August is Baroness P.D. James’ birthday month, her 100th birthday no less, and I took it as a sign from the universe to start at the beginning. I read a delightful autobiographical short from her childhood published in honour of her birth centenary, and that is how I ended up reading Cover Her Face. Also, gloomy monsoons, the sound of rain thundering outside while we are at home (most of us are thanks to the pandemic, right?) and murder go quite well together, no?
The title (I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point out the obvious) seems eerily apt for our times! I was plunged into a different world (the story did appear dated but it was true to its time) and a simple murder mystery by today’s standards but the people in it were far from simple. I really appreciated the psychological insight into well fleshed out characters, and of course, the leisurely pace. I was impressed by her sense of humour and her scathing social observation. She’s a Jane Austen fan, and I could see that in her writing.
I listened to her interviews where she spoke about writing Cover Her Face which was published in 1962. I am one of those people who are always interested in the artist behind the art, in the life of the author beyond the book. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, it’s just the way I am. And I can’t say it doesn’t colour my perception but I try to be impartial to the written word.
I found Midnight by Jacqueline Wilson in the book fair and promptly grabbed it. The book was on my list of books (and author) to explore though I am well past the age the book is intended for. What can I say my inner child/teen continues to live on. I have a few other books by her too but this was the one that beckoned me. You know how it is. Some books you have had for ages but they sit on shelves for eons before they get read and a new book catches your eye and gets instantly picked up (I can almost hear all the old books grumble at the newcomer who made it with the least sweat. Unfair life is even books know that!). I can never understand how the timing works. I guess our subconscious knows what it wants at a certain point in life and goes for it.
Violet is naive (annoyingly so!) for a 13 year old. The book was published in 2003 and that’s got something to do with it, I think. It was the time when cellphones weren’t ubiquitous yet and people still wrote letters to authors instead of stalking them or talking about/to them online. Violet adores reclusive author Casper Dream, the author of the beautifully illustrated fairy books and writes to him regularly. She loves the fictitious universe created by him. She draws inspiration from his books and sews fairy dolls. As you can see she isn’t your boisterous teen but quiet and artistic. Midnight offers interesting insights into the mind of a writer and on creating imaginary worlds which appealed to me greatly.
Violet has two ‘friends’ but she can’t identify with them. Whereas her brother Will is good looking and the entire school thinks he is cool. She looks up to him and adores him in spite of his snide comments and rudeness. Violet and Will are only a few years apart. It is apparent he cares for Violet but he never let’s a chance to take the Mickey out of her go.
Their father doesn’t like Will’s choices, and he in turn is constantly at loggerheads with him. We see Will after he knows a distrubing secret so there could be something to Will’s recklessness. Will is an intriguing character but I was always wary of him. Their mother is a docile woman and allows her husband to run roughshod over her. He’s taken for granted that his wife will do her job, regardless of how he treats her.
Violet’s life changes when the new girl in the school, Jasmine, who cares two hoots about fitting in, takes a shine to her. She cannot believe her luck. She adores everything about Jasmine – her spirit, her house and her family. Best friends fall in love with each other. It is an intense little place and I know that space well. Violet is an oddball whereas Jasmine is a popular kid. Is Jasmine truly her friend or something else is going on?
As I read I felt uneasy about certain things and I can hazard a guess as to how my teenage self would have reacted. The writing is good and the author is magnificent at building an atmosphere. Though at the heart of the story is Violet, a girl obsessed with fairies and fairy stories and the author who writes them, it’s not for younger readers. People expecting fantasy would be disappointed. This is as real as it gets for the intended age group! I thought it was clever how subtly the author showed bitter realities of the world which won’t affect younger readers but older readers will see it for what it is.
I like the quirky illustrations by Nick Sharratt which match the dark tone of the book.
“In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life.” – Oliver Sacks
What does a disease do to you? It changes your body and attacks your energy reserves. It changes your psychological makeup, changing forever who you are (or who you were meant to become). The landscape is forever altered. It is foolhardy to think that it’s possible to go back to being the person you once were. And with time you realize, like with everything in life, you have to do the best with what you have got (left).
During my student days I was interested in the chapter on neurodegenerative disorders and was particularly curious about Alzheimer’s (I wonder if it was because of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black) because of what it does to a person. I had often prided myself on having a great memory, remembering stuff that mattered (obviously I am not talking about textbooks) easily but things change with time.
I had wanted to read Lisa Genova’s Still Alice for a while and I was excited when I found a copy in the book fair last year. I read the author interview at the end of the book but found that I would not be able to handle such a topic then. I couldn’t bring myself to read it sooner fearing what I would find and, more importantly, how the dots would connect.
