What I Read In August


Books / Wednesday, September 5th, 2018

I read a lot more in August and I am surprised I did. When people ask me, “How do you read so much? Where do you find the time?” I am always puzzled. How does one “find” time? Time doesn’t exist. We all have these many hours to fill every day. What we do with it is up to us. So, don’t ask me about ‘finding’ time. I do what I love. I don’t have to find it.

Books read in August  15
Number of pages 3,607
Average book length 285 pages
Average rating 3.6
Highest-rated book/s Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and My Kind Of Girl by Buddhadeva Bose

Contemporary Fiction

A Place For Us: Fatima Farheen Mirza
Rating: 3

It was with some relief that I finally finished ‘A Place For Us.’ Don’t get me wrong – I am sure the book deserves all the rave reviews it’s getting. But I realized that this is a book that is predominantly written for an American audience that is curious about Islam. It’s written keeping sales, perhaps, in mind. Hence, you are introduced to the ultra-conservative family in the US, their story told in flashes of time that weave back and forth, often in ways that confused me.

“Is this the 10-year-old Amar? Or this is the adolescent Amar?” I would wonder suddenly, struggling to place the shifts in memory and narration. Eventually, I gave up trying to understand that, and just decided to move with the story. As a story, Mirza tells it remarkably well. My heart broke in a million pieces for poor Amar. His life is a reflection of how the little schisms can drive wedges into our hearts. There is quiet beauty and restraint in Mirza’s prose, and that’s what kept me going until the final chapter where it all comes together, but doesn’t really. That and Amar.

I come back a little underwhelmed, and I am not sure why. Perhaps, I would love to read a book about a Muslim immigrant family that hosts Page 3 parties, scorns the hijab, and is generally breaking every stereotype you hear when it comes to this beautiful religion.

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao: Junot Diaz
Rating: 2

I continue to struggle with liking prize-winning books.
Having bought this book in 2011, it took me several attempts before I finally made it to the end of the book. I am not sure what to write about it. But this I do know. The only other time in my life I had heard of the Dominican Republic was during an EQ training session in Bosch in 2014, where for some reason, we were asked to name countries beginning with the letter, ‘D.’ I didn’t remember any countries, but my friend then did, mentioning the Dominican Republic.

Now, I came to know through the book about Trujillo – dictator non-pareil.

It made me go and read a little bit of the history of this country, and for that, I am grateful. It’s always illuminating to know more about the world we live in. But the rest of the book had me a little flat. I did love the ending lines. Reminded me of Conrad’s famous lines in ‘The Heart of Darkness’ – ‘the horror, the horror.’ Here, it was merely: The beauty! The beauty of it all!

Classics

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte
Rating:5

 

jane eyre

“You haven’t read ‘Jane Eyre?'” my friend asked me incredulously. So I hadn’t. And I wanted to rectify that immediately. I don’t know how I didn’t read this classic all these years. I had read ‘Rebecca,’ which is based on Mrs. Rochester. And I knew of the plot and storyline of ‘Jane Eyre’. Yet, there it was. I just hadn’t got around to reading this book.

However, I am glad I did. This is one of the classics that you can really call a thriller. One of those books where the action doesn’t stop, and you keep turning page after breathless page. I don’t know how the 500 pages flew by.
In Jane, Charlotte Bronte has created one of the most memorable characters in literature. Perhaps, second only to Anna Karenina? There were strains of modern feminism in many of the pages, and the love between Edward and Jane heartwarming even to a cynic like me.

Perhaps, we can discuss Edward’s character at depth. Perhaps, we know he was flawed. Perhaps, we can wonder if Mrs. Rochester was unfairly portrayed. Perhaps, when a book does that to you, that’s when you know that the writer is immortal.

Translated Indian Fiction

Poonachi: Perumal Murugan
Rating: 4

Every time, I go to a bookshop these days, I keep seeing a goat staring at me. Don’t get me wrong – there are no goatherds in bookshops. But this cover of a goat is on the top-selling list of the bookshops I frequent.

