Why Must There Be A Reader’s Guide?

I realize it may seem that I read books primarily under the categories: India.  And Jews.  Those interest me but it’s not always those I write comments about.  And if it seems that way, I shall widen the scope.

Caveat:  When a book includes a “Reader’s Guide” in the back – my advice is to ignore it.  Pass. Seriously.  Their Q&A’s astonish me.  I tend to avoid groups like the plague, but when it comes to “Reading Groups”, I think Ebola and  Spanish Flu.  Do folks really gather to discuss Oprah’s Book Club selections?  Why?  A lot of folks need Oprah to enhance their lives.  I am not one. And while I really don’t care for Jonathan Franzen after his books   The Twenty-Seventh City and Strong Motion( these he wrote before ).  He is just too adored for reasons I cannot figure out. (Donna Tartt too).  But when he became exercised over the Oprah Seal of Approval –  on the cover of The Connections, I had to approve his ire. I read for pleasure.  I  like to form my own opinions and I find reading a solitary pleasure.

Some of the RG questions beggar belief.  I recently read a novel entitled A Bollywood Affair – a debut by a new voice in India and discovered a bodice ripper writ large (and well writ) that I read in full and wished I hadn’t.  No shade thrown on the author – I just was not prepared.  Neither did I notice the “Reading Group Guide”  mentioned on the back cover.  I promise the book deserved better.  None of the questions would have been sustained in any court. I was about to show you what I meant and could not do it.  All I can say is – dumbed down.  If it’s your drink of choice, by all means, read and respond, but I find they insult many reader’s intelligence.

Tarun J. Tejpal, an author new to me but clearly one who is respected by his readers in India.   The Story of My Assassins just arrived.  The story is true, slightly confusing but what a book.  No helpful glossary and his use of Hindi words and curses did indeed inspire me to look them up.  My own confusion arises from a belief on the author’s part, that the reader has some knowledge of Indian history and politics.  I have more than when I began and caught on to the rhythm as soon as my prior reading recall kicked in.. The event that prompted the book is factual but the layers of the events before and after are woven into a tight fabric set in Haryana, Delhi and other areas of Northern India.  Descriptions of the air in Delhi in previous books have stayed with me and I suspect much coughing and wheezing – and Delhi is not a favorite locale.but this book is a lulu. Political, parochial, authentic and alarming – highly recommended for the story and the writing. Lots of sex, violence, cursing, Hindi and unshuttered windows for closer looks at the India between now and then. (It has been compared to the White Tiger and Slumdog Millionaire*;  I find this book far more intricately delivered and much larger in scope.  (Tejpal is also the founder of the Indian news magazine Tehelka.)  It does have a damn reader’s guide but I am not certain why.  I realize however that I must read the Mahabharata and the Gita.  One hopes there are versions for each in the category of “For Idiots”.

Because I have Lubavitchers as close friends and know their daughters from birth to their marriages and children, Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers by Stephanie Levine was truly a joy and allowed me to answer questions I would not feel comfortable asking even these women so close to me. Within this community; so many personalities and viewpoints. Much like the six girls of my friend.  I saw each one in the profiles and it added to the pleasure of this book.  Well cited and indexed (I love indices) and within the cites – other titles to explore

Fire and Fury remains infuriating.  And still best in small servings. Looking forward to picking up yet another look at the man In the White House as measured by over two dozen mental health pros. And no, I did not watch the SOTU.

 

Comments welcome.  Share.  Thanks

 

  • *I read Slumdog as “Q&A” before it was renamed

Pink Cat Ears, Jewish Women, ​and Perhaps, the Times They are Changing​.

I expect that my over the moon adoration of Sujata Massey’s first Perveen Mistry Mystery may not have hit the spot for everyone.  But dammit, she did such a well-researched job on her depiction of 1921 Bombay – the delight for me was in the details.    Now I ‘m watching daily for Amazon to arrive and the library to receive my holds. Meanwhile, I have chosen some sociological and religious titles that intrigued me –  the one below in particular.  This not interest some but the lesson it left with me was a very simple.  “You cannot pray away the gay”.  Nor should you try.  We are born who we are or very close to it.  Love is not restrictive.   Happiness is how you feel when you love someone or something.- if you believe in a deity – you should believe this is true.

