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Book Nook - 02-07-2018

Monday, July 02, 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 [email protected]

The Writer’s Life
A House Among The Trees is the sixth book by award-winning writer Julia Glass, at the centre of which is Mort Lear, a bestselling and beloved writer-illustrator of children’s books, and the actor, Nicholas “Nick” Greene who is to play him in a Hollywood biopic. The link between the two, is Tomasina Daulair, aka Tommy, Lear’s longtime assistant, who was everything ( "daughter, mother, gatekeeper, amanuensis”), but a lover to the gay author.  When Mort dies suddenly after a fall, Tommy finds that he has left her his fortune (including the house in the picturesque village of Orne), but also put on her the responsibility of setting up a half-way house for runaway boys.

Mort dies just before Nick is to visit him, so Tommy is left to deal with the actor and all the problems that crop up when she is faced with the difficult task of settling all the demands made on her.  The book is entirely character-driven and quite unpredictable.  If the reader expects a romance between the reclusive Tommy and the glamorous Nick, that is nipped by her being old enough to be his mother; if a satire on Hollywood’s tendency to appropriate and twist anybody’s life to make “the kind of movie you watch in order to be swept away by crisis or intrigue or menace or laughter or the conquering power of love,"  is expected, there is very little of behind-the-scenes revelation.

The book is reportedly loosely based on life of gay author-illustrator Maurice Sendak, but Glass is equally invested in the stories of Tommy, her brother Dani who was the model for Mort’s iconic character Ivo, Mort’s self-centered lover, Soren Kelly (who dies of AIDS) as, well as the Oscar-winning, newly-minted celebrity Nick and a museum curator, Meredith, who loved Mort and wants to set up a section on his work in a new museum devoted to children’s literature. Mort had a dark secret, which when hinted at in a magazine interview, takes on a different direction altogether and neither Nick not Tommy can set it right.

The tone is gentle, humorous and sensitive, and though nothing too dramatic takes place, the reader gets fascinated by, and invested in, what happens to the characters—particularly Tommy, who is never able to emerge from Mort’s prison of dependence and is even sidelined completely in the film, in which the spotlight shifts to Soren, and an animated Ivo.  One would like to know how she copes with life away from that house among the trees—Tommy may not be heroine material, but then everyone deserves a story; Tommy’s started when, at age 12, she met Mort in a park.

A House Among The Trees
By Julia Glass
Publisher: Pantheon
Pages: 368


Excerpt of A House Among The Trees

Today, the actor arrives.

Awake too early, too nervous for breakfast (coffee alone makes her more nervous still), fretful over what to wear (then irritated at caring so much), Tommy patrols the house that is now hers, shock­ingly and entirely hers—not just her bedroom and all it contains but everything she can see from its two windows: seven acres of gardens and grass and quickening fruit trees, fieldstone walls and stacks of wood, shed and garage and hibernating pool. The sky above: does she own that, too? Owning the sky would be easy. The sky would be a gift. The sky weighs nothing. The sky is unconditional.

She roams and circles through rooms she knows by heart: living room, dining room, kitchen, den, mudroom, pantry, porch. She can­not enter a room these days without beginning a mental inventory: What to keep? What to give away? (Worse, far worse, how much of it will she sell?) She goes to and from the studio, back and forth between this world and that—in that one, he simply must be alive—so many times that her skirt is now damp from brushing against the tight-fisted buds of the peonies flanking the path.

Will she have to change again?

The birds are in prime song, the sun beyond a promise, the day upon them all. Five hours to fill, and Tommy has no idea how.

She still finds it hard to believe that Morty agreed to this. But he did. He spoke to the actor more than willingly—to Tommy’s embar­rassed ears, unctuously—only a few days before his fall. His eager remarks punctuated by a forced, nasal laughter, he said that he looked forward to welcoming the actor to his home and studio, showing him “everything—well, almost everything!”