Out of curiosity, I bought Murugan’s first book, ‘Poonachi,’ rather than ‘The Goat Thief.’ Both are translated by the same translator. As with any allegory, you are left wondering if you should treat this is as a simple fable of an old couple’s bonding over a goat, Poonachi, or if you should dig deeper and look at issues that you imagine the author wants you to look at. In the translator note later, he urges you to consider these deeper nuances.
Is it a political satire as other great allegorical novels of the past? Or is there a deeper look at survival? At love? At motherhood and its deep bonds?

Do we think of subversive regimes? Do we just wonder about miracles? Or do we just rejoice in a good story?

I think the answers are all of those.

The Woman Of Basrur: Shivarama Karanth
Rating: 3

Finally, after a long time, I was able to read a translated Kannada novel. Shivarama Karanth is, of course, one the giants of Indian literature, and I regret that I haven’t read as many authors from my own language as I should have. However, time always offers you an opportunity to make up for all that you regret.

In Sharada Prasad’s excellent translation, Karanth takes you on a journey to North Karnataka, weaving in a tale of women who make a living from their ‘patrons.’ Considering that this book was written in the 1970s, it was an astonishingly bold work. In the titular character of Manjula, Karanth is giving the nod to that elephant in the room – a woman’s sexual desire. The narrative moves fast, and I loved the insights into a ‘profession’ I had not much idea about. I rate it a tad low because the book ended abruptly and left you with the feeling that there was something more left.

Bhava: UR Ananthamurthy
Rating: 4

bhava

A writer who shares the same surname as me and whose hometown is also the same? And I haven’t read this books. Sigh. UR Ananthamurthy is a giant in Indian literature, but I am a bit late in reading his works. Very late.

The word ‘bhava’ when derived from Sanskrit means both ‘being’ and ‘becoming.’ In ‘Bhava’ Ananthamurthy traces a psychological and at times metaphysical journey into this process of becoming. An old man meets a young man on a train. Their paths cross. Their stories intersect. Different mysteries emerge. None are ever solved, yet you as the reader will find towards that the end that you are not looking for the answers anyway.

Each of the characters goes through this process of being and becoming. You are given an insight into their inner workings, the demons and worries that plague them, and the slow resolution and acceptance of life that they come to eventually. In this process, you are also drawn into their embrace. You realize that you are becoming too.

My Kind Of Girl: Buddhadeva Bose
Rating: 3

my kind of girl

I first came across Buddhadeva Bose in the dusty shelves of a second-hand bookstore in Bangalore earlier this year. While ‘It Rained All Night’ was impressive, it is ‘My Kind Of Girl’ that really made me understand why Buddhadeva Bose is considered one of the finest Bengali writers.

Told through four narrators, the book traces love – the aching failings and occasional winnings of love. Four men are forced to spend the night in a railway station lounge while waiting for their train. They recount stories from the past of their lost loves. Not all the loves were lost, don’t despair. Bose weaves in beautiful descriptive narration with the utter poignancy of emotion. If the translation itself is so good, I can’t imagine how good the original Bengali must be!

Non Fiction

The New Codependency: Help and Guidance for Today’s Generation: Melody Beattie
Rating: 3

I am not sure what made me read this book, but as always, you end up with some surprises. There were some useful exercises for developing emotional connectivity, well-being, and measured response to life’s problems. For that practical advice, I rated this book thus. But I did lose it a bit with all emphasis on turning things over to God, and the sheer number of times that the author references her own books. But an interesting read.

Congratulations, By The Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness: George Saunders
Rating: 5

I haven’t read a single book by George Saunders, but reading this essay makes me feel like picking up every single one of his books. This ‘book’ was a lecture that Saunders gave at Syracuse University. “Here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness'” I can’t agree more, Saunders.

This is an utterly beautiful essay. Moving, evocative, and something for all of us to lead our lives by.

The Pedant’s Revolt: Why Most Things You Think Are Right Are Wrong: Andrea Barham
Rating: 3

pedant's revolt

I am not really a curious person, I think. I have no great facts to store in my little head. I guess I am the furthest from being a pedant. But I am fascinated by the world around us these days. This little book of ‘facts’ tears down many myths that just seem to have become more entrenched with each passing day.

