Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Books I read in April

I've started to put up books I'm reading on Instagram, to have an instant record of what I read, and to make it easier to put this post together at the end of each month. Let's see if that works.

April was probably the most books I've read in a month, ever. (I also watched a lot of TV -- Riverdale, which isn't all that great but is entertaining, and The Get Down, which is better and which I watched in a little over two days straight. Yeah, some eleven hours of it. I also caught up on Jane the Virgin.)

Books! Ahem. I have eighteen books this time, which is the same as last time. Only last time's post was for two months, which means I've read twice as many books this month. Let's get to them.

Leila by Prayaag Akbar
I just finished this beautiful, devastating book. It's a dystopia set a few decades ahead in India, and the way things are going right now, this future seems all too possible. It echoed A Handmaid's Tale, though the central conflict here is a mother's search of a lost daughter.

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
It had been a long time since I'd first read this, and I didn't remember much apart from the bare bones. It makes a rather big deal of extramarital sex (Hester hadn't seen her husband for two years! everyone thought he was dead!) but apparently those were the times. As I said on Instagram, the Puritans were stupid. (Also, Hester was a big introvert - that's the only way I can explain the ending and really much of the book.) It's also a rather overly sentimental overwrought book without a lot of nuance, but it's surprisingly intriguing nonetheless. All in all, meh.

The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan
I went into this book of short stories with very high expectations, given all the praise I'd seen. So I was a bit let down at first. The prose is lyrical, and in fact many of the stories seemed to me more poetry than stories, not having much plot or characterisation. There were a few I really liked though, and Manivannan can doubtless write beautifully.

Women at War by Vera Hildebrand
A meticulously researched account of the all-women Rani of Jhansi regiment in Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. A bit dry: read it for the facts, not for the prose.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
One of the most beautiful books I have read recently. A young adult novel that doesn't shy away from the realities of being a black teenager in America. Apparently it's inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. If there's one book I would recommend from this list, it's this one.

Rebels Like Us by Liz Reinhart
Similar themes as The Hate U Give -- teenagers, high school, racism, romance. But it's heavier on the teenage girl friendships and romances, and lighter on the activism. The racism is real and present and appalling, but there's less violence and trauma.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
I reread this and found it still beautiful, still relevant. Many of us upper class and upper middle class women still don't have money or a room (office/study) of our own to make art in, let alone less privileged women.

Orientalism by Edward Said
I had read of Said's ideas filtered down through different channels: it was time to go to the source. So much that still applies, so much that still rings true -- and has even gotten worse perhaps, with the West (and not just the West) becoming increasingly close-minded towards Muslims. I realised that Said's criticism about how the West views the Oriental/Arab is similar to how Indian Hindus view Muslims also.

The Diary of a Social Butterfly and The Return of the Butterfly by Moni Mohsin
A fictional journal of a rich socialite in Lahore, who is the Marie Antoinette of our times. Often searing and funny to the point of despair. You'll laugh till you cry. These two books helped me pass two awful days when I was ill in bed.

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta
Terrorism, racism, parenting, teenage angst, family, romance, crime and a thrilling finale -- this novel has it all. Why someone hasn't made a (good) movie of this yet, I have no idea. Highly recommend it.

Vicious by V.E. Schwab
A reimagining of Frankenstein. Anti-heroes and grey heroes. A young girl hero. Crime and compromised cops. A thrilling novel with a perhaps too pat ending and easy tying up of threads.

A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
I loved the first novel in this series. The second, as the second of a trilogy tends to be, is a massive setup for the third, and ends on a cliffhanger. There's magic and young heroes and romance and royalty and parallel worlds. There's a heroine who is a thief and a pirate and the bravest person you ever saw. I'm saving the third book for a bad day when all I can do is read.

