Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

I’m moving home, and reminding myself constantly that, “coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving,” (Terry Pratchett said that.) My tiny room was all packed and the movers came yesterday and sent my life hurtling off to a brand new old place; and while I’m excited about what the future holds, I am not one to let go of things easily. I also stayed up all night reading last night; or this morning. It felt good. Been a while since I did that. Then I ranted about the book on Goodreads. Sharing the rant here, too! A rare long review.

Amazon Blurb: Ruth is thirty and her life is falling apart: she and her fiancé are moving house, but he’s moving out to live with another woman; her career is going nowhere; and then she learns that her father, a history professor beloved by his students, has Alzheimer’s. At Christmas, her mother begs her to stay on and help. For a year. Goodbye, Vitamin is the wry, beautifully observed story of a woman at a crossroads, as Ruth and her friends attempt to shore up her father’s career; she and her mother obsess over the ambiguous health benefits – in the absence of a cure – of dried jellyfish supplements and vitamin pills; and they all try to forge a new relationship with the brilliant, childlike, irascible man her father has become

Disclaimer-ish: Okay, I want to get this out of the way – this book is nothing like the ‘kind of books’ I read, if all those many kinds can somehow be clubbed together as one thing that this book is not. Which is also to say that if this book were a ‘typical’ example of some genre, I am fairly certain I have no clue which, or how it lives up to others like it. Yep, the strange and uncalled-for disclaimer ends here. The obsessing and fawning and oohing begins –

Rant: I LOVE THE BOOK. It is so emotional. This is going to sound like a tangent, but bear with me. One of my favourite high school teaching moments is asking students to decide what the ‘sigh’ at the end of Frost’s Road Not Taken stands for – is it regret, relief, frustration, helplessness, or just a resigned acceptance, even an ironic celebration, of the inevitability of life taking its course. For me, it’s the last, always has been. This book is Frost’s resigned sigh stretched/packed into a novel.

I am someone who tends to live in the past, if I can help it; against my own better judgement. Tonight (or this morning, it’s past sunrise!) I am delighted that the book found me – on the precipice of a major life change, I think I needed to be told that I should salvage the present, and look up and away from that inevitable yearning for the past. I couldn’t stop reading it! I think I might read it all over again, just to see what I missed in my haste to devour it.

Khong does interesting things with language. She describes the main character’s attempts to make a relationship work as “grotesque, like trying to tuck an elephant into pants.” I came to a halt here at the ridiculous image. A simile shouldn’t distract you from the main prose and make you pause and puzzle over it, should it? Isn’t seamlessness a desired quality in a narrative? But. Tell me this didn’t make you smile! What a weird thing to say. Then there’s a passing comment about gutsy seagulls which look like Jack Nicholson, what with their piercing stares. I don’t think I will ever be able to look at a seagull or Jack Nicholson the same.

I made so many notes! Invented yoga poses, sabre-toothed squirrels, jokes hinged on a play on punctuation, and pronunciation, and pink loofahs. I just couldn’t steal away from the book to update my highlights on Goodreads or anything – and that’s a good sign right there.

An interjection of quotes:

Today we walked past a café’s colorful chalkboard and you asked me,
“Why is that sun wearing a bra on his face?”
“Those are sunglasses,” I told you.

~
“I’m just saying, if I were you, I’d forget about him,” she said. If I were you is something I’ve never really understood. Why say, “If I were you”? Why say, “If I were you,” when the problem is you’re not me? I wish people would say, “Since I am me,” followed by whatever advice it is they have.

~
I rip up the page. I mean to throw the pieces away but can’t. I put the pieces into my pocket to throw away later, or to forget to take out of my pocket and have destroyed by the washing machine.
It’s all so messed up. I think what it is, is that when I was young, my mother was her best version of herself. And here I am, now, a shitty grown-up, and messing it all up, and a disappointment.
What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person—what we felt about that person.
Here’s the fear: she gave to us, and we took from her, until she disappeared.

