Book Title: The Housekeeper and the Professor Author: Yoko Ogawa Translator: Stephen Snyder
Relationships spring up in the strangest places, between the most unlikely people. And it is these relationships that make for the best stories. The Housekeeper and the Professor is one such tale – the story of a friendship between a housekeeper and a professor. ‘Friendship’ might not even be the right word here. It’s more a connection forged through the housekeeper’s kindness and empathy.
After much deliberation, I decided to read Anxious People. It had been on my TBR for the longest time but I kept putting it off because I couldn’t bear to be disappointed. There has been so much hype about Backman, and more specifically, about the book that I was almost afraid to pick it up.
Book: My Sister the Serial Killer Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
The title of this book was intriguing enough to make me want to read it despite mixed reviews. In fact, many of my favourite book reviewers didn’t give it a great rating. yet I had to check it out for myself.
Book: The Girl Who Drank the Moon Author: Kelly Barnhill
This is the story of a town, a cursed town. On its outskirts lies a greater forest. In this forest lives a wicked old witch. The witch demands sacrifice and so each year an infant is taken away by the town elders and left in the forest for her. As a result, a fog of sorrow hangs over the town with the townsfolk in a constant state of mourning.
On one such occasion, an infant girl is left in the forest and the witch comes by to pick her up. As it turns out she isn’t a wicked witch at all. She wonders why the townsfolk leave their infants in the forest every year. But she’s a kind-hearted soul and cannot bear to leave them to die. So she takes them away and gives them up to loving homes in faraway cities.
Book: The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek Author: Kim Michele Richardson
I’d promised you (and myself) that I’d read and review The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek right after I read Moyes’ The Giver of Stars. The books are both based on women packhorse librarians of Kentucky and were said to be very similar in content. Finally, after wandering off a little bit, here I am.
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek tells the story of Cussy Mary Carter. Cussy suffers from a rare genetic disease that results in blue skin. She is called Bluet and is ostracised by the townsfolk, along with other ‘colored’ folks.
She joins the packhorse librarian initiative started by Eleanor Roosevelt, and brings books and other reading material to the people on the hills. Cussy loves books. The written word gets her pulse racing. She has read everything from Pearl S Buck to Aldous Huxley. She is perhaps the best-read person in the town. And yet, she is looked down upon, ridiculed and considered completely unworthy.
A curious doctor tries to find out the reason for her ‘blueness’ and succeeds too (It’s due to the deficiency of a particular enzyme). Bluet is cured for a while but hates the side effects of the drugs that include severe nausea and vomiting. Yet, so desperate is she to be a part of the mainstream of society that she goes along with it. However, the deeply ingrained prejudice against her doesn’t disappear with her blue colour. Finally, she chooses to stop trying to fit in.
Her work, hard and demanding as it is, is her only happiness. And that’s where she finds love too, though it comes at a cost.
What I thought of it
I’ll come straight to the point, without beating about the bush (did you get that?), and say that I loved the book.
The author tackles multiple issues, all close to my heart. She talks of racism and how cruel it was. It is even now, but back in the early nineties, it was way worse than we can ever imagine. It was sanctioned by law. For instance, there was a law prohibiting marriages between whites and coloureds.
Through The Book Woman, I got to know about the Blue people of Kentucky. I found out that they really did exist and also that there really was a place called Troublesome Creek.
And there’s more.
I’d give The Book Woman a hundred out of ten on authenticity. It is a wonderfully researched book. The tone, the language, the customs and traditions, all transport you to Kentucky of the early nineties.
Cussy, the Book Woman
I fell in love with the self-effacing Cussy. While she was the most docile woman you’d ever meet and also very conscious of her standing in the society (or rather the lack of it), she had a certain doggedness that made her persevere despite all odds. She traversed the most treacherously prohibitive terrain, through flowing rivers and heart-stopping narrow mountain trails to get to her readers. I loved how she zealously she picked out reading material requested by her readers. Her pleasure at the thought of their happiness was infectious. Also, I loved how hard she tried to get people to read, sometimes even tricking them into it. That was endearing.
