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Book Nook - 12-02-2019

Tuesday, February 12, 2019
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

Into The Writer’s Mind
Lisa Halliday’s debut novel, Asymmetry, won awards, ecstatic reviews and found itself on every list of the best books of 2018 list. Not every young writer gets such a welcome.

It is an in intriguing book, with two seemingly disconnected parts, and a third that is in the form of a radio broadcast.

In the first part, Folly, reportedly inspired by Halliday’s own relationship with Philip Roth, a junior twenty-something editorial assistant at a publishing house has a romance with a much older author of some stature, who is in line for the Nobel Prize. It proceeds from a simple conversation on a park bench, shared chocolate and ice cream and then progresses to a full-blown, but secret, love affair.

It is an unequal relationship, Alice, also an aspiring writer, is obviously in awe of the Ezra Blazer—he pays off her student loans, gives her gifts, suggests books for her to read (excerpts finds themselves into this book) and she brings to the table her youth and energy. He calls her on the phone, with caller id always blocked, sends her on errands and dismisses her when he wants her to leave. Despite the age difference, his experience and her naivete, there is a lot of joy in their romance—particularly in their shared passion for baseball. They have no future, however, as she would eventually tire of having a sick old man in her life.

The second part Madness, has as its protagonist, Amar, an Iraqi American economist, detained at the airport in London, on his journey to visit his brother in Kurdistan. While various officers interrogate him, he looks back on his life, his childhood, his romance with a white girl, the difference between his life in the US, and that of his brother who opted to live in unstable and violent Iraq. In a post 9/11 world, his Iraqi passport automatically makes him suspect; the way he is treated is deplorable but the officials are being ridiculously over-cautious.

The final section is a transcript of a radio interview with Ezra Blazer—who has finally won the Nobel-- on a programme called Desert Island Discs, in which the writer talks about his life and tells the RJ what music he would take with him on a desert island.

The accomplishment of Halliday’s novel is the fragile connection between the three parts, and her ability to write in multiple voices. Alice wonders if she could write from the point of view of a Muslim man, and Amar’s story illustrates the power of make-believe in storytelling. Writers can be whoever they choose to be, all that is needed is imagination and perhaps, empathy—not all that easy to come by.

Asymmetry
By Lisa Halliday
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Pages: 288

 

Excerpt of  Asymmetry
ALICE was beginning to get very tired of all this sitting by herself with nothing to do: every so often she tried again to read the book in her lap, but it was made up almost exclusively of long paragraphs, and no quotation marks whatsoever, and what is the point of a book, thought Alice, that does not have any quotation marks? She was considering (somewhat foolishly, for she was not very good at finishing things) whether one day she might even write a book herself, when a man with pewter-colored curls and an ice-cream cone from the Mister Softee on the corner sat down beside her.

“What are you reading?”

Alice showed it to him.

“Is that the one with the watermelons?”

Alice had not yet read anything about watermelons, but she nodded anyway.

“What else do you read?”

“Oh, old stuff, mostly.”

They sat without speaking for a while, the man eating his ice cream and Alice pretending to read her book. Two joggers in a row gave them a second glance as they passed. Alice knew who he was—she’d known the moment he sat down, turning her cheeks watermelon pink—but in her astonishment she could only continue staring, like a studious little garden gnome, at the impassable pages that lay open in her lap. They might as well have been made of concrete.

“So,” said the man, rising. “What’s your name?”

“Alice.”

“Who likes old stuff. See you around.”

•  •  •

The next Sunday, she was sitting in the same spot, trying to read another book, this one about an angry volcano and a flatulent king.

“You,” he said.

“Alice.”

“Alice. What are you reading that for? I thought you wanted to be a writer.”

“Who said that?”

“Didn’t you?”

His hand shook a little as he broke off a square of chocolate and held it out.

“Thank you,” said Alice.

“You’re velcome,” he replied.

Biting into her chocolate, Alice gave him a quizzical look. “Don’t you know that joke? A man flying into Honolulu says to the guy in the seat next to him, ‘Excuse me, how do you pronounce it? Hawaii or Havaii?’ ‘Havaii,’ says the other guy. ‘Thank you,’ says the first guy. And the other guy says, ‘You’re velcome.’”

Still chewing, Alice laughed. “Is that a Jewish joke?”