Rating: So why 4 stars? Some parts of the book are stretched a little too thin. One has to take the level of detail with a pinch of salt – the narrator’s dad’s journals chronicling her childhood weirdnesses are too unrealistic. Children do absurd things, but no child does so many absurd things, so consistently, all in one day – for so many days. It’s quirky, but the narrative framework is a flimsy support for it. The “fake classroom sessions” set up for the narrator’s dad also are impossible to pull off with such non-chalance. All the “side characters” unite in a mission to keep up a semblance of ‘normalcy’ for this man suffering from dementia; and the lengths they go to do it are over the top and forced. A small issue. If it was a book that was driven by the plot, it would matter more – but it’s not.

Recommendation: The book is not ‘ha-ha’ funny, but funny in the same sense as “life is funny!” A summary wouldn’t do this book justice, so I haven’t written one. I mean – what’s up there in the description is as much as anyone could say and it’s not enough. It’s not a book about breakups, or parents, or health, or Alzheimer’s or loss or memory – though it has all of that. You need not satisfy specific ‘experience credentials’ to get this book. You just need to have lived a little.

Favourite Books of 2021 – Part 1

Have I been reading as much as I wanted? Not quite. But I’m happy with the books I’ve read so far this year.

1. King Rat by China Mieville – an urban fairytale retelling of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. King Rat is set in London, as so many of Mieville’s books and it unearths a lot that the city has to hide, and some that it fails to. This is how I effervesced about it to a friend when I was reading it – “It’s like someone took a bunch of Neil Gaiman books, put them through a grinder and something messier came out.”

2. The Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta – A tea master’s apprentice in a dystopian future, the debut novel by a Finnish writer. Uncanny, tragic and a beautifully seamless translation, done by the author herself. Sharing a quote –

“We are children of water, and water is death’s close companion. The two cannot be separated from us, for we are made of the versatility of water and the closeness of death. They go together always, in the world and in us, and the time will come when our water runs dry.”

3. Steve and Me by Terri Irwin – This one was like revisiting my childhood, and I somehow now have even more love for the crocodile hunter, the family, the Australia Zoo staff and their escapades! This book is an autobiography of a marriage like few others…

4. Broken Places and Outer Spaces by Nnedi Okorafor – I have since read fiction by Nnedi, but this memoir will never cease to put me in awe. The science fiction writer talks about her struggle with paralysis, race and how she found her stories. The very real hidden magic of our world, animated through the eyes of a writer… is just something else.

5. Love, Loss and What We Ate by Padma Lakshmi – The third memoir on this list, how! I knew very little about Padma Lakshmi going into the book – Salman Rushdie’s ex wife would have been one my top descriptions, followed by Top Chef. This book really made me think about the tiny realities that populate the big stories around us. Her story is generously peppered with anecdotes starring a ragtag band of charming, meddlesome characters, brimming with that very Indian matter-of-factly-ness; she has brought to life her childhood through the vivid sights, and all the smells and the tastes.

6. Ranmitra by Dr. Prakash Amte – The first book I’ve managed to complete, in my mother tongue. I can choose to be embarrassed about it, or I can choose to be glad. I’m glad! A life worth reading. This book is a collection of stories [experiences and learnings] gathered while raising rescued or orphaned wild animals, from leopards and bears to even crocodiles… peppered with the loveliest pictures. Read this article to know more about Amte’s Ark.

The Houses of Iszm by Jack Vance

look at the expression on that flower

Such a WEIRD book. I always marvel at how oldish science fiction throws you headfirst into a new world and leaves you there to sink or swim. I am not well versed with the classics of this genre, but I do feel like this happens more often with science fiction than any other genre. [Fantasy, for instance, has a lot more blatant world building and info-dumps that aren’t even jarring.]

So: The Houses of Iszm is this ridiculously tiny book packed with so much character. I picked it up at a book sale because of the fascinating [and menacing] cover, and it lived up to the expectation. The cover is deliciously old-fashioned, the writing is archaic but in a pleasant, flowery way; and the world is absurd and makes me curious about Vance’s other works.

