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.

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).

 

Holidays . All Over.

 

Added some thoughts to this post, corrections and additions. Also discovered a renewal of interest in the Sunday Times crossword. The loss of the Jerusalem Post Puzzle still grieves me, but I am indeed happy to enjoy the Times again

Lazy over holidays and many posts ran through my mind but never made the cut.  Excuses.  Doesn’t matter.

What have I read?  What am I waiting to read.  And why doesn’t Goodreads have a status of  “trying to read” or “tried but failed”?  Teach your algorithm to sense slow progress and then use it.

I am  slowly reading American Prometheus. The bio allows this and it’s best tasted in small bites.  J. Robert Oppenheimer is a fascinating man who had OCD, spectrum disorder and he understood Quantum Physics – therefore the first don’t matter much.  I can’t say it is slow going – it is interesting going but  lots of it and I expect I will read it in chunks. And I expect it will blow up real good at the end.

Neel Mukherjee is one of my favorite authors.  I finished his new book; A State of Freedom” and he did not fail me as usual.  Five stories tied together that cover the many India’s that carry on and co-exist simultaneously daily.  Five tales that look very astutely into how freedom is defined and how it is perceived.  And how they become a tartan of life in a country that lacks unity.   It is a wonderful piece of fiction but I do believe a love of India and its stories is a good idea for many readers. who haven’t explored this body of fiction.   His writing skill is amazing to me. It moves cautiously throughout and yet delivers on each page.  No spoilers , but I wished a better life for Raju.

I started The Penguin Papers.  I am still trying to decide whether to read it to the end or not.  I read “Wesley”– a hand raised owl and wept so much at the end I still think of him and wish he had simply lived forever.  I have a feeling about Juan Salvado (the penguin question).  I am starting to think beautifully written, true accounts humans and animals should have a caveat about sad endings.  This has always been a problem for me – As a kid – seeing Bambi I wailed in a crowded Boston theatre when Bambi’s mother died and grieved after Fantasia , during the part when the dinosaurs were wiped out.  Across the board, my soft heartedness still exists.  So The Penguin Papers sits – partly read.  I would be very happy if anyone knows about its ending.  Sad or not sad is all I ask.

Fire and Fury is on its way.  Due to snow, deliveries are now delayed but I expect it within another day or so.  I love Michael Wolff and I would like a peep at the bedlam at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  I suspect dementia that is gaining speed, a stroke of some size or tertiary syphilis.   It requires immediate attention and hopefully this book will give that attention momentum.  After reading Blitzed and discovering how Der Fuehrer and his pack of goons and bigots were dosed daily on speed and other narcotics – nothing would surprise me.   (Add to this, the good Dr. Jacobsen of NYC keeping the JFK circles awake.  I bless the fear I have of needles.)  And frankly I love a good tell-all – I pity those who believe they are above it all and smug about it to boot.

And a very quick read – The Prisoner in His Palace ,the last days of Saddam was predictable, fast yet a very astute peek at this maniac.  Are the mental deficiencies of power mad men and occasionally women (Indira m’dear) a result of nature or nurture?    This is why we read everything.  Knowledge madness seems far more enriching.

Back to Oppenheimer and I suspect a cautionary tale within a very long story – not a hard read but slow going. This is illustrates how our alleged bad acts (being a Red back then) disguise brilliance and accomplishments.   American Prometheus is worth the time. Read some more Oppie  last night late. The fatal flaw was of course Marx and Lenin – the late 30’s and 40’s were characterized by many things, but Liberal and Red  urges created lasting woe for many intelligentsia in those days.  Long after the Red Peril And Joe McCarthyism came to a halt; great scientists, writers, actors and many, many others were ostracized, maligned and blacklisted taking remarkable achievements with them denuding in terms of honor.  I suspect as I plod through some more of this huge and complicated bio, I will finally get to the Manhattan Project and Los Alamos. I shall keep reading.

I am losing my pleasure in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review.  It started before the editorial changes, but the pretense has been honed and is so apparent and the cockiness of the writing is very sad.  I do love the best seller list however, a barometer of the crap written, published and then bought.  Meanwhile those eruditiees interviewed, all still have Euripides or the Odyssey on their bedside tables as their favorites.  Get out.

Such loss and sadness – rest in peace Sue Grafton.  Left us in late December 2017.  I loved her.  I loved Kinsey Milhone. Aharon Apfelfeld, a beloved Jewsih voice silenced this week as well.  Life is a trial – death is the loss of those who bring light to it.

Looking forward as the Twelfth Night comes and goes; new pages of Phantom Trades by Lister Martin (part of a new draft) and a much-needed book on the subject of slips and falls and why they must be avoided at all costs. Not just by the aging but everyone.  Until then – stay balanced.  Stay warm. Stay tuned. 

And comment!  Please.

 

 

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.

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.

A Wait List Too Long

I am on a wait list that is trying my damn patience.  Not only that,  the “new books” shelves are not even appealing.  James Patterson is about to have his own Dewey Decimal number.  As a result of this tiresome wait I have been reading fascinating books I ignored at home and in the library.  A mystery (where eating and lots of drinking was featured) was formulaic but the subject was diamonds and I learned a great deal about diamonds.  This led me to more books about diamonds and seriously – aren’t diamonds a great subject?  They just never get old.

The ever prolific (does she ever sleep)? Joyce Carol Oates writing as Rosamund Smith showed up in a book called The Barrens -{which I happen to know about from The Sopranos}  that was so weird and mesmerizing I almost lost the plot line until she whipped it all together in a neat little package.  Mystery, madness, suburbia and a serial killer.  She nailed it in such a strange way I have to suggest you find a copy and see what you think.  And an author new to me – but one with a long title list – Suzanne Berne.  A Perfect Arrangement was very, very good.  Borderline obnoxious couple with kids I would have left in a bus station and the perfect nanny.  Not axe-murderer perfect – but impaired perfect.  I tend to really savor this type of couple story (many of which are not very appealing by page 20) when it’s good. It was so satisfying a little thriller that I got another of her titles.  A Crime in the Neighborhood is what I would be reading right now if I weren’t writing this.  Why does no one mention her?  Why didn’t I?  And Gwendy’s Button Box.  Just find it and read it.

I have figured out that I do like fiction or non-fiction equally.  Neil de Grasse Tyson (the Brilliant) arrived with a way (he thinks) to explain astro-physics to a fool like me.  I am going to read it when I can find a mindset that may help me try to get it.  Fermat’s Enigma has the same effect on me. But I keep trying.  Pythagoras had a lasting appeal but only for his “Commandments”, which I still regard with a smile.  Look them up.

Slowly working through Ta-Henisi Coates Eight Years We Were in Power.  Coates bears very serious reading time.  He does not waste a word and he does not suffer fools gladly.  Adam Gopnick’s newest is waiting – I do love his entire oeuvre – but mostly “Paris to the Moon”.  Patric Kuh on food in Los Angeles ( of which I was a very big part in the 80’s).  Unread MFK Fisher, books about French oysters and in closing ,I should mention  book I read about “Eels” was one of the most memorable natural histories ever.  If I had been on “Who (doesn’t) Want To Be A Millionaire”, I would have nailed an eel question for big bucks.

Why do I not include more details about authors and titles?  Because hopefully it leads you on a search that will help you see other books you may not have considered.  And I read so many  I don’t keep track.  Goodreads is great for this shortcoming.  So I strongly suggest you join the page and at least have a gander at what I want to and have read for more specific information.

Comments are always welcome.  Thank you for reading the blog.  And check out my other one; Voolavex.com