What I Read In July


Books / Thursday, August 16th, 2018

As expected, I didn’t read as many books in July. Well, I know that 10 might be a great number to many, and I am so grateful that I was able to read as many, but there were too many things that led me to be distracted in a good, generous, happy way, and I just ended up reading less than I could. These days, I read a lot to uncover meaning. Stories move me, but not as much as the stories that people relate of their own lives. Not as much as the people themselves. We are walking stories – and we need our stories to be told.

Books read in July  10
Number of pages 2,850
Average book length 285 pages
Average rating 3.3
Highest-rated book/s Benediction by Kent Haruf and Birds, Art, Life, Death  by Kyo Maclear

Contemporary Fiction

Benediction: Kent Haruf

Rating: 5

benediction kent haruf

Benediction means a blessing. And every time, I read Kent Haruf, I think I am being given a blessing. When I discovered Haruf’s works last year, I quickly became hooked. The sparse minimalism in his writing combined with an astute understanding and wisdom makes him one of my favorite writers ever.

It’s with sadness that I turned the last pages of ‘Benediction’ because I have now read all his books, and there are simply no more left of this amazing author. Like all his other books, ‘Benediction’ is set in the fictional town of Holt, and traces the slow passing away of one man into death. If we know that we are given just this much time to live, what would we do? How best do we spend it with grace and dignity? Day Lewis is given just that in life – and as he slowly comes to the end of his life, his regrets, pain, hurt, and love are shown through the eyes of an unnamed narrator. Beautifully evocative, I can’t praise this book highly enough. One of the books I will remember.

Everything Leads To You: Nina LaCour

Rating: 3

I thought I would challenge myself by reading a bit more of a genre I usually don’t read much of – romance. So, this book happened to be on my Kindle, and in that generous mood, I picked it up. Sigh. This was not so much a romance as it was a guide on production and locale set-up for movies. If I ever decide to change my career, I will pick this book up and try and find that perfect sofa that will blend in with scenes of lovemaking.

kindle reading
I loved these lines.

The romance, when it does get there, was quite yawn-inspiring. Despite my struggle with the characters, the book, like most YA, tends to move along quite quickly. I skimmed through some of the lengthy descriptions on locale and setting for a movie I couldn’t care about and was happy to reach the end. Why do I have to challenge myself? Sigh. But it was fun to challenge my reading, and life is always better with some fun.

Classics

Ice: Anna Kavan

Rating: 1

I had bought this book in 2009. Then, I had been attracted by the cover and the title. Ice and snow always beguile me. ‘Ice’ is considered one of Anna Kavan’s most brilliant works. It was the first time I was reading her. By now, I realize that there are a few books that everyone raves about, but which will elude me. I like the quiet, understated books – the kind of books that curl up on me and leave imprints on my soul. ‘Ice’ did not do that. Just like ‘Catch 22’ did not. Just like ‘Fight Club’ did not. Just like ‘The Sympathizer’ did not.

Anna Kavan created this novel in a way that came to be known as slipstream literature. I felt I was slipping on ice all through it. The sheer ambiguity, lack of plot structure, and strange, dreamlike apocalyptic landscapes would have interested me as a student of literature but left me a bit cold, pardon the pun, now. You can interpret this novel any way you want – the unnamed narrator’s obsession with one woman or is it several women can point to ways we build walls in our mind, freezing relationships with ice, leading to a world where hell is within because we can’t relate or connect anymore. You can talk about this novel a lot, but you can’t read it a lot, and that’s where I was left floundering.

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils: Selma Lagerlof

Rating: 4

There’s so much to the world of reading, sigh. And I continue to explore more aspects of Children’s Literature. In ‘The Wonderful Adventures of Nils,’ Selma Lagerlof has created a slow, mindful book that draws you into a world of adventure, fun, and learning. Initially, I found the pace of the book a bit slow and thought it might be boring. But I caught myself just in time – we are usd to fast-paced action thriller of novels – we are not used to ‘mindful’ novels. This is one of those.