The story is set on the planet of Iszm, where the inhabitants [called Iszics] grow and live in tree houses; houses which are alive. The walls, floors, ceilings and even the furniture of these houses is part of the tree, grown in these peculiar habitable shapes. In the whole of the universe, it’s the Iszics alone who can grow these house plants from female house-seeds.

Naturally, the demand for these seeds is tremendous and the stern and efficient Iszics control their export across worlds. With the universe facing a population crisis, many planets are vying to end the Iszics’ monopoly on these organic dwellings. A big heist is brewing. The theft of a female house. And our narrator, an Earthling botanist, finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Will he escape the ruthless Iszic security and prove his innocence? Read to find out.

“Sun, Earth, the Moon: an archipelago of bright round islands, after a long passage through a dark sea. Sun drifted off to one side, Moon slipped away to the other, Earth expanded ahead: grey, green, tan, white, blue – full of clouds and winds, sunburn, frosts, draughts, chills and dusts, the navel of the universe, the depot, terminal, clearing-house, which the outer races visited as provincials.

It was at midnight when the hull of the Andrei Sinic touched Earth. The generators sank down out of inaudibility, down through shrillness, through treble, tenor, baritone, bass, and once more out of hearing.”

Understanding People Who Don’t Read Fiction: the good, the bad and the somewhat unclear

found this too in one of my old blogger drafts

Note: Migrating from Blogger to WordPress [so late] has been a lot of fun, because I keep unearthing old write-ups from my 500+ Blogger drafts! So this is an old post from 2015, which was written with an incorrigible intention of making fun of everyone; starting with myself. My reading habits have changed considerably in the last five years, but my befuddlement at intellectual elitism and the “fiction / non-fiction is not useful” tirade endures, and that’s what this post was about. Here I go:

Ever since I started Tabula Rasa, I have met, virtually of course, many fiction fanatics. In real life, however, I only know so many. My real world is filled with those who promote conscious reading of non-fiction and newspapers and real world knowledge-expanding truths. People have often scoffed at and expressed utter puzzlement over my love for stories. Biographies, some can understand, but fantasy – hell no! “What is the use of reading things that are not true?” I have been asked and sometimes, generously shown articles that answer the very question. Forced into interaction with this breed of people for over twenty years now, here are some things I have discovered about them:

The Good:

1. They are extremely well informed. Because they dedicate their reading time solely to non-fiction and factual information, they regularly fill their minds with important dollops of knowledge. Because they don’t let themselves get distracted by that which is not true and never existed, they build a good memory and possess a high recollection power.
2. They are very grounded. Unlike fiction readers, they don’t indulge in escapism and can firmly face reality, having practised it throughout their lives, on a daily basis!
3. They are time-management experts. They value time and resist the urge, if ever they have one, to escape from the real world. This is rather obvious, seeing as reading which we fiction-readers view as a hobby is actually a method of learning for them. They simply cannot help but direct all their time to a useful end.
4. They are logical thinkers. They tend not to get carried away by emotions, and when push comes to shove, are able to focus on the critical necessities of a situation than be affected by extraneous, for lack of a better term, fluff. (I have yet to figure out just how this relates to reading non-fiction, but have generally observed it to be true.)

The Bad:

1. They are uncreative. Since they only ever read non-fiction, they don’t get as much of a chance to exercise their imagination, and inevitably lead dull uninspired lives.
2. They cannot come to terms with their own emotions. Since they miss out on the cathartic relief offered to us fiction-readers, they spend their lives unable to grapple with their complex feelings. They do prefer raw facts to temperamental silliness, anyway, however, the lack of emotional self-awareness must cause problems.
3. They lack empathy. Unable to comprehend even their own feelings, they lack the compassion necessary to understand other people’s thoughts and emotions. They find it difficult to put themselves in other people’s shoes, and obstinately stick to their world-view. This may lead to inexplicable loneliness – not caring about feelings doesn’t make one immune to them, after all.
4. They make enemies. Cold, logical thinkers who cannot empathise with others, their argumentative nature often gets them into trouble. They do get along mightily with other non-fiction readers, engaging in debates and healthy competitive discussions on general know-how. But a part of me wonders if they ever make any real friends.

