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Book Nook - 15-01-2018

Monday, January 15, 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

The Accidental Terrorist
Javid “call me Jay” Qasim lives in London, and is proud of being so assimilated, that no cops ever pulls him over. He has no great objections to being called Paki because he knows what the ignorant racist whites don’t—that it means pure. He looks down his nose the shalwar-wearing louts in his community and goes to the mosque once a week, just to prove his Muslim credentials.

Jay, a smalltime drug dealer, is the wry and clear-headed protagonist of Khurrum Rahman’s excellent debut novel, East Of Hounslow. He lives with his widowed mother, who is completely against the stereotype of the pious Muslim woman, and soon after the book opens, she flies off to with her British boyfriend, leaving the shattered Jay alone.

The neighbourhood mosque is vandalized, and Jay helps clean up because he happens to be there; he also gets pulled into a revenge act of violence, only to protect his childhood friend, the naïve and impressionable Parvez, from the likes of Khan Abdul and his thick-headed cohorts. In the melee, his new BMW is trashed, and a bag full of drugs to sell and money he owes his boss, Silas, are stolen. Before he knows it, his life is on a quick downward spiral.

Through the words put in the mouth of Jay, Rahman presents a remarkably accurate and honest picture of the Islamic world today, and slams terrorism while also emphasizing that a majority of Muslims are peace-loving, and all mosques are not breeding grounds of jihad. Like the others of his community Jay does not think that his friend Idris, who is a cop, is a sellout; still, when Khan berates him for not standing by his people, Jay understands his point of view.

Suddenly, the tone of the book turns dark, as Jay is threatened by Silas’s goons if he does not cough up the money owed, and a school-bombing in Canada deeply affects the happy-go-lucky bloke. It’s the time for MI5’s Kinsgley Parker to recruit him as an undercover agent to keep an eye on extremist activity in the Muslim-dominated area.

It would be a spoiler to give out more of the plot, but it does take a couple of Bollywood-like twists. The book is as thought-provoking, as it is entertaining-- which is a fine combination for a thriller.

East Of Hunslow
By Khurrum Rahman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 350


The Star Writes
Hollywood star Tom Hanks is famously a collector of vintage typewriters. He is also an occasional writer, whose stories have been published in magazines like The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

Uncommon Type is his collection of seventeen quirky stories that begin with a picture of a typewriter and also feature the now outdated writing machine in minor or major roles.

Hanks is observant, has a sense of humour and an ear for dialogue—the story about an actor being taken on a press junket is hilarious.  The stories vary in tone and style, however—the story about a woman buying a second-hand typewriter and trying to get it repaired is sweet, the sci-fi stories starring the nutty and hyperactive Anna are bizarre.

The characters cover a wide spectrum—a newly-divorced woman who avoids her cheery neighbor; the billionaire who goes time-travelling and falls in love with a woman from the past; a young man who goes surfing with his father on his nineteenth birthday and stumbles on an unpleasant secret.

He may not be as skilled a writer a he is an actor, but the stories show that he is not insular and self-absorbed as stars tend to be—he does look around and see life beyond Hollywood.

Uncommon Type
By Tom Hanks
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 416

 

Excerpt of Uncommon Type
Anna said there was only one place to find a meaningful gift for MDash – the Antique Warehouse, not so much a place for old treasures as a permanent swap meet in what used to be the Lux Theater. Before HBO, Netflix, and the one hundred and seven other entertainment outlets bankrupted the Lux, I sat for many hours in that once-splendid cinema palace and watched movies. Now it’s stall after stall of what passes for antiques. Anna and I looked into every one of them.

MDash was about to become a naturalized US Citizen, which was as big a deal for us as it was for him. Steve Wong’s grandparents were naturalized in the forties. My dad had escaped the low-grade thugs that were East European Communists in the 1970s and, way back when, Anna’s ancestors rowed boats across the North Atlantic, seeking to pillage whatever was pillage-able in the New World. The Anna family legend is that they found Martha’s Vineyard.

Mohammed Dayax-Abdo was soon to be as American as Abdo-Pie so we wanted to get him something vintage, an objet d’patriotic that would carry the heritage and humor of his new country. I thought the old Radio Flyer wagon in the second warehouse stall was perfect. “When he has American kids, he’ll pass that wagon on to them,” I said.

But Anna was not about to purchase the first antique we came across. So we kept on hunting. I bought a 48-star American flag, from the 1940's. The flag would remind MDash that his adoptive nation is never finished building itself – that good citizens have a place somewhere in her fruited plain just as more stars can fit in the blue field above those red and white stripes. Anna approved, but kept searching, seeking a present that would be far more special. She wanted unique, nothing less than one of a kind. After three hours, she decided the Radio Flyer was a good idea after all.