The focus on books and love for reading
I loved how books were such an inherent part of the narrative. The love and longing for reading were touching. It was miraculous that the hunger people had for books, even young children, surpassed their physical hunger. One part of me tells me that’s unbelievable, impossible even, but another part of me wants to believe it – that the thirst for knowledge and the lure of reading surpasses physical needs.
The love story
Cussy finds love on the mountains. Not many pages are devoted to it, there is barely any romance, yet the love story is very real.
Richardson’s Book Woman vs Moyes’ Giver of Stars
It’s not right to compare two books but I had to do this because Richardson accused Moyes of plagiarising her book and that’s what led me to this wonderful read in the first place.
I wasn’t convinced about the charges but the fact remains that the two books are very similar in content. They are, however, different in their treatment of the subject.
The Book Woman is way better researched, way more authentic. Cussy’s passion for books and reading is greater than that of all the women put together in The Giver of Stars and that makes the book so much more of a treat.
In Moyes’ book, the individual stories of the women took up a lot of space and that wasn’t all bad because I did love the stories, but their job as librarians didn’t get as much of a spotlight as I’d have liked. However, that also made the narrative more complex with many stories entwined together. The Book Woman, on the other hand, is the story of Cussy with a simple linear narrative.
If The Book Woman were a classic, The Giver of Stars would be the pop version, more fluff, more drama, easier to read and easier to connect with.
If you ask me which one you should read, I’d say why choose? Read both.
Last thought: Go for it.
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It’s a wet wet day but I’m not complaining. I like this respite from the sun. Besides, when it rains, the balcony beckons, the tea tastes better and a book looks ever more inviting. Giving in to temptation, I drag out a bean bag, grab a cup of tea and pick up a book from my nightstand resolutely pushing away thoughts of unmade beds and messy rooms. Just this once, just one hour I promise myself as I settle down for a read.
‘What are you reading?’ did you ask? Here take a look.
Yeah, I recently started re-reading Gone with the Wind as part of a buddy-read.
I pick it up now running a hand over the plastic cover that has turned translucent with age. I imagine myself covering it lovingly, possessively (and numbering it too). It has been a long time since this book came to me, and I mean a really really long time.
As I open it to the first page I find a simple inscription from my aunt.
Reading those well-loved lines brings a smile and a deluge of happy memories. Despite the rain around me it transports me to long hot summer days, of noisy coolers that blasted air along with occasional drops of water and the delicious smell of khus khus, and noisier cousins who played, fought, chatted all day.
Each vacation my aunt would come visiting along with my cousins. Before she left she would get us a gift. Each time she would ask, ‘Do you want a dress or a book?’. Each time, without fail, I’d say, ‘a book’. And off we’d go to browse and buy.
Books were precious treasures back then. We read a lot yet owned a few unlike now when parents start building a library even before their child is born.
Gone with the Wind was the most expensive book I’d ever wanted. Our budget used to be somewhere around Rs 50 but this came at 60. I well remember standing in the bookstore staring at it, knowing it was beyond reach, too embarrassed to tell my aunt just how badly I wanted it, yet unable to tear myself away from it. And so I stood there, desperately wanting to wish away those ten rupees standing between me and my happiness.
I am not even sure my aunt noticed my dilemma. All she said was, ‘You want it? Okay.’ And just like that, in a heartbeat, the book was mine. I cannot even begin to describe what that meant to me. Not only did I get to read the book but I also got to own it! I went through it at breakneck speed, sitting up late into the nights. I strutted about school for days magnanimously lending it to everyone who asked for it.
As I leaf through the yellowed pages now, I notice a few are coming loose from the binding, some evil silverfish have dug in fine holes too. And yet, each page is more precious than the freshest, crispest, whitest pages I will find in any new edition. So no, I won’t be ordering a new one. I’ll sit down with tape and put the pages together, I’ll leave it out in the sun to get rid of the silverfish and I’ll read it multiple times. I’ll preserve it for as long as I can because, more than a book, it’s a cherished memory.
Do you have a book that evokes a special memory for you? A person who was instrumental in igniting a love for stories?
I am participating in the #wordsmatter bloghop. I received this tag from teacher and writer Jyotsna Prabhakar who blogs at Jonaatbest. I’m passing on the tag to the very artistic, very humorous Rajlakshmi at Destiny’s Child. Do follow the #WordsMatter Blog Hop for some interesting reads.