This book invites you to just sit back with a cup of tea and fall in love with Thumbietot and Goosey-Gander, marvel at Sweden’s gorgeous landscape described so poetically by Lagerlof, and just think of reading the way it would have been before smartphones and the Internet bombarded us with shortened attention spans.

Non Fiction

Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date: Katie Heaney

Rating: 3  

Awww. Katie Heaney sounds like the kind of person I would love to be friends with – funny, witty, wise, sarcastic, and so relatable, and completely honest. The kind of person who writes in a dating book that it never occurred to her to put herself or her friends second to a boyfriend. Wow. The book started off with me chuckling  – Katie has that rare ability to make me laugh – then kind of staggered in the middle before ending with words of wisdom in the end. She makes me laugh with words like these:

“I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming number of people who describe themselves as “living life one day at a time,” as though there are tons of other ways to do it. (“Oh, me? I like to live my life eight days at a time. Really spices things up.”)

And agree with words like these:

“Something that is very hard to learn and accept about real life is that a lot of people, a surprising number of people, don’t really care about anyone but themselves. They pretend to care, and they can go through the motions a little bit for a little while, but when real and sad things happen that last longer than a few days, they lose interest fast.”

There was probably a need for some tighter editing, and a bit more of Katie’s thoughts and a little less of all the crushes. But hey, this is a dating book! Let me not grumble.

No One Tells You This: Glynnis MacNicol

Rating: 4

What is it about July where I am reading books from authors I feel like having a long, extended conversation with? From Katie Heaney to Kyo Maclear and now Glynnis MacNicol, I feel like I have made three new friends. ‘No One Tells You This’ is not a typical memoir. It’s not the typical ‘I am dying of cancer, and I suddenly find life so beautiful,’ memoir that seems to be all the rage these days. Rather, it’s a book about one woman trying to lead an unconventional life and finding joy, meaning, grief, and all the vicissitudes of life in it.

‘To marry or not to marry.’ We spend much of our lives obsessed with this one question. We consider ourselves bereft if we are not married – not leading this ideal Instagrammed version of adoring spouse and adoring kids, where either you are slaving away at the corporate ladder to bring the big bucks home, or you are the caring spouse who slaves away at home. Either way, this is the dream life you are fed – you don’t have this – you are somehow less complete. I know. I am there. Either people pity me or people envy me. The pity because they think I will die tragically alone (As if we all die in pairs. Death as I know it is the only master that doesn’t allow you to take anything with you), and I have no idea what it is to always have someone to lean on, and wake up to, and wash the dirty dishes with. They really have no idea about my life, do they? Or they think I am so free that I can travel the world, take off whenever I want to. “You have no obligations or responsibilities,” they sigh. Absolutely. Like really being married is the only way to have responsibilities and love?

I have seen people pursue marriage with relentless fervor, convinced that this is the magic salvation that will grant them a lifetime of bliss. I have also seen those who scoff at such as those who pursue marriage. Neither of those extremes balances life out. And that’s what I love about Glynnis – she is not beating her chest here as a feminist. There is a lovely gentleness that addresses everything that life has to offer, irrespective of whether you have a significant other or not in your life. There is a lot of fun and humor in her approach to life, and a lot of wisdom as well that is not preachy, but just sinks in and catches you abruptly in a sentence that would otherwise remain hidden. A wonderful read.

Birds, Art, Life, Death: Kyo Maclear

Rating: 5

If I could, I would rate this 6. A sweet friend in Chennai sent me this book earlier this year, saying in a note that the title and subtitle of this book, ‘The Art of Noticing the Small and Insignificant,’ reminded him of me. “I thought it was written for you,” he said, “because it talks about things that you deeply believe in..” It was one of the touching things anyone has ever done for me and made me feel like my life is not a waste if I have made at least one person think of the ‘right’ things at the ‘right’ moment.

