Library time again

The Weight Loss Club – Devapriya Roy

I must begin with a disclaimer. I know Devapriya, only slightly, but I do know her. Now, with that out of the way, I have to begin by saying, I loved the book. I did. It’s always shocking to find that you thoroughly enjoyed reading a book written by a regular person. I don’t know what I expect authors to be – horned and winged creatures I suppose. Perhaps because a good book seems like its been written by a mythical creature.

But enough of the rambling. Anuja Chauhan and Devapriya Roy, are two contemporary writers I enjoy. No hinglish, no sense of the author struggling with the language, no stilted writing, no trying too hard. Just fabulous, flowing prose. And a great story.

The Nancy Housing Cooperative (the result of a clerical error) is just a regular housing society in Calcutta with the usual hovering Bong mother who wants her son to go to IIT, a bullied daughter in law, an overweight academic whose mother is frantically looking for a good match, Treeza who is in depression, Ananda who is taking care of his ailing mother… They’re people we know, they’re people we relate to and yet, you want to know more about them. And then Sandhya arrives and you wonder what she’s doing here. She’s a Brahmacharini and she’s going to turn their lives around.

It’s amazing how Devapriya manages to string it all together and bring it to an end in a crescendo. I got caught up in the fervour and as with all books, was most distraught when it ended. I, for one, am hoping for a sequel. Hint, hint.

Confessionally Yours – Jhoomur Bose Disclaimer again – I know JB too, not too well, but enough to admit that I might be a teeny bit biased. I loved her blog, I love her spirit. And I enjoyed her book.

Polly Sharma, trainee reporter lives a life I don’t envy. Her husband has no interest in her. Her MIL walks all over her. And even her best friend treats her like – well, like crap. She doesn’t get a byline, her boss is a bitch and all in all, Polly isn’t a likeable character, simply because she has no spine.

I find it hard to relate to such doormats because they’re so not me. On the other hand, I was most thrilled to see Jhoomur create a protagonist who was nothing like her. Almost all first time authors write an autobiography and it gets tedious. But this character is nothing like the fiery JB either and in fact the only connection to JB is that Polly is given an assignment to interview an anonymous blogger who writes an extremely juicy blog. Set in a media office, this book made me felt right at home. The four letter words, the crazy hours, the politicking, the tight deadlines, the bitches.

In the end of course Polly comes up trumps but I have to say there were moments I wanted to smack her. All in all a fun, quick read.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

Don Tillman is a genetics professor who is socially challenged. You’re given to understand that he might have Asperger’s, but its never quite spelled out. Good looking, a flourishing career, one would say these are the perfect attributes in a husband, but Don is pushing 40 and nowhere close to being in a relationship thanks to his social ineptitude and lack of empathy (something he is aware of and interestingly, working on). After a few disastrous experiences that serve as a reminder that he is different, he decides to cut through the initial few dates that are a waste of time and get to the core of the matter.

In true Don style that is logical, focussed and unemotional, by asking all potential dates to fill out an extensive questionnaire. Does she smoke? Is she vegan? Does she waste a lot of time on make up?

Enter Rosie who is hunting for her biological father and needs a geneticist’s help. Disorganised, fun loving and a student cum bartender, she turns Don’s life upside down so that he is no longer cooking by the day of the week and saving 30 seconds on a lecture to use for his fitness routine. They come up with a wild idea to help her find her father and in all this, Don loses track of his own Wife project. And one by one his rules start falling by the wayside as Rosie helps him shake off the shackles of his very organised and entirely boring life.

The Rosie Project is a highly entertaining and interesting book even if you’re not a Big Bang Theory fan. It takes a light and highly sympathetic look at those on the autism spectrum and shows you the view from their side of the hill. He isn’t stylish, he isn’t social, he isn’t funny and he finds it hard to pick up on the unsaid. He has no empathy, yet he elicits yours. This is a particular triumph of the author because its hard to be rooting for someone who has few of the qualities we look for in a hero. And Nerds rule!

Those Pricey Thakur Girls – Anuja Chuahan

The Mint says Anuja Chauhan is “The only Indian writer of popular fiction really worth buying..” Not too far from the truth. I raced through The Zoya Factor in spite of my intense dislike of cricket. I loved the Battle for Bittora because it took me back to my small town roots. And I will even forgive her for all the jibes at Stephanians she makes in Those Pricey Thakur Girls, because well, we can’t all be Stephanians and the bitterness is understandable ;)

I had the pleasure of interviewing her some years ago and she’s as interesting a person as her books indicate. But more about the book. I’m pretty sure that most of you have read the book so I’m really late to this party. Justice Thakur’s daughters, named alphabetically, Anjini, Binodini, Chandralekha, Debjani and Eshwari (a reminder of how long and hard families try for a son!) are a handful. Fortunately the first three are married off and number four, Debjani, who has just begun her career as a newsreader with the national television channel is next up. The youngest, Eshwari, is still in Modern School and has a way to go.

Enter Dylan Singh Shekhawat, part Manglorean Christian, part Rajput and full investigative reporter with the India Post. The chemistry between him and Debjani is enough to blow up the lab, but the path of true love never ran smooth. Set in the mid-eighties, it is two years after the death of the assassination of the PM and the anti-Sikh riots that followed. Dylan is investigating these riots and confesses to much disdain for the state sponsored tripe that Debjani reads off the autocue, as news.

Chauhan weaves the rest of the family in with consummate skill. The free loading Chachaji whose affairs with the cook are driving his pug faced wife crazy. Their top heavy body-building son. Debjani’s elder sister, Anjini, the prettiest of the lot, a terrible flirt and burdened with childlessness. Binodini, married to a ne’er do well who is constantly trying to get her family to fund her husband’s failing enterprises. The vivacious young Eshwari who hates Satish Sridhar who lives next door, is one of her oldest friends and allies and encourages her to date one of the other Modern School studs.

It’s easy to forget the hero and heroine and get sidetracked by the accessories. I love Anuja’s writing. Lets get that out of the way. The Hinglish she throws in as dialogue doesn’t detract from the skill with which the English flows. She’s humorous, she’s compassionate, she understands eccentricities and she creates real people with flaws, who are lovable anyway.

What’s most important is that she’s intelligent. Cricket in one book, politics in the other and media in this one. She understands each of her subjects, researches them thoroughly and only then does she write. These are not trite, candy floss novels that skim over some vague office or the other. These peel away in layers, revealing hidden depths and often touch upon important issues, making a case for them in the most subtle way.

