Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Books I read in September and October

I seem to have read more than usual lately: not least because for a few days I did nothing but read, wanting to get through some of the several dozen books I'd got in Bangalore's wonderful bookstores (Blossom and Bookworm) and which I had no room to pack and haul home. I also wanted to read a couple of books on the shelves of the friends who were generously hosting me.

Crime novels

It was a good time for crime. (Sorry.)

Ministry of Fear and Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
Ministry of Fear not only kept me awake while waiting for a late evening flight at the end of a looong day (and week), but I was so engrossed I read on the airport shuttle and in queues and forgot to turn on my phone till I was at the baggage carousel. Brighton Rock was probably even better: unfortunately my copy got stolen (I'd foolishly kept it on the table outside my hotel room) before I could finish it. But I've finally read Graham Greene and now I want to read all his books. 

Miss Silver Intervenes by Patricia Wentworth
I love elderly women detectives in cosy mysteries. Miss Silver is great fun, and I want to read more Wentworth too.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
This book has been on my wishlist forever (since I read Jai's post on it: read this if you want a review). It's about a handsome young man who preys on rich young women — narrated mostly from his perspective. It's a gripping read.

The High Window by Raymond Chandler
This is only my second Chandler, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (much more than I did The Big Sleep). It's so stereotypical noir it sometimes reads like a parody, but the plot and writing are so taut it works really well.

Final Curtain and Dead Water by Ngaio Marsh
I enjoyed both of these, even though the mysteries were somewhat predictable. Marsh is a master of the cozy mystery, kind of like Christies with a slower pace and more meat.

Myth/fantasy/magical realism

Haroon and the Sea of Stories and The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie
I think Rushdie should write more (or maybe exclusively) children's stories. There's something about his sense of humour and his imagination which works wonderfully in a child's fantasy universe. On the other hand, I eyerolled at manifestations of these traits in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which I worked at for weeks and finally gave up because it was such a plod (and it's some 600 pages too). Haroun, though, is wonderful: it still has satirical references to the real world but is the kind of Indian fantasy we don't have enough of, with a hero who travels to a fantasy world, (SPOILERS AHEAD) rescues it from destruction through bravery and empathy, falls in love with a plucky girl, and in the process fixes not just his family's problems but that of the entire city. I'm going to buy copies for the kids in my life.

However, The Ground Beneath Her Feet has some wonderful sentences, such as this one: "Suppose that it's only when you dare to let go that your real life begins?"

The Liberation of Sita by Volga
This much celebrated book is a collection of short stories on the same theme that reads 
much like a novel. It's a retelling of the Ramayan from Sita's perspective, and what's beautiful is that it gives Sita a sisterhood. Surpanakha, Ahalya, and Urmila mentor Sita and offer their affection. I think the translation is a bit clunky at times, but overall it was an easy read, and I'm sending it to my mother.

The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud
The last of Lockwood & Co, a fun YA ghost hunting series with a girl hero/narrator, perfect for a day spent in bed waiting for the cramps to go away. (Stroud is awesome at humour, at fantasy, at teenage angst; romance is not his thing.) But if you haven't read him yet, try the Bartimaeus series: I'm a big fan.

Corridor by Sarnath Bannerjee

Weird, interesting graphic novel set in Delhi.


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
If you've read any Coates at all, you know what to expect. This book uses the memoir format to delve into the black experience — including, of course, racism — in the USA. It's brilliant, like all of his writing. Have you read My President Was Black? I finally finished this long essay on Obama and American politics last week.

Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? by John Sutherland
Illustration of Amelia EarhartSutherland explores mystifying asides in classic literature: such as how did Lady Catherine de Bourgh hear a rumour of Elizabeth's engagement to Darcy, when gossipmaestro Mrs Bennet had no idea? (SPOILER: In this case the answer he offers is Charlotte Collins nee Lucas. I don't agree: Charlotte was not so mean-spirited as to try to sabotage Lizzy's relationship: from what I remember she seemed genuinely happy at the prospect of her friend making such a brilliant match.) The essays were overall less exciting than I'd hoped. 

