book review · books · shanti

Non Fiction mini-reviews

Hi Virtually Readers! I’ve been suuuuuper absent from the blogging world because literally everything else in my life has taken priority. I’ve still been reading though and am kinda sticking to a library ban. But that’s okay, I’m not gonna apologise too much. But here are some of the non-fiction books I’ve read recently, which is al ot, because I’ve hardly been reading YA which is weird, but here we are. I also will have some separate posts on Dr. Huxley’s Bequest, which will *hopefully* be my next blogging week at the end of October. It never rains but it pours, so this post is super long haha.

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book review · books · shanti

Labyrinths and Loss

Hi Virtually Readers! Hopefully you have not been tracking my online activity and obscure references to my whereabouts with any kind of fervor, in which case you will not know that I just returned (like a week ago) from Indonesia. I had a marvellous time, pretended I didn’t have university responsibilities and read quite a bit. Now I am back and my life is consumed by chaos and I have so much to do and mostly I am happy about it (really relating to shar’s blogging struggles tbh). Anyway, one of the books I read was also about chaos: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova. This is going to be a short review because I gotta sleep but enjoy anyway.

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books · shanti

What makes a good audiobook

Hi Virtually Readers! I’m an avid listener of audiobooks. They help me read so much more and process things in different ways. However, I didn’t recently find myself listening ton an audiobook for a class, and the only effect it achieved was making me fall asleep (ironically enough, the book was called ‘The Big Sleep’). However, there are so many good audiobooks out there. what makes an audiobook compelling?

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book review · books · shanti

Only Love Can Break Your Heart

Katherine Webber knows some truths: human lives intersect in strange and unpredictable ways. Grief shapes us in ways that we do not understand. Relationships are rarely equal. She knows all this, and she tries to shape these axioms of complexity into a story in Only Love Can Break Your Heart. I quite enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as Wing Jones.

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books · features · shanti

What I look for in genres

Hi Virtually Readers! I’ve been thinking about genre in books a lot lately because I’ve een taking an English course that is essentially about genre. We’ve talked about romance, gothic, romantic comedies, and we’re about to start detective stories. I’m really appreciating some of the things this is making me think about–especially the conclusion that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ genre. All stories use elements from different genres. For instance, the book ‘Trouble is a Friend of Mine’ is ostensibly a mystery story, but it also has elements of comedy and horror. I thought that I’d talk a little bit about what I look for in different genres, and some of my favourite books from each of those.

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book review · books · shanti

America for Beginners

America for Beginners is, I think, the best book I have read this year. It is about the many forms of loneliness. It is about things which hurt. It is about forgiving people. It is about being a stranger in a strange land, and being a stranger in a familiar land, and what to do when you are both at once. It is about characters who ask questions which hurt.

40729271Sometimes you have to go a long way to find what you’re looking for. And sometimes a little beginner’s luck is all you need…

• Welcome to the First Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company•
• One fixed itinerary, one fixed price•
• All levels catered for•
• No refunds•

Beginner
Recently widowed Pival Sengupta has never travelled alone before and her first trip to this strange country masks a secret agenda: to find out the truth about her long-estranged son.

Intermediate
Satya, her guileless and resourceful tour guide, has been in America for less than a year – and has never actually left the five boroughs of New York.

Advanced
An aspiring/failing actress, Rebecca signed up for the role of Pival’s modesty companion; it might not be her big break but surely it’ll break her out of the rut she’s stuck in.

As their preconceptions about each other and about America are challenged, with a little beginner’s luck, these unlikely companions might learn how to live again.