Andrea’s tone is funny and witty, and I loved reading some of her observations on the facts she uncovers. I really didn’t know that Hitler was NOT a vegetarian, that owls can’t turn 360 degrees, and that Cleopatra was not Egyptian. My favorite perhaps was this revelation on that famous, all-time romantic quote by Tennyson: It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Ah, it broke my romantic heart to know that Tennyson wrote that for his beloved friend. Indeed, you read that right. It was written for his friend.

Reading With Patrick: Michelle Kuo
Rating: 4

Where is the Delta? I had no idea. I have been in the US, read a lot of American Literature, thought I knew a little bit about US history, but I had no idea about the Delta. What little time I spent in Chicago many years ago did open my eyes that integration is still something of an American dream. These days, racism is not just a word in history books – it is a word that is too close for comfort, wrapped inside our beating hearts, and daring to be let out.

In Michelle Kuo’s affecting memoir of her work as a teacher, you are reminded many times of the reason we live – do we just get on with the business of life or do we really believe that we can be teachers? Not just teachers to students in school, but can we draw the lessons from our light and make them lamps for others to live by? Patrick’s story that is presented here is a story of a murderer.

How cruel that sounds. How quickly you might flinch! Yet, as with all stories, there is so much that we don’t know. As with words, we are only bound to use those words we know. Patrick was a murderer, yes. He is also a poet. A human being. A man who asks for forgiveness. And a man who reads. I am glad I met him through Kuo.

It’s OK to Feel Things Deeply: Carissa Potter

Rating: 4

it's ok to feel deeply

I don’t know how some books come to me. But there they are – little pockets of words waiting to make their way to my mind. ‘It’s Ok To Feel Things Deeply,’ is a cute little nugget. It’s really like the blurb that says, “this book is like a hug from a friend.” It is. It’s the sort of hug you also want to give yourself.
With cute illustrations, this book is light and warm. Treat yourself to this hug. Be loved.

I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Beth Evans
Rating: 4

beth evans

What an utterly relatable book. Not many people associate me with anxiety or depression – but only my closest people know the demons I battle with when it comes to both of these twin friends. Beth Evans has written a book that is at once heartwarming and charming – and really truthful.

I loved the art- those cute characters Beth drew really spoke to me – and her struggles with social anxiety are narrated with warmth and love. Some of us may find her advice trite or cliched, but hey, these are the things that Beth did to reach a stage in her life where she could pen a book after having once cut herself multiple times in the bathroom, so who are we to judge?

I would gift this book in a hurry to anyone – it’s like spinach soup for the soul. (Sorry, I am a vegetarian!)

Falling Into Grace: Adyashanthi
Rating: 4

When you are on the path of understanding yourself and the Universe, you need books like these. You need books that you may not understand fully. You need books like these that make you think before you realize that you shouldn’t be thinking at all but moving into the realm of being and feeling.

You need books that make you realize the vast unknown boundaries of Life. You need books like these that make you question the questions and answer the answers. You need books where you learn that pain is a consequence of life, but suffering is an option. You need books where you can take a deeper breath during your meditation and find in the breathing the openness that you knew you had all along. You need books like these that point to the space within you and the cramped room in our mind.

Sometimes, you just fall into graceful books.

Young Adult

They Both Die At The End: Adam Silvera
Rating: 1

I knew I was in for a difficult read when a book mentions ‘Instagram’ every three pages. Somehow, my journey in YA continues to be a hit and miss affair. The premise of ‘They Both Die at the End’ seemed interesting – two boys come to know that they are going to die today. That’s what made try this YA-LGBT book.

I come back disappointed and downing a couple of aspirins because the book never really took off for me. Rufus and Mateo meet for the first time on their last day. There is some usual fluff about “living life,” and some weird app called Death-Cast that informs you that you are on your last day, and unexplained people called ‘Deckers’ who are all informed they are dying today, and some trite stuff about living life to the fullest. Sigh. Perhaps, this may appeal to a few, but I need some more aspirins.

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