By the end you’re in love with every minor character and wish she’d give them each a book of their own. I hear the little nephew Samar Singh is all grown up and gets his day in the sun with her next book. But I’d really love it if she could give us something on Eshwari who shows much promise. I’m going to buy all the books and get her to autograph them for me. Yes, I can be fangirl too!

 Where’d you go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple

I ordered this on my Kindle, which is a mercy because I got so taken up with it that I was reading it on the Kindle app on my phone while the dentist was looking at my teeth, on my Mac when I should have been working… you get the picture.

Semple uses my favourite literary device, letters, blogs, FBI reports and emails. She already had me at that and didn’t really need to do more. But no, she had to go and write a cracker of a book and bring.me to.my.knees. Bernadette Fox is mother to Bee Branch, a super intelligent child who was born with a heart problem, and wife to Elgin Branch, yet another genius who works with Microsoft.

As the story progresses you realise that Bernadette has issues. She is mentally ill and also, in that almost necessary combination, brilliant. She once won awards as an architect for being green at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to be green. Life deals her a few harsh blows and she takes it rather badly, retreating into her home and cutting herself off entirely. She makes fun of Seattle, of Microsoft, of the over-involved school mums… she spares no one. And is generally disliked. It all comes to a head when the school where her daughter studies arranges a fund raiser and when Bee demands that she make good on her promise and take her to Antarctica as her middle school graduation present.

The agoraphobic Bernadette who outsources all her work to a virtual assistant in India called Manjula Kapoor, including calling her doctor for an appointment (because she doesn’t like to deal with people – even her contact with Manjula is only over email) and buying clothes for their trip to Antarctica is outraged when she finds one of the school mums trespassing on her property with a weed removal specialist.

The FBI suddenly gets involved, her husband is having an affair, her house is literally falling into the neighbours and suddenly, she vanishes without a trace. I wish I could tell you more but then I’d have to kill myself for ruining it. Hysterical, intelligent, original, and a light hearted look at artistic temperament, mental illness, infidelity, privilege, parenting and oh so much more!

Semple’s book makes you want to knock at the little door on her head, walk in, and take a look around at what goes on inside and go ‘Hmm.. so this is the kind of brain it takes to write a mind blowing book.’ The story takes an insanely funny yet scary twist and its interesting to see how much an author needs to research things like architecture, software and even Antarctica to write a book. Not like the crap we read these days, just written off the cuff and about banal, mundane lives. Gah.

Read this book, people. I guarantee you’ll want to hug me for the recommendation. If not, meh, you have bad taste!

The House of Velvet and Glass – Katherine Howe

This year, 2014 is the 102nd anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the fascination with the sinking of that ode to indulgence, remains. It spun off a number of novels and I can understand the interest because I keep coming back to them. The novel takes a look at the lives of those left behind.

Sybil Allston’s mother Helen, and sister Eulah were on the Titanic when it sank. Leaving her sphinx like father Harlan or Lan Allston, her recalcitrant younger brother Harlan III and herself, to pull together the pieces of their lives after the tragedy, and get on with it. Sybil’s mother frequented the parlour of a medium, and wracked with grief she falls into the habit of visiting the medium too, to see if she can make contact with her dead mother and sister. She was once in love with psychology professor, Benton Jones but he upped and married someone else. A widower now, he’s back in town and seemingly still interested.

Things take a turn when Sybil does manage to make contact with the other world. When Benton finds out, he suspects it to be some manner of fraud and decides to investigate with her. Her brother suddenly shows up and it seems he’s been asked to leave Harvard over misconduct with a lady whose reputation is suspect. It’s just a lot more than Sybil can deal with right now.

And the reader goes back and forth with every alternate chapter, delving into the Senior Harlan Allston’s mysterious past on the ships and the exotic lands he sailed to. All the while leaving you wondering, can you look into the future? Can you make contact with loved ones who have passed on?

I enjoy books like The House of Velvet and Glass precisely because while they seek to answer many questions, they also leave just enough unanswered to keep you wondering. They belong to a time when travel meant true adventure. When you didn’t have a mobile phone to stay in touch, to bring back pictures of the strange and wondrous sights you’d seen, when you struggled to communicate with the locals. When dwellings had their own unique character and ugly rows of high rises didn’t dominate every skyline, be it Beijing or Bombay.  From opium dens in Shanghai to the deck of the Titanic, Howe has it all down pat. Each character, no matter how small, seems to have a purpose.

Lan’s past in shipping is the most fascinating part of the book to me. How he grew from brash young sailor to cold, taciturn old gentleman is an interesting tale. Yet, for all that it checks off the correct boxes, it is a slow read. Howe has brought together fascinating ingredients like opium dens, morphine addiction, women’s rights, the Great War, scientists and psychologists – but she’s not been able to build the structure into the towering edifice it had the potential to be.  An interesting read nonetheless for its observations on society and class divides.

A Bad Character – Deepti Kapoor

This isn’t an easy book to read. Short staccato sentences. Leaping from one period to another between two paragraphs. And all this with no names. They are just He and She. A boy and a girl who met in Delhi and were drawn to each other. She’s pretty, but we don’t know anything about her prettiness, other than that she believes she is so. He’s ugly – dark, wiry hair, flat nose, ears that stick out – he looks like a servant, she thinks.

And yet she’s drawn to him and within hours, with no explanation they’re together. Her mother is dead and her father abandoned them years ago to move to Singapore. She lives with an Aunty and Uncle. A typical Aunty who wants her to dress up, join her for parties and get married to an NRI. The book is their love story as well as an ode to Delhi. From the cream cheese in Khan market to the qawwals in Nizamuddin, the filthy Yamuna in East Delhi to little cafes where they play Brubeck and Dylan.

This is a story for Delhiites above all as you relate to drug dealers in seedy lanes in Pahargunj, the roadside parathas and whisky, Mori Gate, samosas in boiling cauldrons, Fact and Fiction in Vasant Vihar, It’s dark, it’s noir, it repels you even while it draws you in. Interestingly, it is a story most of us have either lived or witnessed.

One would imagine it wouldn’t interest, precisely for those reasons. But it does, because we’ve all been 20, all loved the bad boy, and many of us have fallen down that abyss of drugs and self destruction or just missed it. Kapoor’s way with words is what holds you, because early into the story he is dead. You stay on because she reels you in and holds on to you, dark as it is. For instance, her description of him is – ‘There’s not a shred of fat on him, it’s all muscle and sinew, coiled eye and glacier bone, as if he’s covered every inch of land, burnt off every strip of fat through breathing.’