A big-hearted, hilarious tale of forgiveness, hope, and acceptance, reminding us that there is no roadmap to life. (blurb, as always, from goodreads)

Pival is asking: Who am I when I am without the context of my family and my home?
Rachel is asking: Who am I if I am not what I have always dreamed of becoming?
Satya is asking: Who am I as I become a person my friends would not recognise?
These are all questions of identity, something that the human race is “desperately curious” about when we manage to pay attention to other people in their relentless existence. Identity is something that is fraught for me, as it is to a lesser or greater extent, to all people. I have never been to America; I know it only throught the fragments I have collected from books and movies and friends. But I know India, and I know what it is to belong in India and love it wildly and also be from somewhere else, and find that these facts are, to some extent, irreconcilable. Leah Franqui knows about the layers of identity and belonging too, and manages them magnificently in her novel.
I am sick of ‘immigrant narrative’ stories, written by middle class immigrants from some country that was once a colony, with families that cling hard to tradition because it is all that anchors them in a new land, and children who rebel wildly, wanting to redefine their parent’s parameters of success. These novels are important, but America for Beginners is not one of them. For one thing, Pival, the main character, is not an immigrant. She is a visitor. Rebecca is not an immigant either: she has never needed to question her belonging in America. And while Satya is an immigrant, he is not educated (whatever that means), he is not a doctor or lawyer. He has gathered the crumbs that America has left in its greasy corners and hoards them carefully.
America for Beginners is not a novel of simplistic identity. I appreciated Franqui’s examination of what it means to be Bengali, and how a border has fractured that identity. The interaction of religion worked very well too: Rebecca is Jewish, Pival and Satya are Hindu, but there are Muslims in the story too. The complexities of sexuality, and what Rahi’s upbringing did to his understanding of who and how he loved, was painful, but so well done (and I thought that the lens of Jake, his lover, made that so much better). The way that language dictates identity in context, the difference between North Indian and Bengali food: wherever Franqui writes, she adds nuance. I appreciated, for instance, Satya’s thought that

“Sideways had been the only way to approach anything.”

when he has washed ashore in the land of the brash and direct, prices, like other things, fixed and inflexible It is exquisite. As someone who has spent most of her life in India, I find that immigrant stories do not satisfy me, because I do not share any of that experience. But this felt like it really reflected my understanding of a country I can sometimes call my own.
Leah Franqui is the best kind of writer. She uses frequent figurative language. Her prose is beautiful without being vain, which is honestly so hard to do (it’s something I struggle with so much in my own writing!). All of the sentences make sense, the writing is never distracting, but it does evoke that sense of awareness that good writing does, where it makes you want to notice things in new and surprising ways.

“Everything was fine, everything was great, everything was so light it could crush you.”

“Pival wondered if that’s how ghosts were made, angry spirits whose bodies had been destroyed by time rather than fire.”

“The dirty fading glory of Kolkata crumbling under the weight of modern life.”

Franqui writes gracefully, using third person past tense, the best way to deal with multiple perspectives. The shifting from person to person never feels wrong, which it has in essentially every other novel like this I have read. Only once does she end a chapter with an opening door and an expansive unknown. Usually, I find this a cheap trick; but the use was so restrained as to be all the more compelling for it. The writing has moments of humour, too, like

“The man could find rice in a pasta store.”

I cannot recommend this novel enough, and I could write much more about it, but I have already stayed up late for this book once. I plan to buy it (I got it from the library) and reread it, and cherish it in every way. Being Indian is complex, and so is travelling, and so is death. America for Beginners is a book that deals tragedy as liberally as comedy, and it ended in the best way: with a river as dense as America, characters who were able to move on, but not without me caring a whole lot more in the process of their doing so.

[tiny disclaimer: one of the reasons I picked this up is that I had a Skype conversation with the author a few years ago for unrelated reasons, and she was amazing to talk to and I thought that she was fantastically cool and so I vaguely followed her online since then and she is kinda #goals to be honest and so smart and funny and I love that she sews her own clothes (and probably a mess on the inside just like all other human beings, but wow I would like to be her friend), so you could say that I’m a bit of a fangirl. But even if you know nothing about Leah Franqui, her writing speaks for itself.]

