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Book Nook - 12-11-2018

Monday, November 12, 2018
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

Wandering Heights
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk’s novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, won the Man Booker International Prize earlier this year, for translated fiction. It is not strictly a novel, but an intertwined bunch of pieces and stories about travel.  Most of the book is set in airports, railway stations, hotels, cars on the road, and gives a dizzying feel of dislocation.

The book begins with a narrator who likes the idea constantly being on the move. She says, “Clearly, I did not inherit whatever gene it is that makes it so that when you linger in a place you start to put down roots. . . My energy derives from movement — from the shuddering of buses, the rumble of planes, trains’ and ferries’ rocking.”  
Interspersing the voice of this restless modern-day gypsy, are digressions like random observations about travelling, and stories of other travellers, the most disturbing being the one about a man whose wife and child go missing when they are on vacation. Tokarczuk whips up tension and suspense and then abandons this track for a bit, to look at other people and their experiences, none of which give the reader a sense of an ending.  These fragments of stories and observations range from the banal (sanitary pads!) to the macabre, and could be like things that happen to everybody when they travel, but don’t always come to a neat conclusion, because it is time to move on to a new place. Still, the narrator who does not like the idea of naming or describing experiences, says, “Do not leave any unexplained, unnarrated situations, any closed doors; kick them down with a curse, even the ones that lead to embarrassing and shameful hallways you would prefer to forget. Don’t be ashamed of any fall, of any sin. The narrated sin will be forgiven. The narrated life, saved.”

It may not be a book to be read at a go, but dipped into from time to time, to get a dose of humour, wisdom, curiosity and introspection.
 
Flights
By Olga Tokarczuk
Translated by Jennifer Croft
Publisher: Riverhead
Pages: 416


 

Parking Woes
At the centre of Anna Quindlen’s Alternate Side is an ordinary incident of a parking quarrel that could occur in any teeming city with more cars than space to park them. The unexpected burst of violence goes on to become a study of urban angst, fractured relationships, class and racial differences and the sheer cussedness that stress brings about in the most civilized of people.

Set in a posh Manhattan neighborhood, where people live in designer homes, throw catered parties, have their kids raised by Jamaican nannies and their toilets unclogged by Hispanic handymen, it is seen from the point of view of Nora Nolan, who has an enviable job as the director of a Museum of Jewellery in New York; she is so good at her work, that is constantly being pursued by others to head their non-profit initiatives. While her husband Charlie’s career as an investment banker, is on the decline, even his boss tries to woo Nora which causes some friction in their already fraying marriage.

The crisis that shatters the peace of the neighbourhood is caused by a Jack Fisk, an unpleasant lawyer hitting the colony’s handyman Ricky Ramos with a golf club and breaking his leg, because his van was blocking the entry to the precious, much-coveted parking lot. If the lawyer is not to be sued for all he’s got, he has to prove in court that it was an accident. Charlie and the men of the close-knit community decide to back the lawyer, and Nora is appalled. She has always been the type to do good, help the housekeeper and handyman with things her family no longer uses, or give money to the homeless man outside her workplace, but her smugness is dented by Ricky’s furious wife, Nita.

Alternate Side has focused on a very small and privileged section of New York, but the briskly-paced novel with a dash of dark humour, is an incisive look at emptiness of urban lives and tensions simmering under seemingly happy homes.

Alternate Side
By Anna Quindlen
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 304

 

