BROWSE: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan
When I saw this book in one of my most favourite bookshops, without even checking out the synopsis or the editor or publisher of the book, I plucked it off its stand and went bought it. I’m a bookaholic; some people even call me a book reading dragon. I can’t live without books. I need to read them every day, because they are my closest friends and teachers. So obviously, this indicates that if I am a passionate book lover and reader, then I also love to read about my favourite authors take on their lives and in this case, which were their favourite bookshops and library haunts. BROWSE is a book published by the erudite Pushkin Press to chapter the favourite book haunts of authors who wished to contribute towards this venture. When I was reading BROWSE, inwardly I was rejoicing for having picked this book, to enrich myself and my working with books. If you are a hardcore lover of books and writing, this is a book you’ve just got to read. BROWSE contains the writings of authors: Ali Smith, Alaa Al Aswany, Pankaj Mishra, Iain Sinclair, Elif Shafak, and so many others which are a joy to read and very educative. I had to keep on taking notes in my diary of the books these writers read and which changed their lives for the better. Each writer has his or her own unique bookshop experience to share with us through BROWSE, which let us know how important a real bookshop and library was in making them the writers they are today. Sadly, most of the essays describe how those book haunts and treasure troves have disappeared without a trace, because of the constantly dynamic shifting tides of modern day consumerism; in simple words, it was becoming too expensive to keep a hold on these bookshops after the digitalization of books. Many of the essays describe how writers tried to return to their earlier book dens to find the bookshops and their proprietors with whom they had had an unspoken friendship, all gone, lost to a very competitive market. The essays in BROWSE speak about bookshops on a busy market square, second-hand bookshops, bookshops where revolutionaries used to congregate, famous bookshops, etc., which taps into that foundation stone deep down in every book reader who owes his or her accomplishments to the places that honed in on their intellectual needs. I especially loved the essay by Saša Stanišic, where she talks about bookaholics as if they were like drugs that takes you to the ‘heights of ecstasy’ but one which never fades away. Yet still, the authors do voice their opinion about e-books, e-libraries, and the numerous incidence of bookshops and libraries in the old physical form drastically closing down. Some of the authors don’t mind the closure, while others beg to differ as they feel that a bookshop experience is a form of education which does not limit a person to only certain books, as does buying of e-books or kindle version on the internet, where you get what you want and only what you want; not what you can get in the form of an educational awakening. Want to know more? Go buy BROWSE as soon as possible and read it immediately. Don’t put it down on your TBR list for a later time. Stop what you are reading right now and read this non-fiction piece that answers questions about books and bookshops we’ve all wanted to ask but were diffident to do so. More importantly, if you’ve ever loved a special library or bookshop which now has been razed to the ground or disappeared for good that’s left a gaping hole inside of you which you cannot describe because after all, ‘they were only books’ . . . please order a copy of BROWSE and read it. I have to admit: I cried while reading it. I cried because when I was a child I had a library that meant the world to me. It made me the writer, teacher, and publisher I am today, and now all those books have all gone. To tell you the truth, when I visited the library a few years ago, and found it bare without its centuries old tomes, I could have just died! That library was my father. What my real father could never do, those books did for me. They fathered me and now they have taken my father forever away from me. But who cares? They are just a bunch of old books—right? Maybe in the veins of other people, their father’s blood flows. But for me, my father was my school library and the dark black of printer’s ink runs through my veins. Go read BROWSE! GO NOW!
Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan
Review of Father Dearest by Neelima Damia Adhar
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan
Father Dearest: The Life and Times of R. K. Dalmia, is one of the finest biographies I’ve read this year. I really felt it was a book well written and very insightful. I’ve always had an interest in contemporary Indian history, especially the history of India’s freedom movement and the aftermath, and even as a student I was impressed by R. K. Dalmia as a great financial, religious, and political personality of that era. The book has been artfully penned by R. K. Dalmia’s daughter, Neelima Dalmia Adhar, which describes her life as a daughter of the ‘once almost first finance minister’ of newly independent India, as well as the decisions that led to his almost non-existent mention in the annals of Indian history. She also describes the lives of the women he married, six women in all, and the eighteen children he begat through them. I as a history student, and now a teacher, had always assumed that R. K. Dalmia was just a religious business magnate of the early twentieth century India, but the biography Father Dearest has made me know R. K. Dalmia better than I had earlier presumed I knew. Neelima Dalmia Adhar has shown the readers of this non-fiction piece a side to the intertwining lives of so many people, whose focal point was a man who is presumed could have prevented the partition of the country India, into present day India and Pakistan. Through the pen of Dalmia’s daughter, we see a new side to Indian politics during those early years and about the psychology of a most revolutionary man devoted to orthodox Hinduism, yet who married and illtreated all the six women in his life. I love the way the biographer has narrated the history of the past Dalmia’s as well as the present. I was pleased to read about her mother, the sixth and last wife of R. K. Dalmia, the poet, Dineshnandini Dalmia, who was an extraordinary woman in her own right. The book is racy and simple to read unlike other more serious biographies and is only 304 pages. It is a great read for those interested in contemporary Indian politics, history, and the great personalities of that time like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, etc., to name a few. I’ve personally enjoyed and have been enriched by this book. An intriguing and novel read indeed.
Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan
Review of The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan
I loved Walter Moers’ book The City of Dreaming Books so much that when I realized there was a sequel The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books, I immediately ordered the book on Amazon and fate had it that once again I got a chance to enter the city of ‘Bookholm’. If you want to know more about the first book in this series titled The City of Dreaming Books, then I’ve already reviewed it earlier. So, check it out in my book reviews section. The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers, is instructive, bookish, and well written. I believe the city of books called ‘Bookholm’ described in this sequel, represents the book industry post 2000 AD. This book is a heavy read, and very retrospective. The protagonist who is a writer and a dinosaur called Optimus Yarnspinner, reminisces a lot about his past which therefore makes it difficult to understand the plot if one has not read the previous book in the series. There is a whole section of the book dedicated to puppetism which I gather is symbolic of the theatre and cinema, though I might not be a better judge of either, because I’ve not really watched a play at all in my life, nor have I been a great fan of the cinema, especially international cinema. However, those who are fans of the theatre and cinema especially its history, the architects behind its growth, and like books which have been adapted to the stage and silver screen, this is the book for you. The first half of the book is interesting and introspective. It is a very well written piece of literature and ends in a way indicating that there is another book coming out in the series, so one is left to wait in a ’cliff hanger’ manner, but it’s a good read all the same. There is not much of hustle and bustle as there was in the previous book, but The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books is still intriguing in its own unique way. It is a heavy read where the dedication of the reader is required for the completion of the story. If you have read the earlier book in this series, I’m sure you will want to read this sequel as well. I would recommend that the reader who is new to this series should first read the earlier book The City of Dreaming Books, so that they may better enjoy this sequel. An interesting and enlightening read.
Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan
Review of The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
Translated from the German text by John Brownjohn
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan
This book was a treat! It was so bookish and literary that it became one of the best books about books that I’ve read in my lifetime. This was the first time I picked a book written by Walter Moers, and I am so glad that I did it. The City of Dreaming Books is a creative blend of many genres out of which literary fantasy stands out most beautifully. It is an intellectual book about a place called Bookholm, which probably every book lover would wish to go to and stay there forever as it’s the city dedicated solely to books. Whether it’s the bookish cafes for writers or the antiquarian bookstalls, this city called Bookholm is the place every reader, writer, publisher, bookseller and anyone who loves books will love to be in. When I was reading this amazing piece of literature I was contemplating within myself whether to go on reading, so as not to allow myself to finish such a glorious book. The City of Dreaming Books is erudite literature at its best with a number of indications through its plot and characters that this book speaks about literature, books, and the book selling trade prior to the twenty-first century. Art and literature are the main intellectual themes of this masterpiece of literary vintage fiction which also focuses on writers and the art of writing, but through a mesmerizing plot told by its protagonist: an upcoming writer called ‘Optimus Yarnspinner’ who is a dinosaur and is on a mission to locate the most brilliant writer in Bookholm. The author, Walter Moers, has taken a lot of trouble over this awe-inspiring book in many ways, to make it the classic it is, and yet it is written so fantastically that even preteens and teenagers would also love reading this book, especially the youth who love dystopian novels but who want a change from the regular type of dystopian novels that today’s publishers are churning out into the reading market. It is a bulky book of 454 pages but the author who is himself an artist has illustrated this book so that we can enjoy, especially adults, a picture story book all over again. This book is not meant for a holiday read unless you are spending your holiday in a library, but is a great book to read during school, college or after a long day of work. It is also a recommended read for bookaholics and it is definitely grey matter but without much effort on the part of the reader. Those who have been reading a lot of fiction can uplift themselves by reading this book. The City of Dreaming Books has the power to make a reader emote a lot so if you want to read this ‘unputdownable book’, be ready for the laughs, tears, and giggles that come with this book. I would also like to mention at this point that seeing the issues and global problems we are facing these days, like despotic governments, censorship, destruction of libraries, the dying culture of reading, limitations on freedom of speech and expression, etc., it will be a great idea to read this book to know how to overcome all these problems, and how they affect us as readers, writers, booksellers, publishers, librarians, etc. This book is as relevant today as the morning newspaper outside your doorstep every morning. So if you are interested in cogitating on the repression of our basic human right to free speech and expression, this is the book for you. I loved this book. I devoured it and it has entered my blood stream and invigorated me. An insightful book to read on the crossroads of one’s life: that is Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books.
