India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking – Anand Giridharadas (2011)

What separated me from [India] was more than just the barriers of time. There was the further distance of my own false visions and the need for revisions. Fragments of memory floated in me. Some were once true but had, in the time of my parents’ absence from India, become false; some were true from the start and so remained; some were never true. To return to India in this way, as the son of those who had left, was to know dizzying change – and change as much in the seer as in the seen.

Strolling through another Dewey decimal number, I found myself in the world of travel and wanting something really different from Victorian books, I thought I would go to India and I pulled this one off the shelf. I entered the book thinking that it would along the lines of a more traditional travelogue (albeit one from the POV of a returning resident) but it was a rather different read than that. It was good, for the most part, but it wasn’t quite what I had expected (although I accept that perhaps the subtitle should have clued me in a bit more).

Giridharadas is an American-born son of first-generation immigrant parents who emigrated to the US for new opportunities and a better life than they believed they could get if they stayed in India. Having only experienced Indian life through infrequent trips “home” to India throughout childhood, the author decides to upsticks and move back to India as an adult: to experience an “intimate portrait” of his new-to-him country and culture.

Having grown up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, Giriharadas only knows the India of these infrequent trips “back home” with his family, and as a fellow immigrant myself, I can relate to how these trips, fun as they can be, are sometimes hard work with pressure to do everything and see everyone within the short time limits of the vacation. It’s a lovely problem to have – so many friends and things to do! – but it’s also pretty tiring at times.

Giriharadas wants to experience “real” Indian life through his own lens, as opposed to that of his parents’ own memories. What was the “true” experience of life in India? Was it as his parents (and he) remembered? Or would it be new and updated now that technology was widespread and easily adopted for many people? And how had that impacted the culture and lifestyles of typical Indian citizens?

So, this book is like a memoir in some ways: his parents’ memories seen through the filter of his own American childhood (and the visits) but it was also an outsider’s perspective on how life had evolved in the modern world for the India of today.

Chapters are divided into large themes, such as “Anger”, “Pride”, “Freedom” – large categories that allow Giriharadas to group many disparate topics together and which works for the most part.

As a reader, the different pieces were fit together like a jigsaw puzzle but it did wear a little thin towards the last third of the book. (But how else to cover such a huge variety of subjects? I don’t know.)

The first two-thirds was the strongest piece, the final third (as mentioned) was a little drawn out and rather too navel-gazing for me, but then I had entered the book thinking it was a straightforward travelogue so it may have been some of my own fault really.

Despite this slightly tepid review, I did enjoy the majority of this read. Giriharadas is a solid writer with good descriptive skills and a journalist’s eye towards the internal and the external world. As an Indian, he was allowed access to “real life” India via his friends and family and it’s interesting to read how his perspective changes the longer that he lives there.

People change – and so do countries – and it was thought-provoking for me to think that something similar might occur to me should I ever upsticks back to England after more than 30 years away in the Colonies…

Library Loot: March 04 2021

I’ve been busy at the library lately so thought I’d update my stash of interesting titles:

  • The Colorado Kid – Stephen King (F) – was looking for another read by King since I loved his Misery title… (This edition actually has what I consider to be the WORST cover art in the world. I’ll get you a pic…)
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberto Urrea (F/short stories). Love Urrea’s other work
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Stick – Zora Neale Hurston (F/short stories). Other Hurston reviews here: Barracoon (NF), Their Eyes were Watching God (1937)…
  • Mrs. Malory Wonders – Hazel Holt. (F/mystery). Just was looking for a cozy murder book and this title came up…
  • Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White: A Memoir – Karla F. C. Holloway (NF). I ILL’d this title but it looks rather different inside than I was expecting. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Around the World in 80 Days with Micheal Palin – Michael Palin. (Loved his travel book on the Himalaya mountains and wanted to read some more good travel writing.)

And more titles… (Told you I might have got carried away… 😉 )

  • The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Already finished this – good fun.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F/thriller/mystery). Was looking for a Gothic thriller type of read… (Just realized that I’ve already read this. Sigh. No worries. Moving on…)
  • Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles E. Passel – Charles E. Passel (NF/travel/adventure).
  • The Round House – Louise Erdrich (F/Native American).
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (F).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel).
  • DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy. (NF). Just looked interesting.