Read it if you’ve been there. Read it if you haven’t been there and want to know what it might have been like. Read it for an alternative version of the life you could have lived.

Cry Baby – David Jackson Erin wakes up with a splitting headache and realises in horror that her six month old baby has been kidnapped. Someone has bugged her person and is giving her instructions via an ear piece.

We often say we’d kill for our children. And Erin has to prove that she means it, because that’s what the kidnapper wants. He wants her to kill a couple of people for him and only then will he return her baby. Erin is a regular jane with no idea how one goes about a murder. But she is driven by the need to save her baby’s life and she begins. As the death count goes up, the police get closer.

The story shifts between Erin and a police station, showing both sides across the space of 24 hours. It has an interesting twist to it and a wiser reader might have seen it coming. I was just too worked up about the kidnapped baby to really think ahead. What bothered me is how the crime almost accidentally solved itself. The police showed no initiative, were far behind the criminal and did absolutely no sleuthing. Very disappointing show on the part of the police force. Still a fairly interesting read.

What Alice Forgot – Liane Moriarty Alice wakes up one morning, pregnant and happy. Only to realise she is not pregnant happy, but a mother of three and in the midst of an acrimonious divorce.  And in hospital, after a fall in the gym, thanks to which she has lost a decade of her memory. Her daughter and she hate each other, she is one of those super skinny, over achieving SAHMs, and hang on, she seems to be in the middle of an affair, except that she hasn’t the heart to tell the man concerned that she doesn’t even know his name. It’s an old trick, this amnesia one, and it plays out fairly well.

Alice is trying to come to terms with who she really is, revive her relationships and take stock, except that the super sonic life she seems to have been living until 24 hours ago is not allowing her to do that. She has the biggest pie on earth to bake, she has a date, she has so much going on  – and all with people she doesn’t even recognise. What Alice Forgot is a wake up call to all those whose lives have turned into the people they swore they wouldn’t. Alice detests the person she is now, is horrified that she and her husband hate each other, her sister and she have no relationship to speak of and her social circle is a bunch of catty women who are constantly taking a swing at each other.

And in all of this, who is this Gina who keeps popping up in conversation followed by a couple of seconds of silence? I liked the pace, I liked the plot, but I disliked a lot of the characters. And what is most annoying is how no one seems to be willing to update her and she flounders around trying to figure out how the last ten years went by. Or maybe that is just a consequence of the unpleasant person she’d become. A quick, light read.

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

Yvonne Carmichael is a respected, middle aged scientist with grown up children and a steady, peaceful marriage. One day she bumps into a sexy stranger and the air sizzles with chemistry. Next thing you know, they’re holed up in a corner, doing it. And then he bumps into her again and again and what started out as a one time thing ends up being a prolonged affair, with all the accoutrements including a second phone.

While he knows everything there is to know about her, she knows nothing about him. Is he a spy, a secret agent? Why is he always juggling phones, having rushed conversations, clearly in the middle of some sort of emergency? Neither of them has really planned where this relationship will go, and when she is brutally raped, she turns to him to save her from the stalker who is clearly planning a second round. Getting the attacker to stay away from her is not as easy as they imagined and this is where their personal and professional lives begin to unravel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book even if I wish it were a little more straightforward and shorter. There’s a lot of back and forth and vagueness, and I think we could have done with less of that. Apple Tree Yard is a reminder that you don’t have to be young to make a mistake. That a middle aged woman can be vain, can feel desire, can commit adultery, can compound her mistakes. As can middle aged men. A reminder that these aren’t the preserves of youth.

The story starts with Yvonne and her lover being in court, on trial. And information comes through in bits and pieces, where the realisation slowly dawns on the reader rather than it being a sudden revelation. In all this her husband stands by her stolidly and perhaps comes across as the most trustworthy character. Or does he? Read it to find it. This is not a book you can read in bits and pieces while traveling. I tried to, and kept losing the plot. Until I stayed back from the beach one morning and focused.

I didn’t regret it at all.

Of Susu Pals and Unboy boys and a reading Bean

The Bean has decided she’d like to join the rest of her reading family. The Brat did this too. Made me wait months and years to see him read. And then began to read like it was going out of fashion (it is in some parts of the world!).

To me it was unthinkable that my children should not breathe and live the written word the way I do. Except that you can’t really force a love for the written word, can you?

When we were growing up, there were few alternatives to reading if you weren’t a sporty  kid. And while I loved the outdoors, small town UP in those days wasn’t really the place for a lone girl to be wandering around observing nature and watching birds. Still isn’t.

So I read and read and read, everything I got my hands on. But kids these days have options. Distracting options. Options that don’t require them to exert themselves. iPads, twenty cartoon channels, toys and games, malls (!). I try and restrict everything in that list, except the toys and games. And I read to them. And read. And read.

But more than that, I read to myself and they saw. They saw that mama was transported to another world in her book and could be remarkably grumpy when called away from it. Clearly there was something to it. And then the Brat began to read and wild horses couldn’t drag him out of a book until he was good and ready.

The Bean is a sprite… light on her feet, running up vertical surfaces, gracefully skimming across the tops of things, almost as light as cotton candy. I didn’t think she’d ever  take to reading. It required too much effort and why expend that when she had so much else to do?

Her progress has been slow too. And after the experience I had with the Brat’s slow start I was patient. I’d like to think!  But no dice.

And then she fell really ill a few days ago. Ten days during which she had viral fever, a terrible cough, a boil on her cheek, one in her nostril, a rash around her eye and then to top it all, a gastro infection that had her puking for three hours straight, ending up in the hospital emergency. She was so weak that she didn’t even jerk when they gave her the shot, didn’t shed a tear, just looked up at my face with betrayal and exhaustion writ large on her face.

I cradled her all the way home and wondered why she was being made to suffer so. In no small measure because of her constant playing in mud, climbing trees, petting strays and feeding cats, no doubt.

But she’d been so ill, that I had kept her home from school, refused to allow her TV for the strain on her eyes and had nothing to do but to lie next to her and read to her. And Her Highness had finally deigned to begin reading with me. Oh she could spell the words and read them out, she just hadn’t any desire to go through a book.

