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.


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

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!