Not About Books

I’m a breastfeeding brand new momma. It feels so good to say that out loud. It feels good to have come through the anxiety, and the stress, and be here in this place which might  not be easier perhaps, but feels better.

Hello, world! I’ve been absent! I was pregnant. And then the little natkhat (hindi for the mischevious one) had to be delivered a little earlier than we anticipated because of some complications with me (I’m absolutely fine now!)

So about the breastfeeding thing—yes, I’m jumping directly into what’s on my mind—it’s my choice, and I feel I’m in in such a better place now but holy moly why did nobody ever warn me that it is SUCH A LOT OF HARD WORK?! Exclusive breastfeeding is a pain in the butt! Add to that the fact that I was sure I was NOT going to experience any postpartum blues—oh, what a noob I was—and I became plenty stressed out. Very little sleep, wildly fluctuating brain chemicals, no meditation, no walks out in nature, no nothing that had worked well for me so far, just a whole lot of brand new territory to jump into, and I started becoming a whole lot of weepy!

Oh, and on a side note, I TOTALLY  see how you can hate your husband after kids (I LOVED How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids—I think I got the recommendation off Jenny’s blog).

So anyway, yes, that’s where I have been. Or am. I consider myself incredibly lucky and blessed. From what I can tell, I had a relatively mild case of postpartum blues, and I am lucky in having a solid support base in my husband, and also my mom whom I SOS-ed to come pronto! (Moms are the best!) It was also helpful to see that EACH mom in my new moms’ support group (yep, I joined one!) had that zonked out, little-sleep look with which I have grown so familiar! (I’m not alone!)

It is only now a few weeks in that I find myself falling in love with my baby. It really does feel like I’m falling in love with him (yes, he’s a he, and no I don’t feel comfortable sharing his name or his picture on the internetz! He can do that on his own later on!). I mean I SERIOUSLY think he’s the CUTEST baby ever. He UNDERSTANDS everything I tell him. And if he’s crying then it means I need to get my inner detective out—so far, he doesn’t cry without a reason (and if you want to tell me that that changes with age, please keep your advice to yourself, thank you very much! :P)

In a strange twist, I have not had the slightest desire and indeed haven’t so far read any parenting book. I have a hunch that having a clean slate rather than having expectations (cuz that’s what I would do with all the information I’d gather—parcel and shape it into expectations) is probably more my way of being a mother than any other.

Do I feel like a mom? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But then to be honest, for the longest time, I didn’t feel like a wife either! I just enjoyed being with my best friend, and I think that’s how I want to approach motherhood too—just be with this new person in whatever way I need to be, and let the motherhood thing figure itself out!

An Evening with Jhumpa Lahiri

My husband and I were deeply affected by Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake. We could see echoes of our own selves in the characters of the book. We understood why Ashok and Ashima acted the way they did. And we understood why Gogol reacted the way he did. It was a book that we had many discussions about and so when we found out that Lahiri was going to kick-start the New York Public Library’s Live sessions for Spring 2016 we had to be there!

Some time ago Lahiri decided that she would only write in Italian. Her new book, In Other Words is also in Italian. The session started with the host asking Lahiri if her decision to write in Italian was some sort of a mid-life crisis to which Lahiri responded with the words that an intimate relationship with a language is the best sort of mid-life crisis to have. It quickly became clear that to Lahiri language is more than just a tool. It is an instrument that she uses to define who she is. Her seven-word biography was apropos of this: “without a mother tongue, rooted by words.”

English for Lahiri seems to be the language of her past. It is the language through which she tried to understand her parents, a motif, which according to her, is what her last four books have been all about. Italian, on the other hand, afforded her a chance to break off with all known reference points—a thing that she found incredibly liberating. In her words, she is trying to graft onto Italian because she is trying to grow in a new direction. I loved her use of “graft” in this context, of mixing things up, of introducing a new element into the base of who she is.

Of all the things that she said I found her declaration that she finally feels that she can write the books that she wants the most interesting. Perhaps she had to write the books she did to reach this point. It did make me wonder though if there are other authors out there who write what they do because they feel that that is what they should write rather than writing what they want to write. I don’t know if one is necessarily better than the other but I’m always a little wary of “should”s.

It got me thinking about genre fiction and literary fiction and wondering if the latter is more populated by the should-s. That is not to say that genre fiction doesn’t have its share of should-s or that literary fiction doesn’t have writers doing what they want to do but I just found it a bit puzzling that it took Lahiri the time it did to get to this point. Then again, I guess it might be difficult for any established author (irrespective of the genre they write in) to switch to something new.

Here’s the link to the NYPL website in case you’re interested in seeing the whole thing.

Quote of the Evening: Every change necessitates a betrayal.