But she slowly regained health and chose to spend more and more time reading. Reading aloud first, then to herself as she got more comfortable. And then tonight, sweet revenge I made her read the book she’d made me read over and over again, until I was ready to slit my wrists. Richa Jha’s The Susu Pals is the book she loved enough to finally sit down and read to herself.

The Susu Pals

Don’t let the name put you off. I know there are purists who believe that there is a certain form literature must take. I have nothing to say to them. I’m all for reading everything, anything and having no boundaries on what one can read or write about. The Bean, like all girls, is constantly seeking that one best friend to bond with. We’ve moved thrice in the last four years, making that a little difficult. And then one of her closest friends moved to Colombo, ruining our last effort.

This book, about two best friends, Rhea and Dia, who do everything together. Even do susu together. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me because when I was a child I always envied the way men stood at the urinals and continued a conversation they’d started outside the loo, no sign of embarrassment. So while I’m not sure the Bean and any of her friends will end up sharing a toilet seat, I am blown away by the fact that Richa thought of it and used it. The ultimate test of friendship!

I also love the games the girls play together – robbing banks, slaying dragons, raiding tombs, sailing the seas as pirates. None of the stereotypical waiting for princes and making cups of tea. No sirree. Hear that crash? That’s Richa’s book bringing down the second taboo in as many pages.

And then one day Isha enters the picture and their friendship is not the same. Isha and Dia hook up, leaving Rhea out in the cold. Dia now finds her games silly, her ideas boring, and her company is unwanted.

Do Dia and Rhea get back together? Yes, they do. Read the book to figure out how. And there’s a surprise element towards the end that I won’t give away.

The Unboy Boy, seems to have been written for the Brat and I shook my head in surprise when I read it. It’s almost as though Richa visited our home and chose to write a book to that each of my children could relate to.

The Unboy Boy

As the name suggests, Gagan isn’t your average boy. He loves ants, he says good morning to the sun and eschews violence to the extent of not enjoying war stories (here I must digress, the Brat is taking a keen interest in history and wars!). His classmates tease him mercilessly and even his grandfather unkindly calls him a chooha (mouse).

And then one day while at camp, a pet cat disappears and there might just be a ghost around the corner. It’s up to Gagan to save the day now.

The illustrations by Gautam Benegal and Alicia Souza are simply fantastic. I’m sorry to lump the work of individual artists together, but both have a keen eye for detail and the little asides are fantastic.

Please buy. Please gift. And also read Art’s review of the books at Saffron Tree.

 

Library day

Sigh. Okay, so clearly I am no good at this title business. Moving on. PS: But I’m good at picking books. Would you rather it were the other way around?

The only bush I trust is my own – Periel Aschenbrand

She had me at the title. I giggled, sniggered and knew I had to buy it. I loved it of course. Periel Aschenbrand describes herself as half Israeli, half New York Jew – I’d like to add, and wholly irreverent. In this book Periel, a sometimes waitress, sometimes teacher, sometimes writer and designer, attacks every institution, from patriarchy, to religion, to sweatshop labour – and she does it with style.

If the title of the book wasn’t enough, sample this – ‘… the thing about giving a gift is, among other things, an act of aggression. And it’s an act of aggression because the nature of a gift is that you are forced to accept it and then you owe something.’

Or this one – If you even want to pretend to take yourself seriously as an intellectual, you can’t believe in nonsense like God and heaven.

Or – The Pope knows that God doesn’t exist. That’s the secret of his f**king power.

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say, it’s a book for anyone with half a brain, an unwillingness to just accept things because they were told so, and considers themselves a feminist. I’ve read it twice already and it must be age because I keep forgetting the funny lines.

I urge, beg, beseech you – buy this book.

The German Boy – Patricia Wastvedt

I can’t seem to get enough of the Holocaust stories. This one though, is a little after. Elisabeth and Karen are sisters. They are friends with Rachel and both are more than a little enamoured of her artist brother, Michael Ross. Michael however, has eyes only for Elisabeth. But that was in the past. It is now 1947 and Karen’s son is a half German orphan who fought for Hitler. He’s now just a homeless 16 year old who is left in the care of Elisabeth. He enters into their lives seamlessly and then suddenly… it all falls apart.

Karen marries a rich German and goes off to live a fancy life. Elisabeth marries a jowly old man who worships her. Rachel hungers for a child. It took me a while to pick up the threads of the lives of the various characters and figure out how they were connected. Wastvedt’s writing is sheer poetry in some places and for that I’ll forgive her the ease with which she let characters and lives drift apart. I know that is how real life works, that things don’t tie up in neat little bundles. But she left so many pockets of pain, so many conversations unfinished that I took it rather personally. 

I hope someday to grow up to be a writer like her. How does one write prose that sounds like poetry without sounding artificial? It’s magical.

Sorting out Sid – Yashodhara Lal

Disclaimer – Yash is a friend and I’m trying to be as objective as possible.

As I mentioned to Yashodhara, I’d never have picked up a book that seemed like it was about a man.. because well, it wouldn’t have been to my interest. But I did, and I’m so glad I did! Yashodhara’s first book crossed the gender barrier and this one does so with even more aplomb.

Sid is 36 and rather unsorted out. Like many of us. And at times he is absolutely infuriating – just like all of us, I guess. His marriage is an unhappy one even if the reader realises it before he does. His best friend is yet another strong woman and he seems to be propped up by strong women on every front. He is due for a promotion and the vixenish HR lady has her eye on him. He sells toilet cleaners, making for lots of susu -potty jokes.

Yashodhara’s writing is simple and unaffected. And what at first seems like a rather simple tale comes away in layers. His relationships with his wife, his best friends, his parents, his boss – are all in a mess. I started off with very little sympathy for him. But he won me over by the time the book came to an end.

She brings up a lot of very modern day issues through the book-  careers, Peter Pan men who don’t want to grow up, insist on bean bags being part of a more elegant home, don’t want to have kids, mostly cannot think beyond themselves. The love interest Neha is a divorced mother, and I smiled each time I watched those scenes play out.

The OA and I have a lot of friends who don’t have kids and balancing our social life is a nightmare. They love our kids but rarely ever realise how hard it is for us to use an entire weekend for ourselves. The kids have their own social lives and at this stage are dependent on us to ferry them about. And by the time we’re done with two birthday parties in a row and shoe shopping for school and weekend homework, we’re often in no state to party through the night. All we want is to change into our pajamas, get into bed with soup and stare mindlessly at the TV!

Anyhow, I digress (as usual) and getting back to the book, I love how Sid’s self centred nature asserts itself best in scenes where the baby makes her scene. Like a lot of Uncles and Aunts, he’s good for a fun time but no more.