Unlike many women around the civilized world, Tommy does not yearn to meet or spend time with or even catch sight of Nicholas Greene. That she will be alone with him—if he complies with her conditions, and he must (Yes, Morty, you are not the only one with conditions!)—is even more unsettling, but one thing she knows is that she will not allow a wolf pack of movie people to poke around the premises. It was bad enough letting the art director visit last month. “Just a walkabout to soak up the spirits,” he claimed. He arrived with a photographer and two assistants, who managed to trample flat a swath of crocuses emerging from the lawn. Morty behaved like a puppy, tagging along rather than leading them through, setting no limits to their invasion.


Paradise Lost
The word Kashmir no longer brings to mind beautiful snow-capped hills, or houseboats over Dal Lake; the romantic place where Bollywood stars sang romantic songs; today Kashmir is associated with conflict, militancy, army excesses, stone-pelting youth, pellet-shooting soldiers. This is the Kashmir Feroz Rather captures in poignant, unsettling detail.

Rather’s debut book, The Night Of Broken Glass--takes its title from Kristallnacht, the night of anti-Jewish pogrom by the Nazis in Germany in 1938, the crystals referring to the shards of broken glass on the streets after homes and shop windows had been smashed.

His book of connected short stories, is about the rage, fear, suspicion and mourning that afflicts both the people of Kashmir and the armymen stationed there to enforce order. The people are angry because of the cruelty of the soldiers, who torture, kill and rape; the soldiers are jittery because they do not know when they will be ambushed by insurgents, or where the next stone, bomb of bullet will come from. In the midst of all this trauma, ordinary people strive to get by—the student, baker, cobbler, imam, the young men and women in love, the families that are not sure their loved one will return in the evening. A young man seeing his cousin home, is shot because his car stalls at the wrong place; another is made to clean graffiti on the rough wall of his shop with his tongue. Is it possible to live with the constant threat of violence—the people just trying to stay alive are caught between the devil and the deep sea—which is the militant and which the military is hard to tell.

The Night Of Broken Glass
By Feroz Rather
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 232


Rishi Piparaiya’s book, Job Be Damned may just be what a bored employee in a dead-end job needs. Says the summary, “Do you think you're a hardworking professional who has a lot to offer? Are your ideas brighter than everyone else's in your team? Did you deserve a standing ovation after your last performance appraisal? Even if the answer to these questions is a resounding yes, do you still find yourself trailing behind corporate losers - the devil boss who takes all the credit; the slimy politician who stole your promotion; the sweet-talking weasel whom everyone seems to love? Job Be Damned is the kick in the backside that you so desperately need. This book recognizes that you are an average employee and ensures that, by the time you're done reading it, you'll be the best average employee there can be. You will gain a unique perspective to help navigate every tricky workplace situation-and unmatched bullshit-doling and handling capabilities to wing it through your spectacularly unexciting job. After all, isn't that what corporate success is all about?”

Job Be Damned—Work Less Career Success
By Rishi Piparaiya
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages:  252

The synopsis of Alka Dhillon’s The OM Factor: A Woman’s Spiritual Guide To Leadership reads, “Working women today are caught in a never-ending battle of seemingly conflicting interests: ambitions to pursue demanding careers, dedication towards home and family, desire for intellectual self-improvement, and yearning for fulfilment of emotional and spiritual needs. But acing the balancing act is easier said than done. In The OM Factor: A Woman’s Spiritual Guide to Leadership, CEO and successful entrepreneur Alka Dhillon creates a unique programme to integrate the disparate aspects of the lives of today’s women into one harmonious whole. A thorough guide to inner peace, the programme recommends seven key character traits that can be cultivated for personal success and well-being. Through meditation, chants, yoga and the healing power of gemstones, the book provides hands-on tools to help readers overcome negative emotions like stress, feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, anger and insecurity.Easy to incorporate into a busy lifestyle, the book is designed to quickly deliver effective results in emotionally challenging situations.”

The OM Factor: A Woman’s Spiritual Guide To Leadership
By Alka Dhillon
Publisher: Pan Macmillan India
Pages:  210

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