Thursday, 8 September 2016

See it Thru

My book club this month invited Richard Judy to our meeting, who is the author of 'Thru: An Appalachian Trail love story.' Always wary of being told what to read next, I approached this book with hesitation and general disinterest. Twice, I started, and abandoned it.

Then the day just before the meet, I decided to sit down and get into it and boy, was it fun.

Richard Judy starkly different from many books about the Trail, tells his story in a fictionalized form. His characters though based in reality, are a work of his imagination, and a great one for that.
The novel itself is told in a fascinating format; as journal entries by the hikers in the various locations that they stop at.

It tells the story of about six to seven people (it varies), who intend to thru-hike to the Northern top of the Appalachian trail (There's a map and everything, so do not let my lack of geography stop you). During this thru-hike, they have many adventures, and form many relationships, bound to last a lifetime. The book is full of ups and downs, and a refreshing change from the monotone that usually accompanies non-fiction books about the trail (Monotone isn't bad, but its nice to switch it up).
I absolutely would not be hiking,
but I got this at the absolute start of the Trail


Another fact that sets this book apart is its characters. In non-fiction works, a reader's imagination is involved to a certain extent. Non fiction is mostly (here's looking at you, James Frey) an account of what really happened. Whereas, fiction allows you to expand and limit your imagination according to your limits. Don't like someone? Just stop imagining them too much and you are good. And this book gives you the room to do just that. It also helps you do it, with each character narrative being entirely different and switching at just about the right moment.

I love the idea of hiking and the outdoors in theory, so my books are the way I make sure the idea stays away from manifesting into a real life struggle at staying alive. This book made me almost give it a shot.

Icing on the cake, the author is an amazing, nice person who has thru-hiked the Appalachian trail twice. He is also on the committee for the Appalachian Trail maintenance and they actually published this book. All the proceeds from the sale of this book go directly into maintaining the trail. As Captain Stupid (Ignatius Reilly's lost twin brother, I am certain) would have said, 'Yay.'

Monday, 29 August 2016

Embracing Sucking at Something

For the past three months, I have been trying to participate in read-a-thons. You can even scroll down my blog and read through my two attempts that I managed to document.

So when the Bout of Books 17.0 finally finished this weekend, I did a little soul searching, to get to the bottom of my heathen habits.

Here are the list of reasons I came up with for sucking at read-a-thons;

1) I suck at keeping commitments I am not bound to keep.
This sounds bad, and it is. But usually, if there is not this insane amount of pressure on me to get something done, I will probably not do it. Same goes for read-a-thons. On most days, I don't feel like sitting hours and hours reading books, and when it is due to failure of commitment, the feeling of accomplishment that follows, is not a strong enough cue.

2) I get distracted easily.
I have a million hobbies. A million chores that need to be done daily. A million people I need to give time to before I can pick up a book. All these things are on most days, exhausting. And when push comes to shove and I have time to pick up a book, that pesky remote eyes me and I end up watching Netflix instead.

3) I like my bookish plans to be spontaneous.
I love making lists. I love making plans. And read-a-thons combine all that into one. But I think, my reading and my books are one thing I do not like planned. I like the fact that I pick up a book at random times of the day or on some days not at all. I like my varying patterns of reading 100 pages in one sitting, and somedays barely making through 5. This I think is the strongest reason why I do not do read-a-thons well.
When everything in life needs to be done at a certain time and by a certain time, its nice to know that there is something you can do as you please, when you please.


On Detaching Yourself

How does one detach themselves from a piece of fiction that they are reading? Does it even make sense to do that?

I am currently reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and while that book is beautifully written, it is intense. Blunt and glaring descriptions of slavery and violence, often times this book is hard to digest. But as I am reading it, I can feel that it is something important. That I should not shy away from it because this is not just fiction based in non-reality, but actual reality for people who were living at that time. I should not shy away from understanding what they went through, if only to appreciate how far along we have come as humans and how far along we still have to go.



So I am wondering now, should I even try to detach myself from the characters, or open myself to an experience like never before? Just raw and real emotions which will quite possible make me a changed person. For now, I am just going with the flow and dropping the book whenever it gets too intense, and reading something else. I highly recommend it to everyone though. It’s a work of art, and if it makes you check your privilege, then that is just an introspective experience you cannot miss.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

D is for Diverse

I have been an immigrant since the day I was born. When I was born my parents had already immigrated to UAE from Pakistan and when I got married I moved to USA. So, the concepts of nationhood and a place to call my own have usually revolved around the locations of my loved ones.
But when I entered into the world of books I realized that feelings of isolation in different cultures, the need to belong were real feelings which people around me were constantly aware of. That is the first time I decided to diversify my reading and read more authors belonging to similar cultures as that of mine. Maybe the feelings I was not feeling was maybe because I could not tap into them. That was the first time I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth and Arundathi Roy's God of Small Things.

Ever since then I have tried to read authors of different cultures, non-white to make it simple. Authors like Celeste Ng, Ruth Ozeki, Chimondi...in order to grasp the void that everyone was feeling once they left their countries, their lands. I felt left out because somehow something in me was missing and I did not feel the need to find my own people, or to belong, I had been an alien ever since I was born and I was perfectly comfortable in it.

When I moved to the US, my reading preferences changed once again. Somehow unconsciously, the number of books on my shelves started to be by all white authors; male and female. The diversification that had been taking place in my reading before somehow was disappearing. I was avoiding authors that were non-white for the sheer reason that they could not communicate in English as well as the authors whose mother tongue was English (Despicable, I know).