I have very close friends who are Lubavitch Jews.  I have known them for almost 35 years and I adore them.  Meals at their house are performance art on so many levels and coupled with spiritual enthusiasm from everyone; each time I go there, I  leave with a very good feeling.  I am Jewish so I am not a fish out of water and this makes a difference as well.  My friends are frum from birth, observant and very open-hearted.   As I border on being a heathen by comparison – I  can and do share things in my world in an exchange of wonderful learning and laughter.

It was this friendship that led me to read Uncovered By Leah Lax, the autobiography of a  Jewish college girl – very confused and part of a very Orthodox Lubavitcher family.   She was also gay.  Her deep and difficult secret. But because there was no way to have an observant life and a woman partner,  she decided she would deny her own sexuality and become the perfect Hasidic wife.

Being an accomplished frum wife is a very taxing job.  It never stops, and the rules are ironclad.  the job of Hasidic women, in their marriages, is (to my thinking) to teach, show, observe, uphold and find joy in these male-dominated and very narrow holy pathways. Her psyche, however, was in a pain so intense and her motives – in her own mind, so confusing it, the story was like reading a captive’s memoir.  The self-doubt, her distant husband, and their 7 children had run her into the ground.  And in the midst of all this tzuris, she says not a word about her long ago female lover and the feelings she does not forget and still pines for.  She has erotic dreams.  She has driven her doubts and anger at her chosen life beneath the surface, but not close enough;  they bubble up often.  Her disillusions and dread appear on every page.  The constant noise of children, the smell of cooking, the repetitive existence of Shabbos – (meant to be the high spot of each week),  the work-intensive holidays, the cleaning and her job (yes, she also works) felt, to me,  like trying to squeeze uranium from a toothpaste tube without causing Armageddon.  It ate at me as I read and what I could clearly feel was her valiant, abiding, faithful adherence to her chosen life; sucking her dry.  She suffers in so many from her feelings and she suffers greatly.

Tangible details: the clothing, the wig, the rigidity, the childbirths and her husband are not left to guesswork.  And eventually, by chance, the happy ending finally arrives and the long struggle she battled, allows her to keep her better self as a Jew, to embrace her sexuality and create a life with her partner and oy, was it a relief.

I suspect this book will speak to many religious women in many diverse communities, not only Orthodox Jewry. It sheds another bright light on a much-needed look at how women in male-dominated societies narrow their vision and the toll it takes. It was a difficult memoir, well written and it spoke to and will continue to speak to the many oppressed and repressed females who are now – perhaps – coming to the front and pointing fingers at a hierarchy that needs a good deal of work. As feminist commentary and cautionary tale – especially in these difficult times, I highly recommend it.

 

I read the “Guru of Love”, set in Nepal and found it fascinating.  Mores and manners I had not often encountered in other South Asian fiction and others, wholly familiar.  Nepal was a new locale but within a religious and politically fragmented country – it continued a thread that is present in so many books from this area.  I liked it.  It plays a timeworn song, but one that keeps playing – even now.

A desire I have had for some time has been to improve my understanding of science, After I failed “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” (sorry Neil – I tried)  I found and ordered two small books that promised to teach me The Periodic Tables (a work of art) and the Cosmos.  I am still hopeless, alas, but I am not finished.  The fact I didn’t catch on to “Astrophysics” ( and I was in no hurry)- chips at my belief it will suddenly all make sense.  But I do love Fibonacci numbers, the Large Hadron Collider, the Boson Higgs and numerous elements I hardly understand must indicate something.  My burning question still exists without an answer though:  If the Universe has an age, began with some sort of event and is going to end – what will be in its place instead?  

These little books are from Quercus and at Daedelus, part of their winter sale.

I would love your comments.  Tell me what you read and share your favorites (and give a hint why).  It’s free and there is no deadline.

It’s Still January. Isn’t It?

