I’ve barely bought any new books this year. It was one of my resolutions, to try and finish reading the books I’ve hoarded, that line my shelves and weigh down in my hard disk, before I indulge myself some more. At some point last year VC and I looked worriedly at the books we’ve accumulated, pouring out of the book case and decided we had to draw the line. It was really easy to stick to this resolution this year. Mainly because I’ve barely done any major reading. Large chunks of weeks and months passed by with such busy-ness that I didn’t even think about or miss opening a book. But I finally gave in and broke the promise a week ago. And then I broke it again. And again. Three times in one week.
When the cloud over my head didn’t look like it was going to clear, I needed a quick distraction that would consume me. Something to pick me out of it physically and transport me to a different time and place. It felt like the perfect weekend to curl up with nothing more than a book for company. VC has been out on work pretty much non-stop the past 10 days and in an impulsive moment I caved and bought a book. One that has come much recommended, several times over. For no particular reason, I had put buying it off for later, and when I finally hit purchase last weekend I couldn’t have picked a better time.
The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Rebecca Miller
S and R have really sold this book to me and had been on my list forever. R’s reccos usually suit me very well and I’ve noticed we rarely end up having very differing views on books, so when she mentioned it yet again, I thought the time had come, even though it wasn’t top on my list. The book quickly consumed me, with a mystery that unfolds early in the story, which then ties in beautifully with the story of a character who is at first painted to look like the perfect trophy wife for an all too perfect successful man. But much to my delight, and this is what made the book slightly unputdownable, Pippa’s is gently etched out to reveal the multi-faceted, colourful human being she was and somewhere deep down, still is.
If you’ve ever had the feeling like your personality has undergone so much change you sometimes cannot recognise the person you were a decade ago, or you go through the many versions of yourself that you once were to trace just how much you’ve changed, if you look back with a happy-sad sense of nostalgia about just how much your wild side has tamed itself, look at the stupid things you did with a sense of irony, and thank your stars for the way things turned out eventually, you’ll relate to the story. The incidents might vary, but the feelings fleshed out in the book were all too familiar. And while the story goes backwards and forwards it does so without being unwieldy like non-linear plots sometimes tend to be. The storytelling is gentle and takes you in very easily, which explains why I finished the book in under two days. Reading it late into the night, while waiting at the gym for class to begin, in the car at parking lots and pretty much everywhere I went. Kindle FTW, I say.
Wild, Cheryl Strayed
I really wanted to read this book for the simple premise it set: a journey from lost to found, since I’m a sucker for stories of triumph, of overcoming personal tragedies and emerging stronger not just mentally, but physically too. This seemed right up my alley. However, when I started reading, I was a little challenged by the unfamiliarity of the subject. Hiking itself, and the terrain in USA that the story is based in. I didn’t know very much about the Pacific Crest Trail she talked so much about, and the idea of a woman hiking cross country all alone itself was more than a little alien. The beginning reads a little indulgently, with the story going into excruciating details about the trauma in Cheryl’s life that leads to it completely falling apart. I realised later, why this was necessary because this story too goes backwards and forwards, narrating pieces from Cheryl’s backstory, along side her journey along the PCT.
I loved the book. For the story she tells, for the sheer willpower she portrays in embarking and completing this journey on her own — I really began to feel for her like I would a real person, and cheered her on every time I felt her morale fading. For the bravery and grit that goes into taking up a challenge like this — the book made me acutely aware of how I have never faced the kind of trauma Cheryl has, in my own life, so for her to be able to get through it all was commendable and kind of special. There are points where she endures such extreme physical hardships — face to face with bears, rattle snakes, foxes, ice, snow, sleet, stubbed toes, blistered soles, chafed hips — it took the weight of her journey up so many notches. For the vivid detail in which she unwraps her journey, it completely drew me in. I got so engrossed in the book I stopped doing much else for those two days. VC actually asked me if I planned to stop reading at all, at one point. The story traces a predictable path eventually finishing in triumph, but the journey itself tells a story of every incredible high and low, the terror, the pain, the immeasurable ecstasy, the pleasure of winning, the satisfaction of overcoming yourself. It was an absolute joy, this book. I’m glad I finished it in the nick of time, because the movie starring Reese Witherspoon comes out in December this year.
