Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Books I read in February

Let me start with a retraction. In last month's roundup of books, I had mentioned the reasons why Ankush Saikia's Red River, Blue Hills didn't quite work for me. All of those were true.

Yet since then, I've found myself thinking more of that book than any of the others I read recently. I kept remembering the protagonist, Varun, and bits of plot from the book. So I have to admit the book worked better than I thought it did. There was something about Saikia's writing that made the characters and the scenes really stick with me. I keep thinking of that book -- even random less important bits like Varun's visit to his friend's restaurant and his restlessness at his brother's anniversary party -- for no reason at all.

I haven't read many books this month, though I've been doing a lot of other reading. Two of the books I did complete are both non-fiction and are in fact written by partners. Jeanette Winterson's Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is about many things, but mostly about growing up with an abusive mother. I was amazed at Winterson's spirit and determination, at the upbringing she had lived through and overcome to become such a celebrated author.

Susie Orbach on Eating is a wonderful little book about improving your eating habits. It was mentioned in Winterson's memoir, so I wanted to check it out. It was shorter than I expected, and didn't tell me much I didn't know from reading about Health at Every Side, but it has some useful practical tips that I'm going to try.

I loved Nick Hornby's Funny Girl: A Novel, so I picked up Everyone's Reading Bastard. It's an interesting little novella on the rise of the personal essay in the era of blogging. The protagonist's wife (or nearly ex or newly ex-wife, depending on how you define it) is a writer and starts a newspaper column called 'Bastard!' in which she publicly enumerates his shortcomings. All his acquaintances of course, know it's him. It felt a bit like it was veering towards misogyny (crazy ex-bitch who thinks she has power!) but the end revealed it to be much more self-aware than that.

I read TS Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral for the first time, and it seemed very current, in the light of recent events. Ostensibly, it's about religion vs. the monarchy -- an archbishop is killed by four knights sent by the king -- but it's about standing up to authority, about the poisonous culture of oppression.