My Year in Books: 2017

The last time I wrote this*, I was in a lecture hall in college.
This last year has been immensely productive reading-goals wise. It’s been even more fun because I meticulously tracked my reading, not only through Goodreads, but also using a spreadsheet (Go big or go home, amirite?). Earlier in the year, I thought I’d review each and every book I read, but I’m too lazy for that. So I decided, why not do something even nerdier (crazier?).**

A summary of my reading year

My year in books

As you can definitely see, this year, my reading has definitely involved more books, and I’ve read more diversely than ever, including writers from 18 countries . I’ve read a lot of Non-Fiction and Poetry, and have gotten really tired of Young Adult. That being said, one of my favorite books of the year has been a Young Adult (more about that later. Maybe).

Here’s more highlights of my reading year:

 

Sub-Genres

I’ve read many, many sub-genres this year. I’d never read a comic or a graphic novel ever before, for instance, and this year I read a total of 21.

 

I generally love diaspora novels, and tend to read a lot of them. This year’s reading involved a substantial amount of diaspora-themed books too.

ds

Most of the books I’ve read, I’ve liked. But of course, I’ve read some terrible books this year.

chart (3)

Essentially rated them out of 5, Goodreads style. 1- Terrible, 2- Bad, 3- Okay, 4- Good, 5- Amazing

 

I also finished Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge, The Brunch Book Challenge and PopSugar’s 2017 Reading Challenge, both of which were too much fun (and a bit anxiety provoking, till I realized that this was only a hobby). I also watched a lot of Book-Tube (that’s people on YouTube talking about books. Who knew, eh?

I also read 5 of the 6 Booker Shortlisted book (couldn’t pick up 4321), and an additional two from the long list), and the one that won the International Booker.

bkr

Read the highlighted ones. Of these, Home Fire was Underground Railroad weren’t shortlisted.

 

*The blog and Year in Review, I guess
**My sister says I have too much time in my hands. But what are Sundays for, eh?

How has your year been, reading-wise? Let me know.

 

 

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What Spring does with Cherry Trees.

I have never been the Live Fast, Die Young kind of a person. But sometimes, I wish that were not the case.

Thus situation was not supposed to be a thing. This situation was supposed to be a touch and go, something that was fun, uncomplicated, and just a tad bit out of my comfort zone.

It’s become so, so much more. I should have realized (or remembered?) that I don’t do anything half-assed. I should have realised that I was going to go all in, because that’s just who I am. I should have realized that no matter how blasé I am, there are things that don’t work like that.

When I first read I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees, I had no idea what that meant. But knowing you, in your rawest of forms, and yet, not at all, I know what that means. I know what Neruda meant when he said that, because you are the spring and I am the cherry tree.

Some days, I think I remember you as you were before you existed- raw glitter and stardust. I see pieces of you and think, oh, I know you more than I did yesterday, and that’s enough. I see pieces of you and marvel at all the beautiful things the universe has to offer. Maybe the universe isn’t offering it to me, but I marvel still.

I want to write your names in the stars, and the moon. I want to write your name in the vapours of clouds and the smokes of fire, for I’m sure there’s nothing more beautiful than it. I’m sure there’s no name more beautiful than mine on your lips. I’m sure there is no sound more beautiful than the chirpy mornings after you’ve let me in.

There will come a day when all of this ceases to exist, and I will think of this day, writing you an ode with bliss and a contented smile. And I will, one day, think of you as Early Christmas. A life lesson. A lesson in love, and in the beauty of hope and possibility.

Till then, however, I will let your words rain over me. And I will be happy with you for teaching me what it means to be incandescently happy, even if it were momentary. And I will let you do with me spring does with the cherry trees.


Favourite Poems: January 2018

(It’s still January, in my head).

This year, I’ve decided to read a poem a day. It gets difficult to quantify, sometimes, mainly because a) I’m exploring what’s poetry supposed to mean, and b) I like reading poetry collections.

