I finally decided to just bite the bullet and go the Kindle-way, and I couldn’t have been happier about when I chose to do so, and how quickly Amazon sent me the device, because it came right in time for my break and while I’m hiding away doing absolutely nothing of consequence, I have been guzzling away at some books. I don’t know if the Kindle has anything to do with it, or if this is just my noob excitement of a shiny new toy, but I feel like I am suddenly reading much faster than I did on the iPad or I ever read an actual book. This happens sooner or later, every time I get back to reading again. My pace picks up gradually. But not like this, not from the word go.
Anyhow, this is what I’ve read.
Before, and then After, by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
I’ve been a big MRM’s blog fan ever since her days beginning with her super popular blog. I even loved her first novel. I didn’t much care for Cold Feet, the only other book by her that I’ve read, but the blurb at the back of this book made me want to pick it up. Also, I wanted something light but engaging for the holiday and given my penchant for Indian narratives, I thought it was a good fit. But this collection of short stories did absolutely nothing for me. Maybe I’m missing something very fundamental, but I found the writing to be plain, filled with very safe, cliche stereotypes, predictable situations, characterisation and just didn’t have anything unique to offer or to hook me. It was a breezy read so I stayed and finished it.
Tanya Tania, by Antara Ganguli
When I was done with Before, and then After, I used a tethered connection to browse for something else to read and I didn’t want to risk taking my time or exploring the deeper recesses of Amazon given the rather weak connectivity I had. So I just picked the first of the three recommendations that came up at the end of the previous book. Tanya Tania was one of them and I bought it without even reading the blurb. And I loved, loved it. Written entirely through letters, this is the story of the friendship between Tanya in Mumbai and Tania in Karachi, that builds over a span of 6 years, coinciding perfectly with the rise in extremism in both countries. The girls are dipping their toes into adulthood, experiencing amazing, confusing, exciting changes within and around them, while the two countries two seem to be going about some major changes that have subtle, far-reaching effects seen around them. The stories of the two countries are beautifully woven with their personal stories. It is deeply absorbing, perhaps because of the letter-writing style, and filled with mystery (the girls have never met, and the only thing that brings them together is that their mothers were good friends), poignancy, and has just the right measure of humor and gravitas, peppered with lines that will make you chuckle and some that will make you sit up and think. I devoured it in less than a day, and if Antara Ganguli writes another book, I will definitely pick it up.
Walking Towards Ourselves, by Catriona Mitchell
This is an anthology of essays of the perosnal kind, almost all first-person narratives, of experiences of women in India. And while there may be many books like it, this was a first I read with this kind of diversity. There are stories from women like you and me, Dalit women, women from lower castes writing in regional languages, stories by Bollywood actresses, celebrated feminist/activists, and they deal with numerous issues, in a ratehr diverse, nuanced way. From talking about gender rights to reproductive rights, career choices for women, the politics of how we dress, the colour of our skin, adoption, bringing up children, freedom of expression, sexuality and so so much more. I liked that it gave me a wide view into these perspectives, allowing me to choose and go deep into each of them – diverse and wide as they are. Very relatable, very moving in parts, completely essential reading for someone like me. It had me choked up in parts, especially the story by Salma about her personal fight to be allowed to write and express herself through her poetry, in the face of an oppressive, abusive husband. Reading this book once again made me acutely aware of the privilege I live with, and the excruciating struggles of women before, and around me that have gone into bringing us this far. One can never, ever take that for granted.
The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
I’m late to this party, but if you’ve read Gone Girl and not this one, pull up a chair, sit down and listen. This should have been the first holiday book I read. It was perfect for that kind of mindset. A completely absorbing page-turner, this book kept me on edge, much like Gone Girl did. I just couldn’t end one chapter and close the book, without taking a peek at the next. And so on. This is the story of a, surprise surprise, Girl on the Train, and the lives of a few she sees around her. Then something bad happens, and everything spirals into this massive web of mystery and suspense, that you just have to read to know more about. It is gritty, scary, has so many fucked up characters that leave you guessing all the time and has all the requisite ingredients that make it a traditional thriller. The most intriguing part was the bit about how the story is mostly viewed through the voyeuristic eyes of the Girl. On the train. I’d recommend this if you want a fast, engaging, quick holiday read.
(2 out of these 4 books made me realise I’m such a sucker for voyeurism – haha)