I am back after a too long delay but I am a happy reader.  Very happy.  I will start with the most excellent, simply wonderful new character in the the the many very good, literary mystery series on the shelves.  Sujata Massey of the Rei Shimura series (and you must read all these – I have),  had crept into India a few years back and dazzled me with her two books set in South Asia.  The Sleeping Dictionary is a tour de force that I recommend.  She promised a new mystery series set in 1920’s Bombay, India (my most-loved locale and in my favorite time-frame).  Perveen Mistry (a Parsi –   of a small, but unique and amazing group in that city) appeared on January 9th as the star of The Widows of Malabar Hill.  I was truly transported.  She is at the top of her game on a mesa with lots of room for more.  Brilliant and literary,  Perveen joins Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh series to my delight the Sam Wyndham series set in Raj Calcutta by Abir Mukherjee, The Calcutta Chromosome by Amitav Ghosh,  the Maharaja series by Arjun Raj Gaind. I am not familiar with Vish Puri – but I know he is another of this exalted group and I am waiting for a title by Tarun Tejal.

I love Bombay.  Love it.  And Widows is so diligently researched and is an example of superb authentic fiction.  I have read it in pieces so it would last longer and I am hoping Massey has taken a deep breath, some time off and has started another one.  She joins several other cherished Bombay novelists, Thrity Umrigar – {read all her books please!!} Salman Rushdie, Rohinton Mistry,  Ardashir Vakil, Vaseem Khan, Shilpa Agarwal and Siddartha Dhangvant Shangvi, just a few on my long list ).  We are experiencing the welcome Indian (Anglo, Canadian, American) entrance into the mystery genre and about time. (I am a serious reader of India – for 20 years – so my enthusiasm is a long time and includes many South Asian authors – just about as prolific a group as the artists of Haiti).  This reading is not limited to fiction either. As an added bonus the Widows has two maps and a glossary.  This book tops my 2018 list so far and while the year stretches ahead – I think the Widows will endure.

Now that I have waxed deliriously about Widows, I must mention Tom Zoellner – whose book on diamonds was so marvelous; but his book Uranium was like a short course on Uranium itself, the atom bomb, yellowcake and the geographical locations of this heavy and very volatile, radioactive element.  It is a very frightening element and subject and has changed our world forever.  I found out, among much reading, that plutonium does not occur in nature but is a by-product of U-235 and that the infamous yellowcake must be weaponized. I also came away with a deep loathing of King Leopold of Belgium and his pimping and pandering of the Congo. As an unexpected benefit, Zoellner’s intensely researched, heavily referenced book relieved me of my continued, and laborious read of American Prometheus.  I am not surprised that J. Robert Oppenheimer died a man with many things on his mind.  I may finish this book eventually, but Uranium answered many questions.  Zoellner’s style is terrific.  It was a subject presented in a most engaging style that was very hard to put down – I think I liked it even better than The Heartless Stone.

Both the above books have whetted my appetite for further reading in these subjects  To this end I have expanded my hold list at the library

Fire and Fury – too much about a little, obnoxious man with small thumbs and a propensity for lies.   It is printed on cheap paper and not worth even that. This charlatan is a fat-assed, self-centered miscreant who has surrounded himself with disposable colleagues and has no business being in any part of politics and for that matter, business.  It is well written but also like reading the National Enquirer endlessly. Fascinating, but thoroughly nauseating.  Kudos to its author, Michael Wolff, however.

Is this it?  Seems as if I have read more, but could be magazines.  In the New Yorker, this week was Jill Lepore’s excellent piece on Barbie v. Bratz. (doll wars) .   Have also having appointments outside to make and this too takes time.  I promise I do search the library before I pile additional titles on my own bedside table (floor, dresser…).  Yet Amazon calls.  You too?

As a lagniappe – Must suggest a photo book by my longtime friend Dirck Halstead; Moments in Time.  A Time-Warner shooter, he has had 47 Time Magazine covers and is a photojournalist of renown.  He has covered the WH and been every damn where shooting the last century superbly.  The book is not a new one but the photos resonate indelibly.  I am bit biased but highly recommended.

Many on hold. And FYI – you can read short descriptions of all the books I mention on Amazon, your local library, and Goodreads.

Your comments are always welcome!

