplay is something her prose is never deprived of. Strongly worded yet showing her vulnerability in tough times and solitude. Cost of Living shows Levy’s fans the correlation of her book projects with her life stories. It is endearing and impressive. Her feminist thoughts propagate well through her skilfully framed sentences. I personally loved those parts where she hammers men who call their wife as just “wife” as if they have no names and only this identity to carry. “My wife”- they’d say! Her bothersome past as a young girl comes back to us in this yellow book in the form of memories, of her own and her mother's. I enjoyed the author and book references she brings up in her conversation with us, citing them and fitting them in the most appropriate stanza.

While I might not recommend this as a first book to be read by her, it is nothing short of being declared as a delectable piece worth savouring. Pick it up after you have absorbed her other works(atleast 2) so the after taste of the yellow remains longer and stronger.

My Rating:

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Book review of a memoir I count as an important read-  Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming by Michelle Obama is a memoir which holds in its pages her life as a competitive child, a Princeton and Harvard graduate, as a mother, wife and the First Lady (FLOTUS). It is interesting to know about the couple’s journey into politics coming from a fairly simple non-political family background. Becoming is a compilation of Michelle Obama’s thoughts. Hers and only hers. It is about her struggles, vulnerability and her coming to terms with a new life. I have always liked Michelle Obama, since years now. But this book took my likeness for her to a new found level of love and admiration. I precisely don’t know how to proceed with this review but I am going to try nevertheless.

With a status-quo comes responsibilities, fame and the sense of immense subjection to the world as self and family. With every action being taken, every word being said and every movement being guarded the pressure to do things right can be strenuous. Michelle Obama doesn’t try to curb her fears and worries when she talks about their life in the White House. She expresses happiness and remorse without a filter of words. The initiatives they took were thoughtful and driven by compassion. It showed the future they prospected together, the Obama’s. She kept herself in the forefront at a lot of places, voicing herself out fearlessly and at times was an epitome of support that his husband needed while fighting for the presidency, not in the backdrop but by his side.
I loved this book to bits. It told me - Michelle Obama is so much like us and yet so different. Her normalcy intact under her social strata as FLOTUS. Her motherly instincts and worrisome wife thoughts do not lurk behind that title. Her musings are one which every woman comes across. When given a platform she made sure to put it to use addressing the problems that required addressal.

Exceptionally written and worded, Do read it to know how first and foremost you are a person of your thoughts stripped naked of your bulky titles. And when you transform there are some things which do not get changed in the journey.

My Rating:
Glorious 5⭐️/5!
An important memoir I’d recommend.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Golden Child by Claire Adams, a family saga you would like to see as a movie adaptation so the loopholes can be rectified.

If defined succinctly can be called as atmospheric, fragmented and emotional.
When I call it atmospheric I mean every scene is like a reel running in the screen of your mind. The author with her writing skills makes it easy for us to capture the emotions, thoughts and ambience of a situation and characters really well. The story is set in Trinidad. It is about Clyde and his family with two sons- Peter and Paul. They are twins but as different as two magnetic poles. While Peter is remarked as a genius, it is Paul who raises curious eyes. He is odd is what people think. One day, Paul goes missing and the rest the of the story in shifting timelines oscillates between past and present day scenario.

Claire Adam frames the setting of the story very well. She makes us acquainted with the characters so we don’t seem to find trouble gathering a “why?” to their actions. It talks of pseudo societal bonds and fractured familial relationships very aptly. While everything seemed like working it’s magic, I felt there were fragmented parts which took away from the story. There are some harrowing moments and you feel for Paul; for Clyde too because as a parent choosing a child is not easy. Never easy. As a mother who is bound to be the most affected, Joy's thoughts over the whole fiasco of Paul missing looked foggy. It is only towards the end I found some feeble moments of remorse from her. While this could be declared as a perfect hit, little things made it miss its mark from being a perfectly written family saga. For instance, I wanted more clarity from Clyde over his decisions. Just like Rafiq’s point of view and a chapter dedication in "A place for us" by Fatima Farheen Mirza. As debut writers the comparison between the two- Claire Adams and Fatima was inevitable.

All my points to the writing- piercing, characters- framed very well and the transportive capability of the author used to make the reader travel to Trinidad in Clyde’s brick house, with Paul by the river side and with Peter while he approaches his and his father’s dream. There was something amiss making it look fractured, like disrupting the flow of a stream. It needed an element to smooth things out, to comfort and leave its mark engraved with emotions.