But, since I am doing this for myself, and I am too lazy to think of things to blog about (unless you read my poetry blog where I post more often) I thought hey, why not combine the two, and compile a list of great poems I’ve read every month!

The idea for this series is for me to post at least four poems (one poem/week) that I thought were great every month. This way I can keep a check on myself (with respect to reading) and have something to blog about. (Please expect a nostalgic/sentimental post soon about blogging soon (that could mean months)).

For now, here’s a list for January:

1) Walking with Eliza, by Jeffrey Harrison

What I loved about this poem is that it’s about the love between a father and a daughter. It’s full of the kind of nostalgia that makes you yearn. For what? I don’t know. The poem is an invitation to Harrison’s mind. It’s as if he says, Look what I’ve discovered. Isn’t it so strange, so beautiful?

Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

I comment on how strange the weather is,
as if the day can’t decide whether it wants
to rain or be sunny—and then on how funny
it is that we say things like that, as if the day
had feelings. I ask her if they’ve talked about this
in English class, and she says, “You mean
personification?” and I say yeah, deciding
to spare her the term “pathetic fallacy,”
another rule about how we’re supposed to think,
a censoring of the imagination.

Here’s a link to the poem, if you want to read it: http://www.versedaily.org/2014/walkingwitheliza.shtml

2) Ode to Patrick Swayze, by Tishani Doshi

Everyone who’s watched Dirty Dancing probably has had a little crush on Patrick Swayze. It seems like Doshi’s “sexual awakening” (cringing at this phrase), and probably her first crush was him. But can you complain?

She writes:

At fourteen I wanted to devour you, the twang, the strut, the perfect proletarian butt in the black pants of you. I wanted a man like you to sashay into town and teach me how to be an aeroplane in water. I didn’t want to be a baby. I wanted to be your baby. I wanted revenge. I wanted to sue my breasts for not living up to potential. I wanted Jennifer Grey to meet with an unfortunate end and not have a love affair with a ghost

This poem makes you miss having your first crush- the magic of wanting to be with someone like Johnny Castle- of wanting to be taught how to be an aeroplane in water

Read Tishani’s amazing collection Girls are Coming out of the Woods here.

3) Unnamed poem by Gulzar.

Sometimes I read translated works, and wish I could understand the language in its entirety to appreciate its literature. This poem made me wish I paid more attention in my Hindi classes. The translation (Translator unknown) reads:

A poem
entangled in my chest,
lines
fastened on my lips,
words
like butterflies
won’t sit still on paper.
I sit
for so long
with your name
on this blank paper.
Your name
just your name exists;
could there be
a better poem?

Read the original and the translation here

4)The Aliens by Charles Bukowski

The seemingly “normal” is so the opposite of normal sometimes, no? This poem gripped me and then let me go so abruptly, that I had to re-read it a few times to feel better (and worse, because I wish I could write like that).

you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
very little
friction or
distress.
they dress well, eat
well, sleep well.
they are contented with
their family
life.
they have moments of
grief
but all in all
they are undisturbed
and often feel
very good.
and when they die
it is an easy
death, usually in their
sleep.
you may not believe
it
but such people do
exist.
but I am not one of
them.
oh no, I am not one
of them,
I am not even near
to being
one of
them
but they are
there
and I am
here.

Read it here

Which of these did you like the most? Which is your favorite poem of all time? Let me know.


2017: Favourite Books

Since I read some really great books this year, I’m not including re-reads in this list.

Fiction

1) The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

The story of 16-year-old Starr, who sees her childhood friend(s) being killed by police officers. She lives in a predominantly Black neighborhood, and goes to a predominantly White school, and has a White boyfriend. Obviously, race relationship is the main theme of the book.
This one was obviously a big one in the book world this year, what with being in the NYT Bestseller List for about 43 weeks, and being made into a movie next year (which will only increase the popularity of the book).
Thankfully, I had no idea when I read it that it’d be this popular (or amazing). But from the first few pages I was hooked. It’s woke without being preachy, and Young Adult without being too Young Adult. I am so, so happy a character like Starr has been written- she’s brilliant. I’m sure I’d re-read this book in the very near future, and cannot wait to see the movie. Added Bonus: Angie Thomas is amazing on Twitter, and there’s a new book coming out very, very soon.