Losing your mind is a big deal. Memories are integral to how we remember the past, and connect it with the present. It is through the prism of memories we see ourselves and others. Armed with memories we navigate the choppy waters of future certain of at least where we come from, if not who we are. What if the sense of self you have built over years is taken from you suddenly?
Still Alice deals with the struggles of Alice Howland, a brilliant linguistic professor. when her life is torn apart by early onset Alzheimer’s and how she and her family learn to cope with the ravages of the illness – with a person left with a mind, not as sharp as she used to be but deep down still remains the same person. How caregivers deal with the altered circumstances, the ugly reality, the frustration and helplessness at not being able to find a way out from the messy tangles is hard to read about. The ravages of the disease diminishing a person slowly and seeing a much loved person vanish before their very own eyes almost becoming a stranger is heartbreaking.
Time flies. Staying at home for extended periods of time when I was unwell I could feel the passage of seasons, days going by excruciatingly slow, each day with its own set of struggles and now I cannot believe such a large chunk of time has passed. The descent of time?
Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett is a collection of short stories I wanted to reread as soon as I finished the book, and it has taken me nearly two years to do it. I bought The Voyage of Narwhal immediately after finishing it, and recently The Air We Breathe has come into my possession but I still haven’t read them. What am I scared of – her not meeting my exceeded expectations or idiotically trying to collect all her other books (very hard to find in India) while not reading the ones I do have. Life is too short to wait for a complete collection. You read along and hope for the best.
In The English Pupil, Carolus Linnaeus is nostalgic for the past and remembers his apostles (read pupils), who went about the world carrying forward his legacy, sending him specimens and discovering new species. All of his apostles are dead now, and he’s inching closer towards his own.
Linnaeus and his wife remind me of an old couple, who are in the autumn of their lives and are not at peace with it or with each other. (What is the point of companionship then?) His wife doesn’t care about his work or his legacy. His work fulfilled him but didn’t make him rich. The family’s demands weren’t being met and to her that was what mattered the most. She was the pragmatic sort. A dreamer has to be paired with a realist. It is a question of survival, you see. Continue reading “Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil”→
Like a typical Aries one day I was returning after experiencing something practically life altering (to someone else it would be lunacy not path breaking), I decided to take a chance and get wet in the rain. My God it was a scary experience. So much for new experiences. It’s so not true what they show in movies. It’s the opposite. And highly impractical might I add.
It was humid, the clouds were mongering and I was waiting for the bus for what seemed like an eternity. I was so busy writing I missed two buses. I people watched when I felt tired and fatigued (Man watching is the term). Finally got on one when I waved my hands madly and the bus that was moving away screeched to a halt.
Getting wet in the rains is overrated. (God help me if I am ever stuck in the Mumbai rains.) You soil your clothes and shoes, which take forever to dry if you live in a humid place like I do. Cleaning them is a task, and then there is the imminent threat of a raging cold. I felt nothing but tedious. Where was the magic I wondered, when I was dragging myself home.
Rainy season is the least favourite of all the seasons though I love the accompaniments – clouds being formed, the colour of skies darkening and the streaks of lightning, sudden and unexpected. The dreamer in me cannot ever reconcile with the realist that shows up from time to time.
I will never say rain demands to be felt. Big fat drops hitting you with all their might making the short stretch leading home seem like an long endless road. Shudder! Continue reading “Rains Ridiculous”→
Rupa Gulab’s I Kissed a Frog is a cool book and I don’t know why I hadn’t heard about it before. Living under a rock the size of Antarctica isn’t the answer, isolation from fellow bookworms is. Not many book nerds around. Ergo even less bookish discussions because apparently everyone has a life. Sniff. As if I don’t. My idea of living it up is just different from most of y’all.
Never judge a book by its cover or the colour of its cover. Or its title for that matter as it is completely misleading sometimes. I am a woman but I despise “Rani Pink” and no, you cannot change my mind. It took awhile for me to pick it up because of my reservations. I eyed it warily in the book fair many times before picking it up and reading the blurb, then surreptitiously googling. What! I have loads of unread books and no space to keep them. I have been shallow before and bought books because I loved their covers. What will you do? Disown me and banish me from sisterhood? No can do. Once a woman always a woman (or so I have been told).
Google told me that the reverse fairy tales are supposed to funny, so picked it up, and read them first. They subvert stereotypes sure and these modern fairytales, from Rapunzel to Cinderella, were interesting but they didn’t hold my interest. They were too short to make a real impact but I loved the accompanying cartoons. I would like to read them again, preferably out loud to my sister (that is if she can stand my grating voice and is willing to waste precious time) so that we can both have a good laugh.
