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Short reviews: January #100bookpact

As part of the ambitious #100bookpact, I’m reading with intention. I’m reading fiction and memoir, poetry and cookbooks. I’m looking over a teetering tbr pile and smiling gleefully to myself. I’m not intimidated by the goal at all. It will be nice to reach it, but I won’t beat myself over not reaching that arbitrary number either.

In January 2016, I read 19 books. They were an assortment of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Here are my favourites:

The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer : Silence and stillness has fascinated me for years and the quest for it only gets stronger with each passing hour living by the side of a busy road. This gem of a book is based on a TED talk by the reclusive author and I savored it, much like feasting over a patch of green or the quiet of a night in a village. I had to read the book in relative quiet too, which meant taking it with me while I waited for M to finish a chess class, reading it in the stillness of the car, the sounds of a football game not as deal-breaking as unending traffic. The book also has some stunning images of Iceland, all of which make me terribly glad that I bought this for myself for Christmas.

Why Loiter by Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, Shilpa Ranade: This one has been on my wishlist forever. I finally ordered it for aforementioned Christmas and I’m so glad I did. Women’s access to public space in India is negligible at best and groups like Why Loiter  and Blank Noise are doing significant work in changing this. Fascinating reading.

Lullabies by Lang Leav : I took part in one of those Facebook Secret Santa Book Exchanges (yes, one of those). Christmas is a time when you can afford to put your cynicism aside and I’m glad I did. I sent out just one book but got about nine in return. It’s a long way from the promised 36, but really, do we need so many? Most of the ones sent to me were good choice. Some were not to my taste, so those will find another, more welcoming home. This one was a beauty. The cover itself is dark, alluring. Lang imagines this to be “a bedside table kind of book” and indeed it is. The poems are short and lyrical enough that you can choose one at random and it will flow through your heart like a warm breeze on a Spring morning.

Calenday by Lauren Halderman : I read this book last year but never got around to posting a review online. I’m remedied it by re-reading this little firecracker of a tribute to motherhood. You find yourself nodding at all the recognised gestures, the forgotten vignettes of your child’s early years. Halderman experiments with form, chasing the words down the page unfettered and wild much like that two year old who could not be restrained and the only way to watch him in slow motion is in your hazy memory.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Sheffer and Annie Barrows: I bought this book for myself (and the next one in this list) after reading this round-up of epistolary novels on Charukesi’s blog. My interest in letter writing began early and Daddy Long Legs took it to another level altogether. This year I’m doing #100letters so maybe it was divine providence to come across these recommendations. Guernsey was a delight. It was lush and elegant, simple and complicated with a story-line populated with the most charming characters and some heartbreaking events straight out of a war movie. Set in Guernsey, the story revolves around a literary club that comes up overnight during World War II and what happens over the next few years. I expected to enjoy this book very much, and indeed I did. It was flawless. What I didn’t expect was to cry several times. There are many soul-crushing moments, when you question humanity or the lack of it. I loved this book and I hope you will read it and love it too.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff was another totally charming book of letters between Hanff, an American writer and a London bookshop. Such a correspondence today would only be fiction, given how overnight book deliveries and emails have changed the way we communicate with the world. One doesn’t have to wait months or years for a book to show up and be posted to you. Again set in World War II, the book is a treat for lovers of reading and letters alike. Makes you want to pick up the pen and dust off that notepad once again.



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