A light read, it gives you something to think about without slapping you in the face with moral science lessons.

A Captain’s Duty – Stephen Talty

An account of the kidnapping of Captain Richard Phillips by Somali pirates in 2009, from the MV Maersk Alabama. I have a lot of friends in the merchant navy and the thought of them being kidnapped does keep me up nights. There’s a part of my brain that can’t accept something as barbaric and primitive as piracy in this day and age. I know costs will go up, but why aren’t shipping companies investing in security on board these ships? Why isn’t the crew trained to use weapons etc? So many questions, and an overarching feeling of disbelief and outrage on behalf of those who risk their lives in this way.

Anyhow, the story told by Capt Phillips tracks his journey from the day he gets on board to the day he is released.

Obviously since its a memoir I don’t hold it to the standards that I hold other books to, but all he does through the entire book is extol his virtues. How great a captain he is, how great a husband, how great a son, it goes on. Seriously – did the editors sleep through this one? There are a few letters to and from his wife, and yet again 

I struggled through the book in spite of taking a dislike to him and not caring whether he gets out of it dead or alive and in spite of the stilted writing, because I wanted to know more about the experience. It was with a sense of relief that I shut the book.

Later on I read up on it and on talking to people I realised that it is common knowledge in shipping circles that he really is arrogant and presumptuous and was largely responsible for getting himself and his crew into a dangerous situation.

I know this isn’t really much of a recommendation for a book, but there you go.

A Long Walk Home – Judith Tebutt 

Yet another kidnapping by Somali pirates – and no, I had no intention of getting a PhD on the subject. Somehow I end up picking up/ receiving as gifts, books on a particular topic, all at the same time.

Judith and her husband David met in Africa many years ago and head off once again to the continent they love. After a week on safari in Masai Mara, their next destination is a picturesque beach resort, Kiwayu, that is only 40 kilometres from Somalia.

Call me chicken, but I wouldn’t plan a holiday anywhere within a 1000 kilometres of Somalia. There’s plenty else to see on this beautiful planet of ours. Reports say, however, that tourism is still flourishing there. Strange.

The alarm bells keep going off in Judith’s head, she says, but I’m not sure how much of that actually happened and how much she imagines/writes about in retrospect.

The island is beautiful but deserted and she expresses her discomfort to her husband, yet again. The cottages have roll up blinds at the doors and windows, nothing that can be locked for security. She wakes up to a shout that night, to see her husband locked in a struggle with a stranger. Two others drag her away at gun point to a boat waiting on the beach.

She ends up in the heart of Somalia, in a little shack. While we’ve all heard of Somali kidnappings (yes, I know how those two words just flow together) I doubt we’ve ever real stopped to imagine the condition of the hostages. The kidnappers are impoverished to begin with, which is why they resort to such lawlessness, so the conditions are far from comfortable.

Judith creates a schedule to maintain her sanity and health, walking up and down in her tiny little room, writing in a little smuggled notebook and trying to remember countries and capitals.  I was amazed by how a lady at Judith’s age kept her wits about her and kept the faith. I read this around the same time I read Captain Phillips’ account and couldn’t help but compare the two. She is so much more humble, real and easy to empathise with. You’re rooting for her right through.

I picked up the book because I was horrified and wanted to read a first hand account of a kidnapping by Somalian pirates. After all they’re constantly in the news for it. From pacing her room every hour, to learning to speak the language of her captors, to playing games on bits of card, Judith shows immense fortitude and presence of mind.

What didn’t work for me, was the style of writing.  Now Judith is not a writer, she is a mental health social worker, so clearly I was expecting too much, but a person can wish, can’t they? To be fair the writing is clean and she makes an effort. I just wish it had been edited to be tighter if not given to a ghost writer.

That said, the book could have been edited down to half its size. The language is simple and the tale is tediously drawn out at times, the degree of detail unnecessary other than to just underline how exhausting, traumatic and violating an experience it was.Again, I feel the editors should have exercised a little more discretion and ruthlessly chopped out chunks. Particularly since the writing is bland and uninspired – she isn’t a writer, after all; she’s a health worker.

The most interesting portions seem to have been left out for valid reasons – the negotiation between her son and the pirates. Did he pay to have her released? Did the government intervene? What happened? You’re left with a lot of questions and only one side of the story. Even so, something I’d recommend that everyone read, simply for the strength of her character through those 192 days of captivity.

Papertowns  – John Green

I don’t usually enjoy YA fiction but John Green has got under my skin. The first thing that hits you when you begin a John Green, is how damn intelligently he writes. And trust me, that is a rarity, these days. He philosophises, he talks to teens in a way they get and he holds my attention too. His books are thoughtful, insightful, witty, unputdownable perfection. And he keeps raising the bar. I forgot to review the last one I read, but I shall make up for that in my next post.

Quentin is a geeky teenager who lives next door to, and loves Margo. Has done so all his life. She’s the cool girl in school, everyone wants to hang out with her, and he’s more than a little surprised when she hops into his room that night asking him to go on a round of vengeance with her, no questions asked. The next day, she’s gone. Her parents have no clue where to begin looking for her and only then does he realise that she’s going to kill herself if no one is able to follow her clues, play her little game, and find her.

It’s a story as old as time. The geek boy loves the cool chick and has to earn that love. But  Green rewrites the hell out of it. For a 35 year old auntyji to stay up half the night reading it, reeled in by the sheer magic of his words.

Please buy and read. And gift to your nieces and nephews and neighbours kids. They won’t need to pick up the classics to see what good writing is.

Tampa – Alissa Nutting

Celeste Price is an schoolteacher who likes to sleep with 14 year old boys. Not 13, not 15. Just 14. There.  It’s best to get that out of the way.  Her profession gives her easy access to young boys and since its rare for women to suspected of child molestation, she gets away with murder, so to speak. She’s married, she’s gorgeous, she’s well loved by her students – she is so not the image of a child molester. A reminder to all of us parents that our sons are as unsafe as our daughters.

Celeste takes her time picking her victims, priming them, using them. The only problem this time, is that her victim’s father wants a piece of her too. I found her character thoroughly dislikable, very selfish and dishonest in every way.

I also realised how double our standards are in such matters. An older woman with a younger boy somehow seems less of a violation to many. But one just needs to read this book to see how easily they can be preyed upon. This book has a lot of sex and is not for the squeamish.