In which I talk about “Gilmore Girls”

I am back! I am back! I am back a little later than I anticipated and for that I lay the blame fairly and squarely on “Gilmore Girls” and Netflix. You see I finally decided to see what the brouhaha was all about and started watching this beloved series sometime last summer. There I was, happily plodding along, being a normal person, doing things other than spending all my free time watching the show when along comes Netflix and drops the bombshell that it is reviving “Gilmore Girls” for a 90-minute 4-part miniseries with the original creators at the fore!

What?! When would the series be aired? Would it continue from where it left off? When would it air?! Would all the original characters be back? And so I speeded up on my watching a little bit. Ok, a lot. So that by the time we came back from our holiday the only thing on my mind (well not the only thing on my mind, I did read a few books, some of which are amazing and I am going to have to write about) was to zoom through as much of “Gilmore Girls” as I could, as fastly-fastly as I could!

My books look sad. can books look sadAnd so I did. And now I’m done. Sigh.

I keep thinking about the very last shot and how perfect it was! And how great moms are. (I grew up in a definitely not as crazy as Stars Hollow small town in India as the daughter of a single mom who I’ve come to realize over the years brought me up in ways that are actually not the norm you know? I mean she was the first person to know about all the vicissitudes of my heart before anyone else).

Anyway, there have been times when I have been REALLY irritated by Lorelai, and Kirk, and Rory, and Emily, and Paris, and Jess (oh my god! Why is that whole bad boy persona considered so attractive? I wanted to slap him more times than I could count! Ugh), and definitely Dean, and Luke, and did I miss out on anyone? No? Good. That’s the thing—I realize I feel so personally about this show and the characters in it! I mean I binge-watched the series for heaven’s sake! I don’t even LIKE binge-watching! (My husband was majorly surprised at how steadily I was going through this show).

But this show—it got to me. The relationships that it explores (and really relationships are at the front and center of this show—between mothers and daughters, boyfriends and girlfriends, girlfriends and girlfriends (both the normal type and the crazy type), and also identity and how much of it stems from the places you grow up in or call home) are complex and nuanced. There are ups and down and each character has to work through their relationship with each other.

This is a really good show. Its side characters are quirky (or weird depending on your view), and pretty much what small town people are like (not in terms of their weirdness—well maybe in terms of their weirdness?—but more so in terms of how the same thing that makes them helpful and loveable is also the thing that makes them annoying and irritating—or is that true for everyone one knows?). It also has the zaniest and the most crackling dialogues I’ve ever come across even though 99% of the popular cultural references went over my head. Also, the fastest talking characters I’ve ever come across. It’s a marvel to behold them speak for a whole minute without pausing in between.

Lorelai Gilmore My Babbling Capabilities are infinite gifThe thing that amazes me is that this is a show which is almost 10 years old—15 if you think of its first season—but that fact did not in any way mar my enjoyment of the show. I can totally see why it has garnered so many fans over the years! I can’t wait to see what they do in the mini-series! (Btw, is anyone watching the X-Files revival? I loved the third episode!)

I have to say my favorite character is Emily Gilmore. Lorelai is too irritating, Rory is too nice, Paris is too crazy—leaving Emily as the only other female lead left. For some reason I just can’t think of Sookie as one of the leads. She’s too normal compared to the rest of them! Sorry Melissa McCarthy!

Now don’t shoot me for it but I always felt that Lorelai was just so much more impatient with Emily than with anyone else in her life. And yes, she had reasons for it but I always felt that she could have cut Emily a little more slack than she did. I was touched at the little things that showed how MUCH Emily feels for her daughter even though her ways of expressing those feelings were a head-scratcher most of the times. That she doesn’t understand or really want to understand her daughter’s choices don’t help the matter either (I’ll always remember what she tells Mia about daughters who run away—that bit of line provides such a clear insight into the kind of person she is). Though I have to say that she and Richard wanting to buy a house for Luke and Lorelai does seem to signal something in the right direction. Right?

Another sigh.

Yep, I had to get all of that out before I could tell you about what’s going to be one of my favorite reads for 2016, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer.

Ok, back later!

P.S. Is there a Mr. Kim? I never could figure out if Lane’s father is alive, dead, or just simply absent from screen the entire time the show ran!

Off Adventuring! Be back in a While!

The Merriest of Christmas/End-Of-Year/Whatever it is that you celebrate, dear reader!

Go grab the festive spirit in fistfuls and do something that makes you feel joyful! Maybe grab the gooiest chocolate chip cookie to go with that cup of hot chocolate? Or go for an evening walk with yourself? Or make yourself that cup of tea you’ve been meaning to? Or lie in the bed and read that book? Or cook up a storm with your family? Or whatever’s YOUR definition of joyful!

I’m off to be around family and friends for the next few weeks and will most likely resume posting sometime in late January—but you never know! Maybe I’ll be able to sneak in a quick post or two in between!