The Unclear:

There are other random observations I have made about people who don’t read fiction. If you, unlike me, are a non-fiction reader (in which case, welcome to my blog, hope you find something of use here,) please be so kind as to clear my doubts.

1. Language: Are readers of non-fiction less likely to sound pseudo-intellectual and do they have more of a business-like vocabulary which helps their expression stay precise and on point? Or am I being baseless and arbitrarily judgemental in this specific instance? Surely not all fiction has extravagant flowery writing! Although to be honest, the vast majority does…
2. Enjoyment: They must watch TV and film for only the aesthetic quality, because insofar as I know, stories don’t give them pleasure. Speaking of which, is it all right in their world of non-fiction for them to enjoy themselves for the sake of it? Or do all non-fiction readers naturally want to indulge in only those actions that have a purpose…? Wait, this vaguely reminds me of something I read in this book called The Metaphysics of Morals (or something like that, curse my bad memory.) Unfortunately, I can’t tell you exactly what it was. See, I quit reading after the second page when I realized it had no plot…

Books I Meant to Read In 2020 But Didn’t Get To

Or rather, books I bought, but didn’t read. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic makes me sad, because that list is always longer than I’d like it to be. Here we go with ten random picks:

1. The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman – The second installment in the sequel-trilogy to His Dark Materials. I honestly don’t know why I haven’t read this year – dying to!

the colours are so pretty

2. The Hot Zone by Richard Preston – This is about the origin of the ebolavirus. It came highly recommended by at least two different people. As fascinating as the blurb makes it sound – science fiction thriller, mystery, horror combined but TRUE – it just hits too close to home!

3. Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch – This book is all about what the internet has done to language – the history of it, the science, the magic! I’m a little sad about this one because it’s been sitting half-read on the shelf for no reason.

4. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – Speaking of sequels and trilogies, this is the third book in the Thomas Cromwell saga that started with the oh-so-brilliant Wolf Hall all the way back in 2009. I’ve been admiring this beautiful cover on my shelf for months now, but too scared to pick up the tome.

blue

5. A Promised Land by Barack Obama – I absolutely fell in love with Dreams From My Father, which I read a few years ago, but which was written over twenty years ago, when Obama had been elected as the first black president of… the Harvard Law Review. I expect this won’t be anything like that but would certainly like to read it.

6. The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry – I found this at a book sale early last year. This a little guide to writing poetry, with tasks and exercises and advice from the inimitable Stephen Fry. Just haven’t had the time to read it!

7. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – This book was recommended to me by a friend, I gifted it to two people who both absolutely loved it and I still somehow haven’t got around to it. It will happen soon!

that coffee mug though

8. The rest of the Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski – One of the highlights of last year was starting this series. I love it, love it, love it. Maybe this is my gateway back to fantasy series after many years!

9. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke – Another book I was SO excited to read! I adore Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. But with Piranesi, the first ten pages were very different from my expectation. I was curious but worried it would be letdown, so I put it aside. Should I pick it back up?

10. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – The image of this gorgeous book has been haunting me for all of 2020. I left it in another city and was then stuck somewhere else for the rest of the year! We shall meet again.

look. at. it.

What about you? Any unfinished business, books left on the shelves last year?

On tiptoeing into poem interpretation and reading Cat and the Moon by WB Yeats

In the quest to become a more regular blogger, I find myself thinking more. This sounds like a silly thing to say, but it’s true. For the past two months I’ve been making more time for just that sort of staring-off-into-space zone. I would just say it’s another word for procrastination; if only it didn’t feel OH SO good.

lovely in essence, not in skill

Anyway, this lovely picture of the moon from my window prompted me to hunt down a poem by Yeats that I absolutely used to love. Disclaimer – I am totally obtuse in poetry matters, but there’s something about this that gets me every time!

Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

There is something voyeuristic about reading this poem because it you see him referencing the cat ‘Minnaloushe’ which was the name of Maud Gonne’s cat, the same Maud Gonne whom Yeats loved and who did not love him back. It is as if the poem is for her to read and understand; not for your prying eyes. Yeats may be the cat, he belongs to her but not quite and Maud the moon; for the moon is so often feminine… And they chase each other, though hesitant; both so similar, yet so apart.

And then there are these constant contradictions. He yearns to dance with the moon, teach the moon a new dance, but they’re both changing. And at the end of it, he is still alone and aware of it. But even without that little spiced factual/historical tidbit, the imagery is so compelling. These playful, almost innocent visuals of a cat dancing in the moonlight, make it impossible not to dive into the poem! The poem might just be the story of any unrequited love, or the struggle between the base animal and the divine, between mind and heart…

A poem that lends itself to interpretation, to meaning-making, is a win, in my world. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “reading too much meaning into something.” Words exist to mean, right? To engage with the reader. A good poem surrenders itself to its reader. Isn’t that the point? Cat and the Moon is beautifully written too, linguistically and structurally. Consider Minnaloushe. What an adorable word, three sonorant sounds ending in a little kiss. I’m obsessed.

[P.S. British linguist David Crystal has written a fair bit – linked here – on why certain words sound more beautiful than others, structurally, culturally (and arguably), based on the kind of syllables, sounds, sound combinations they have. Look up sound symbolism too if this piques your curiosity!]

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney

Book 1 of 2021. I have been seeing Normal People by Sally Rooney just about everywhere in the book blogging world, so I was keen to pick this book up when it was recommended to me. I like to read books that are not overly discussed at the moment, because then, I am afforded the luxury of lower expectations. Anyway, preamble aside, I was surprised by how much detail the Goodreads blurb went into, so instead of copying the whole thing, I’m sharing here only bits and pieces of the summary I had read:

Summary: “Frances is a college student and aspiring writer and the endlessly self-possessed Bobbi is her best friend and comrade-in-arms. Lovers at school, the two young women now perform spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, where a journalist named Melissa spots their potential. Drawn into Melissa’s orbit, Frances is reluctantly impressed by the older woman’s sophisticated home and completely taken by her tall, handsome husband, Nick. However amusing their flirtation seems at first, it gives way to a strange intimacy neither of them expect…”

The book vaguely reminded me of a slim little story I had read years ago called Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill. “Can something be laid back and intense at the same time?” is how I had described it then and that glove fits this book too. Like Dept of Speculation, Conversations with Friends has ‘marriage’ as one of its main themes; it is, after all, another book about an affair. A trying topic, I did not expect to be so taken by Melissa and Nick’s difficult marriage. The circumstances of the affair raised issues like ego and vulnerability, poor choices and trust. But more than anything, the failing marriage portrayed how you only ever see others as extensions of yourself – paradoxically more so when you “know them better.”

But here’s the thing, what I loved the most about the book – this marriage – was not what the book was about. It was about friendship, as goes the title. I found Frances and Bobbi’s friendship interesting because it went against the odds – they were in no way alike and they were hardly ever honest with each other about their “inner worlds.” Yet, they were friends, unequivocally so; and would give each other just enough space in the event of any conflict, that their friendship somehow survived all the trials they put it through! I’ve been in friendships like that, albeit with less drama.

The writer used emails to show glimpses of all her characters’ perspectives and in doing so, showed us how their misunderstandings transpired. It was an interesting device because we saw many facets to each character, and it was hard to pin them down to any trait. Bobbi with Melissa was not the same as Bobbi with Frances; and Frances with Nick was not the same as she was with Bobbi. And the Frances we saw as the narrator, inside her mind, was not revealed to anyone at all. She cared so much about how she was perceived, she lost herself somewhere in all the theatre!