Copyright ©2017 Fiza Pathan
Review of Summer Reads with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Reviewed by Fiza PathanThis book was an ‘epic read’ as my students would have said it. In my words, it was ‘superbly awesome.’ Herman Koch’s unputdownable book simply titled Summer Reads with Swimming Pool is a work of art. It’s dirty—but deep, it is poignant— but drifting, and it is disturbing, but exciting all the same. Narrated by the main protagonist who is a GP called Marc, the story flows into a rhythm of suspense and plot twists that makes the reader stare in complete awe at the masterpiece of a thriller that he is reading. The characters here make you laugh, smile, sneer, gag, hate, etc., drawing out the emotions necessary on the part of the reader to complete the story and understand its implications to perfection. Sam Garrett translated the English version of this Dutch novel. I applaud the translator for doing such an efficient and excellent job with Herman Koch’s original masterpiece, for you feel that you are reading a Lee Child or a Patterson or a Nesser or a Baldacci. But it’s better! Ten times better and richer! I’m so overwhelmed by this book and its master of the craft ‘synopsis’ that states the main mystery without divulging too much about the plot, which is the best thing possible where this fabulous book is concerned. I am dying to head back to my library or the bookstore and pick up another book by Herman Koch, most probably his bestselling work, The Dinner. Summer Reads with Swimming Pool is a 409-page book but does not make heavy reading. There is a healthy blend of reflection and storytelling with a bit of philosophy tossed in at crucial moments, but for me, I thought I was watching a Hollywood movie at the edge of my seat —the book was that spectacular. The climax is a complete surprise, and you will be up all night thinking about it even after the story is done and over with. This will happen because of the poignant questions asked by the writer through his protagonist, who is quite a shady character himself. If you want to be shocked and scandalized with the thrill of a perfect, viciously funny thriller, then Herman Koch is the writer for you. All in all a perfect read by a master of the craft, Herman Koch. And thanks once again to the translator for a job well done.
Copyright ©2017, Fiza Pathan
A Writer’s Vocation
As I sit at my study table with the fire warming the silence of this rainy afternoon,
a slender flame leaps out of the place of shadows,
making me profess that which may not go in vain.
As I lift the pen with my rough hand and bring the diary of my life so far, toward me,
I ask the flame of knowledge burning before my eyes . . . where do I go from here? What is my vocation?
Answer? It gave me naught but its bright words burnt my paper thrice;
Upon the words I wrote it bade them to leap from slumber and enter within.
It is just that every writer of prose will come to understand that his writings only
come from that one single pure fire that blemishes the red wounds of a sage’s flesh for us;
that every time you lift your pen to pour out your heart’s yearnings onto the papyrus,
your duty toward mankind is sealed in it.
A writer’s vocation is within the multitude of souls that can hear,
that taste the sound of the lover of the saints upon his pen nib.
Who yearns by his words for the betterment of mankind
and for the panacea required to soothe that ne’er answered question
within his bleeding chest . . . WHO AM I WHAT AM I?
To such a writer as this, the vocation is not easy; it pricks you at every step and stings you at every sentence.
For you do not speak of your own self, but from the flame that leapt out from the core of
your blood and from the divinity of His love.
For you speak the truth which can never be heard, of what no one speaks and yet wants to know.
You write of the misery of death, the simplicity of the pure;
the witness of the Christ and the duty of one’s birth;
of the rights of men and women . . . of the blind and of those who cannot see;
of young dying souls and of souls dying young;
of what is truth in the death of millions and the fuss about external beauty;
of the abortion of infants and the death of students;
of the flame that burns within the redness of existence . . . the flame that burns up eternity.
These are the words of my vocation I pen down from my study of sacred scripture,
and the flame ceases to come toward me.
O that the night never comes and I may ponder upon the banishment of my lot
to the realm of the green vine which no gardener comes to prune;
to the occupation of the material realm, cast out by the ruby flame.
But . . . vocation surpasses the winner and the bride has at last met her groom;
for no man can resist . . . the flame that resides within.
Copyright © 2014, 2017 Fiza Pathan (Preface to my poetry book: So This Is Love – Collected Poems). Photo by iphis at Morguefile.com