2) Home Fire, by Kamila Shamsie

A re-telling of Antigone, by Sophocles, Home Fire has its flaws, but had me hooked from the first page. Aneeka is torn between her love for her twin brother Parvaiz, who joined the media arm of ISIS; and her sister Isma (who essentially brought her up) who she later learns ratted Parvaiz out to the police.

3) The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

I’ve already mentioned how much this creeped me out here, but since reading (and watching the show again within two months of reading it), I realized what a fantastic book it is. I do wish the second season doesn’t blotch up the entire experience.

4) Chemistry, by Weike Wang

This has been aptly called the anti- coming of age story. The protagonist starts of with being in grad school studying Chemistry, with a boyfriend (also in grad school) who wants to marry her, and a dog that they got together. But she wants to drop out of school (and does), and hasn’t said yes to the proposal yet. It starts with her having everything she wants and needs and on the verge of making it, to losing it all. The narrative grips you from the beginning like magic and takes you through the entire book. I thought it was grossly underrated.

5) All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg 

Another underrated book, this one has been marketed as a novel about a woman (Andrea Bern) who lives her life by her own terms. But I thought it was extremely melancholic, and made me sad beyond control- not for the situation she is in, but because of the way it’s been presented- unattached. Like she doesn’t even care, and yet she does, and yet she is unhappy. The structure of the book- it’s presented as short stories/vignettes from her life- is what made the book a fantastic read. Because you drip in and out of the people she’s met, people she’s befriended, and people she’s loved. You also get to know the different people she is – the college drop out, the art student, the single woman, the best friend, the aunt to a dying niece, the daughter, etc.

Non- Fiction

1) Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

Aptly named Fun Home (short for Funeral Home), this one is about Bechdel’s relationship with her father. There is a lot of dislike, but at the same time she loves him, because he’s her father. There are lots of moments where you’d want to cry, and you’d get irritated with her father, but like Bechdel comes to terms with who he was (at least she understands theoretically). It’s a great introduction to Graphic Novels, if you’ve never read one.

2) Persepolis 1 and 2, by Marjane Satrapi

If you’ve never read a Marjane Satrapi, I suggest you pick this one right away. It’s fantastic. This one is about Satrapi growing up and coming of age in the middle of the Iranian revolution, and it explores what it’s like being a woman at that age, an immigrant, a refugee- and everything is done in a beautiful way.

3) We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijaewele, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adiche is such a strong, powerful voice that anything I say about these two books would be stupid on my part. She doesn’t cover groundbreaking stuff in either of these books, and yet gets her point across succinctly and therefore the two books are brilliant. One of my favourite parts is when she explains why she is okay with her surname (even though it belongs to her father’s side of the family, and doesn’t acknowledge her mother), but not taking her husband’s surname- she argues:

There are people who say, ‘Well, your name is also about patriarchy because it is your father’s name.’ Indeed. But the point is simply this: whether it came from my father or from the moon, it is the name that I have had since I was born, the name with which I travelled my life’s milestones, the name I have answered to since that first day I went to kindergarten in Nsukka on a hazy morning and my teacher said, ‘Answer “present” if you hear your name. Number one: Adichie!’