Rain started falling just as we were pulling out of the parking lot in my VW Bus. We had to drive slowly back to my house because my wiper blades are so old they left streaks on the windshield. The storm went on well into the evening, so rather than drive home, Anna hung around, played my mother’s old mixtapes (which I’d converted to CDs), cracking up over Mom’s eclectic taste, in the segues from the Pretenders to the O’Jays to Taj Mahal.

When Iggy Pop’s Real Wild Child came on, she asked, “Do you have any music from the last twenty years?”

I made pulled-pork burritos. She drank wine. I drank beer. She started a fire in my Franklin stove, saying she felt like a pioneer woman on the prairie. We sat on my couch as night fell, the only lights being the fire and the audio levels on my sound system bounding from green to orange and, occasionally, red. Distant sheet lightning flashed in the storm miles and miles away.

“You know what?” she said to me. “It’s Sunday.”

“I do know that,” I told her. “I live in the moment.”

“I admire that about you. Smart. Caring. Easygoing to the point of sloth.”

“You’ve gone from compliments to insults.”

“Change sloth to languorousness,” she said, sipping wine. “Point is I like you.”

“I like you, too.” I wondered if this conversation was going someplace. “Are you flirting with me?” “No,” Anna said. “I’m propositioning you. Totally different thing. Flirting is fishing. Maybe you hook up, maybe you don’t. Propositioning is the first step in closing a deal.”

Understand that Anna and I have known each other since high school (St Anthony Country Day! Go, Crusaders!). We didn’t date, but hung out in the same crowd, and liked each other. After a few years of college, and a few more of taking care of my mom, I got my license and pretended to make a living in real estate for a while. One day she walked into my office because she needed to rent a space for her graphics business and I was the only agent she could trust because I once dated a friend of hers and was not a jerk when we broke up.

Anna was still very pretty. She never lost her lean, rope- taught body of a triathlete, which, in fact, she had been. For a day, I showed her some available spaces, none of which she wanted for reasons that made little sense to me. I could tell she was still just as driven, focused, and tightly wound as she had been at SACD. She had too keen an eye for the smallest of details and left no stones unturned, uninspected, unrecorded or unreplaced if they needed replacing. Adult Anna was exhausting. Adult Anna was no more my type than Teen Anna had been.

Funny, then, that she and I became such solid friends, much closer than when we were kids. I am one of those lazy-butt loners who can poke my way through a day and never feel a second has been wasted. In fact, as soon as I sold my mom’s house and parked the money into investments, I walked away from my fake business and settled into the Best Life Imaginable. Give me a few loads of laundry to do and a hockey game on the NHL channel and I’m good for an entire afternoon. In the time I spend lollygagging over my whites and colors, Anna will drywall her attic, prepare her taxes, make her own fresh pasta, and start up a clothing exchange on the internet. She sleeps in fits and starts from midnight to dawn and has the energy to go full throttle all day. I sleep dead to the world as long as possible and take a nap every day at 2.30pm.

“I am going to kiss you now.” Anna did just as she said.

We had never done that, other than those pecks on cheeks that go with brief hugs. That night, she was offering up a whole new version of herself and I tensed up, confused.

“Hey, relax,” she whispered. Her arms were around my neck. She smelled damn good and tasted of wine. “It’s the Sabbath. A day of rest. This is not going to be work.”

 

ALSO RECEIVED
Neuroscientist, writer and speaker, Tali Sharot’s new book is “A cutting-edge, research-based inquiry into how we influence those around us and how understanding the brain can help us change minds for the better.  In The Influential Mind, neuroscientist Tali Sharot takes us on a thrilling exploration of the nature of influence. We all have a duty to affect others―from the classroom to the boardroom to social media. But how skilled are we at this role, and can we become better? It turns out that many of our instincts―from relying on facts and figures to shape opinions, to insisting others are wrong or attempting to exert control―are ineffective, because they are incompatible with how people’s minds operate. Sharot shows us how to avoid these pitfalls, and how an attempt to change beliefs and actions is successful when it is well-matched with the core elements that govern the human brain. Sharot reveals the critical role of emotion in influence, the weakness of data and the power of curiosity. Relying on the latest research in neuroscience, behavioral economics and psychology, the book provides fascinating insight into the complex power of influence, good and bad.”

The Influential Mind: What The Mind Reveals About Our Power To Change Others
By Tali Sharot
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 240

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