Brilliant, Lucky, and Gorgeous by Rachel Vail
I discovered Rachel Vail recently through a friend and obviously loved her, since I read everything I could lay my hands on. Young adult books are what I read when life is difficult and I need to get through the day. I find them engrossing, though they dredge up old teenage emotions, and I often cry through them. I especially loved Brilliant in this series, and Gorgeous was good too. The heroine of Lucky I found more self-indulgent and boring.

Well, That was Awkward by Rachel Vail
A beautiful tale of friendship and romance and coming of age. This is my favourite Rachel Vail so far.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Books I Read in February and March

I not only didn't post the Feb list, I even forgot to keep notes on what I've read. So this is going to be an incomplete list. Also, a lot of the reading I did was for the English literature course I'm taking. I've put off posting this forever, so I'm only doing really brief impressions instead of paragraph-long ones. 18 books in two months.

Plays

Tara by Mahesh Dattani
About a girl who's discriminated against by her family, and narrated by her twin brother who carries that guilt, this play was more nuanced and interesting than I'd expected from the description.

The Hairy Ape by Eugene O'Neill
Ugh. The white working class man is the worst victim ever. Women are upper class and bitchy and weirdly delicate, fainting at the sight of hairy sweaty topless men who work. 

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
I'd always loved Miller, but my favorites are All My Sons and The Crucible; Salesman, I've always felt, is less nuanced and interesting. I am older now, and have more sympathy, and recognised and appreciated the "capitalism is bad" bits, but the cardboard cutout of the devoted wife annoys me.

Rereads

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
I found this much more grownup and difficult than I had remembered. I'd read it just as an adventure story earlier and found it less fun than Tom Sawyer (don't judge me) and more boring. This time I read it carefully, and read about it, and wow. If Twain was going for satire, the end is brilliant, though I found it painful to read through - but I suppose it is about making us uncomfortable. (A couple of links if you're interested.)

The Great Gatsby by Scott Fitzgerald
I had dismissed the book the first time I'd read it as frivolous and sexist. It is both those things, but this time I appreciated the beauty of the language and the tightness of the plot. Still totally misogynistic and classist, though. (I really liked this scathing piece.)

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
I was less traumatised by this novel this time around, and enjoyed it even more. I didn't even mind the ending, which I'd earlier felt betrayed by as a cop out.

The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
I've become a more careful and kind reader. My impression of this book was that it was boring and very boy-centric; this time I was less dismissive and more appreciative. I can understand the appeal to teenage geeky boys, but it's not something that speaks to me, or was ever meant for me. The writing is also a bit ineffective, maybe? It's not clear how smart the protagonist is (he seems really stupid sometimes, and I don't get whether we're supposed to agree with everything he thinks or not), and we never see anyone else's PoV.

Non-Fiction

Sexual Politics by Kate Millett
Brilliant. An incisive look at sexuality and misogyny in literature and society. Trigger warning: some of it, especially the opening chapters, is difficult to read because of the long excerpts from misogynist books, including graphic descriptions of rape and violence.

The Cambridge Introduction to Scott Fitzgerald 
by Kirk Curnutt

This was interesting, especially if you're a fan of Fitzgerald. If not, don't bother.


Other Classics

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dresier
For a nineteenth century novel, this was surprisingly liberal and feminist. The protagonist leaves her lower middle class family to find herself in the growing city of Chicago, and immediately "loses herself" (that is, her chastity). The novel foreshadows deep doom for her, which never materialises. What's waiting for her at the end of the novel is (spoiler warning!) independence and success, while she rejects the lover who had patronised her and the one who had abducted her kills himself in poverty and despair.

Kanthapura by Raja Rao
There are so many brilliant Indian authors I hadn't read. I was afraid this book would be stodgy and boring; it definitely wasn't. The most wonderful thing about it was the narratorial voice: the old conservative grandmother telling a tale about the struggle against colonialism and casteism shaking up her little village, and the courage the villagers found.


Fantasy and YA

The Gameworld Trilogy by Samit Basu
For some reason, I'd only read the first of these years ago, and I knew I had to remedy this. I enjoyed it even more this time around, because I've read more of the fiction it's referencing and satirising and mocking. It's delicious, especially the first and second books, and Basu is laugh-out-loud funny. I need to find more of his work.