I’ll end with my three favoritest books of this year:

Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel: Thoughtful, thought-provoking, and all round lovely. If sci-fi isn’t your thing, don’t let that moniker put you off. It’s just a really wonderful piece of literature.

Frederica, Georgette Heyer: Along with The Unknown Ajax, this has become my favorite of all the Heyers that I’ve read. It hits all the right spots in the best way possible. Plus, its plot moppets are not only the moppiest I’ve ever read, but also actually move the plot forward! This, along with The Unknown Ajax, is probably the one book I’d give to a non-romance reader who wanted to see what the fuss was all about!

The Wee Free Men, Terry Pratchett: This just rocked my world and I am so glad that I found it. I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of Tiffany’s adventures!

That’s it from me this year! Have a wonderful new year, everyone!

Romance and the Appeal of the Alpha Male

Romance is a genre that I have read the maximum number of books in. For the longest time I was leery of bringing this fact into conversations with other readers. Over the last few years this has changed.

A part of the reason is because I have come to believe that more than the inherent complexity of the narrative itself (the lack of which is an accusation often leveled at the romance genre), it’s about the individual who’s reading the said narrative. Engaging meaningfully with a piece of text, while being a function of the text itself, is also very much about the person who is involved in the act of reading.

So when Michelle Sagara wrote this article on Alpha males over at Dear Author, I found myself contemplating my own enjoyment of this archetype. I am pretty sure that I could not abide by this kind of a person in real life. But I’m interested in the conversation that takes place after I accept that I know the difference between fantasy and reality. I love what Liz McCausland said about this:

There are two things people say when discussion of this kind of hero comes up:

  • I guess I’m just too feminist, but it bothers me.
  • Of course in real life I’d run screaming from this guy/get a restraining order, but swoooon, he’s so hot. (otherwise expressed as “women can tell the difference between fantasy and reality”).

These are both pretty much conversation-stoppers, in part because they are personal. They make this an issue simply of reader beliefs and fantasies (which of course it is, in part) rather than of broader cultural ideals, messages, or scripts, which maybe can be discussed more neutrally.

What she said.

I can see why a person might be reluctant to continue with the conversation—they might believe that there’s a need to defend their particular preference(s) which in turn could trigger all sorts of defense mechanisms, bringing any further interaction to a complete halt.

And that makes me wonder what the person who initiates such a discussion can do to create a space which disarms the need for any such defensive tactics, a space where one feels safe to explore why a thing that is comfortable is comfortable; what lies at the basis of that enjoyment; what biases and assumptions inform that enjoyment.

As far as the alpha hero is concerned Miss Sagara defines the alpha hero as one who is basically comfortable in his own skin. (Or that’s what I took away from it, anyway). Therein lies the appeal of the alpha hero for me—the fact that someone that sure in his sense of self falls for you is not only incredibly sexy but also makes one feel really really good about oneself.

I enjoy the alpha hero type probably because for the longest time I had the shittiest sense of self-worth. And having my then boyfriend and now husband believe in me was definitely a boost to my battered sense of confidence. What I have come to realize though is that while my husband is always there to support me, any lasting change has to be driven by me.

In other words, while the transformation of the heroine may begin with the someone “powerful” falling for her, at some point, she will need to take the reins in her own hands.

I also realize that such a change can be facilitated by really anyone in one’s life. Within the limits of genre romance, the hero (or the heroine) is the likeliest candidate to affect such a change but they definitely are not the only ones who can do so.

And this brings me to a major reservation that I have when I read stories with alpha heroes (despite my enjoyment of them). Instead of allowing the heroine to develop at her own pace and rhythm, a lot of times, alpha heroes have a tendency to bulldozer through and sort of take control of the narrative. This always makes me question the tenability of such a relationship.

But going back to what I said earlier, as I am writing this, I am very cognizant of the fact that some woman out there might like what I find questionable and question what I like. And maybe that’s ok. Maybe I have to find a way to be ok with a position so starkly different from mine before I can understand where they’re coming from.

If romance really is the literature of women, written by women then shouldn’t it be a space where every woman can explore what it means to be her?

Storytelling, Writing and Authors Who Go from Enjoyable to DNF

I’ve been thinking about the act of storytelling. And how storytelling really is a two-part act. There’s the story itself that you want to share. And then there’s the words upon whose shoulder falls the the burden of doing the actual work of transplanting the reader from his own world into another, one that is peopled by characters and plays out episodes that you dreamt of in your own headOften, one act supersedes the other, like in the Harry Potter books. And then there are stories that just are perfect—that alchemical balance of an actual good story and of exquisite writing. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, and Juhmpa Lahiri’s The Namesake are two examples of the latter (two stories that I’m alternating between right now).

