Remember how I said I almost didn’t want to talk about how much I was reading, for fear of jinxing the good streak? Well, I think I kind of manifested just that. Like I mentioned, March had a very scattered energy and our days got a bit packed, unexpectedly. Invariably, this balancing act means letting go of a few things. I gladly let go of the (half-assed)attempts to get back to the gym, and unfortunately had to also go easy on the reading too. TV and movies seemed like the easier thing to go to. But, the last week of the month saw a frenzied sort of reading again, aided by two days spent sitting in the hospital, which is probably all the peace and quiet I needed to resume.
Here’s what I read this month:
Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, Dani Shapiro
This book came to me at just the right time. As I’m making peace with the way in which writing seems to be a part of my life — blurring the lines between work and play — I needed the validation, and the reaffirmation of the inexplicable pleasures and the maddening perils of this life. In Dani Shapiro’s honest, no-nonsense, witty and downright touching memoir about the writing life, I found pieces of myself. Especially in the bits that run over the inevitable self-doubt, the small triumphs, the persistence that the work just demands of anyone who were to delve into it, I saw my own experiences navigating this field the last five years of my life.
This wasn’t just an enjoyable read. It was a read that gave me a deep, deep sense of peace and satisfaction. I don’t want to go into too many details, because this book deserves to be read, rather than be talked about. But I will say this, if you are a writer, (heck, if you’re even indulging remotely in a creative pursuit that requires you to suspend control and give in to the creative force that sometimes surges through you and demands a way out) any kind of writer, Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing is a gift you should give yourself.
In a series of delightfully honest vignettes, she presents not a guide on how t navigate the writing life, but a series of situations and events in her life that will likely be very very similar to your own. Read it for the validation, to know you’re not alone, and to fully realise just how special it is to have the opportunity to step into this role — to choose a creative path and see where it takes you.
I devoured this book, dipping into it late into the night and reading it every chance I got. (Dani has very quickly become one of those authors whose every single work I now want to read.)
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
At first, I found Little Fires Everywhere kind of slow in an over-indulgent sort of way. But I ignored the urge to be easily-distracted and persisted. Glad I did, because half way in, I realised that is a very deliberate style Ng employs towards a gradual but definitely-catastrophic climax. It’s the sort of slow, painful build-up towards the an inevitable tragedy you see coming, and you feel torn between speeding up to the end and tossing it over because it’s too painful to read.
Celeste Ng’s skill lies in her nuanced character-building. Detailed back-stories, elaborate descriptions, layered situations and a story arc that stacks up like lego blocks that must tumble in the end, this was such a read that required me to complete sink into it. Which is probably why, given how scattered this month has been and how little time I had to allow that kind of absorbed reading, it took me a while to finish.
Set in the 90s in America, the story touches on the intricacies of tightly-knit families, exploring in delicious detail the role of motherhood — fraught with angst, jealousy, pride and honour. It deftly exposes the many kinds of motherhood there can be, plainly showing how it isn’t always as glorious a role as it is made out to be. That it is in fact one of the hardest, toughest things women will ever do. And yet, will never be perfect at it. Highly recommend it.
This was a timely, poignant read for this time in my life.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, Roxane Gay
I have read and loved Roxane Gay’s powerful writing before (especially loved Bad Feminist), but with Hunger I have become an ardent and most dedicated fangirl. I will give anything to be able to witness her speaking, it’s become a life-goal now.
I feel like Roxane Gay should be essential reading for men and women everywhere, for her succinct, balanced and very hard-to-debate views on cultural mores and the way they stereotype and shape our evolution as a patriarchal society. If you’ve read any of her writing, even online, this is a given. But with Hunger, she blows the lid off the can and brings out a raw, gritty, no-holds-barred memoir of what she cals her unruly body. But in doing so, she touches on so many big and small issues around the subject of how we look at, judge and accept women’s bodies. And she gently traverses topics as diverse as reality television, food corporations, pop culture, her own Haitian heritage, sexual violence and so many little connections you wouldn’t otherwise make, while doing so.
Before I began, I read a review on Goodreads that claimed this book is Roxane Gay basically blaming all her issue son the world, and I thought to myself — that doesn’t sound at all like something she would do. This was happily confirmed in the plain no-vanilla, beautiful style that is Gay’s. This isn’t a book that asks you to feel sorry for her. It is simply a telling of things as they are, as they have been, of life as it has come to her.
Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.
It’s a deeply moving story though, and had me in tears in some parts, choked up with a knot in my stomach in others, wincing in pseudo-pain knees tightly clenched, in some others. So raw and real is her writing, and so relatable is so much of what she says, that I found myself in so so so many pages.
It’s a book that left me feeling gratitude and respect for my body. And deep shame and regret for the trauma we as a culture put that same body through.
This is a must, must read.
What I Know For Sure, Oprah Winfrey
I love Oprah. And I really wanted to love this book. But. I just. Couldn’t.
This is just a collection of many What-I-Know-For-Sure columns she’s penned for O Mag over the last many years. Which, upon reading, I realise is a very, very lazy way of creating a book out of content that seems like it has potential. The thing is reading a column is a very different kind of experience from reading a book. I can pass off and even agree with many of the feel-good, simple truths in a column because of the expectations I come with, and the format. But in a book? I want something more. Especially if it’s coming form Oprah. I want more. I don’t want to go away with just glib, superficial new-age babble that honestly just left me feeling very irritated. The way in which it is put together also does her words a disservice because it makes her come off sounding very privileged and out of touch with reality. I actually ended the book thinking she is actually very out of touch with reality, and it’s never nice having someone you admire fall in your eyes.
Two years ago: Day 90: Seeing the sun rise