The Naughty Girls’ Book club – Sophie Hart

Estelle is a single mum trying to make a living out of a cafe that isn’t doing too well. She decides to drum up some business by starting a book club. A small group of women gets together and they decide on a theme for the next couple of books – naughty books from different periods. They also end up having one male on the book club who is distinctly uncomfortable with the way things are looking.

Now I’ve tried book clubs and realised they’re just not my thing. It’s usually less about the book and more general chatter. Which is what happens with them too. The basic theme is female bonding, sisterhood. Not really the most earth shaking book on the topic, it is a light read, touching upon each of their personal problems and how the friendship forged in the book club helps them overcome it.

The Black Country – Alex Grecian

And we’re back to my favourite kind of writing – period! It’s 1890 and three people are missing in a small coal mining village, Blackhampton. Two policemen are sent from London  to investigate the crime. The villagers though, close in and want to solve their own problems without outside interference. Very khap panchayat like.

A little girl who falls out of a tree and comes upon an eyeball. The houses that shudder and sink suddenly because of the coal mines running under them. The relentless snowfall. All makes for a rather grim state of affairs.

I’ve always admired Christie and Poirot and Holmes for solving their mysteries without the help of technology, but this one takes the cake. Stranded in the middle of a hostile village and hostile weather, with little to eat and no rest, the detectives persevere. The writing was good, the tension was palpable and the storyline taut. I enjoyed this one, thoroughly.

THE SORTING OUT SID: BEER AND BLOGGER CONTEST

So y’all know Y of yonearthnot, right? Of course you do-  I wrote about her last book contest here. And if you haven’t, you’ve been missing out on something. Never too late though. She’s just written her second book and here’s her offer, open to all NCR bloggers.

————–

The Sorting Out Sid: Beer and Blogger Contest

I’m really happy to announce the ”Beer & Blogger” contest around my new book ‘Sorting Out Sid” – where 10 Bloggers will get to hang out with me and Karthika VK(Chief Editor and Publisher, at HarperCollins and all around super-cool person) over a mug of beer at The Beer Cafe, New Delhi – on Saturday, 8th February 2014.
We did something similar about a year and a half ago for my first book, and it was fabulous meeting so many of you  over a riotous lunch – we can expect it to be even more riotous this time, given that this is beer-themed – a natural choice because Sid in the story is very fond of his beer! In fact, I think that’s his only steady relationship. Ha ha. (And no, he’s not an alcoholic)
So here are the very simple rules:
1. Write a post (in about 500 words) on your blog about why you would like to readSorting Out Sid. (You will of course get a copy of the book when we meet) (Click here for book trailer, description and excerpt)
ORWrite a post ( in about 500 words) on your blog about any Funny/Embarassing/Awkward/Memorable Incident involving beer!

Extra points for being saucy, witty, funny since that is what the book is like!

2. The Team at HarperCollins and I will shortlist 10 Delhi-NCR based bloggers to join us at the Beer and Blogger meet. You’ll all be treated to a fine afternoon hosted by the nice folks at The Beer Cafe.
Not Delhi-based? Fear not! As before, I have kept 10 copies of the book in reserve for Non-Delhi based bloggers. You can participate in the contest with the same rules above and if your story wins, you will receive in the mail an author-signed copy too. (Note: they will not be shipped abroad, but you can win them for family and friends here!)
Keep the following in mind, please: 
1. The Title of your blogpost must be ‘‘Sorting Out Sid – Beer and Blogger Contest”
2. You must include a link back to this post somewhere in your post for your entry to be valid. (Let your readers find their way here and check out the contest for themselves!)
3. Please ensure you leave a comment to this post with a link to your entry ( Otherwise, how the heck will we find it?)
4. It is optional to include the book cover, book trailer or book description in your blog post. (You’ll find them all right here.)
5. It is also optional to spread the word on social media about your entry to this contest, or to include the link to the book page on Flipkart
6. Both points 4 and 5 above will certainly win you my love and affection, if not necessarily the contest ;)
7. The contest is open until 31st January 2014 only. The decision of the judges will be final. No late entries will be entertained. In fact, if you get your post up before 15th Jan,you may be one of the Early Bird winners to be announced on Jan 20th. So don’t procrastinate – get going. Come on – there’s free beer at stake! Ha ha.
Look forward to getting your entries. All the very best! And remember, there will be 20 people who get free signed copies of the book (10 from Delhi and 10 from other locations!). So go on and let the beery ride begin!
Cheers! *Clinking together of beer mugs*. 

More books – and CROCUS 2013 too!

In case you’ve forgotten it’s the CROCUS time of year again. We have a fabulous theme and a great selection of books for kids as usual.

crocus2013_flyer_final

And to keep you going until then, my thoughts on a few books for grownups.

The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf

Someone somewhere said this would be something like Jodi Piccoult – an author I love to hate. So I picked it up and have to say, she’s nowhere in that league. That said, it’s an interesting read. Seven year old Calli doesn’t speak – she has selective mutism. She stopped speaking at 4 and no amount of therapy or coaxing can bring back her voice. Ben is Calli’s 12 year old brother, devoted, gentle and basically everything one would want in a son. Their mother Antonia is full of life and fun, and their father, Louis is full of alcohol and bullshit. Petra is Calli’s best friend and her voice. She knows just what Calli wants and guides her through home and school. One morning Petra and Calli disappear, seemingly, from their beds. As their families come together to hunt from them, a lot of skeletons tumble out of the closet. Ex-flames, violence and what not.

As a debut book its fairly good, but I wish I’d not begun by reading about the comparison to Piccoult. That always kills a good read. I thought the plot was slightly weak and could have come together better. The author tries to be compassionate to her characters which doesn’t work with me. I’m a hard woman where kids’ welfare is concerned and I don’t have any compassion for people who leave their kids in harm’s way. Or who look away from what might be a potentially dangerous situation for kids to be in. Recently a friend and I got into a huge debate over the toddlers whose parents forgot them in their cars (in the US) until they boiled to a slow death over 9 hours. No compassion here, at all. So anyway, interesting story, but nothing I’d be less of a person for not having read.