 

4) Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah

I love a good (post) colonial narrative, and I had no idea going into this I’d ever find it in this book. (I knew who Trevor Noah was, of course but did not know much about his background. Started reading it because I had wanted something light. Of course it was anything but light).
What I love about the book is that it starts with a great story, and then tells you why colonialism sucks. For example, one of the stories go:

Trevor had some success DJ-ing, while one of his friends was a dancer. They were invited to perform at a Jewish school by one of Trevor’s friend’s mothers who runs diversity programs. The dancer friend is called Hitler (his real name). Then in goes: 

“All right! Give it up and make some noise for HIIIIIITTTTLLLLEERRRRRRRRRR!!!”
Hitler jumped out to the middle of the circle and started killing it. The guys around him were all chanting, “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler!” They had their arms out in front of them, bouncing to the rhythm. “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler!” And I was right there on the mic leading them along. “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler!”
The whole room stopped. No one was dancing. The teachers, the chaperones, the parents, the hundreds of Jewish kids in their yarmulkes—they froze and stared aghast at us up on the stage. I was oblivious. So was Hitler. We kept going. For a good thirty seconds the only sound in the room was the beat of the music and me on the mic yelling, “Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Go Hit-ler! Put your hands in the air for Hitler, yo!”
A teacher ran up behind me and yanked the plug for my system out of the wall. The hall went dead silent, and she turned on me and she was livid. “How dare you?! This is disgusting! You horrible, disgusting vile creature! How dare you?!”

They think that the reason the teacher is angry is because the dance form is sexual, and they are being discouraged from being themselves (as black kids in front of a Jewish and hence White crowd).

“I’ll have you know that my people stopped people like you before, and we can stop you again.”
She was talking, of course, about stopping the Nazis in World War II, but that’s not what I was hearing. Jews in South Africa are just white people. All I was hearing was some white lady shouting about how white people beat us before and they’ll beat us again.

He explains:

Hitler, although an unusual name, is not unheard-of in South Africa. Part of it has to do with the way a lot of black people pick names. Black people choose their traditional names with great care; those are the names that have deeply personal meanings. But from colonial times through the days of apartheid, black people in South Africa were required to have an English or European name as well—a name that white people could pronounce, basically. So you had your English name, your traditional name, and your last name: Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah. Nine times out of ten, your European name was chosen at random, plucked from the Bible or taken from a Hollywood celebrity or a famous politician in the news. I know guys named after Mussolini and Napoleon. And, of course, Hitler.
Westerners are shocked and confused by that, but really it’s a case of the West reaping what it has sown. The colonial powers carved up Africa, put the black man to work, and did not properly educate him. White people don’t talk to black people. So why would black people know what’s going on in the white man’s world? Because of that, many black people in South Africa don’t really know who Hitler was. My own grandfather thought “a hitler” was a kind of army tank that was helping the Germans win the war. Because that’s what he took from what he heard on the news. For many black South Africans, the story of the war was that there was someone called Hitler and he was the reason the Allies were losing the war. This Hitler was so powerful that at some point black people had to go help white people fight against him—and if the white man has to stoop to ask the black man for help fighting someone, that someone must be the toughest guy of all time. So if you want your dog to be tough, you name your dog Hitler. If you want your kid to be tough, you name your kid Hitler. There’s a good chance you’ve got an uncle named Hitler. It’s just a thing….

[Cringemax] Doesn’t that put Scott’s Tots (The US Office, Season 6, Episode 12) into perspective?

5) The Undoing Project, by Michael Lewis

This is the story of Psych- legends Amos Tversky and Daniel Kanheman, and how they changed the way we look at judgement, decision making, and the like. They’ve been people I’ve admired for years now). Even though it’s a tad bit over-dramatic (I’m not complaining), I loved this book to no end. I love telling the story of this to anyone and everyone I meet (ok not really, but I did try to tell it to other nerdy friends) and therefore, I think it’s my right to call Kanheman and Tversky Amos and Danny. (Someone slap me. But also warped sense of heirarchy, much?).
I ended up crying at the end, you guys.

(Been writing this for a couple of days, so- Happy New Year).

Special Mentions: Hamilton, a Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jeremy McCarter- because I’ve been obsessed with everything Hamilton;  Arranged Marriage Stories, by Chitra Banarjee Devakaruni for some great stories that sound like grandma’s home made food; and Elmet, by Fiona Mozley, for keeping me on my toes from the very beginning.