My Rating:

Thank you to the publishers- Crownpublishing and Penguinrandomhouse #sjpforhogarth for the review copy.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Book review of The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the one lovers of The Handmaid’s tale (THT)were waiting for with high anticipation. The high adrenaline rush of seeing Gilead once again in its darkest form and meeting Offred because getting in her mind is like framing thoughts of your own. Did it deliver for its fans?It left us with a broken heart, making the wait for it disputable.

The Testaments has been called the sequel of its predecessor but looking upon closely it reflects two sides-prequel and sequel.The three narratives in the book bring forth more of Gilead for us, the strongest being that of Aunt Lydia which oscillates between past (prequel glimpses); for when she first got associated with Gilead and present where she calls herself a survivor and plans her insurgent moves in this dark hole. Her authoritative self still intact in her speech, her tight lipped smile, her convincing and sharp personality but with a hint of subtlety this time. It was interesting to read her POV, new and similar together. The other two narratives are of two young girls after a long gap where THT ends-Agnes and Daisy(the sequel look).Agnes has been brought up on the virtues of Gilead and Daisy is an outsider who is brought in. But for me, it was a leap episode with traumatic flashbacks and rectifying present. Having talked of narratives brings me to the most important part of the book- the writing and the presentation.

Because it oscillates between 3 people, the penmanship is poles apart. While Aunt Lydia’s looks fair and justified it is the other two that prove to be non-compelling. The shifting state of mind through our protagonists makes the book look fragmented with no binding motive. Traversing the Testaments I couldn’t help compare it with The Handmaid's Tale where the prose was like a coherent beam, streamlined because we saw Gilead through Offred’s mind. The open ended conclusion of the latter beats the predictable ending hands down. I wanted to be left brainstormed and exhausted, the time I was after having been with Offred; instead I was left non-satiated with floating question marks around me.

After a certain point of time reading through The Testaments was a duty to tick all pages as read because it gave you a feeling of deja vu, something you know is coming. Having watched the series too, I put all my efforts to join dots and imagine what it would have been like if certain cues from the series itself were incorporated in the book. The Testaments looks more like a sequel to the series than to its book predecessor.

A debatable fact sprouts up when we think of this book authored in a massive gap of 35 years by Atwood, but does it justify the write-up, plot and overall structure of the book? No. Not in the truest form.

I would still ask the lovers of The Handmaid's Tale to read it, the demarcation in both these books is clear as a crystal.

My rating:

Thank you to the publisher Penguin India and Vivek Tejuja's blogger program for the review copy.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Book review of Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup

I finished reading this book a few weeks back but struggled to articulate a review. How do you define a book which is so poetic in itself? I was in dire need of words that would explain this book perfectly well. But, perfection is a myth. No? Every word that I put across felt uncertain and unjustifiable to the beauty this book brings with itself. This is one to challenge your imagination, stretch it out and satisfy you with a prose beatific, to say the least.

We go about exploring this book, reading stories through the geographical topography of islands, faultlines, valley and no mans land(snow desert) which is the area between India and Pakistan.In four parts, the stories are like novellas with some characters making an appearance in the next. The book comes full circle as the last story feels like an amalgamation of the first which was the most impressive part for me and the one I loved the most.

The mystical aspect of the book is enhanced by the lyrical writing. Complementing it are the wonderful characters. It was a task of ultimate effort and joy to visualise the scenarios through a character’s eyes and mind. The reading journey almost feels like a time travel; one instant you are in Andaman Islands attending to wandering ghosts and speaking tree's gradually moving to Karakorams exploring the Buddhist territory in colonial times. At various other instances the hunger to know more about the characters faded them to a blur and how I wished I could read more about their lives and about them.

Majestic, imaginative and layered, strewn with idyllic words which give company to the picturesque topographical locations is Latitudes of Longing for you. It is an example of what admirable craftsmanship looks like. The writing does take its time to seep through and one must be patient in that phase of uncovering the literary prowess the book has to offer. Once uncovered, it flows like a creative saga.

I withheld my review of the book because I was unsure if it was the most opportune moment to write about it with the new JCB titles doing the rounds. This was a gem of a book from last year's list and one that was and is most loved by readers across. Such books are rare and reading them provides us with an opportunity to experience something beautiful and potent. However, I made my peace with- there is no wrong day to talk about an incredible book and it’s reading journey. Highly recommended.

My rating:


Cannery Row by John Steinbeck- a slim book capturing the ambiance and human nature perfectly. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck is said...