Which one to read first?…. I know I’m going to read the astronomy Eyewitness book this weekend for starters and make a start on “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2020 project.

The Country Child – Alison Uttley (1931)

I’m quite sure that I must have read this in the distant days as an early reader, and this time, it was a charming interlude of an early childhood during the late Victorian time. Alison Uttley was born in 1884 and this story details a year of life as an only child in her rural upbringing at Castle Top Farm (here called Windystone Hall)  near Cromford in Derbyshire. 

It’s more of a collection of vignettes and scenes from the POV of Susan Garland (the titular character) than an actual narrative plot, and so this made it perfect to have as a “pick-up-put-down” read just before bedtime. (It’s also very calming to read just before you go to bed and so I thoroughly enjoyed this read.)

Is it autobiographical? Is it semi-autobiographical? No one seems to know, but it doesn’t matter, really, because the descriptions of rural life are just charming. (They are realistic and show it’s not all roses and sunshine, but it’s still a good read.)

It’s also a history (in some ways) of country life long gone now: of servants and farmhands, of ploughmen and horses and larders full of home-made and home-grown food and drink. The weather plays a leading role as well, since the family lead a very outdoor life. Some of the winter descriptions made me shiver! 🙂

This was a sweet read of times long past and was reminiscent of both “Cider with Rosie” (pre-blog) and “Lark Rise to Candleford” (pre-blog). Thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

ETA: Just learned about the author here. She was one of the first women to ever earn a degree from Oxbridge in Physics and went on to become a physics instructor. PLUS she wrote a zillion children’s books as well. Amazing story.

Review Roundup

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately, so instead of individual reviews, I thought I’d do them in a combined post, just for a change.

The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar (2009) .

From Amazon: When Frank and Ellie Benton lose their only child, seven-year-old Benny, to a sudden illness, the perfect life they built is shattered. Filled with wrenching memories, their Ann Arbor home becomes unbearable, and their marriage founders. Then an unexpected job half a world away in Girbaugh, India, offers them an opportunity to start again. But Frank’s befriending of Ramesh – a bright curious boy who quickly becomes the focus of his attentions – will lead the grieving man down an ever-darkening path with start repercussions.

A title pulled off my TBR shelves, this novel follows an American family who are of Indian descent and how a significant event impacts all of their lives.

This was a pretty good read, but I find myself struggling to say anything of substance about it now that I’ve finished it. That’s not to say it was a poor reading experience in any way. Just not much to add to it!

The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language – Mark Forsyth (2011).

From Amazon: This perfect gift for readers, writers, and literature majors alike unearths the quirks of the English language. For example,do you know why a mortgage is literally a “death pledge”? Why guns have girls’ names? Why “salt” is related to “soldier”? Discover the answers to all of these etymological questions and more in this fascinating book for fans of of Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

A fun read of a shortish book about various words and their histories and etymological background plus how they might to link to (unexpected) other words. Good for a palate cleanser… Off the TBR as well.

Mariana (Persephone Classics): Dickens, Monica, Lane, Harriet:  9781906462048: Amazon.com: Books

Mariana – Monica Dickens (1940).

From Amazon: A lively young woman who has no idea what to do with her life, Mary is often at loose but happy ends: going to school and vacationing in Kensington; a hilarious failed attempt at drama school; a year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; and finally her romance with the right man.

Another read of which I have not much to say… (What kind of book blogger am I??) This was good but not deep in any way. Another palate cleanser, if you will. Glad I read it though. Anther off the old TBR pile.

So three quite chunky books off the TBR pile is good progress, I think. I’m reading another novel (also from the TBR) but I’m betting that I have more to say about this. It’s pretty complex…

February 2021: Reading Review

The reads for February 2021 included:

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in January 202110
  • Total number of pages read 3,056 pages (av. 306). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 4 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books (whee!) and e-books.

Plans for March 2021 include a week off for Spring Break – whee! Finish up my ongoing read of “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy. I also want to continue to include more BIPOC writing on my list. Continue this pace of reading and continue this streak of reading more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library. 