News of the Words

It has been a reading week.  And on my nightstand – for real – are The Widows of Malabar Hill, Uranium, The Outside World, A Fatal Grace, Still Life, American Prometheus (and Uranium is like a companion volume to AP), Kardamom Kisses, and (drum roll) arriving today Fire and Fury (Escapades of a Shit in a Shithole). and am trying to decide if it’s going to  be Malabar Widows (my heart is beating very fast – this promises to be a fantastic start to another India mystery series by a killer writer Sujata Massey.)  Or shall I dive into the slurry of Fire and Fury.  I suspect I will not be able to put it down.  And having started Uranium last night – I have fallen into yet another considerable tour de force by Tom Zoellner my new favorite non-fictionist.  I realize that books about specific ‘things’ (one subject that turns out to be dozens along the way) are very enticing.  In any subject, but especially in subjects I have little knowledge of and this is an education + great reading.  So Zoellner is a do not miss.  He is a wonderful writer and his notes and facts are so well checked.  Check him out. He is at Chapman U. in Orange County, California and worth a Google.

Kardamom Kisses was a surprise.  Shinie Antony is a very prolific yet under mentioned Indian writer. Outside India that is.  Her book(s) are published in India, in English, by Rupa (Delhi) –  so this can mean no glossary in the back.  She is extremely funny and a sharp and accomplished writer.  This is her debut novel  and I found myself laughing out loud often as I read – and was often confused because the story jumped around in terms of regional languages.  Malayalam  to Punjabi and English and a visit to her website didn’t help much.  Shinie Antony.net   FYI. From Kerala to Delhi and names and characters were the same but not in each place they lived.  The Baby Auntys were very funny and I am trying to get one of my Indian authors to help me sort this all out.  I recommend it but wait until I get a better glossary in hand. Shinie is active in Malayalam writing events in South India and her website is ShinieAntony.net.  If I get some info on terms – I will post them here.  (BTW – the last book that made me laugh so hard I had tears down my face was The Luminous Heart Of Jonah S. by a great favorite of mine, Gina Nahai. Magical Realism appeals to me bigly – and she has it nailed. Not to leave out Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and most South American and South Asian fiction writers.  Sometimes I actually think there is more truth than poetry in the genre of Magical Realism.

The Penguin Papers is wonderful and sad and I sobbed.  So if you read it, this is my only caveat.  It is a tender and lovely true story and you will want a penguin of your own to love.  You will want Juan Salvado.  I do.  Read it – a good cry never hurt anyone.

A brilliant WISHLIST idea emerges in the form of the book catalogues I receive. I use them as a wish list of what and where the books I like will be from.  Check them off with some to borrow and some to buy.  Some are L’s and other are $s – and from this list I can order online from the best price site or even cheaper, the L.A. Public Library {that’s the ‘ L’.}  Never fail to look on Amazon.   So, next time a book catalogue drops into your mail – try this method to get your reading wishlists in a row.  Get catalogues (paper) from university presses, Daedalus, regional stores and UK and Aussie  titles.  My university press list I like best are Chicago, Yale, Harvard, Oxford, University of California and it is easy to find them online.  Daedalus has a very varied catalogue that I love, but any catalogue you receive is a new world of titles.   Snail-mailed orders allow you to use paper checks.  Not everyone has credit cards.

The NYTimes Sunday Book Review was better this week.  Of course my favorite crime critic, Marilyn Stasio, led off and that is never a bad sign. The sacrosanct “Best Seller” list is still largely ‘nom nom’ novels – bowl of salted snacks and your drink of choice.  They sell well largely because they require little thought and are better (to me) than movies. And fast.  Some I have already read some and a few more are on my list.  The staff picks can also be very good but the pretentious “Shortlist” still annoys me.  And speaking of the shortlist – The Man Booker is 50 years old and is having a celebration and  a contest.  Check their website Manbooker.com.  I am ashamed to say that of the fifty winners I have only read a dozen, but I may have done better on their short lists.   I will check for next time.  I love this entire competition because their finalists are so eclectic and smart and the Booker’s inclusion of global entries is even better.

MAIL DROP JUST NOW:  Fire and Fury.  Not opened yet  (that’s next) but when I am done – I will tell you why it was incredible or that I knew it all anyway.

And…although I prefer printed books, don’t forget e-books, audible books and almost daily new ways to read books.

 (As promised, I have kept my library receipts).

 

I had To Stop.

