13 April 2021

The Clothing of books

The clothing of books

Jhumpa Lahiri


If the process of writing is a dream, the book cover represents the awakening. 

Book jacket is not only the texts first  clothing but also it’s first interpretation - both visual and for sales promotion. 

A cover is a sort of translation, an interpretation of my words in another language- a visual one. 

It has become a label that lists the ingredients. 

Books come to stand for various episodes in our lives, for certain idealisms, fillies of belief, moments of love. Along the way they accumulate our marks, our stains, our innocent abuses- they come to wear our experience of them on their covers and bonding like wrinkles on our skin. - Richard Baker 

One the one hand, I want to desperate to belong, to have a clear identity. On the other, I refuse to belong, and I believe that my hybrid entity enriches me. 

There are some authors who can write anything, a blog, an opinion or even gibberish and i will lap it up. Jhumpa Lahiri is no exception. This tiny book of 70 pages and big font is an essay packaged in a pretty clothing (pun intended). It talks about book covers comparing it to humans and clothing, our identities and culture thru clothing and of course the subject of books and the impact of their covers. 

This is an ode to a book lover, a poetry dedicated to the books and their relationship to their covers. Despite the old adage of ‘Never to judge a book by its cover’ this essay from a very competent author explores an emotional connect and identity of the book with its cover. The hidden world of illustrators, designers, publishing, marketing, translations and the series all there but behind the main star - the book, the author and their visual conjectures of book covers. 

This book is even more special to me because I received it as a gift (a tradition) in my first face to face meeting with my pen friend of 13 years. There were light pencil notes around certain lines which also connected with me, like the words which bound us for years. This pen friend of mine was a naked book to me till now - full of stories and conversations and suddenly now there was a clothing, a cover, a face to this symbolic book. A person with emotions, animations, features, expressions and it suddenly dawned on me that somehow the image of her took over her inner conscious that I was more familiar with.

There was a certain fear in me with the literal cover of physical anonymity being blown up and if we would continue to like each other (being the human fickle mind we are). And it didn’t disappoint, in fact it gave a new dimension to our epistolary conversations, easing us, humanizing us to each other. Our respective covers opened more topics for discussion and we got comfortable with each other in a new way. We even had some notes to exchange on our facial and body features or certain behaviors which we always thought we would depict. 

The distance between the story and the cover was bridged just like our long journey between words and the person. A reassurance that the book I found was a good read and a keeper. Although in this case, the cover came later to the actual story. In this age of social media we always get to know each other from our covers, or ‘profiles’ and rather than taking more effort to know each other better we conclude basis the limited qualified profile, already boxing the person into like or ignore. 

As much as the author tries to understand this dichotomy in books and covers, I can understand that the book can’t be too far from the cover and vice versa. Eventually, they come together to make a stronger bond between reader and book or have an opposite effect detaching and breaking from each other. 

This book made me think of all the books I have read till now but particularly of the book covers that have stayed with me. Probably a blog for another day of my most memorable book covers or even the books where the cover was more beautiful than the book. Despite what they say, it’s true we also (if not always) judge the book by its cover. 

Happy reading. 4.5 stars as the book was only 70 pages long and I can’t get enough of Ms Lahiri. 

10 April 2021

The diary on the fifth floor


The diary on the fifth floor

My harshest critique would include that you are, perhaps overfond of broken sentences, but as they say, it all kinds to make the world go round. 

It can be very tiring to live your life in such detail. 

Your writing style, is both effortlessly easy to read and capable of being tremendously poignant. 

To you the temp driver, I make one promise. I will with everyday, about something that happened in the city. You will be my conscience, and the conscience of whoever takes your story to heart. 

Put all your diary entries together, let the world read a little bit about themselves. 

Above are some of the lines from the book. While they well summarise the book and it’s review, I as a reader have mixed feelings about it. It’s definitely sincere and honest to the core, however it doesn’t have a story but is actually a series of diary entries strung together to create a book. We could call them short stories which show the world’s dirty and dark side but the writing style is simple and so generic that they become documentation of random experiences of a woman who feels deeply and needs to write to deal with her emotions. And that is what is. 

