Happy to report that I’m finally working through my Goodreads want-to-read list, rather than hungrily adding more books to it. And even more pleased that it’s been high on the fiction side of things. Well begun is half done?
It definitely helps that every book I read this past month pleased me in a deep, deep way. This was a delicious way to slip back into regular, frequent reading because god knows I needed the kind of thrill that this months books gave me, grabbing entire days and locking me into a stronghold of words and lines and stories that cut through and hit a spot so deep. The bliss of surrendering to an overpoweringly well written book, the sheer liberation of stopping to laugh out loud in real life at mere words scrawled on a page, the all-consuming hunger of wanting to chow down page after page because you just can’t get enough — just some of the things I experienced this past month.
In addition, and because the existing struggle to keep habits up isn’t already enough, I’ve decided to give keeping a book of books a shot. Because, I’m a sucker for lists. Because it aligns perfectly with what is fast turning into a proper mission to go analogue as far as possible. (I’m still updating my Goodreads though. Small steps, Small steps!). And because so far I’ve enjoyed the process of immediately reflecting on what I love/hate/enjoy/dislike about the book, and recording my immediate feelings on completing a book.
So here’s what I read:
I’ll Give You The Sun, Jandy Nelson
I’m putting this up top even though it was the last book I read because that’s how much I enjoyed it. I know it’s just January, but I also already know this one is going to be one of the best, if not the best, books I will read this year because, OMGGGGG.
I actually don’t have the capacity to put down in words what this book did for me. It’s a simple book on the surface, really. But OMGG, the number of layers, and stories within stories, and little jewels snuck into every little nook and cranny within the story — absolutely spellbinding craft!
This YA story is about a set of twins, told in two timelines — one through the eyes of Noah when he is 13 years old and another through the eyes of Jude, his twin sister when she is 16 years old. The story starts off talking about how they’re inseparable, and progresses to paint a picture about how the difficulties of their teenage years, and the different circumstances in their lives coupled with their inherently wildly differing personalities drive them apart. The two timelines build in parallel, telling what feels like only one half of the story each, pointing to the obvious culmination of them uniting once again.
Multiple side plots that are very obviously going somewhere, lots of unanswered questions, some absolutely stunningly picturised, intricate characters add not just pages but serious meat to the story. And it all leaves you gasping for more, more, more. I devoured this book simply because it is one of the most well written, charming, alluring books I’ve set my hands on in years.
At the core of it, it is a story about love, but it is also about belonging, family, friendship, solidarity, loyalty, finding your identity, understanding oneself, reclaiming love for ones parents and so many things that are difficult to put in words, yet Nelson manages it with a flair and elan that few have. The two halves that are building in parallel timelines come crashing together to make a blindingly beautiful whole in the end of the book. The kind that you’re actually sad to finish because you’r almost cheering them on, rooting for them to find their individual victories and go back to being the inseparable twins that they are at the start of the book.
The clincher came towards the end of the book, and I feel like it really turned the book around from a sweet little story to something so deeply profound for me, and it’s a quote I’m going to keep going back to (if you’ve been reading my rambles this year, you’ll know why);
…maybe a person is just made up of a lot of people…Maybe we’re accumulating these new selves all the time. Hauling them in as we make choices, good and bad, as we screw up, step up, lose our minds, find our minds, fall apart, fall in love, as we grieve, grow, retreat from the world, dive into the world, as we make things, as we break things…
Each new self standing on the last one’s shoulders until we’re these wobbly people poles.
About the main plot itself — the love story — it made me want to go back to being a teenager hopelessly, madly in love of the sort that keeps you up at night, defies all logic and makes you feel like you can jump off a cliff and the absolute love of your life will be there to lift you up.
I highly, highly recommend this book. For it’s zany story telling, it’s heartwarming characters, its exquisite craft and refreshing style, and just downright original and surprising plot and theme.
Ravan and Eddie, Kiran Nagarkar
I’ve had this book for the last six months but only read it now. Silly really considering how I was looking high and low for a recommendation for a fun fictional read, while it was sitting right under my nose all along. I should have known it would be a good read, because my friend D recommended it so highly. I think i just forgot about it soon after I got a hold of it.