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You have a bunch of friends – all avid readers. Bibliophiles, they call themselves. Bookworms is what you think of them as. It gets to you the way they are always talking about books. They rave about Harry, drool over Darcy and laugh at Bertie Wooster. They rant when Chetan Bhagat judges a reality show and cry when Harper Lee passes away. Even as you are comforting, smiling or simply looking on in perplexity, you wish, fervently, to be a part of it all.
The thing is they’re readers and you’re so not.
Oh you do love a good story but ‘Where’s the time?’ you ask, and ‘Who has the patience?’ There are always things to be done, deadlines to be met, bosses to be pandered to, phone calls to make and chores to be completed. Then there are the books themselves – big and cumbersome. It’s a daunting task. Right?
Well, today is Book Lovers Day (aka National Book Lovers Day in the US) and here’s help for you if you want to become one. These five simple ideas might just help you join the club.
Read what you like
That’s the first rule of increasing your reading – Make it easy for yourself – you’re doing it for pleasure, right? Well don’t let it become a chore. No stomach for classics? Let them be. For now. Remember you’re in for the long haul. There’ll be time enough later. Pick a comic, a romance, a thriller, a short story anthology – whatever suits your fancy. Don’t be cowed down by book snobs, don’t go by what’s in and do not be embarrassed of your choices.
Read at the doctor’s, read as you wait to pick your son from football class, read as you wait for the milk to boil, read on the bus, on the local, in the car. I’ll leave out ‘read in the loo’ in case my mum’s reading. But you know you can. Better than reading labels on bottles of moisturiser, I say. One’s got to keep oneself occupied after all.
Keep a book close by
Make sure a book is always within easy reach – in your bag, in your top drawer, on the centre table of your living room. And never never leave the television remote on top of your book. You know what is most likely to happen, don’t you? Yeah you’ll pick up the remote to get to your book and will forget to let it go and before you know the television will be blaring and hours would have gone by, your reading time swallowed in one big time-leap. Remotes have a habit of doing that. Stash them away somewhere deep.
Never go ‘bookless’
Once you’ve finished a good book – make sure you have another one waiting. Reading is a habit that feeds on itself. You give yourself a gap and you begin to forget how much fun it is. Before you know it, months have gone by without you having read a thing.
Give technology a chance
If you put in Gone With the Wind in your holiday bag all you’ll end up with is a very painful shoulder. Go for a Kindle. It’s way easier to carry around specially while you’re travelling and want to carry more than one book. Give audio books a chance. It might not be reading but you’re still listening to a book. It might lead you to a real book one day.
That’s it. Vary your reading, mix up genres and keep at it. Once you strike a real friendship with books you’ll find joining in your friends’ book gossip is just the smallest of pleasures. Books will give you much more for they are friends, philosophers and guides all rolled in one enchanting mix.
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What do you do if you lose your papa in an accident and your maman, pregnant with a baby, moves to a far away place in her head where you cannot reach her? In a place where she cannot abide loud noises, cooks when she feels up to it but mostly keeps to her room?
Well, you take care of yourself the best you can even if you’re just five. You make sure you don’t bother maman, you play in the meadow, splash around in the stream and eat fruits or make yourself a sandwich when you’re hungry. Most of all, you try to find ways to make maman happy because you want her back with all the wanting in your little heart.
That’s the story
..of five and half year old Peony, better known as Pea, her little sister Margot and their mum Joanna. As Joanna loses herself to depression the two little girls are left to their own devices. They spend their days talking and playing. During their wanderings they meet a man, Claude and Merlin his dog, and strike up a friendship. Claude keeps his distance even though he is affectionate and caring but the girls come to look upon him as the father figure they miss so much.
Set in the summer of a small French village, that is the all the plot you’ll find in The Night Rainbow. It isn’t much, so if you’re looking for a story you will be disappointed. Nothing really happens. The narrative has the dull sameness of the routine of Pea’s days. As you progress through the pages you wait for something to happen. You wait for the market days when Pea gets to go out with her mum as much as she does. You look forward to her interactions with Calude or even the small chance encounters with other village folk.
