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a blank slate

Tag: italo calvino

Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 1

A third of the year is over. I haven’t read as much as I had planned, and I haven’t blogged at all! It’s hard to write individual reviews or a full recap at the end of the year either. So I have decided to do it in three parts. So here’s what I’ve been reading:
 
1. Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
This is one of the craziest books I have ever read. Cosmicomics is a collection of anecdotes from a omnipresent narrator at different points in space and time. Each short story is built around a scientific or pseudo-scientific concept; a “what if” question. There is a story about a creature who, as his galaxy slowly turns, is eaten up with the frustration of being unable to leave a lasting impression on the endless nothingness around him that is sure to outlast him. Another story is about a couple living on an early planet where their blossoming romance is interrupted by the formation of the atmosphere, and therefore, the introduction of colour into their lives. The first tale, The Distance of the Moon, imagines life on earth if the moon were so close we could climb on to it! I could go on and on. Each story is bizarre, hilarious, beautiful.
 
2. The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton
This one of the most beautiful books I have ever read and the most difficult to write about. I have never given much thought to capital punishment or the laws that surround it, but after this book, I found myself reading up on the death penalty in India and contemplating how many lives depend on a flawed system. So this is Hinton’s story. At the age of 29, a poor black man was convicted of murder and spent three decades on death row in Alabama, after being finally freed for wrongful conviction. This is his memoir. I don’t even know where to begin to describe this book. I don’t know what I could say to capture how it tore at me. The raw terror, the compassion, the fear he describes are feelings I was not prepared to understand or confront. To spend thirty years proving your innocence, to be set free as an old man into a world changed beyond recognition? Just the thought of this book still gives me goosebumps. This is the only time that I’ve read a memoir once and then immediately flipped back the pages and read it all over again, cover to cover. Indescribable! 
 
3. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
This book is about something I hadn’t given enough thought to but should have: geriatrics. Gawande talks about how we see death as inevitable and yet, an enemy, and know only one way to approach it: through weapons of modern medicine. He sheds light on the dearth of facilities that ensure an old person’s comfort in his final days. He describes the inadequacy of nursing homes in looking after an old person’s emotional and mental health. He tells us the importance of geriatrics and the lack of funding. He gives a unique doctor’s perspective on how, in the final years of one’s life (as perhaps at any other time) it is quality that matters over quantity. This book makes one demand: we need to change the conversation about old age. 
 
4. Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine
I never would have realised how greatly I needed to read a book on conservation by a sort of cynical comic science fiction writer… And now that I have read it, I don’t know what I would have done without it. Books on conservation have some things in common – they’re sad, disconcerting, hopeless even when they’re trying to be hopeful. I am still drawn to writings about wildlife in spite of the hopelessness they often fill me with. But this wasn’t any old book on wildlife. Adams was able to give a new flavour to an old disconcerting conversation. And I am much the wiser for it. I couldn’t put it into a coherent review if I wanted to, but this is a must read – an unexpected perspective at the very least.
 
5. Goodbye Tsugumi by Banana Yoshimoto
Yoshimoto has been on my list of to-reads for years and years. It seems to me as if this is the first time that a Japanese-translation has resonated with me. This is a young adult book, but not your typical one. Goodbye Tsugumi is the story of our narrator Maria and her cousin and unlikely friend – a young girl named Tsugumi, who is sassy, blunt and bold. Bubbling with anger at a world that hasn’t given her a fair chance, Tsugumi has spent most of her life bedridden with an unnamed ailment. It’s a story about transitional periods in life, coming to terms with our destiny in a manner of our own choosing; it’s about family and friendship and all the pastel-tinted sweet nothings we associate with growing up. For the reader, Yoshimoto has crafted a character who creates such conflicting impressions at every turn – both instant dislike and unwavering compassion; Tsugumi pushes us to question our prejudices. 
 
6. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin 
Like the previous book, I just randomly found this on Scribd and fell in love with the concept. The book is a collection of short stories which are strung together by one shared element: all the characters are related in some way or the other to K.K. Harouni, a wealthy landowner. Servants, businessmen, relatives and acquaintances, all tied to each other through this patriarchal figure. The stories are rich, character pieces, with complex world building, which traverse the social and economic hierarchies in contemporary Pakistan. Very engaging. 
 
I’ve built a habit of writing Goodreads reviews capturing my thoughts right after I finished the book, so this post should have been easy to compile. Here’s the trouble though. For most of these books, my review just says “no words,” or “no words until I chew on this a bit more.” So I had to spend quite a bit of time writing this post, but it also gave me a chance to revisit the books and rediscover why I loved them. (It’s weird that three of these books are non-fiction, this has never happened to me before.) I hope that the rest of the year is as fulfilling. Have you read any of these? What have you been reading? 

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

Book Beginnings on Friday is a weekly bookish meme hosted at A Few More Pages. To participate, share the first line (or two) of the book you are reading, along with the author and title. Also share your first impression based on that first line!

This is the beginning of one of hell of a book, which I recently read (in one sitting) – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino :

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice – they won’t hear you otherwise – “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.”

About the book: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller is a 1979 novel by Italian author Italo Calvino. It is translated into English by William Weaver in 1981.

Summary: You (yes, you) go to a bookshop and buy a copy of Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller. You start reading it, but you realize there is an error. You find the first chapter very exciting, but the book ends there. The book is incomplete, and you exchange it for what you assume to be a complete copy of the same book. Soon, when you read it, though, you realize it’s a completely different book. This goes on for quite a while (every even chapter is a different book and every odd chapter is you reading it) and you never finish reading any of the books. Except for If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, which does eventually end, and you do finish reading it!

My thoughts: A book about reading starring… me? I was glued to it. I have never really read a book in second person perspective and I certainly didn’t imagine it to be so much fun. It is the most annoyingly witty and interesting book I have ever read. The book had a lot of underlying themes, mostly writing, writers and readers; the book business, media and frauds; all dealt with in a subtle but hilarious manner. It is a wonderful read!