The writer crossed his legs and folded his hands in his lap. “What do you think?”

•  •  •

The third Sunday, he bought two cones from Mister Softee and offered her one. Alice accepted it, as she had done with the chocolate, because it was beginning to drip and in any case multiple–Pulitzer Prize winners don’t go around poisoning people. They ate their ice cream and watched a pair of pigeons peck at a straw. Alice, whose blue sandals matched the zigzags on her dress, flexed a foot idly in the sun.

“So. Miss Alice. Are you game?”

She looked at him. He looked at her.

Alice laughed. “Are you game?” he repeated.

Turning back to her cone: “Well, no reason not to be, I guess.”

The writer got up to throw his napkin away and came back to her. “There are plenty of reasons not to be.”

Alice squinted up at him and smiled.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-five.”

“Boyfriend?”

She shook her head.

“Job?”

“I’m an editorial assistant. At Gryphon.”

Hands in his pockets, he lifted his chin slightly and seemed to conclude this made sense.

“All right. Shall we take a walk together next Saturday?”

Alice nodded.

“Here at four?”

She nodded again.

“I should take your number. In case something comes up.”

While another jogger slowed to look at him, Alice wrote it down on the bookmark that had come with her book.

“You’ve lost your place,” said the writer.

“That’s okay,” said Alice.

•  •  •

On Saturday, it rained. Alice was sitting on the checkered floor of her bathroom, trying to screw tight her broken toilet seat with a butter knife, when her cell phone beeped: CALLER ID BLOCKED.

“Hello Alice? It’s Mister Softee. Where are you?”

“At home.”

“Where is that?”

“Eighty-Fifth and Broadway.”

“Oh, right around the corner. We could string up a couple of tin cans.”

Alice pictured a string, bowing like a giant jump rope over Amsterdam, trembling between them whenever they spoke.

“So, Miss Alice. What should we do? Would you like to come here, and talk a while? Or should we take a walk together another day?”

“I’ll come there.”

“You’ll come here. Very good. Four thirty?”

Alice wrote the address down on a piece of junk mail. Then she put a hand over her mouth and waited.

“Actually, let’s say five. See you here at five?”

•  •  •

The rain flooded the crosswalks and soaked her feet. The cabs churning a spray up Amsterdam seemed to be traveling much faster than they did when it was dry.
While his doorman made room for her by pressing himself into a cruciform position, Alice entered purposefully: long strides, blowing out her cheeks, shaking out her umbrella. The elevator was plated top to bottom with warped brass. Either the floors it climbed were very tall or the elevator was moving very slowly, because she had plenty of time to frown at her infinite funhouse reflections and to worry more than a little about what was going to happen next.

 

SHORT TAKES
Kavitha Yaga Buggana’s Walking In Clouds is about interesting journeys. The summary reads, “Will we make it? That's the question Kavitha and her cousin, Pallu, ask themselves as they trek through Himalayan pine forests and unforgiving mountains in Nepal and Tibet. Their goal: to reach Mount Kailash and Lake Manasarovar. The two women walk to ancient monasteries, meditate on freezing slopes, dance on the foothills of Kailash, and confront death in the thin mountain air. In Kailash and Manasarovar, the holiest of Hindu and Buddhist sites, they struggle to reconcile their rationalist views with faith and the beloved myths of their upbringing. Remarkably, it is this journey that helps them discover the meaning of friendship. Walking in Clouds is a beautifully crafted memoir of a journey to far-away places and to the places within. It mixes lyrical, descriptive storytelling with stunning photographs to bring to life a unique travelogue.”

Walking In Clouds
Kavitha Yaga Buggana
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 168


Jen Sincero’s book You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable is “For anyone who has ever had trouble staying motivated while trailblazing towards badassery… the companion to keep you fresh, grateful, mighty, and driven. In one hundred exercises, reflections, and cues that you can use to immediately realign your mind and keep your focus unwavering, this guide will show you how to keep the breakthroughs catalyzed by Sincero’s iconic books You Are a Badass and You Are a Badass at Making Money going. Owning your power to ascend to badassery is just the first step in creating the life you deserve—You Are A Badass Every Day is the accountability buddy you can keep in your back pocket to power through obstacles, overcome the doubts that hold you back from greatness, and keep the fires of determination roaring while you reach your goals.”

You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable
By Jen Sincero
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 224

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