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – Rebecca Miller

Now *this* book, I’d have been sorry to have missed. PippaLee is a submissive, perfect wife to her husband of 30 years, who also happens to be 30 years older than her. Herb Lee is a publishing hero, a huge towering man with presence, who is madly in love with his (comparitively) young wife. At close to 50, Pippa is nowhere near retirement, but Herb decides it might be a good idea to sell all his assets and settle Pippa in with a nest egg, should something happen to him. Which is how they end up in a retirement community, where Pippa is by far the youngest. They still have their parties and fun, and then something strange happens. Someone is breaking into their home every night it seems and pigging out. They wake up to half eaten plates of food on the table, scrambled eggs on the stove and what not. A mystery indeed.

I love the twist the story takes and I love the way she brings out the history of Pippa, fleshes out the character and takes Pippa from a flat, colourless trophy wife to a woman with a past. If anything, it teaches you not to judge people by appearances – sometimes they have a lot more depth. Must, must read.

Saving Rafael – Leslie Wilson

I somehow go through phases of a certain type of book without even trying, and this summer was full on Holocaust and slavery fever. Saving Rafael is at the core about belief. The Jakobys are Jenny’s neighbours. And she loves their son Raf. Oh, and the Jakobys are Jews in Nazi-ruled Berlin. Mr Jakoby dies early in the narrative, as does Jenny’s father. And the rest of Raf’s family. The survivors, Jenny and her mother, hide Raf in their home and risk Nazi wrath.

It’s not a new story but no matter how many times you hear it you can’t help but feel your blood boil. On the face of it hiding one boy might seem simple, until you realise the neighbours count how many times you flush, how often you buy groceries and how many lights are on at night. Eventually the Germans suspect them of being sympathetic to Jews and Jenny is taken away to a camp, even though Raf is not caught. Read on to see what happens next.

No matter how much I read about the Holocaust, it’s never enough. I could pick up the next book and be shocked anew. It always shocks me to see the depths that humankind can fall to. I keep thinking of the Godhra riots and the child being ripped out of its mothers womb on the end of a trishul and I feel the bile rise. What makes us so … evil? Vile? Please read. Please read to see how low humankind can fall and how that makes yet others reach within themselves for reserves of courage.

The Child’s Child – Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine

Grace and Andrew are siblings who get along uncommonly well. This bit reminded me of my brother and the short but happy time when we shared a flat in Delhi at the beginning of our working lives. Some of my happiest memories are from then. But I digress as usual. So, anyway, their grandmother dies, leaving them her house. They could easily have sold it and split the money, but it didn’t even occur to them, so natural was it to share the place – which was also big enough to be shared. What they hadn’t counted on was one of them bringing in a significant other. When Andrew’s partner James moves in things begin to fall apart. Grace is teaching at University in London and working on a PhD on a topic that no one in her social circle has much contact with – unmarried mothers. Luck drops in her lap an old unpublished manuscript set in between the wars. It remains unpublished because it touched upon two taboo topics in those days – illegitimate children and homosexuality. As Grace begins to delve into it, her life begins to slowly begin to ape the book.

I picked this up because I enjoy the pace of Ruth Rendell mysteries. I was a little disappointed by the writing though. It dragged unmentionably in places and at certain points she entirely lost my interest. I plowed on doggedly because I wanted to see where it went. I have to say in the interest of being honest that it’s a great way to contrast attitudes to the same two issues across decades. A very interesting topic and a plot that I felt fell apart because of the writing. What happened, Ruth?

To my daughter in France – Barbara & Stephanie Keating

I find it amazing that two siblings collaborated over the writing of this book and created such perfection. The power of siblings, again. The novel opens with Richard Kirwan’s death. And in his wake he leaves behind shock and anger when his family realises that he has another daughter, far away in France. They all deal with it in their own ways. His wife by locking herself in her studio, his elder daughter by trying to help sort out this mess by writing to the other daughter and connecting with her, the two younger siblings by taking off to France to find out more about their father’s life there and try and understand him. In all this, the daughter in France is the most devastated by the letter that announces to her she is illegitimate, that the father she loves is not her birth father and that her mother betrayed her father. Set in the early 1970s, the story takes you back to the second world war and Germany’s occupation of France to understand where the roots of the betrayal lay.

My only exposure to the French Resistance, before this was through the TV comedy show ‘Allo Allo and that took the sting out of it. But reading about it here, just made me realise how privileged we are, as a generation, to never have lived through war, through danger, through rationing, fearing for our lives, bombs falling as we walked down the road and watching our country being destroyed. Actually its being destroyed by our own politicians even as you read this, but that isn’t the same. A beautifully written book, telling a heart breaking love story. Telling of courage, faith, of thinking of people other than yourself, I loved this book.

The Ingredients of Love – Nicolas Barreau

Aurelie Bredin wakes up one morning to find she’s been dumped unceremoniously by her boyfriend. It’s Paris, she’s gorgeous, she runs a restaurant, so there will be food in the story. Moping around, she picks up a novel called The Smiles of Women and realises that it is – about her!

Determined to find out how this story came about, Aurelie hounds the publishers to get her in touch with the reclusive British author. The publishers seem equally determined not to give his identity up. For a short while there is a sense of mystery and then the answer comes all too soon. This would have worked a lot better if the author had played his cards closer to his chest and drawn the suspense out a bit longer.

I wish I could sound less blase about this story, but I really had high hopes when I picked it up. If not a sensationally new plot, I expected good writing. A little let down on both fronts. I blame myself for picking up a book with a title of this sort.

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen

I thoroughly, thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed this book. I picked it up because the blurb reminded me of another much-loved book I wrote about – The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno. Jacob Jankowski is a promising veterinarian student at Cornell when his parents die in a car accident and he finds himself shattered and penniless. He jumps on to a passing freight train and wakes up to find that providence has landed him on a circus train. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love books that take us away to another world. And this one lands you with a ringside view of the big top.

I love stories set in the Depression and Prohibition era. Either I’m morbid or it’s a reminder of how lucky we are to take all this wine and money for granted. ;) Or perhaps its a reminder of the resilience of the human spirit. I love the sound of speakeasies, the smoky bars (our generation would worry about second hand smoke), the beaded dresses, the will to celebrate even when there was no reason to.

Jacob falls in love with Marlena but the bad news is that she is already married. To the most mercurial and powerful man on the show. But it’s not their love story that fascinated me. It was the glimpse into the circus that had me spellbound. The last time I did this was with Mr Galliano and Enid Blyton. This is just a little deeper and darker. The elephant who is too stupid to take instruction, the toothless tiger, the almost human chimp – apparently you’re never too old to hear about them. The supporting characters weave a very interesting backdrop and you want the author to write subsequent novels featuring them.