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls Also a great concept but somewhat disappointing experience. Highlighting 100 women who "rebelled" is important, and the illustrations are magnificent (the one above is of Amelia Earheart). But the writing is less than perfect, and lacks nuance, perhaps limited by the one-page-per-woman format. I'm leery of a feminist book that glorifies, for example, Margaret Thatcher, without even hinting at problems. 

Everything else

A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Bernard
What a beautiful book this is. The best kind of YA romance: two wonderful young people, strong friendships, complicated family relationships, and enough emo love to give me all the feels. 

The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
I'd read the first Neapolitan Novel last year; I gobbled up the rest last month. So much to love; such brilliant, interesting, selfish, principled women characters.

Sula by Toni Morrison
This is my third Morrison, and I think I like it third too, after The Bluest Eye, which is brilliant and beautiful and I want to reread often, and Beloved. But it's a complex tale of black women's lives and female friendships and female violence.

Ordinary Love by Jane Smiley
A novella about motherhood and family. Smiley is great at family relationships, and I enjoyed rereading this one, though my favourite of hers (I've only read three) remains A Thousand Acres, a retelling of King Lear set in a contemporary farm.
Cover of A Necklace of Skulls
Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
This is... not what I expected? It's sort of a mix of historical thriller and erotica without any actual sex. It was strictly okay.

The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
Typical dudeliterary novel with "ideal" young man and lots of annoying rich people, including the narrator (who is less rich but super annoying). It was well written and enjoyable, despite my occasional eyerolling.

A Necklace of Skulls 
by Eunice de Souza

Found this treasure in my friends' home and greedily devoured it in one afternoon. I'm not a great reader of poetry, but the poems here are so accessible, so simple, without being simplistic. The poem 'Untitled' gut-punched me, even though I have no one to feel that way about. (TW: grief, death.) 

Friday, October 20, 2017


I'm doing Inktober and trying to draw every day, with mixed results. Here are a few: the rest is up on Instagram. Let me know what you think!

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Books I read in August

I'm in Bangalore for a while, and it's not been a great month for reading, because I'm spending a lot of time hanging out with friends. No regrets!

But look at this magnificent haul of second-hand books.

Picture Books and Graphic Novels
(from the shelf of friends I'm staying with)

Three Pigeon books by Mo Willems
I like The Pigeon Wants a Puppy best. Not only does it remind me of myself (when I was a kid, and also like right now because I do want a puppy dammit!) but it also has Pigeon hilariously promising to water it once a month. Get it for the babies in your life, even if they're adults.

A Gardener in the Wasteland by Srividya Natarajan and Aparajita Ninan
This beautiful, beautiful book describes the work of Jotiba and Savitri Phule. The art is gorgeous, and I don't know enough about the Phules, so this book was a lovely introduction.

Everything else

The Inner Courtyard edited by Lakshmi Holmstrom
I've been wanting to read this, and was got it as a gift recently. It's a lovely collection of stories by some of the most eminent writers of twentieth century India (and one from Pakistan/UK).

Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag
A friend had lent me her copy and asked me to read this book ages ago; I finally got around to it. Fittingly, because I read it soon after coming to Bangalore and the book is set here. It's a thin, delicate novel, much more nuanced than it appears at first.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
This book was really popular a year or two ago, and I can see why. It's a thriller, but an extremely intelligent one. It reminded me of Emma Donoghue's Room in style, though in genre it's probably closer to Gone Girl. I found Gone Girl extremely disappointing ultimately, and this book is everything that one wasn't.

The Cosmopolitans by Anjum Hasan
Another book I've been intrigued by since it first came out, and finally got around to reading. I loved its meditations on art and artists, and Anjum is, of course, a very good writer. (Check out this beautiful piece on her fiction.) I felt the novel handwaved a rather major incident (and flaw in the character), and I felt one plot twist was contrived and sort of predictable, but it's a really interesting book that's stayed with me.

How Fiction Works by James Wood
This is a surprisingly easy-to-read, engaging book on literature and art. I loved it and mean to reread it soon.

In an Antique Land by Amitav Ghosh
This amazing book blends history and memoir and is set in Egypt and India (mostly Mangalore). It's Ghosh's personal account of discovering the story of an Indian slave owned by a Jewish Egyptian who moved to India in the fifteenth century.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Books I read in July

I've left home and am living in friends' homes in a different city for a while — if it works out, till October. My laptop conked off and I had internet issues and health issues, but here I am finally with my books of July.