Unreliable narrator or not, I couldn’t help but call Frances two-faced! She was immensely dislikeable – not because of how closed off she was or how she changed colours, but because of how easily she let herself off the hook. Because no one knew the real Frances, no one could hold her accountable for anything – for her envy, her mistakes, her active aggression. Was she fooling herself too? They’re kids, they’re twenty one; I kept having to remind myself, as I watched her coolly carve her identity into whatever suited her then. Is anyone this deceptive?

I suppose one could call this story a portrayal of the modern idea of love, relationships and friendship – the sort of fleeting uncertain messiness. The Goodreads summary (that I clipped short) labels this lifestyle as “a painful and disorienting way of living from moment to moment.” I can understand this too, also relate to it in some parts, but I cannot for the life of me claim to like it. And this is my issue with the book – I just don’t want to be part of this world, even if this world is very like the real world, or perhaps because it is so.

Rooney’s writing redeems the book and she leaves you with these teenie memorable moments and turns of phrase that beautify the drama.

“Afterward I lay on my side with A Critique of Postcolonial Reason propped half-open on the pillow beside me. Occasionally I lifted a finger to turn the page and allowed the heavy and confusing syntax to drift down through my eyes and into my brain like fluid. I’m bettering myself, I thought. I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me.”

“I laughed to myself although there was no one there to see me. I loved when he was available to me like this, when our relationship was like a Word document that we were writing and editing together, or a long private joke that nobody else could understand. I liked to feel that he was my collaborator. I liked to think of him waking up at night and thinking of me.”

Have you read the book? Or Normal People? What did you think? I guess for all my complaints, I will pick up Normal People one day, after all.

Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 3

Hey, it’s January! This blog is getting ooold. Anyway, this post should have been written in December, but I have a lot of “looking ahead” bookish posts coming up and might as well start with this little unfinished Favourite Books Part 3. Links to the other two: Favourite Books of 2020 – Part 1 and Part 2.

1. All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – I’d borrowed this gem from a friend and it came highly recommend and it was worth every moment spent on it. I have seen and read enough fiction around WW2 to feel compassion fatigue and a general wariness about picking up yet another formulaic designed-to-make-you-cry book. This was a breath of fresh air. The story is … – quoting the Goodreads blurb – … about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

2. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen – One word: genius! The Sympathizer is set at the end of the Vietnam War. As multitudes of Americans evacuate the country, our narrator is one of the locals who escape. He works for a general of the South Vietnamese army. Except… he’s actually been a North Vietnamese spy all along, a Communist sympathizer. What unfolds is a social satire of the Vietnam War, its depictions by American media, the alienation experienced by those rendered homeless, loss of identity in exile, and the Westerner’s misguided understanding of the East. It’s a comedy, tragedy and psychological thriller all rolled into one.

3. Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman – Full review here. A detective receives a mysterious phone call with some clues from her partner, and hours later, he is found dead. She sets off on a mission to find out what really happened, following the few clues left by her partner… only to be lead into a dark supernatural trap that lies waiting beneath our mundane world. It’s an American Gods meets Dresden Files kind of adventure – with shadow creatures, clowns, goblins… and could it be possible?… dragons! One of the coolest finds of the year.

4. The White Zone by Carolyn Marsden – A touching, sweet story about two ten-year-old boys, growing up in Baghdad, both of them innocent spectators and soon-to-be perpetrators of communal violence, in the aftermath of the Iraq War. In early 2008, there was a snow fall in Baghdad for the first time in a hundred years (in fact, it happened again last year after more than a decade.) This story is weaved around that one event, that miracle, that while it lasted, seemed to blur out the differences that waged war in lives of these boys. The story has an uncanny depth of character, and this subtlety, both surprising for a book means for young adults.

5. First They Erased Our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman – Quoting the Amazon blurb – “Habiburahman was born in 1979 and raised in a small village in western Burma. When he was three years old, the country’s military leader declared that his people, the Rohingya, were not one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups that formed the eight “national races. He was left stateless in his own country. In 2016 and 2017, the government intensified the process of ethnic cleansing, and over 700,000 Rohingya people were forced to cross the border into Bangladesh.” It is a small, personal glimpse into a modern tragedy, a political horror story that is too difficult to fit into words. Unimaginable!