The stories in the book are divided into three parts – love, friendship and fairytales. As you know I read them in reverse order.
I found Here on Earth in a book fair I shouldn’t have gone to but went and, if gone, I shouldn’t have bought anything which was not on my to-read list, but I did (or so I thought). I saw the cover and it instantly jumped out at me. I looked inside to convince myself to buy it, and off went my resolution. Finding it was accident, serendipity or chance, I don’t know. Neither did I know that I would read it over that weekend abandoning another great nonfiction book I was reading. The name seemed familiar but I couldn’t put my finger on it till I came home. It was on my Goodreads to-read list. To think I had added it three years back and it has landed on my shelf only now, without me ever searching for it makes me want to attribute it to fate but I doubt Fate bothers itself with such puny things. Happenstance more like.
I never thought I would like magical realism, and lyrical prose usually annoys me but this was different. In a way it reminded me of The Last Song of Dusk, a book I had liked but I wasn’t too keen on reading something like that in the near future. But a fair warning, this is not a romance. It is a cautionary tale of doomed love and obsession.
When we are young we believe in so many unrealistic things, like living in a fairytalish world, where everyone gets what they deserve, and every thing works out in the end. Alas, reality isn’t so simple or straightforward. It doesn’t matter if something is fated or not. It’s how we deal with what has happened and what we ultimately do.Here on Earth makes it amply clear.
There was a line in the book, which I cannot find now (I didn’t stop to copy lines until I was near the finish line), about lions and lambs being warm blooded, which chilled me to the bone. They are not as different as the world makes them out to be. Predator and prey are their ecological roles but they belong to the same class (Mammalia). How could I, a student of biology, not have considered this fact before.
Alice Hoffman’s descriptions are otherworldly but felt so real that you want to believe every single word, and hope it doesn’t break your heart but it does. A thing which isn’t real can feel realer than the everyday reality (that we mostly choose not to dwell on). That is the power of fiction written from a honest place; I am surprised every time it shakes me up and makes me see things anew. Continue reading “The characters in Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth”→
“So many books, so little time.” ― Frank Zappa Last week was a literary week for me.Literally. On Monday I attended the Ekamra Book Festival(read book fair) at Janta Maidaan (no clue why such a name was chosen, wait Pragati Maidaan rings a bell)which didn’t have too many stalls(as usual) but it’s absence was more than made up by chatty enthusiastic booksellers (interspersed with morose booksellers who couldn’t give a damn about what book you were looking for),who made informed suggestions and made buying books enjoyable and a second hand book store(the one and only) from where I found these books. And the company of a friend who is also a bibliophile as well as a close friend(a devastating combination-swoon worthy) made it all the more better.
I had gone with a promise to myself that I won’t buy books not on my list (to stop overspending as well as overpopulating my house,more like inundating it with books, as my mother would say pointing an accusing finger at me) and having a friend around helped me keep a check although she did suggest the book on the top by Tagore and I got it.Who can say no to Tagore. And at the bottom is a much loved classic Black Beauty by Anna Sewell translated into Odia. On a/an (un)related note,why are the books we read in school so enduring?
Then the day after I attended a few sessions of the third edition of the Odisha Literary Festival with my friend. I was excited and had been keeping a tab on it since attending it last year.I found some like minded people to discuss stuff as the events were unfolding. Hence it was more fun taking potshots, cracking jokes, forming an admiration society, discussing the merits and demerits of having read an author on the dais, running for a chat with a favourite author, shoving a large crowd to get an autograph or being bored out of our minds and being clueless for not being able to follow the discussion,for that matter.
And as the week was about to end I was reunited with the books I had bought during the course after a long separation(read two months). Those books
made me feel at home. Ebooks could not provide the comfort I craved for (Stephen King’s On Writing was an exception) and until I stepped into the bookstore and let my senses feast on the vast expanse of books in front of me I knew this was what I was missing.
Ladies and gentleman, behold my Delhi book haul (the left pile from Landmark sale and the right pile from National Book Trust’s shop on their premises) minus the books for children which cannot be shown in a pile and the hard bound books,which I had stuffed in my bag so they came home with me. It would seem like a bit too much(my father casually asked how many books I had bought bracing himself to hear the number) but I am going to open a library (unofficially it’s already in action)someday.So it’s an investment (at least that’s what I tell myself and others who question my buying habits) for the (near) future.
All in all a pretty good week for me. I’m already looking forward to the book fair and the literature festival in December. As I told my mother the other day so what if I can’t buy,I can just browse,right? She didn’t look quite convinced and sighed.