What is the best book you have read this year? and if you’ve been to America, or even if you just know it from books, what advice would you give to beginners there?

book review · shanti

Save the Date: not for me

I’ve liked Morgan Matson’s previous books: the pathos of Second Chance Sumer, the calm American-ness of Amy and Roger’s Epic detour, the brightly lit The Unexpected Everything, the punchy format of Since You’ve Been Gone. But something about Save The Date really didn’t work for me. It felt forced and farcical, which is not necesserily a bad thing, but didn’t really work for me.

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blogging · books · collabs · discussions · features · shanti

Our Fourth Blogoversary!

It’s our blogoversary! Shar and I have been writing about books for 4 years on this little site, and we’ve changed a lot over that time, and hopefully gotten better at writing. We’re going to sort of interview each other about it to celebrate, because writing posts together is fun. This is definitely something to celebrate, and we’re so glad to be here to do it!

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books · features · shanti

Diagnosis: Stress Reading

Remember YA Psychologist? You should, because YA Psychologist was great. Anyway, in that vein, I thought I’d talk about a disease which has been afflicted me greatly recently: stress reading. Of course I read stressfully, when I am forced to read things for educational purposes. But I mostly read stressfully because of libraries. I love libraries and everyone should support them. But they do have due dates. This is particularly acute with digital books: because they’re digital, I don’t have to physically return them which makes me less likely to do so, and I also have ppor impulse control and end up with a whole lot of books that I don’t have time to read. But stress reading can happen to anyone, so I thought I’d share a diagnosis manual, because why not medicalise everything?

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Symptoms:

  • feeling like you have to read fast otherwise you’ll let people down
  • looking at your bookshelf and feeling panic rise within you
  • losing all self control when requesting books from publishers and at the library
  • having more than five books on your ‘currently reading’ list
  • not being able to read because you have so much to read

Possible Causes:

  • trying to read too much
  • underestimating how long it will take you to read things
  • going overboard at the library
  • prioritising what you read and therefore losing control of everything that is not a priority
  • Acquiring every book that is recommended to you
  • having other things going on in your life that mean you can’t read as much as you plan to

History:

This problem is almost as old as the written word. Since Lady Murasaki wrote The Tale of Genji in the 11th century, more and more books have appeared, and many of them would probably be great–if you had time to read them. Want to be readers tend to accumalate all the books they want to read, and consequently, are unable to actually read them. Book doctors through the centuries have diagnosed stress reading, and linked it to library fines, miscellaneous non-bookish responsibilities, and the ownership of book blogs. Cases have risen particularly in the last seven years with the rise of digital ARCS and digital libraries.

Treatment:

Unfortunately, stress reading is a recurring condition. No matter how you treat it, it will probably flare up again, probably when you have other things to worry about. Still, treatment is not futile. If you have a severe case, try to go on a book buying and library ban until you have read everything you have. Secondly, remember that a lot of pressure is self imposed. you can simply choose to return books without reading them. If you have books from publishers that you must review, don’t beat yourself up if they’ve been publisehd for a while by the time you review them. Healing will take some time; to find joy in reading and maximise chances of success, read slowly, read for enjoyment, and take breaks.

In case it wasn’t clear…I almost constantly have a low-grade case of stress reading. But I’m coming to terms with my condition, and am going to try to read a book I own for every library book I read from now on. Let’s see how that goes….

Do you suffer from stress reading? what do you do to treat it? tell me in the comments!

book review · books · shanti

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Neal Shusterman seems to often write about death. Unwind was one of the few books that has truly scared me—I remember staying up late reading it when I was about twelve, feeling sickened and enthralled at once. In that book, he examines what it means to have someone else choose your death. In Everlost, he explores what might happen after death, the things that are able to change and the things that don’t. Again, it’s spooky, atmospheric, and very, very compelling. I’ve been hearing about Scythe for a long time—mostly, people raving about how good it is—and so, after checking it out from the library, not reading it, waiting in the holds list, checking it out again, not reading it etc. about five times, I have finally finished it.

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