Unfriended by Rachel Vail
One reason I love young adult books is that they are so hormonal. Full of angst and emotion: reminds me of my passionate teenage feels without the despair. This one is typical and very good.

Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller
A seventeen year old girl who is a pirate captain, and allows herself to be captured by an enemy ship because she wants to spy on them. Our heroine is much fun, even without her magical abilities.

First Class Murder and Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens
Love this series; will read every book. (I don't think they'll hold up that well on a reread somehow, but they are really fun schoolgirls-solving-murder books.)

Monday, February 06, 2017

Attending the Jaipur Lit Fest

Some self promotion, for those of you who are not on Twitter. I made it to the Jaipur Lit Fest for two days--I was supposed to go for four, but had some misadventures. I wrote about it for Women's Web.

I attended the mansplaining and manels session which had Suhel Seth (just to troll us, I suspect):
Suhel Seth was asked a question on the HeForShe campaign and said, “I have no opinion.” Everyone wishes he would say that to all questions. (“Do you want sugar in your tea?” “I have no opinion.”)
I interviewed Ruchira Gupta on her work towards ending human trafficking, her views on the feminist movement, and on building a feminist workplace:
We have tried to have over-representation of women in our organisation, so more women are employed than men. We have also tried to feminise the workplace itself; in most of the offices there’s a bed with nice colourful rugs and cushions, so that women can bring their children and children can play there. Our work hours have become more flexible based on the needs of the women working there.
And my most personal piece, about listening to women:
Almost everyone I met or talked to at any depth (barring volunteers, service workers, and so on) was a woman. Most of the people I heard from on stage were women (not that there were more women speakers — on the festival website, I counted around 130 women and over 200 men, including six men called David). But I was amazed at the number of feminist voices around me.
Women warn women about skeevy men. There are things you don’t say in a larger audience, but are murmured to each other when women meet. Men of power and privilege who are sexual predators. Women warn each other with stories: this happened to a friend.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Books I read in late December and in January


I took a month long holiday in Jan and traveled to four states. (It was more sedentary than it sounds: I focused on people rather than places and didn't travel a lot within the states. But it was an amazing break.) Pictures, if you are interested, are on Instagram.

Anyway, reading. Since I was staying at friends' and family's homes, most of these books were borrowed. (Very grateful for my friends' well-stocked libraries.) I read a lot, so am categorizing the books into literary, romance, and children/YA.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Books I read in November and half of December

I meant to do this in early December, I did. And here we are and it's Christmas week. So I might as well do this now and do the next one early Feb.

It's a tiny bit embarrassing how much of my reading is romance, even though I say it's not my favorite genre. Nice to have found out something about myself. Also, I read less in November but I'm beginning to cover up for it now.

Clear Light of Day by Anita Desai
I hadn't read any Anita Desai except the Village by the Sea when I was in college, and the last few pages of that book were missing (I still remember my disappointment). This book did not disappoint me, meandering around the lives of a family, going to unexpected and still familiar places. Our two protagonists and point of view characters are Tara, the younger sister, the baby of the family who was supplanted by the arrival of their brother. Who was unambitious and only craved a normal life, which she got and seems vaguely dissatisfied with. And Bimla, the older sister, friend and closest companion of awe-inspiring older brother Raja. Raja declares he wants to be a hero when he grows up; Bimla promptly follows suit. Tara says she wants to be a mother, and invites the others' ridicule. Yet as her aunt consoles her, Tara is the one who gets what she wants most unambiguously. Though I found Bimla pretty damn heroic in her determined singledom, her stubbornness, her fierce protectiveness of her family.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I had started this a few years ago, but I was depressed at the time and couldn't somehow get on with it. Thankfully I kept the book, and this time I was pulled in by its power. The book is an uncompromising attack on beauty standards and racism, especially internalized racism. It's a feminist look at how young girls are stripped of their self-esteem and victimized. And all of this in Morrison's beautifully poetic language.