6. What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali – Oh man, this book. You really need to have the stomach for this kind of brutal honesty; the kind that makes you uncomfortable, or “sounds funny” or sounds not-true, because it’s so beyond your scope of imagination. It starts out as a quasi-memoir, as Abdudali details her own experience and soon transforms into a cut-throat dissection of rape culture. A must read for any and all of us!

Reading Looking For Alaska by John Green

Disclaimer: I reached the end of the blog post before I realised it’s not a review; so here’s a warning, this is not a review. In fact, I may have forgotten to write about the book entirely, as in its plot or themes or characters. Goodreads can help you there. Let’s call it what it is – It’s a rant. 

Disclaimer 2 – I also quote myself a bit; not being self-indulgent here, just lazy.

Have you read The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett? It is this tiny little book which poses and answers a question: what would happen if the Queen became a reader? Among other lovely things, there’s a scene in the book when the Queen invites all these writers she’s newly discovered to a dinner of some sort. And at that dinner, she discovers something that all readers eventually learn: the writers are not their books. She’s disappointed.

Ever since I read that book, I mentally put authors I read to the “uncommon reader test” – do I like them as much as I like their books? Stephen King and Sir Terry Pratchett are the only two writers to pass that test unequivocally, for me.

Over the last few weeks, I have been binge-watching old vlogbrothers videos from back when I actually followed vlogbrothers videos. I’ve also been wondering why I stopped following them because I absolutely ADORE John Green. Yet I haven’t read much by him. I’ve said this before on the blog in my Turtles All The Way Down review; but I feel like he’s one of those people who – when he writes, he becomes unstuck in time and is a teenager himself – the effortless points of view, the angst and rebellion – only to come back to his adult self when structuring his stories.

He just does teenage well; without that internal lack of structure and self-awareness that a real teenage point of view would have. He knows when to start and stop being his characters, you know? He also gets storytelling more than many writers that fall hopelessly into that young adult books’ club.

So, Looking For Alaska. This is the third book of his that I have read, and the first he has written. I did not like A Fault In Our Stars, the infamous tear-jerker. I LOVED Turtles All The Way Down. And now, Looking For Alaska completes the set by falling somewhere in the middle. Green certainly has a ‘type’ of plot, he has his own set of tropes… and I don’t know if his books spawned the many similar others, or he just followed someone else’s worn path.

But you have the school setting; the misfits who ‘fit in’ more than you’d think; that one English Lit/Arts teacher who is just a cool teenager in sheep’s clothing; the endless quoting of music and writing that, let’s face it, couldn’t possibly be so popular among real-life teens [I’m thinking of the likes of Faulkner and Maugham, and correct me if I’m wrong about this], not to mention, abysmal parenting that is taken in a stride by all the adult characters. Young adult tropes abound.

But so do the more-than-occasional delicious turns of phrase; the warmth emanating from every page; the depth of feeling and that kind of untamed teenage energy… Turtles All The Way Down had a lot more of it in my view, but this book does too. A few years ago, I wrote this about teenagers in an unrelated post on another blog. Kind of fitting to add it here –

As annoying as teenagers are, they kinda make me nostalgic. I mean, when else would you be so lost in your own little technicolor bubble as when you’re in your teenages, when the whole of life and creation is spread out before you and you’re this tiny speck floating around aimlessly in the wide universe, and yet somehow you picture yourself in the centre of the whole damn mess. You never get to be as beautifully self involved as when you’re sixteen, not before nor after.

Looking for Alaska is that – self involved, but beautifully so. I have got around to it rather late too. As it turns out, this was published in 2005 – when I was 13. How weird is that. I probably would not have liked it back then. I was busy playing very own young adult trope of being too “grown up” for certain books, you know, and judging them too harshly. Young Priya would have been wrong. I read the book rather quickly but it was an evening well spent. A whole three stars’ worth.

Do you read young adult books? What do you think of Green’s writing? And what about your “uncommon” writers – do your authors live up to their books?