Have to stop to say that at the centre of both Pippa Lee and Wild, is the ghost of the mother-daughter relationship. And I think this is probably why I enjoyed them both even more. Both these books made me think of and miss my mother loads. I’ve had the up and down, wildly colourful growing up years both books portray, and inevitably that means coming to loggerheads with your mother. My mother was never the purist who expected us to do things the “right” way and looked down on the “wrong”. But as I’ve realised in the last decade of my life, no matter how liberal and outgoing an upbringing you have had, its hard to escape giving your mother the bad-cop label. The good part is, you realise this sooner or later and when you do, you rediscover an all new relationship with your mother. One of equals, of friends, of confidantes and you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner!
Confessionally Yours, Jhoomur Bose
I picked this book without too much thought. It showed up on Amazon’s reccos based on what I was looking for, I assume, even though I don’t see any sameness, now that I have read (and not enjoyed) this book. The title itself left me asking, is confessionally a word? If so, should there be a comma after confessionally? If not, what does the title mean? Either I’m too stupid for the book, or the book was titled in a haphazard way, because even after finishing it, I still don’t have a clue about what was so confessional about the book. And I have no idea who the “you” in yours is. No idea. This is a plane-ride read, and I made the mistake of buying it on Amazon, right at the start of a weekend. But having done that, I didn’t want to abandon it. Since it was a fluffly, rather mindless read, it was easy to stick and finish it, but it really left me wondering what that was all about.
I could say I think it is about Polly Sharma’s sorry little life. At work — a media house where she is a junior journalist of some sort, being pushed around by one and all. At home — at the receiving end of a frigid, arranged marriage; and a pesky trouble-making mother in law. That should give you an indication of how rife with cliches the story is. But I am really not sure if this is all the book was about, because there are a lot of exaggerated side plots, the connection to the blogger Polly is investigating for a story, the house help and her abortion issues, the risque (and unreal) lifestyles of people at the media house, the husbands ex-lover — too much happened, and it didn’t lead to a logical end. I couldn’t be mad at myself either, because I picked the book without giving it much thought. Thankfully it was a breezy read, and I finished it in under a day and moved on to better things in life. Like Kitchen Confidential. Small mercies big, bad books sometimes present.
I’m now reading Kitchen Confidential which is a delight as it was the last time I read it. But just so much better. I realised I’ve forgotten so many fabulous bits of the book. possibly because I wasn’t big on food when I last read it. I probably just read it like I would any other memoir. But this time around, I find myself stopping to chuckle, to gasp at the names, the brands, the books, the instances he quotes. I seem to be getting through it a lot faster than the last time too. After the brainlessness of the last book, this is such a refreshingly real and entertaining read.
Turns out, fabulous things happen when I stay offline. Its been a week of limited screen time. I didn’t plan it that way. It’s just that work showed up, I decided to read, it was a peaceful week and I ended up staying offline a lot. For someone who reads very slowly, requiring hours of uninterrupted reading in order to finish anything, I finished these books in record time. I devoured them hungrily, purchasing the next one almost as soon as I’d shut the cover on the previous one. It helped that a large part of the week was spent alone. And a majority of it horizontally with iPad in hand. I want to say good things happen when I’m not looking at a screen, btu that would be a lie. Times like this, I love reading off a screen. The book/s reach you in seconds. You don’t have to worry about stashing/lugging them around. You can read in bed even under the covers and still turn pages easily. You can read in the dark, which is possibly the best thing to happen to me because one of my biggest peeves is getting out of bed to turn out the light when I’m done reading. Oh and also, you don’t need to think about making a new book case.
Okay, unintended sales pitch done.