I appreciate the sharing of various events but also judging it with a bleak mindset from her bystander mindset, always justifying how it’s wrong and she can’t do much about the cruel world. She feels deeply and takes the burden but does not for once participates to change it, which for me is the storytellers burden but also guilt. 

Empathy is the key feeling in the book and 

If you want to read it, just hope the world heals and becomes a better place. 

05 April 2021




Anuja Chauhan and her books remind me of 2 minutes Masala noodles. It’s the same, old, hackneyed, unhealthy, quick chikclit but still the comfort food it’s supposed to be which makes me keep going back to it. 

Being a quick and chill read, it helps me get out of reading slump and also add numbers to my reading list. However, the quality of books is getting bad to worse, it’s more of a Bollywood script. I constantly kept getting Sonam Kapoor’s image in my head as the lead girl. They don’t really need to shoot a new movie, just cut copy paste scenes from Aisha, Khoobsurat, Zoya factor, Veere di wedding and tada it’s ready. No one can tell the difference just like the book - old vine in a new bottle.  

Chauhan must have a checklist somewhere because there are so many cliches, 

The usual Protagonists - 

A Ruly, outspoken, self absorbed girl always getting into trouble. Not conventionally beautiful but Tom boyish and still makes every man swoon still 

+ Meets Handsome Jaat cocky boy 

With their fancy bantering and quipping 

+ Meet in typical pride and prejudice way starting at wrong foot

+ A war backdrop which makes no difference quote unquote ‘even though it’s considered a tribute to our defense forces’

+ as it’s 70s timelines so it has to be 1971 India Pak war 

+ India Pakistan rivalry which sells bollywood, politics and any thing  

+ Advertising world with cheeky jingles and quips

+ some toe curling and taut man butts to appease the woman readership 

+ Hot stud of a man with his bulging biceps and Jaat budhi.. so basically a male bimbo 

+ No moms but many mother figures

+ Perpetual daddy issues in protagonists

+ ‘righteous’ girl who wants to do ‘good’ for the world and does the token gesture of dance and song with orphans

+ pseudo feminist Heroine who is angry at all men in general repeating constantly - ‘All men are dogs or snakes’

+ And the most ironical thing is how Anuja Chauhan’s girl protagonist claims to be no damsel in distress ready to take a stand and fight (most unwisely and with any and everyone, roadside or political leaders of country), but always getting into trouble and needing a savior. So the push and pull between I don’t need a man but may be I do lies the the self defeating formula of all strong independent girl protagonist chiclits. 

I am guilty of reading it, but not appreciating it. My heart wants it but my brain detests it. 

06 February 2021

Cairo Modern by Naguib Mahfouz

Cairo modern


“Tuzz" is a particularly strong and low class way of saying "I don't care" 

4 youth at the different spectrum of ideals, religion, philosophy and politics with different social backgrounds, thought process and life choices. To over simplify and tag each of them- 

Radwan the religious 

Ali Taha the communist 

Mahgub the anarchist

Ahmed Badir the journalist

Religion + Science + Philosophy + ethics = Tuzz

However to know who is the real protagonist, you hear it in his own words:

Down with those philosophers who claimed that happiness consists in simplicity. Wasn’t indigestion preferable to starvation’s torments. 


He received them calmly, because his natural audacity helped him control his nerves and project a self possessed, firm facade. 

Call our protagonist, a capitalist or a realist. He is the commodity in this market where he sells himself and his soul to get a better life. The lives intertwined between the rich and poor, the players and the puppets, the values and reality, the past and the present and future. 

But that’s not enough the book is full of gems showing naked reality of life. Even though the story is based in Cairo of 1940s, it reminded me of the old bollywood Films where communism and capitalism clashed, the rich exploited the poor, the compromises of a woman in a man’s world, but eventually the happy ending as the good wins over the evil. However, books and art don’t assume a happy ending. After all there are no endings definitely no happy endings. Life is a continuous vicious circle of choices worse than previous ones. 