Excerpt Of Alternate Side
“Just look at that,” Charlie Nolan said, his arm extended like that of a maître d’ indicating a particularly good table.“Oh, my God, stop,” said Nora Nolan, looking through the narrow opening of the parking lot, at the end of which she could just glimpse the front bumper of their car.“It’s beautiful, Bun,” Charlie said. “Come on, you have to admit, it’s beautiful. Look. At. That.” That’s what Charlie did when he wanted to make sure you got his point, turned words into sentences, full stop.Some. Sweet. Deal.Big. Brass. Balls.The first night they’d met, almost twenty-five years ago, in that crowded bar in the Village that was a vegan restaurant now: You. Are.
Great.Really. Really. Great.Nora could not recall exactly when she’d first begun to think, if not to say: Just. So. Annoying.In the line of narrow townhouses that made up their side of the block, standing shoulder to shoulder like slender soldiers of flawless posture and unvarying appearance, there was one conspicuous break, a man down, a house-width opening to a stretch of macadam turned into an outdoor parking lot. It held only six cars, and since nearly everyone on the block wanted a space, it had become a hot commodity, a peculiar status symbol.A book about the city’s history, in the archives of a museum at which she had once interviewed for a job, had told Nora that a house in that space had been gutted in a fire, and the family that owned it had never bothered to rebuild. It had happened in the early 1930s, when the country, the city, and the west side of Manhattan had no money, which of course had happened again in the 1970s, and would doubtless happen again sometime in the future, because that was how the world worked.At the moment, however, it seemed scarcely possible. A house on the next block had just sold for $10 million in a bidding war. The couple who sold it had bought it for $600,000 when their children were young. Nora knew this because she and her neighbors talked about real estate incessantly. Their children, their dogs, and housing prices: the holy trinity of conversation for New Yorkers of a certain sort. For the men, there were also golf courses and wine lists to be discussed; for the women, dermatologists. Remembering the playground conversations when her children were small, Nora realized that the name of the very best pediatrician had given way to the name of the very best plastic surgeon.A single block in the middle of what seemed like the most populous island on earth—although it was not, a professor of geography had once told Nora; it was not even in the top ten—and it was like a small town. The people who owned houses on the block had watched one another’s children grow up, seen one another’s dogs go from puppy to infirmity to the crematorium at Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. They knew who redecorated when, and who couldn’t afford to. They all used the same handyman.“You live on that dead-end block?” someone had asked Nora at an art opening several years before. “One of my friends rented a place there for a year. He said it was like a cult.”None of those who owned on the block cared about the renters. They came and they went, with their sofa beds and midcentury-modern knockoffs, their Ikea boxes at the curb. They were young, unmoored. They didn’t hang Christmas wreaths or plant window boxes.The owners all did, and they stuck.

From time to time a real estate agent would troll the block, pushing his card through mail slots and scribbling notes about that odd empty parcel on the north side, to see who owned it and whether a new townhouse could be built there. For now it was a narrow, ill-kept parking lot, oddly shaped, like one of those geometry problems designed to foil students on the SATs: determine the area of this rhomboid. In the worst of the parking spaces, the one wedged into a cut-in behind the back of the neighboring house, Charlie Nolan’s Volvo wagon, in a color called Sherwood Green, now sat. It had been there only for five hours, by Nora’s reckoning, and already the windshield was pocked with the chalky white confetti of pigeon droppings.That morning, just after sunrise, Charlie had flipped on the overhead light in their bedroom, his face lit up the way it was when he was part of a big deal, had underestimated his bonus, or paid less for a bottle of wine than he decided it was worth.“I got a space!” he crowed.Nora heaved herself up onto her elbows. “Have you lost your mind?” she said.

 

SHORT TAKES
According to Dr. Chirag Jain, “The intention of writing the book is to make the reader realize the automation of thoughts in their present decision making. It will also pave way for breaking these fixed ideas which were always causing hindrances in their growth and relationship.  What A Comeback! is semi-fiction and an inspiring journey of ten friends who go through torrid times in their lives.“The book gives us an insight into the functioning of the thought processes that govern our responses both in favourable and in tough times. The stories of Sam and his friends make the readers realize that they too can be superheroes in their lives and they do not need to wait for a miracle, to come up with the right decisions in life.  The book is based on the laws of neuroplasticity which have been formulated based on neuropsychology and the changes taking place in our brain. These laws were always existing in our lives but we never realized that these were making our thought process autonomous (without our conscious control).“Each and every story is about a common man, his everyday problems and his tirade against the uncertainties of life. The author gives a journey into the brain of the characters and how the brain functions and overcomes difficult situations.  This is the first time when someone has tried to explain the complex mechanisms of neuroscience with the help of stories. The mixture of stories and science has been carefully woven in such a way that a fiction reader who is interested in stories will gain an insight into their fixed view points and its correlation to their past events.”

What A Comeback!
By Dr Chirag Jain
Publisher: Mindful Gurukul
Pages: 281

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