The reading habit has really slowed down in recent times. Actually, so has the writing, as you may have noticed. For the first two months of the year it was my preoccupation with work, in the last few weeks it is just this sense of ennui that has wedged itself into my current life. I am at a crossroads of sorts, and choosing a way forward is turning out to be a time consuming, tedious and sometimes emotionally exhausting affair. An older me would have taken to fighting it and immediately swung into action to introduce a sense of movement, and do whatever it takes to speed up the process. But I have recently tasted the real joy of letting things be, like, really be. To make room for a slow unfolding, rather than pressing fast forward to get to the end. If this all sounds zen to you, let me quickly say, it isn’t. Because it means sometimes taking the risk of putting myself in a difficult place, making difficult choices I would otherwise evade, asking myself questions that push me into a vulnerable state of mind, and waiting patiently for the answers to come. Painfully slowly as it sometimes is.
I thought it was the perfect time to allow myself to temporarily switch off, so books seemed like the logical escape. But it’s hard to read with the constant din that is my preoccupied mind. The background chatter, the opinions and counter opinions (all my own) are rarely quiet. So in an attempt to turn the volume down low, slowly, in it’s time, I’ve let things go one by one. Reading too. However, this is what I’ve finished recently:
Girls of Riyadh, Rajaa Alsanea
Another recommendation I picked from Veena Venugopal’s Would You Like Some Bread With That Book, Girls Of Riyadh was pitched as a tell-all about the lives Saudi women, otherwise kept under wraps. Told entirely in a series of anonymous emails penned by one of the women characters, it is the story of four women who hail from a privileged segment of society. And yet, their lives are shrouded in mystery and restrictions galore. In each of their stories, a journey is revealed, one that involves not just travelling out of their home country, but also coming into their own in four very distinct ways. In the bargain nuances of their customs, society, and culture are revealed. That it is told by an “insider” makes it particularly telling. If like me, you expected it to be shocking and borderline depressing, it is not. I didn’t learn too many things I didn’t already know about. So in that sense it didn’t evoke an strong feelings in me.
Things that Can and Cannot Be Said, Arundhati Roy and John Cusack
I have previously devoured Arundhati Roy’s non fiction, particularly her long reads and essays, so the premise of this book which seemed like it allowed me to be a wallflower listening in on a secret meeting between Edward Snoweden, John Cusack and Roy, was deeply fascinating. The central theme is the role of The State, the powers it weilds, the machinery that it has at it’s service, and the ripple effects it has on us as people. Incredibly telling, shocking, and very very relevant — it covers everything fromquestioning what patriotism means in our current context, the role and purpose of a national flag, climate change, war and the downsides of a free market. Though intense in content, it’s a short, quick read.
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
I decided to revisit this book that I have previously only read as a text in literature class. Twice. Once in 11th grade and another time in 1st year of college. I have loved it ever since, and this time was no different. However, I was shocked at how long it took to get through it. Something about reading that style of literature, which is far less descriptive and narrative, but so heavily set in dialogue and intricate character building. It’s also hard to read a book as just a book when you’ve treated it as a text twice over. So I found myself noticing nuances in style, elements of emerging themes, pivotal points in the story arc.
It is of course impossible to miss the obvious strong themes of morality, feminism, sexuality and female agency. But I think I wanted so badly to be able to look at it with fresh eyes as compared to the angsty teen that I was, but maybe I will need to give it another go?
The Smoke is Rising, Mahesh Rao
This gentle, layered, beautifully written book is based in the city of Mysore, perched at the cusp of massive change. In exploring the lives of multiple characters not all intertwined or connected to each other, Rao reveals the nature of India. Quirks and unmistakeable aspects of our plural society, the changing political climate, the two edged sword that is development. It’s the story of a small town about to explode — a story that reads like it could be Bangalore, or Goa. And this is why I enjoyed it so much. Rao’s style is delicious. It’s gentle, coaxes you to peel back the layers, subtle satire, impeccable observation and lovely, narration that reads like it’s as light as air. I loved this and I’m looking forward to reading his next.