In ‘Birds, Art, Life, Death,’ I felt the writer was talking to me, and I felt I was hugged by words written by a complete stranger, but who seems like the best friend I could ever have. I sat with a highlighter, and there are hardly any pages that I didn’t use it. The book is a memoir of a year that Maclear spent contemplating life. ‘I was a little lost,’ she admits. Aren’t we all? And what a wonderful lostness it is. There is no self-pity, just a gentle awareness, and a wish to understand life, not reject it. In trying to cope with her father’s illness, and the deepening sense of mortality that his old age brings, Maclear sets out to observe, well, birds.

In doing so, she creates on that small canvas the whole of the Universe – profound observations on grief, love, waiting, regrets, questions, and endings. From winter to winter, from December to December, she creates a magical microcosm of life in all its breathtaking beauty. She writes of freedom – ‘that it’s a practice and not a permanent condition.” She talks of how birding helped her embrace the feeling of stillness. “Most of us don’t have time for the malady of stillness.” She asks questions that we all should be asking: What if the pain of not doing something was greater than the pain of doing it? She discovers gently that courage is to be “brave in our persistence.” And finally, she ends with the lessons she learnt from her friend, the musician who showed her the world of birds and who remains unnamed in the book. I came back utterly in love with this observation:

“What he really taught me was that the best teachers are not up on a guru throne, doling out shiny answers. They are there in the muck beside you: stepping forward, falling down, muddling through, deepening and enlivening the questions.”

Read this book, please.

Children’s Literature

The Great Cat Conspiracy: Katie Davies

Rating: 2

Many years ago, in university, I was christened ‘The Cat,’ because everyone in class felt I was the lazy, languid, snarky type. I then christened the friend who gave me that name, ‘Poodle,’ and then later her husband the ‘Panda,’ and her kid as ‘Koala Bear.’ It’s quite a zoo now her family, and we have stuck to those nicknames from then! Since we have an enduring friendship since 2000, my friend, the Poodle, gifted me this book back in 2012. I came upon it while continuing to clear my groaning bookshelf.

‘The Great Cat Conspiracy’ is a simple laugh-along children’s book that deals with adventures and capers. No great philosophy here. Katie Davies merely wants us to have good fun reading the tale of two girls who try to find their lost cat, who is unnamed and is just called ‘The New Cat’. The cat here, much like me, is not very lovable, prone to snapping and snarling and disappearing at convenience. I can understand why my friend gifted me this book, saying, “Read it! It’s all about you!”

Translated Indian Literature

Kalki: Selected Stories

Rating: 3

Last year, my friend bought tons of books on my credit card when she was in India (sigh) – books that I muttered I would not ever read. But as my bookshelf needs space, I glanced at some of those books, thinking that I really need to clear my shelf, and picked up Kalki’s selected short stories.

Having had no idea really of the writer apart from my friend’s gushing praise last year, the stories came to me like tender wisps of dandelions, blown away on the monsoonal wind of Bangalore, each story inventive and evolved in its own way. To truly understand these stories, I would need to understand more of Kalki’s work, but the stories were still easy to read through, except through the end when I struggled with the introduction of some more fantastical or magic-realism elements in the stories.

Young Adult

I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter: Erika L Sanchez

Rating: 4

Finally! That rare YA novel that has some substance! Having started to read a fair bit in this genre, I confess that I am more disappointed by the books here than thrilled by them. I came across this book in a list online that promises better, more inclusive, diverse fiction. Whatever that means. But Erika Sanchez has created in Julia a little bit of a miracle – not the usual, self-absorbed, narcissistic kind of YA heroine – but someone who really seems to be exploring the angst of that age.

Julia’s voice is sarcastic, often filled with anxiety, and struggles to come to terms with the changes in her family following her sister’s death. I chuckled over some of her thoughts because they seemed to mirror my own. There was that mandatory bit of romance, but it wasn’t all starry-eyed oceans that I have read in others – it was more realistic and wasn’t the main part of the novel, anyway.

I did come back with an understanding that so much of Mexican family culture resembles Indian culture! It wasn’t so culturally diverse then because there were times I just felt that this could be the story of every Indian girl out there too.

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