Catching up with reviews…

Abdulrazak-Gurnah-By-the-Sea-UK-IMPORT-Paperback-BOOK-NEW

I’ve been reading quite a lot lately and so I thought I would do a quick catch-up post with my most recent titles. They have been a mixed bag of good and broccoli books (ones that may not have tasted that great when I was reading them but I’m glad to have them done), so let’s continue…

The biggest broccoli book would have to be “By the Sea” by Abdulrazak Gurnah. A fiction title that was released to acclaim back in 2002, I’m sure that I came across this read via one of the many blogs I travel to and I was expecting good things from it. However, the prose came across as turgid and deliberately obtuse and after struggling mightily with it for a good two-thirds, I finally accepted defeat, realized that I was doing procrastination-reading each time I meant to pick it up and closed its pages with relief. :-}

The Best American Science Writing 2006: Gawande, Atul: 9780060726447:  Amazon.com: Books

At the same time as Gurnah’s book, I was also reading (and sometimes skimming) a volume of The Best American Science Writing (edited by Atul Gwande) and published in 2006. I hadn’t thought that sci writing published 14 years would be that historical in terms of the topics it covered, but despite some of the articles being pretty interesting, there were some that were obviously (and not surprisingly) dated so that was a mixed bag as well. Notable articles included one about some researchers who study the giant redwood trees and a fascinating one about death (I know – right?). 

Both reads are off the TBR pile – go me – and now I’m reading the 1931 title of “The Country Child” by Alison Uttley. I’m not sure if it’s autobiographical (a la “Cider with Rosie” et al.) but I’ll find out before I do a review post. It’s charmingly pleasant and easy to read and might be a juvenile title. It’s just right after soldiering through the science writing and the sea books. 

After these reads, I’m not sure what the next title(s) will be but you know – half the fun is choosing them!

Books in a row. Isolated, blank labels, free copy space , #AFF, #Isolated,  #blank, #Books, #row, #copy #ad | Stock images, Books, Image

General Catching Up…

February is almost done but it seemed to move very fast for me in some ways and rather slow in others. I teach at a university and we had some really bad weather last week (including about four inches of snow and ice). Since our area is not that experienced with snow, the entire week of classes and work was cancelled due to the weather, which was pretty weird. It was fine but it did make my week seem a bit off. 

And how did I spend that precious time? Not really sure. I know that there were some naps and a couple of library trips and some reading from the TBR. The Superhero had to go to work (since he’s a first responder person) which meant a lot of alone time for me (which was fine). I watched some more of the really addictive The Great British Baking Show (I love Noel Fielding), and made some bread-and-butter pudding (since the weather was so cold and it seems a very cozy pudding to me). That was yummy and easy to make. 

This week, I’m back in the office and prepping lectures and answering emails. The weather is now back up to the 60s as a high and the only traces of all the snow we had last week are a few patches in the shadows. Not to be surprised though, as West Texas is known for its weird weather patterns. I call the early Spring months the “ski jacket and shorts” months because you will probably need both of them by the end of the day. 😉

I’m still teaching online which is becoming more second nature to me and probably to the students as well. My preference is to teach F2F but with things as they are in the world around us, online it is so I’m striving to provide an equal educational experience via the online world. I have a feeling that it’s a learning experience for everyone who does it and I’ve definitely learned some tricks of the trade.

(Naturally, there has been a jigsaw puzzle in progress. Perfect weather for such an indoor sport!)

Book-wise, I had a B&N gift card burning a hole in my pocket (left over from Christmas) so I went there and spent a lovely hour or so strolling around their stock shelves. Ended up buying two NF paperbacks: America’s Best Travel Writing 2020 (edited by Robert McFarlane) and Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World by Rita Golden Gelman. Very looking forward to reading these at some point in the near future…

Right now, I’m reading a book called “By the Sea” by Abdulrazak Gurnah, a fiction and rather a broccoli book if I’m honest. (“Broccoli books” are those that perhaps don’t taste that great but are really good for you… 🙂 )

ETA: “By the Sea” ended up being a DNF. Way too obtuse and wordy for me right now.

Library Loot: Feb. 22 2021

I checked out the following titles from my local library:

  • Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum – Elizabeth Warren. (I really enjoy looking at textile art…)
  • Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches – Jill Fredston. (I was in the auto/bio section and this just looked very interesting.)
  • India Calling – Anand Giridharadas. (Still fascinated by India…)
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick – Zora Neale Hurston. (I enjoy her work.)
  • The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells (Was looking for a classic and this looked short!)

So, of course, I’m not actually reading any of these just yet and reading something completely different.! 😉