It’s been a fantastic few weeks (a month?) of reading for me. I’m usually the person who shelves reading first, when things get busy. And it’s been a busy time with some work suddenly cropping up, travel for work and pleasure and a lot happening even when I was in Bangalore. Somehow though, I seem to have read through it all this time around. Being away twice in a month — a few days off the grid and relaxing completely in Wayanad and a few days off in Goa post our shoot where I mostly devoured books — has definitely helped. Last week especially, I enjoyed the easy way in which I read non stop, slipping easily from one book into the next and finishing it off even before I came back to Bangalore. I’m grateful for the time and the luxury.
Here’s what I’ve read recently.
Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home, Jessica Fechtor
OMG I loved Stir. This is just the kind of food writing that I enjoy. Writing that’s about food at the heart of it, but that deftly, gently and cleverly brings in other elements that make up a life — which in this case is everything from illness (a brain aneurism brings her life crashing down), recovery and Jessica Fechtor’s reclaiming herself and an identity anew, after a colossal personal crisis. In bringing out stories of how food helped her “fix” herself again, she traverses nostalgia, culture, memory yes, but she also taps into nuances I really like to see associated with food. I am so tired of nostalgia being the only portal to access food. So tired of wordy stories about grandmothers and ancestral homes being the predominant narrative, especially because this is mostly what I see across Indian food blogs. It’s what turned me completely off them, in fact.
Stir gripped me and held me agog. It’s the content as much as it is a casual, simplistic yet effortlessly beautiful and deeply engaging style that is telling of Jessicca’s creative inclinations that clearly make her a well-rounded, curious and eager artist.
I ended the book with so much respect for her, and a renewed love for this kind of food writing.
Not That Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”, Lena Dunham
Much has been said and written about this book, and I’ve been late to pick it up. I have been a fan of Lena Dunham’s show, Girls. And even so, over the years the show ran, my opinion about the show and Dunham as a public figure has undergone a change. I wouldn’t call myself a fan anymore. Even so, I decided to give this book a try. And I’m glad I did, because I actually enjoyed most of it.
It made for perfect reading as I spent four hours in a cute little salon in Goa (yes, they got me a beer in a chilled glass and a really good grilled sandwich from the restaurant next door to help pass the time too!) where D and I acted upon a spontaneous whim to colour our hair. A decision that was spurred in part by many thoughts I have been working about — about myself, about beauty, shame, vanity, gender (particularly wondering about my hair and where my desire for short hair came from). And Dunham touches on so many of these aspects in the book.
Not That Kind Of Girl is a collection of personal essays that traverses a variety of things including everything from her body image issues, to her sexual encounters in her 20s, growing up to parents who are artists, friendships in her teens and in adulthood, sexual abuse, and the existential crises one eventually faces in ones 20s. The book has received a lot of flak for being uber privileged, white and lacking in depth and inclusion. It’s true. I’ll even agree it does pain Dunham as quite the self-involved brat. But that said, that is her reality. And to unapologetically tell stories that bring out your privilege is brave, I think.
If you like honest, sometimes sentimental, sometimes sad, sometimes wistful, painfully real personal essays, this one might be worth a read. I can’t say the book changed my perception of Dunham as a public figure. I still have issues with some of the things she has said and done. But I did enjoy the range of essays in this, and I would even give some of them a second read.
Conversations with Friends, Rooney Sally
I really, really enjoyed this one! At the heart of it the book is about two twenty-something girls who are going through life, grabbing at experiences, living it to the hilt. And in the bargain, evolving, changing, allowing everything that happens to them to impact their life in one way or another.
The book is a simple story about two wildly different friends, who connect over somethings but have very vastly different passions and approaches to life. And yet, they each live in a manner that is hugely present, from one moment to the next. Even as they’re making some rather poor choices that land them in problematic situations, I love how Frances and Bobbi take those experiences and learn from them. And how their characters grow from it all.
Barbara the Slut and Other People, Lauren Holmes
This collection of short stories all deal with intimacy and eroticism of one kind or another. But not a single story is a straight forward, simple or expected one. Each with it’s own unique quirk or twist — a shocking absurdity, an awkward fetish, an unexpected sexual truth — which kept me flipping pages even though I can’t say I really loved the book. The stories are interesting, but abrupt and vague at times. None of them had a proper ending, and that left me a bit unsettled. Also, the blurb describes them as “brave” “fearless” and the like, and I didn’t feel like any of them were. They were just different.
The Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi
A gifted me a copy of this book, when we realised that every time that we met, over several hangouts, we would end up talking about coming into our own, outside of the various roles we make ourselves play. Finding our inner true selves, besides the friend, daughter, mother, wife, sister, companion roles that we play. This has been a slow by significant brewing within me, and it’s made me contemplate living alone/apart/by myself for a bit, a dramatic step for someone like me who has never really considered it or even felt like the thought appealed. But of late, the idea has been calling out to me, appealing more and more. This book came at a perfect time. It filled me with so much emotion to read poetry about women finding their own autonomy, shedding skins, facing their fears and finding their feet on new ground. The poems are equal parts bold and soft, fierce and gentle, large and overwhelming yet important. The book was such a visceral read and left me feeling very vulnerable, raw with my feeling bubbling to the surface, and just so cut up and forced to face what’s beneath. And I mean that in an entirely good way.
French Milk, Lucy Kinsley
I picked this book completely unaware that it was an illustrated journal of sorts. And it turned out to be such an absolute delight! It chronicles a journey the author makes to Paris with her mother and all that they experience, in graphic detail. I breezed through it and enjoyed it thoroughly.
The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle
So maybe it’s a bit late in my life to be picking up this seminal book in new age spirituality and self-help. But I had such expectations from it, and it just fell so short. I can’t say I hated it, but it was just too simplistic for me. I suppose that can be attributed to the fact that the core message of living in the now is by no means a new one for me. It has been the subject of my focus and my life for the last few years, and especially given the growth I have experienced in the last one year, this felt too easy-peasy. It didn’t help that the book also felt like the author repeats a set of 3, maybe 4 core points, over and over and over again, which left me with no new insights or takeaways. I’m glad I ticked it off my list, though, and wondered what it might have been like to read it at the start of my own spiritual journey when everything was new and unexplored.
Two years ago: Day 208: It’s always just a silly listicle