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
I am really enjoying Schwab's fantastically (heh) light touch and her wonderful heroine, Lila Bard. Highly recommend this series: start at the beginning, A Darker Shade of Magic. The Kindle books are not expensive.

The Strange Haunting of Model High School by Shabnam Minwalla
This is the YA ghost story that is not scary. You have school, friends, boys, competition, mean girls, and a friendly but sad ghost. Pretty entertaining stuff.

Boats on Land by Janice Pariat
I finally read this book I had heard about for years. The stories and writing are hauntingly beautiful, and I always have a weakness for stories and characters from Assam or even Shillong.

The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
This novel fascinatingly combines science fiction with a Victorian London in which Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are at work, and the daughters of certain fictional mad scientists are in need of help. But Holmes is not the hero, he is more of a romantic interest: the women save themselves. This is one book that I greatly recommend to everyone.

Mr Majestic! by Zac O'Yeah
I'd been curious about O'Yeah for a long time but never read anything by him until this book. It's a thoroughly entertaining and curiously realistic thriller that I must imagine someone is planning to make into a popular movie right now. I rarely rarely enjoy thrillers based in India, but this is the real deal.

The Foucault Reader 
I'm not always a big fan of "readers", but they help me decide whether - and which of - an author's books to read. I'm new to Foucault and this was a very interesting introduction to his work. I'm more interested in his literary/art theory, but his social theory is interesting too.

The Algebra of Infinite Justice by Arundhati Roy
I vaguely remember reading these essays when they had first been published in Outlook and other magazines. Rereading them had me marvelling at her prescience, while also often feeling disappointed that her prose seems less luminous than in my memory. (I might share further thoughts on this book in a separate post later.)

The Blind Lady's Descendants by Anees Salim
I'm surprised that I haven't read Salim before. This is a beautiful, clever book about family and sanity, and how much the two affect each other. The prose is enchanting; I found the protagonist/narrator annoying, but was compelled to read on nonetheless.

Murder in Mahim by Jerry Pinto
At times more anti-bigotry treatise than murder mystery, this was a fun and also deeply moral book. For more, read this lovely interview of Pinto by my friend Shreya.

Friday, July 07, 2017

Self-promotional announcement: the food blog is active again.

In the last couple of years, various friends have adopted dairy-free or gluten-free diets for themselves or their children. I have often found myself offering suggestions, since I got on the bandwagon years ago.

So I decided to revive this blog and share my tips for cooking or finding food that's safe for my body. Check it out or follow me on Tumblr, and do recommend it to friends who might be interested.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Books I read in June

I had exams through most of June, so this is going to be a shorter post than usual. (On the other hand, I have spent a lot of time painting to relieve stress: check out the results on my Instagram. As always, I'm not including books I didn't finish, even though I may have read most of them (sigh).

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
Something reminded me of this book and I was dying to reread it. It's light, meaningless fun, and Tommy and Tuppence are Christie's best couple. Tommy reminds me a lot of the Guy, but I have nowhere near Tuppence's spunk and coolz.

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith
A nice YA that deals with family and romance and (surprise!) the role money plays in life. A bit too optimistic to be believable, but that's most of the fun of reading such a book.

Karachi, You're Killing Me! by Saba Imtiaz
I hear the movie (Noor) was awful, but the book is quite fun, though predictable. I loved the depiction of journalism and Karachi, and would read more books that just follow their heroines through their exciting jobs please, personal drama and romance not required.

House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
Apparently one of the first popular and critically acclaimed novels by a Native American. It's too misunderstood-violent-man genre for my taste, but the writing is good and the depiction of Native culture is interesting. As always though, I felt I'd have appreciated a woman's point of view.

Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar
I had thought this was Serious Literature, and wasn't prepared for how fun and smutty this was. It's a fictionalised account of the life of Mirabai and her husband, told from the husband's point of view. It reminded me of Philippa Gregory.

A Right Honourable Gentleman and The Year of the Crocodile by Courtney Milan
Two short stories by a writer whose romance novels I love, but these are eh, meh.