Just William by Richmal Crompton
I heard of the William series on Twitter a few days ago, and was skeptical. How can a British schoolboy be anything but annoying? But this book was actually great fun. William is like an older British version of Dennis the Menace -- only more interesting. And it's free for the Kindle, so try it out.

Coolie by Mulk Raj Anand
This is a longer novel than Untouchable, following a young boy who is sent off to town to work, and moves from one job to another. It's more of a story, and reads a bit like the episodic sagas of Dickens. But I found Untouchable the stronger story, maybe because I really liked the protagonist Bakha, and he seemed a fully realized, interesting character. Munoo remained a bit elusive for me, even though I spent more pages with him.

Hold Me by Courtney Milan
Milan's latest novel is probably her best so far.  We have an Asian American hero, a Hispanic heroine, and a sensitive portrayal of trans people. But most importantly, we have a hero who is interesting and flawed and good. The heroine is as awesome as all of Milan's heroines -- rather more so.

The Dagger in the Desk by Jonathan Stroud
This short story is part of the Lockwood series and is available free on the Kindle. It's just an episode where Lucy and her companions go ghost-busting, and is a fun, light read.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Things to do when the world seems especially scary

Hide from the world. Opportunely be sick through the apocalypse, so you are behind on the horrifying news, and have less energy to care about impending doom. Take your time getting better, watch lots of Gilmore Girls and Elementary and Jane the Virgin.

Spend time with friends. Argue and try to make sense of the world that has stopped making sense. Or just breathe in each other's company. Do something together and be glad that you have this. That you are not alone.

Have sex. Masturbate. Revel in your imperfect body. Derive pleasure that is forbidden to those incapable of understanding consent or love.

Read. Read think pieces, read how things went wrong, read how bad they are going to get. Face your fears. Hold them in your hand and look at them. But also read the funny stuff. The jokes that maybe aren't so funny, the ones that make light of serious business. The enemy is too scary to laugh at, but we can still laugh at ourselves.

Build solidarity. Learn about how it's affecting others, even if due to a combination of laziness, illness, and selfishness, you do this mostly by reading online. Shake off your usual curmudgeonliness to ask your household help if she has enough money and food to get by. Give her the one Rs 100 note you had (with a 500 and the promise of more soon as you can get some) and rummage through your packed food to find stuff she can use. At the ATM, after you and your partner finally get some cash, offer some to a woman standing in line with you whose card didn't work. She refuses, and you continue to worry about her. You feel guilty again for your luck and privilege.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Gilmore Girls is the only show I’ve ever wanted to live in

(Minor spoilers for the first four seasons)

I didn’t watch Gilmore Girls back when it first aired. I remember watching a few scenes back when I had a TV (some six years ago), but I found it a bit boring and never got hooked. But it kept popping up as a pop culture reference. A few weeks ago, after the umpteenth tweet by people whose judgement I respect, I decided to give it a try. 

I started at the beginning, and have been binge watching my way through (season 4 episode 18, so you know not to spoil me). And while the show still gets boring at times (I don’t bother to hit pause when I get up to get food or do the laundry), it is probably the nicest thing I’ve watched on TV, in a long time. (Jessica Jones was the best, but I wouldn’t call it nice.)

It’s boring enough that I don’t obsess over it. But when I’ve had a bad day at work or I’m sick, it’s perfect. (Boring might be unfair: but there are lots of episodes when nothing much happens, just like life! Lots of times when the main characters are being even more self-absorbed than usual, and you don’t care that poor Rory might actually not be the best in her class for a few episodes!) 