But here’s the thing, the book draws you in. You step into it and you feel what Pea is feeling. You find yourself grinning when she manages to draw a smile from Joanna, you cringe in the dark with her as she battles her imagined monsters and you want to hold her and hug away her yearning for a real family.
This one isn’t meant to be read for its racy narrative, it is one of those soul-stirring stories whose beauty lies in its slowness. There’s a bit of a revelation towards the end which makes the story even more poignant. And I wonder how I missed it through the book.
Perhaps the book affected me as it did because it spoke in a child’s voice.
Pea was a delightful heroine. Sometimes she seems a trifle old for her age but I forgave her considering she’s had to run her life on her own. I had to try hard to not get judgemental about Joanna. Mothers cannot afford the luxury of withdrawing into themselves when they have a five-year-olds to look out for. My heart broke for Pea as she tries, tries ever so hard to make Joanna happy. Her deep yearning to bring a smile to her maman’s face, for the hugs, the kisses and the cuddles, for the warmth of the old times and her childish attempts towards that are heartbreaking. When she fights the night demons, her loneliness is palpable and yet so strong is her concern for Joanna that she is refuses to wake her up.
There were times where I wanted to shake Joanna out of her depression. If that were even possible. But when I would put away the judgemental mum in me I’d feel so so sorry for her. To have lost a baby first then your husband, to be far away from your own home, with hostile in-laws, heavily pregnant and all alone – how terrible must that be. She tries. She cooks somedays and smiles too but the sadness weighs too heavily on her leaving her lethargic and uncaring.
Though Pea rarely cries or even complains, her longing is tangible and that is what makes this a sad, haunting, beautiful read. When Shelly said ‘the most beautiful songs were born out of the saddest things’ he could have been talking about The Night Rainbow.
Last thought: It’s definitely worth a read but it’s likely to pull you down into a well of sadness so pick it up with care.
Hola people and welcome to this brand new year. Reading-wise 2018 was a good year for me. I got through 36 books and am pretty happy with that.
Normally I plan my reading meticulously but the end of 2018 was so chaotic on the home front that I was caught off guard without a reading plan. The thing to do then was to get my act together fast.
Very quickly then, here are the Challenges I’m taking up.
To be honest this was already a part of the plan formulating in my head for a long time even though I did not consciously give it voice. Taking a cue from that (the voice in my head) the first Challenge I pledge myself to this year, is the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge. I desperately need to, and I will, focus on reading the books I already have, at least one, maybe two, of the three I hope to read each month. I really have just too many of them and it’s an absolute shame to have them all sitting there staring at me while I pretend to ignore them and continue on a buying spree.
Of course part of me is already protesting: There are new books coming out everyday and they’re so interesting and everyone talks about them all the time, and social media is buzzing with them; the covers are so enticing and the blurbs are intriguing and they’re so inexpensive on the kindle…
But Shushhh! I tell that part of me, as I renew my pledge to make a dent in the TBR pile at home. That’s going to be the mainstay of my reading this year.
The Goodreads Challenge
Then there’s the Goodreads Challenge which I’ve faithfully taken up and completed for the past three years. I love the freedom it offers: one can set his/her own target, read any kind of book and also that one can revise it at any point in time. Though if one does revise it, it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the challenge. But hey! To each his own.
That said, it works well for me because it gives me a push without making me feel the pressure. That sounds oxymoromish but it works perfectly. Also, more importantly, it does not distract me from my primary goal of reading the books I already have. In fact it is right in line with it.
The Write Tribe Challenge
Lastly there’s the Write Tribe Reading Challenge that sounds deliciously interesting while seeming easy to take up. Since I’m already pledging to read 36 books, this one seems doable too and so I look forward to reaching the level of a ‘bookworm’ at WT. I’m hoping the one ‘luxury book’ I allow myself each month shall go towards this Challenge.
And now I feel guilty for implying that books I already have are ‘non-luxury’ which sounds like they’re unloved and that is not the case at all – they’re all books I’ve bought or have been been gifted, very lovingly. I still need to fit titles into the WT categories and I shall get to it soon enough. I shall certainly be sharing it all here with you guys and looking for recommendations too.
That’s it from me. I’d love to hear from you. What challenges are you taking up? Do you too have a pile of books waiting to be read?
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