Love Poems by Emily Dickinson
I have no intelligent critique of poetry, but this is a slim little volume of Dickinson's work, which is good for me because I like poetry in small doses. I think I'm going to return to it again soon.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
I'd read this just in December, but this book has something new each time. This is the kind of fiction that seems to me truer than non-fiction, because it is both beautiful and profound.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

My Interview with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I met Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, author of acclaimed novels like Palace of Illusions and The Mistress of Spices, earlier this year. We talked about the importance of women's stories, and she told me about her next book. 
When you really look back and read the character of Sita as presented by many people in the history of the Ramayan, Sita’s not like that at all. At some point a patriarchal interpretation of Sita was created and pushed onto women. Sita is very demure, she’s obedient to whatever her husband says, she’s a doormat, she accepts everything that happens to her – and ladies, you better be like Sita. 
That’s what I want to counter. Look, it’s not just me: it is already there in the story. It’s just, the patriarchal spin has been given to it. Sita makes a number of important choices, some of them right, some of them wrong. She’s a very active character. My goodness, she’s the world’s first single mother in literature, and she brings up those children with great courage.
It will be a challenging project. I pray that I can do a good job.
Read it all here. 

Monday, June 05, 2017

Books I read in May

A funny coincidence: each of the three book posts I've done this year has 18 books each. This one has... ten. Next month will be even fewer I suspect. Oh well.

Novels I read for work
Friend of My Youth by Amit Chaudhuri
I found this typical of Chaudhuri's oeuvre: excellent at capturing the small moments, veering between boring and profound, and you suspect profound because it seems intensely self-aware. Anyway, I had great fun writing the review for Scroll, in which I used internetspeak to mock the novel's somewhat prissy tone. Read it.

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas
This book is being made into a Hollywood movie starring Dhanush, and I interviewed the author. The book itself is hilarious fun, if you can get past the racist stereotypes, the misogyny, and the casual transphobia. Nice cover though.

Romance and YA
Baaz by Anuja Chauhan
I have to give up and admit Anuja Chauhan is just not for me and trying to understand why everyone loves her. I liked Pricey Thakur Girls but the others I've read have been meh. The hero of Baaz is the kind of annoying know-it-all I would give a wide berth (okay, maybe after lusting after him first). The heroine is great but seems to be there just to make the hero look cooler. I don't know, man. Read if you like Chauhan, I suppose.

Duels and Deception by Cindy Anstey
This is more my kind of romance, even though I've forgotten most of the book in less than a month since I read it. It was more feminist than most romances, which to me is essential: the heroine is young and her flaws are evident but relatable, the hero is really nice for a romance hero, and the plot is nonsensical but fun. Excellent timepass.

If We Kiss by Rachel Vail
Like all of Vail's books that I've read so far, this YA romance was sweet, light, hopeful. I read this late one night when I couldn't fall asleep, and it was just what I needed.

Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed
A brilliant book that I read slowly for weeks and am not done thinking about. I highlighted so many lines that I want to return to. It made me think of so much, not least friendship and solidarity.

We the Children of India by Leila Seth and Bindia Thapar
I saw this book recommended after Leila Seth's death, and ordered it immediately to gift to a nephew. It's beautifully explained and wonderfully radical, and Thapar's illustrations are gorgeous.

How to Read Literature by Terry Eagleton
A surprisingly funny, very readable book on literary criticism: kind of a basic introduction. Highly recommend this.

Signs and Images by Roland Barthes
Look at this beautiful hardcover!

Okay, the book itself is great if you're interested in cinema and images and criticism. I wanted to read more Barthes, and this was really good (and less expensive than many of his books).

A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes
More Barthes. A bit dense, especially as I don't know most of the material he refers to, but I found some of his comments about how lovers are viewed (and gendered expectations) very interesting.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How food intolerances took over my life

I have never written much about my food intolerances, even though they've been a big part of my life, even before I knew I had them. I finally wrote the personal essay that's been stewing in my head for years (with the encouragement of my lovely friend Shreya, who commissioned and edited it).
My body had never seemed really part of me. In the last few years, I have learned to know it, to care for it, to even love it instead of resenting its limitations. I am amazed now at how strong it is... In spite of all the poison I have fed it, my body continues to function and heal itself.
Read it here. 

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.