I usually don’t bother to read about the show either (compared to when I was watching the Good Wife, and would obsessively read everything I could find about it), but did read a couple of recaps recently, and the reviewer said something about how the Gilmore girls don’t treat their men well: that is, Luke and Dean. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Books I read in October (and the last week of September)

This month had a vacation, so I got lots of reading done. Much of it was frivolous.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

A Harry Potteresque fantasy but with more interesting protagonists (gasp, my blasphemy!) A school of magic, a "chosen" hero, a supervillain, a rival in school, a smart girl best friend, a love interest that slowly devolves into a love triangle, it's got it all. A thousand times more fun than the Cursed Child.

Lockwood and Co.: Four books in the series by Jonathan Stroud

Another fantasy YA series by this author, this one lacks the brilliance and depth -- particularly the class consciousness and social commentary -- of Bartimaeus. However, it's a fun set of books. Our very young protagonist, Lucy, and her team (Lockwood and George; the three of them form the firm Lockwood and Co.) find and eliminate ghosts. The characterisation is a bit lazy (Lucy is Kitty from Bartimaeus, Lockwood is a nicer Nathaniel -- or Nathaniel who had a loving family and is therefore less screwed up, George and another character make up Bartimaeus), and there seems to be little personal growth: the main characters behave and speak much the same as they did in the first book (even though they were tweens in the first book and should have changed a lot by now). But hey, girl who fights ghosts and has no personal demons (these belong to the eponymous Lockwood), fights with swords, and is brilliant at what she does. Also, as the series is for children, the ghosts aren't scary (I can't read actual horror). If you are interested, start with the first book.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

The announcement of Roy's second novel and some related tweets praising this one made me want to reread it. This time (my fourth read, probably), I really slowed down (I read really fast and often skim through and miss stuff). This time, I noticed how outrightly feminist the novel is. I also noticed how very fatphobic and generally appearance-focused it is. Good people are beautiful. Bad people are ugly. It's actually that simplistic. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The atheist at the festival

What's the etiquette around being an atheist during Diwali or Durga Puja or any of the big Indian festivals? How do you handle it?

I'm not friendly with the neighbours and have no family around who would want me to visit or do something special on a festival. But there's so much minor stuff to deal with, so many ways in which you always feel like an outsider, whether you're an atheist or a religious minority (I assume). Like having to refuse prasad when a kind colleague offers it (I have dietary issues and need to be extremely careful what I put in my mouth). Or wondering if you should dress up in Indian clothes because everyone else is or dress extra casual, just to signal you're not celebrating?

We always stay home, never visit family during the season. We don't want to participate in the rituals, and it would be rude and awkward to be there but refuse to participate. (I have once or twice made an exception for Bihu, because the few God-worship-type rituals around it are easy to avoid: Bihu is mostly about eating and meeting family and buying or gifting clothes.)

In any case, that doesn't matter because if I'm in Mumbai, no one else around me celebrates Bihu, and the two of us aren't home alone wondering if there's something better we should be doing. Even reading or watching TV is difficult because of the noise (I'm not sure which is worse: Diwali crackers or Navratri music).

I have more or less solved Diwali by staying home, lighting candles, and sitting in the balcony for a while to watch others blow up their money in fireworks. (Hey, as long as we can't avoid the pollution and noise and exploitation of workers, might as well enjoy the pretty.)

But sometimes, I wish we had more people to do this with. I think of families gathering and then snuggle closer to my one-person family. Even friends are all too busy with their families at this time. So I guess we'll just go in, turn on Netflix with the volume way up, and decide to make plans with our friends soon, once they are free.

Or maybe this year we could go to Marine Drive and watch the fireworks from there. I've heard it's beautiful.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Friendship, Writing, and #inktober

I can't draw to save my life. Or that's what I always used to say. I always wished I could draw, even a little bit, and I look at people's sketches and water colors on social media with wonder, and wish someone would gift me one.

Now I've finally decided I'm going to try. I'll be bad at it, but who cares. I don't want to be an artist, I just want to have fun.

So I'm participating in Inktober. Where you make ink drawings through October.

Recently, I've been putting up handwritten drafts of poems on Instagram, so starting today I'm going to try and do one a day, and do a bit of drawing around it.

Here's the first. Don't mock me.


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