Piu Eatwell marries titled men.  I think she has an OBE too. Okay – this is a talent some have. But as an author?  Not so talented.  I had to stop reading Black Dahlia, Red Rose to stay sane.  She solved nothing.  She re- explained her 276 footnotes in the disguise of cluttered, repetitive back of the book notes and this is still a damn cold case.  I cannot imagine who edited it and now I don’t care.  It was simply annoying.  And it’s a done deal.  I couldn’t finish it nor did I want to.  And this is a mystery I find intriguing. The story was far better told by James Ellroy.  Even Steve Hodel  posited a fascinating theory.  Piu.  Not so much.  Read it and see if I am wrong  Your thoughts would be appreciated.

What are we going to do without Henning Mankell?  I just read  one of his last books – After the Fire and realized he is a writer I will miss very much. The book is not a Wallender, but it does have a mystery and alluring characters that will take you, regrettably, to the last page.  The weather is cold and you will shiver with him.  Quicksand is the last book he wrote and I shall order it.  His saddening diagnosis of lung cancer was the end of a wonderful teller of tales. If you loved Kurt Wallender – read this last novel and say good-by.  I thank him for so many hours of wonderful reading.

Back to another look at diamonds “The Heartless Stone” (another author)- and I must emphasis this is a nasty business and so controlled I can only hope a secret group of  diamond “pipes” and C-10 garnets will appear and that one lucky person will get to mine them all.  These are not a fair traded commodity.  And are a large part of Black Africa’s tragedy. This book atkes another view and I am curious to see what else I need to know about a girl’s best friend (which I thought were birth control pills).

My daughter sent me the 50th Anniversary tome of New York Magazine which I remember from before it became a magazine; in the New York Herald-Tribune.  This magazine has kept me sane for 50 years and I am reserving a quiet, solitary block of space and time in which to read it and weep.  I loved living in NYC.  It is massive volume and requires a quiet time to take it all in. I still get it every two weeks and devour it.

Beginning January 2nd, I plan to save my library receipts as I borrow books so I will remember what I have read and maybe even why.  I should have done it years ago.  But I am very good at hunting titles in the library computer sites before I go hog-wild and buy them.  Some just are keepers, but others are like popcorn.  You eat your fill and then you relax and wait for another bag at another time.

Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve and fingers crossed, we will have a better year in 2018.

No Heat. Read in Bed.

Our heater broke.  Our owner is not concerned so we are chillin’. Pissed off, but still chillaxing.  Our little town is usually very good about setting things right.  So there is much reading and  blankets

The Innocent Man by John Grisham is a very real and ugly example of small town corruption that resulted in a very mentally ill man spending years on Death Row while he was being swallowed into the bedlam of his mind.  Eventually The Innocence Project ( a simply incredible organization – I could write paragraphs) found the foxes in the legal henhouse of Ada, Oklahoma (Oklahoma in this and many similar cases is NOT OK.) and Ron Williamson walked to freedom.  He was clinically insane and stayed that way, despite treatment. He finally lost his battle with the bottle and died of liver disease and a life stolen.  Freedom is, in this case, was just another word for nothing left to lose.  Painful and in these times a very cautionary tale.

Got lucky and got John Sandford’s latest Virgil Flowers.  A good yarn. Deep Freeze.  Wear mittens.  Minnesota is cold, cold, cold in the winter. Murder, lies, greed, chilblains in ice.  A lot of driving on icy roads. And an icy river running through it. The usual mixed drink of the genre – but it was a keeper.  Short term loan thus read in a day or so – perfect with no heat. But not in Minnesota.  Better in Los Angeles.  Our version of cold is not that of the Land o’ Lakes. Highly recommended. I cannot miss a Sandford. And now am off the damn wait list.

Snagged Hilton Als second book White Women (I have the first – he is stunning – in the New Yorker and on his own pages).  Not done.  It is a small dose ,wild ride. but worth the time.

