Category Archives: Brunch Book Challenge, 2015

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. 

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2017: Terrible Books

While I read some amazing books this year, 5 of the 130 I read were Terrible (got 1 pity star). In order of reading them:

  1. Attachments, by Rainbow Rowell

It’s company policy that someone from IT monitors their email (the Y2K- internet panic is real, I guess). Two friends completely ignore that and continue emailing each other about life updates, etc. The ‘someone from IT’ (who works nights, plays D&D, stays with mother, no girlfriend/29 year old not over his high school sweetheart- that kind of stereotyping) reads these emails and falls in “love” with one of them.
This is so, so creepy. First of all, why would you discuss your personal life over work email (that you know someone else is reading)? Second, Big Brother much? Why would you hire someone to read people’s emails? That’s so…. Third, HOW DO YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH SOMEONE BECAUSE YOU READ THEIR MAIL??? Fourth, oh wait, the guy is actually hot, muscular, whatever dreamboy that you save at the end, because of course. Five, why would the girl reciprocate what can only be called a clearly creepy obsession?
Why on earth is this book a romance, I’ll never know. Try horror/thriller. I worry about people sometimes.

2. Geekerella, by Ashley Poston

In one sentence- There was no need for this book.
Geekerella had a lot of potential to be a good book. It’s based on a classic fairy tale we all know, right? And there are lots of flaws in the way the tale turns out too. So the plot could move in pretty much any direction, and the book could turn out good. But it didn’t. And I’m so, so upset.
To begin with, Cinderella has been done a million times before, and so there really was no need for a new version unless it brought something new to the table. And this one didn’t. It stuck to the tale so much that even a little bit of discrepancy felt off.
Second, the premise of famous rockstar/actor/etc meets girl next door has also been overdone. There literally was no need to combine the two. It seemed like two different stories that just didn’t mesh well together.
Third, the character of an ‘I have insured my abs and I’m a heartthrob but with serious self doubt issues’ just doesn’t seem plausible.
Also, how did Elle’s dad NOT write a will? It just bothered me too much. I was hoping it’ll come up, but it didn’t.
The plot was predictable, the characters unidimensional and the style of writing was really not up my alley. I’ve definitely read better written fanfiction than this.
Overall, it was an echo of an imitation that really isn’t unforgettable.

3. Who Me Poor, by Gayatri Jayaraman

Where do I even start with this one?
This book is poorly researched, and executed in the form of a defensive, emotional tirade. First of all, no amount of defensive explanations would be enough to call I-Take-Ubers-to-work/ I-can’t-cook-so-I-order-out-every-day/ I-have-a-gambling-problem excuse giving people ‘poor’. No, there is no perfect definition of poverty; no, owning a smartphone might not make you poor, but owning a luxury car does make you rich.
Yes, Trump won because some insecure white people thought electing him would get them all jobs, but also yes, they’re privileged, because if they’re homeless, they’re still better off than so many.
Can we please, please think more before we write/publish such insensitive books (The publication house is Bloomsbury, you guys. Bloomsbury. 😦 ) that not only takes away from the real struggle (yes, when you don’t even have that much disposable income to spend on an Uber everyday, when you have volition with money and expenses, it is a more real struggle), but also reads like a common propaganda of Privileged people? Here’s ten reasons why I am rich and am scared to live in a capitalistic society! No! You can’t have it both ways.
Also read more here (Because I wrote it yaay.)

4. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

I had so many expectations off this book, because girl coder going to Stanford? More of that PLEASE. But Dimple is a shitty person, who thinks she’s better than others, because she’s ‘not like other girls’ and ‘doesn’t like make up’ and your usual crap. And Rishi is stupid.  Who meets someone and says I’m your future husband, without irony? This book was really doomed from the beginning. Where is coding in coding camp, buddy? Why is it full of fancy lunches and first edition copies, and dance-rehearsal on an SRK song? Why does Rishi’s brother teach them dancing? What???
And there was no plot. Let me summarize in 5 sentences: Girl and boy’s parents arrange their marriage. Girl doesn’t know and is tricked into going for coding camp. Boy knows, and is forced into going for coding camp, because parents are god. They hate each other, but are paired together (I have never been more surprised in my life. Eye roll). Boy woos girl by dancing to a song where the boy woos girl by dancing. The end.
It really felt like the obligatory POC based book to fill in the diversity quota. 🙄
There’s literally nothing that makes sense in this book. It was cringe-worthy from the beginning, and the character development was very, very shoddy. Just no.
(Or maybe I should not read YA?)