Anyhow, this is a howlarious tale set in Bombay in the 1950s, focusing on the lives of Ravan, a Maratha Hindu, and Eddie, a Catholic, who live in the CWD Chawl #17. Tracing their lives as they navigate puberty amidst the cacophony of life in a chawl, interspersed with ongoing political and social issues of the time, makes for one hell of an entertaining and seriously funny, yet poignant story. It’s a short book, but really packs a punch in terms of how wide it goes from being rib-ticklingly funny in parts, to so deep and almost prophetic in other parts, and how deep it goes into granular details about every little aspect of life in the chawl, in Bombay in the 50s, of the religious milieu and the social fabric of the time.
Set against a backdrop of Post-Colonial Bombay, Nagarkar finds a canvas thick with issues to explore and he does it with such dexterity. Every now and then, he throws in an essay, which makes for multiple welcome interjections from the mad, mad, mad story of Ravan and Eddie, by bringing in interesting depictions, descriptions and discussions about the socio-political, socio-economic and cultural realities of the time, when Bombay and India as a whole was rebuilding it’s identity itself.
Kiran Nagarkar is new to me, and I am now full of respect and awe for his craft and completely refreshing skill as a novelist. I so highly recommend this one.
Eleanor Oliphant is Absolutely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Okay, I have to be honest — I didn’t love this one at the outset. And that really surprised and upset me considering how highly recommended it came. I was given to believe it was the story of a female Ove. And maybe it was. But only so slightly — in that it is the tale of a socially inept, brutally honest, very lonely human being. Somehow when I read Ove, I felt like I could identify with a senior citizen being all those things, much more than when I read Eleanor and had to keep reminding myself that she’s just over 30!
So no, we didn’t get off to a good start. Something just didn’t fit. And the staccato style that built a lot of suspense indicating to various possible events in Eleanor’s past that perhaps contributed to her being the person she is, but never really gave explanations, made me very uneasy. I lost interest around the 40% mark, but ploughed through because, FOMO. Happily though, I realised the book makes a rapid turn around the 60% mark when suddenly things begin to fall into place. This lends a lot of pace and meat to the book which until then was just plodding along over a framework of half-told stories.
By then end, I did enjoy the book and it makes for a good quick light read, but I can’t say I loved it or that it will be top of mind when I’m recommending a book to someone.
The War of Art, Steven Pressfield
The strap on this book — Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles — is what compelled me to pick it up. It’s a short, breezy read for anyone looking to understand the workings of any creative process, or is in the midst of building a creative practice for themselves. It mainly deals with the concept of “resistance” being the only opposing force to all creative pursuits, but deals with the many forms that resistance takes, ranging from procrastination to imposter syndrome to laziness, to monotony, to fear. It was hyper-real, and a bit like going into my own mind. As it will be, I’m very sure, for anyone else who reads it. To that end, it was insightful and reading it was a bit like holding up a mirror to my own mind, while also realising what I sometimes go through is not new or unique.
It often feels like being a writer is lonely, not just physically, but emotionally too. This is true of the practice of all art forms I’m told, but being in the present has a way of turning everyday internal battles into insurmountable and unique problems. So reading a book like this every so often helps to cut the crap and come down to reality. It’s a bit like swallowing a big reality check pill.
That said, it wasn’t a compelling or enthralling read that offered me any deep insights or new tricks on how to work my way through this. It was a lot of common sense, buried under layers of explanatory writing, which I found belaboured the very simple premise — resistance hampers long-term success so recognise it and work around it.
I’m thrilled at how much I managed to read despite a rather busy month full of all kinds of activities. But I also know what specific changes in my life have allowed me to made the space and carving out that time for reading, rather than relegate it to the empty pockets of weekends and bedtime. I’d like to think this has made all the difference.
I hope to sustain some kind of pace this year, and I hope that these deliberate changes will help me go there. It is always good to hit upon more than two enjoyable books, back-to-back. I’ll call it a lucky streak, and I hope some of it continues to percolate through the year too.
I’m also thrilled to see where my Book of Book goes! I’ll be sure to keep talking about what it does for me.
What have you been reading since the start of the year?