Then there are books where the writing is so glaringly bad that it jars you right out of the story. No actually it does more—it makes you want to stop reading all together. Maria V. Snyder’s third book in the healer series is what has prompted this chain of thoughts. Having put the e-book on hold as soon as it was released, I started reading as soon as it became available. And came to an abrupt halt with pretty much the first few lines themselves.

Because I don’t remember having any such problems with the first two book in the series I am also wondering how much of my reaction stems from reading Snyder’s writing while in the middle of Stenger’s and Lahiri’s.

Has it happened to you? Did a writer whose books you enjoyed ended up becoming a DNF? (for whatever reason)

Nooks & Crannies: The Fall Version

Autumn ReadsIt’s been a while since I finished Guy Gavirel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne but for some reason I haven’t particularly felt like writing about it. And then I started feeling that till I reviewed that book I couldn’t read or write anything else—which is just stupid.

I have been reading of course.

Let me start with Patricia Wrede’s Cecilia and Sorcery book 3—a fun and fluffy read that while I enjoyed was also slightly contrived in its plotting in my opinion. I will probably read Miss Wrede’s other books when I’m in the mood for some light historical fantasy.

Then there is Jess Walter’s The Financial Live of the Poets that is quite simply howlarious. I’m about 40% of my way through and have been reading it on the Oyster app that has a lovely interface but that I haven’t found myself using a lot. The app has an instant gratification component to it in that I can start reading any book that I want the very moment I want but I would much prefer a Kindle to Oyster for that. At least the Kindle will let me highlight the text. Plus, Kindle has a bigger screen and feels easier on the eyes. So what exactly is Oyster’s place in it all? What niche, if any, does it cater to amongst the public libraries, Kindles and Overdrives of the world? Perhaps it’s of particular use while commuting? But a Kindle or an e-book reader would do as well as Oyster for that. Not something I am particularly keen to think through right now but I definitely don’t see a defining need for Oyster. I also seem to have discovered a new love for paper books with the New York Public Library. (Perhaps, Oyster would be good for markets that do not have comprehensive library systems? Oyster should certainly look at international markets for that!)

I also finally found my way to Ursula K. Le Guin, starting with A Wizard of Earthsea. Oh what a lovely person she is! I loved that Ged’s quest is more about finding himself (something that I suspected early on) than about a fight between good vs. evil. I would love to recommend this book to my youngster friends and have already put a hold on book 2!

The past month has also seen me letting go of books while half-way through. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek had to be returned to the library since someone else had it on hold. I found it a difficult book to start with but once I got in the flow I found it to be a strangely liberating read—there is something compelling and freeing about a life lived only in contemplation of nature. I could read only a few pages at a time—my preferred reading time was right before I fell asleep—and yet it was an immensely relaxing and peaceful experience.

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is another book that I found myself enjoying and yet one more book that I could not hurry through. It’s a text that demands a slowing down and falling in rhythm with its cadence to get its full flavor. And then I left it at a friend’s place while visiting and by the time I receive it, it has to be returned. Gilead has so many lovely bits:

Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it.

and

There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is power in that I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time. . . . Not that you have to be a minister to confer the blessing. You are simply much more likely to find yourself in that position. It’s a thing people expect of you.

Parnassus on Wheels is one more book that I’m reading on Oyster—I love the Professor and find myself grinning through his impassioned speeches about ‘the Good’ that books can do! To use a cliché: It’s a delightful romp!

October is such a beautiful month for reading. I’m loving the mantle of chilly weather that’s slowly settling over the northern hemisphere and find myself in a contemplative mood. I was reading about Miss K. Le Guin and also Margaret Atwood (whose Oryx trilogy is now on my TBR pile after seeing her live in a discussion with Carl Hiassen—she is so graceful and wise and erudite) and one thing that struck me about both Miss Atwood and Miss K. Le Guin is their reflective nature.

It’s as if in the allowing of your thoughts and your encounters and your musings to sort of seep through and settle in your experiences become a fertile ground for your writing. I find this fascinating because I’ve always felt that the only stories I would ever write are the ones I dream about (yep, I’ve dreamt stories and while dreaming also thought that hey, this would make a jolly good tale).

On another note, I’ve been contemplating issues of identity. There was an article in NY Times a while back about the “opt-out” generation, a generation of highly successful women in high-powered jobs who left it all to take care of their kids and who for various reasons found themselves returning to the workforce and subsequently found that they had to start at levels that were sadly nowhere near where they had left. There’s a lot to unpack there but the thing that struck me the most was how much each woman’s identity stemmed from what she had done i.e. her work persona. I think this is true for either of the sexes and I have this at the back of my mind as I embark upon Rosalind Miles’s The Women’s History of the World. I’m looking forward to seeing the identities that women have forged for themselves over the course of the last few centuries.

photo credit: dbtelford via photopin cc