5. The Sun and Her Flowers, by Rupi Kaur

I don’t want to get on the hate on Rupi Kaur Bandwagon. This is legit not the worst book I’ve read this year. There was a LOT of potential in this, actually. I loved (well, not loved) the ones she wrote about her mother. For example, if she built upon the idea “in a dream/I saw my mother/with the love of her life/and no children/it was the happiest I’d ever seen her,” it could have gone places. But then, there were some really random phrases (not done well) like “never feel guilty for starting again” or “i will welcome/a partner/who is my equal” which is really not new, nor revolutionary (not even the turn of phrase is out of the ordinary. So no. Definitely a terrible book.

 


Between the Lines

Thoughts on The Palace of Illusions, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

A woman in a man’s world- the phrase we all have heard one or more times in our lives- is exactly what would define Panchaali’s life. Born unwanted to a father blinded by the need for revenge, accepted only by her brother at birth, and later married off to the one as choreographed by the men in her life, but forced to marry his other four brothers as a bait to righteousness by a hardened, widowed mother-in-law, her struggle is too real as one wonders how much of one’s life, even if prophecies dictates to be the changer of history, is truly one’s own.

Starting her story with her trusted maid, who is the closest to a mother figure she’s going to get, the narrative moves slowly to cover what it’s essential purpose seems to be: rewriting history from a female perspective, and it does serves this purpose well- as characters are described as humans, with flaws, not just a harmatia; and dreams, not just prophecies; and hopes, not just duty. The myth of human nihilism is counteracted by illuminating emotions into characters that have been rendered timeless. There is the seeking of love and belongingness that haunts us all, that also haunt the heroes our childhood tales glorify, and there is a sense of mystery and magic and adventure that we all hope in our life to unfurl.

The Palace of Illusions retell the story of Panchaali, who struggles as all women do, and who narrates the story we all know the outcome to. Perhaps this is why it’s easy to read the novel and take in minute aspects of it- there is no rush to find out what will happen, because it has been imbibed in our minds through childhood stories. Yet, there is a certain yearning and mystery, for you want her to have a happier ending- maybe because she’s not just the protagonist, but because we know it’s not possible- yet nothing is as agonizing as What if thinking.

And then there is the bittersweet agony of unrequited love that runs deep through the novel- that even though she had five husbands, she seeked love. And each of them as they open their souls to her also apparently seek love, but somehow the softer emotions are overwritten by pride and honour, and duty, as the author states, all men do.

Yet, there is something real in something that has been immortalized as an epic story of battle and ruins and destruction that this book explores. Beyond everything else, the author recognizes the fact that in the end all we seek is companionship and belongingness and love, that need not come from the source that we expect or yearn- that it is not unjust to hope for someone to love you even when there are millions ready to avenge you, and that sometimes we are just blinded by our beliefs in what should be and what we want to be true, and ignore what’s right in front of us- forgiving and unassuming.

And that’s what this story taught me: that a slight change in perspective is all it takes for us to look at lives differently- because every time I’d hear these stories, the importance of duty and righteousness and bravery is what is imbibed- things that blind men even today, but this narrative opened my eyes to a different way of looking at something that has been established as the gospel truth for centuries.

So when she’s absentmindedly named as Daughter of Draupad, while her brother is named Destroyer of Enemies, and when her brother’s tutor wanted her out because it wasn’t ladylike to learn of governance and warcraft and law, and when her father and her husbands repeatedly dismissed her off, the latter unconsciously, and when her mother-in-law hated her and her favourite husband took another wife, or when her husbands’ cousins humiliated her while the former looked on, and when she expected and longed for love all her life naively, or when she is remembered as the cause and the catalyst of a great war, when hundreds of men instigated it and fight each other resulting in a massacre, it would resonate with each of us. For indeed, it is a human story of a woman born in a man’s world- as are all of us.