Glitter and Greed – about diamonds of course – very curious about alluvial diamonds and those found Kimberlite mines. STOP THE MUSIC. Gemsploitation TELL ALL. (small type – cheesy design, mostly promo for the author’s doc on diamonds – mentioned on every page). Nasty history – in India and Africa. The important info:   Apartheid?  You betcha’.  Ugly, vile bigots. The Boers get most of the blame for apartheid but vile, white, horrid Cecil Rhodes is the baddes, bad guy (very bad); Oppenheimers (bad continued) and now deBeers holds the gem hostage to the world.  Enslaves Africans, exploits  ALL workers  including children (no surprise); so you may rethink that rock you are wearing.  Diamonds.  Not a pretty picture. ( FYI:”Diamonds are Forever” coined by Ayers Advertising in 1948.   And this:  Maurice Templesman; Jackie O’s constant companion, tops the list for BIGLY BADDY.) Politics, racism, child labor, rich white people, mesothelioma. They sparkle, they entice, they cost – they cost in ways I never knew.

The novel Broadchurch – a great refresher since Gracepoint was weird (US rewrite) and The BBC America’s two seasons of the original Broadchurch w/Dorset  locations were a while back.  Nice to have it all laid out in front..  I loved the show – maybe because of David Tennant.  Well written and captured the entire story by Erin Kelly.  If you loved the show you will enjoy the book.

Still no heat, many covers, many titles yet to  read. Thrift stores finds – maybe next time. Brrr.

 

 

 

 

Better Than Turkey

Ah the joy of the holiday season.  Loud, volatile and exhausting.  One can get too old for it – especially when they realize they were too old for it at about ten.  Growing up in New England is worse than having creamed onions shoved down your throat.  Or squash pie.  Instead, I read.  My, my, my – the many I read.  All of which were fulfilling in ways a meal simply isn’t.

The first was a never heard of  John Grisham “The Racketeer”.   Blew me away!  I hated to get to the end.  Plot plotting, twists, turns and sheer genius – I did not figure out the direction of the story which made it even better.  Read it!

I had plenty of titles from which to choose after the monthly book sale last week .   “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” was next in line and my hilarious attempt at “getting it”.  So I spoke out loud to the damn book and kept asking Neil deGrasse Tyson – “but what was there before all this?” I did know what the Large Hadron Collider and Cern meant and I knew the bosons were named for a Bengali.  But I continued to ask “but what was there before?”  No reply.  I haven’t given up yet but I was never meant to be a astrophysicist.  As my daughter pointed out “These are very special people”.  And truly, what they know came with the package.  They have always known.  I love  Neil Tyson and his writing and his approach to this dark  territory  (black hole dark).  Check out Wiki and  go see about honest genius.  Go see about Neil.

Somewhere in there I slept.  Seriously.  But as the afternoon approached,  so instead of tea, I dug out “A Place at the Table” about a torn Chassidic teen who has grown away from his distinguished dynastic rabbi-filled family. It lets the reader see how he struggled to figure out how to have both without having to choose either. Without tragedy or defiance In some cases, alas, choosing is what MUST happen.  I always welcome books from this community because it enlightens me and makes me appreciate even more my Lubavitch friends and their open attitudes and divine humor. If this is your gleisel of tea- you will enjoy a well written and endearing novel; a place few of us see close up.  The author, Joshua Halberstam, did grow up in this same atmosphere and his insights are excellent. (I very much liked the fact  too, that he never specified which group he came from – discreet and very caring.) Take a short BMT ride to Boro Park. And don’t miss your stop.  You will find your place at the table (and a bissel Yiddish couldn’t hurt either.)

My house is filled with books  yet it always comes as a surprise to me how many I have read and how many I need to read.  And it’s like picking a kitten from a litter.  Or a puppy.  So that’s how I got to  Avery Duff’s “Beach Lawyer”.  Yes – that is the name and it was pretty entertaining for a first novel and a very juicy, well written lawyer tale.  Intricate plots told simply are a sign of something – and it takes more than a so-so writer to do it and when it happens – it is a delicious ride.  And of course lawyers can write.  Part of how they lawyer is their writing.  This one was set near my part of town and I did notice a couple of location errors* toward the end.  But…a wonderful hot day thriller.

Waiting for me are two books about diamonds – largely post alluvial stones from India and bag of new ones from today’s library run. Some are actually non-fiction!

A shortlist of authors that should be noted – Caro Fraser, Janet Gardam, new names from India and an entire array new, post holidays.  Darkness is falling, it’s not as hot today and there are books to open.  See you soon.  Comments always welcome.

 

*This is what happens when you copy edit as you read.