The novel is more than 80 years old but still so relevant. The left vs right debate, the politicians, bureaucracy and journalism tugging at each other just like today. The nationalism, freedom and of course an ideal democracy are debates across centuries and countries just redeveloping over times but basically old wine in a new bottle. 

In conclusion, Naguib Mahfouz is a gem of an author, a genre in himself. I discovered him in the Copenhagen library and apparently he has a large bibliography to choose from:

Some pearls of wisdom to keepsake: 

The gist of this book, which you call a story, is ideas and opinions. What I look for in books is life and emotion. 

Since my family won’t leave me anything that gladdens me, I shouldn’t inherit anything from them that sadness me.

Did he really have a friend? He actually was partial to them. He enjoyed  spending time with them, discussing and debating, but what did all that have to do with friendship? 

In this regard, she resembled a migrant in a strange land at the moment his new house welcomes him the first night. 

The conversation between the protagonist and his lady love- 

If that you desire doesn’t exist, then desire what does. She replies, Any place glory flourishes is fine. 

No wound hurts a dead man.

He was suffering from jealousy. Is healthy something naturalist is it a social construct like honor? We are jealous while in line as long as we think ourselves fit to be loved. 

Filial piety turned into an evil once it limited a son’s happiness. Indeed everything that interferes with an individuals happiness was evil. 

Cunning devil, I know you s well as you know yourself. It’s enough for me to understand myself to understand you. Every bane has its corresponding nemesis. 

19 January 2021

Hotel on the corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author: Jamie Ford

Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐Ÿ’ซ

A romantic story amongst teen immigrants in the back drop of world war 2 and the Japanese internment in US. A second generation Chinese boy struggling with the choice between his motherland, his current home America, and his love for a Japanese girl. Seeped in nostalgia, young love and complex ties with family, it could very well be a John Greene novel. The novel runs back and forth as flashback between 1945 and 1985, and even though it’s about 40 years old the debate on patriotism, nationalism, immigration and globalisation continues with the ever changing definition of home. 

I am a stickler for immigrant stories probably a part of me who has moved many cities and countries, both home and new worlds have appealed. There is a sweet excitement to venture into unknown but also the bitter loss of a comfortable home. It has never stopped her from moving but every home and experience has stayed with her and become my story. 

So after reading a serious book on an artists life in a socialist Russia, this story based on Asian immigrants in USA during WW2, came as a respite celebrating the beauty and strength of human emotions in a tragedy. 

The aspect of immigration are so deeply rooted where people continue to be torn basis politics and history. Japan-US, China- Japan, China - US, the strange combination of alies and enemies. And the commoners first, second generations seek their identities amongst the tests of loyalty. Who are you? When you need to pick a side? Why can’t you be anything and everything? Nationalism debate has taken it to another level, but this debate is no different to religion, war over land, power, and what not. Physical boundaries hold us but Internet has connected us like nothing ever

Some lines stayed with me: 

But choosing to lovingly care for her in cancer was like string a plane into a mountain as gently as possible. The crash is imminent; it’s how you spend your time on the down that counts. 

The lack of communication between father and son was basedona lifetime of isolation. Henry had been an only child, without siblings around to talk to, to share things with constantly. 

His mother looked at the ceiling, letting out a heavy sigh. The kind of sigh you give when you just script that something bad has happened. When a relative dies, and you say,”at least he lived a long life.” Or when your house burns to the ground and you think, “at least we have our health”. It was a sigh of resigned disappointment. A consolation prize, of coming in second and having nothing to show for it. Of coming up empty, having wasted your time, because in the end, what you do, and who you are, doesn’t matter one lousy bit. Nothing does. 

I had my chance, and sometimes in life, there are no second chances. You look at what you have, not what you miss, and you move forward. Like that broken record we found. Some things just can’t be fixed. 

And the final words which summarise the essence of the book... 

He’ll do what he always did, find the sweet among the bitter. 

In all honesty I would have preferred to watch it as a movie as somehow the book dragged too long for a predictable story. And I literally skipped parts in last 50 pages without missing anything. However I gave it still a 3 as the book tries hard  but just like once you walk out of the hall, the movie also doesn’t stay with you except the sepia feels of the film just like the sepia theme of the book cover. 


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