Our generation really hasn’t known want and every time I read a book on the Depression, I am shocked anew. Here too, there is a struggle between the working class and the bosses. Wages are held back. Hooch isn’t. People take their pleasure where they get it. Violence is a way of life and being physically tossed out of your place of work is par for the course.

This was a fast and fun read and exactly what the doctor prescribed as I sat out ICUs and blood banks. It took me away from my own cares and woes and I enjoyed the flight of fantasy. The end is especially uplifting, particularly for readers like me who have no discerning and hate unhappy or open endings.

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno – Ellen Bryson

I was hoping to link back to my review of this book for the book above and I realised I hadn’t written about it. I’m shocked and disappointed in myself – how did I deny you this gem? But of course its set in the mid-1800s and of course I fell in love with the blurb. And of course its about a way of life and a place we know nothing of, unlike the endlessly tedious novels set around contemporary times and lives and lacklustre events. Bartholomew Fortuno is the thinnest man in the world and – a freak at PT Barnum’s American Museum, Manhattan. It’s amazing to think of a seedy, dirty New York with horse driven carriages. And politically incorrect enough to have people pay money to see the fattest woman and the thinnest man. What is amazing is the pride the performers take in their oddity, their unnatural gifts as they like to call them. Like the book above, this one too has theatrical performances and then the risque ones, the ones ladies can’t and won’t be allowed to watch. Each character is so carefully etched that you almost forget who the stars are.

Into the midst of this comes Barnum’s ticket to fame and fortune – a genuine bearded lady, Iell Adams. I was fascinated by her relationship with Bartholomen, who of course is smitten by her. Does she want him, does she not, why is she messing with his head… It was really very true to life because so often relationships are amorphous and strange and you don’t realise how you’re making a mess of them until it’s too late to redeem yourself.

I recommended this book to everyone for the period, for the writing, for the interesting love story. What I didn’t like was the way the last section dragged. It’s almost as though the author was still thinking her plot through and made you endure the hemming and hawing as she related the tale. I say it should go back to the editing table to make it at truly superlative book.

If it’s not one thing it’s your mother – Julia Sweeney

Comedienne, scriptwriter and author, Julia Sweeney wears many hats, including that of mother. In this one she bares her soul and I grabbed the book the moment I read the title. It was laugh out loud funny.

Julia did what many single Caucasian women of a certain age seem to do – at least as viewed from our corner of the little world. She adopted a baby girl from China. And named her, wait for the cliche – Mulan. Of course the book explains the story behind the name, but it doesn’t change the way I felt about it! Julia talks about her failed relationships, her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, her desire to become a mother, and how she grew into being a mother. In the midst of this process she also acquires a husband.

I’m rather torn over how I feel about this book. It has all the ingredients that usually work for me. Humour, parenting, honesty, memoir. And yet I walked away from it left cold. But I’d like it if you didn’t go by my review. I have a feeling I missed something.

The Almost Moon – Alice Sebold

I really enjoyed Lovely Bones which is why I picked up this book. I read it outside the ICU on the floor. It was a tiring, stressful time and in retrospect I think I should have chosen something lighter and happier. But the OA has a theory that I tend to read dark books just when I shouldn’t. I read a lot on female genital mutilation when I was expecting the Brat and about the plight of women in Afghanistan when I was expecting the Bean.

Helen Knightly is her mother’s sole caregiver and as any caregiver will tell you, it is a draining role. Her mother is severely agoraphobic and her father who loved her for it eventually put a bullet in his head as his way of dealing with it. Helen’s mother was a model and Helen too is a nude model for art students. The book opens with her murdering her mother, and then systematically putting an end to any normalcy in her life, right from her relationship with her daughters, grandchildren, ex husband and best friend.

I tried really hard to relate to her, to understand why she was on the path to self destruction, but I failed utterly. She was just a very dislikeable character. Although the novel only spans about a day in her life, it weaves back and forth into the past, dredging up memories and fitting in pieces to the jigsaw that is her rather insane life. I could have moved past the murder of the mother as the fine line between love and hate. But she just goes on and on, ruining every relationship she has. By the time I got to the end of the book I was in a funk and grateful to put it down.

Going Out – Scarlett Thomas

Luke is a twenty five year old who is allergic to the sun – the same premise as this one I’d reviewed, by Elizabeth Graver, Awake. Once again there is an over-protective mother whose life revolves around keeping her son healthy and alive. I use the term over-protective loosely – if I had a child so sick, I’d be doing the same. But yes, from the child’s perspective it is smothering and flashbacks show him threatening his mother with running out into the sun if she doesn’t give in on some matter. Children are so quick to threaten you with their own mortality.

Luke’s friends are other equally ‘weird’ young people and it reminded me a lot of my own youth. I seem to have mostly sane friends now. I’m still mad though, as the name suggests. Anyhow, Luke spends a lot of his time online and watching TV, his only way to experience the real world. One day someone mails him and offers to cure him of his disease. The catch? He has to go and visit the person.

Plans are made to whisk Luke away without his mother knowing, and a van has to be acquired and sun proofed, and he needs to be put into a sunproof suit that they build on the lines of a space suit. The person driving, is his best friend Julie, who has a fear of accidents, crashes, bacteria and highways.

It’s a coming of age of course and since I’ve come of age myself, I have no idea why I was reading it. I was sort of amused through the greater portion of it and at times disappointed by the cliched way in which they were each made to confront their fears.

A quick interesting read for a boring flight.

Following Fish – Samanth Subramanian

I’m used to disappointing myself but this one is big. I just searched the blog and realised I’ve never written about Samanth Subramanian’s Following Fish. A series of nine essays, each one examines one aspect of fish – through culture, medicine, food, sport, society. The famous Hyderabadi fish treatment for asthma ( how my parents begged Tambi to go for it, but he hated fish enough to suffer a lifetime rather than agree – his best friend, also asthmatic, and vegetarian, took it and was miraculously cured), the Catholic fishing communities in Tamil Nadu, fishing boast in Gujarat, he strolls around the coast and takes you along with him.

I fell in love with the book. It was fish, it was history, it was reportage – it was written for me. I love his prose – simple, unaffected, clean. Of course I proceeded to have one of my sapiosexual crushes just as I have on Baradwaj Rangan and Samar Halarnkar. The OA who is used to me doing this, just patted me on the head while other wicked friends promptly tagged him on my Facebook wall mentioning that I was crushing on him. As you can see, I have no need for enemies. Read the book, do. I’ve been gifting it to everyone.