Another reason why I often stayed away from such books was because I always felt that these books had exploitative depressing undertones. I had rarely read a book that was light or described a happy experience and that in my head was a good enough reason to not read them. But in my adventures as an adult  i have realized that you have got to take the sad with the glad. Over the past week  articles about the importance of reading diversely have surfaced, and I have made a decision once again. I removed all the books by non-white authors on my shelves and put them in front of me in my home office.

Over the remaining months my reading choices are going to involve authors that are not white. Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that these authors should be given preference over white authors, who so clearly are brilliant at what they do as well and earn their fame and name. It is just that I as an individual want to give other authors a chance too. When I have a conversation with someone about books I don't just want to give them names of authors like Stephen King, Grisham, Austen, Wharton (All of who are absolutely brilliant, btw), but I would like to name authors from all over the world. You know, 'Celeste Ng? She wrote a brilliant book about inter-racial marriage and coming to terms with being an immigrant in a foreign land.' You know Ruth Ozeki? She wrote a great book about how you may leave your homeland, once you come back it is never quite the same as you thought it would be. These are the kinds of conversations I want to be having. I want to be more empathetic
as I grow. I want to stop and understand where someone is coming from rather than label them or blame their ethnicity for it. I want to be a better person, and I think books are the best way to help me do it.

Sunday, 31 July 2016

A silent chronicle

Imagine a hot, arid desert. Imagine the feeling of hopelessness you feel as you run out of food, run out of water. This is the feeling that this book invoked in me. Chronicling the life of an un-named narrator from childhood to adulthood, the author captures the feeling of distance and aloofness that all of us often feel towards the events happening around us. The feeling and desire to do something, but somehow always falling short of it. 


With its lyrical prose you watch a young girl grow in Egypt and get to witness the Arab Spring through the eyes of a female. However, the female does not indulge much in the movement, nor does she have any ideas about it,  and that angle remains unexplored. 
I would recommend this book to those looking for a fast, yet also somewhat substantial read about a city that has lost its soul. Apart from that there is not much that this book promises.

You can find out more about the author and her other works and thoughts at;  https://twitter.com/yasminerashidi
FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books for review. 

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

T's the season to be reading

With the advent of summers comes the onslaught of read-a-thons. As I have already mentioned in a post below,  the concept of read-a-thons has always intrigued me. While trying to participate in it many times, formally and informally, I have failed, well, because of life (and my weak eyes, but that is a story for another day).

This time, when Book-tube-a-thon came around and I had nothing but a few internships going for me, I decided to jump on that wagon and drive it to the finish line. Now I am not part of the Booktube community (yet), it has helped a lot with my passion for books and helping me get creative and vocal about my interests in books.

So far, its been three days in, and may I just say its been going good? I have finished a 400 page book and read about 126 pages of another graphic novel. I am about to start another book today hopefully and will hopefully get quite a good chunk done by the end of the week. It is exciting creating challenges for yourself in your hobby, but I don't want to jinx it just yet so I will hold up on the final wrap up of the readathon for more details about how it went.

The Booktubeathon also has seven challenges going on, two of which I am almost done with!

1) Read a book with a yellow on the cover (DONE)
2) Read a book that Booktube made you read (Almost done)
3) Read a book and watch the movie adaptation for it
4) Read a book after sunset
5) Read a book by your favorite author
6) Read a book that is older than you
7) Read 7 books

The contenders for the other 5 challengers are still to be decided, but so far its going great.

If you would like to participate, visit >> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98afk8wZEmI

If you would like to see updates on instagram and me partake in the daily instagram challenges, visit >> https://www.instagram.com/nusrah003/


Thursday, 14 July 2016

The Kind Worth Reading

So the other day I was telling my husband the story of the thriller ‘The kind worth killing,’ by Peter Swanson. I was on a complete high from that book and I think it showed in my frantic story-telling, unfortunately to be matched by my husband’s skeptic expression. Now to anyone who has have ever told a story, a skeptic expression is the last thing you want to proceed your story. And then he said it, ‘Why couldn’t you just have watched a movie like this, would have ended quicker and you would have had the same entertainment value?’


My inner voice gasped. Was what my husband saying true? Was it better in some cases to simply watch a movie and spend your two days reading something else? My whole belief system was shattered. Was the movie better than the book in some cases? After what seemed like a lifetime but was barely a minute, my inner voice calmed down and replied with a resounding, ‘No!’

Then I got to thinking. As a reader, why will I always prefer the book over the movie? Well most times anyway. 

The first is sort of obvious. It has been mentioned many times. Reading a book is a an ‘active’ activity. When engaged in it, your head has to be fully in it or else that activity ceases to happen. Not to sound too melodramatic, but doesn’t this sort of make reading a mediative exercise? Aren’t escapism and getting so lost in a book just various forms of mindful meditation? I know that is what I felt when I read The kind worth killing. I read this book for two hours straight, so immersed that after I finished I had a very splitting pain in my arm.

Following from the above then is the sense of accomplishment you get when you finish a book. I know everyone knows what I am talking about. This is the sense that I think us readers get addicted to. A sense for which we trudge through books we are not completely invested in, books that we do not completely understand, just to feel that feel of knowing that you finish something that was made of pages and words, and its pretty much amazing. 


Last but not at all the least, need I elaborate over the empathy that books invoke in me? Books allow me to detach myself from my perceptions and judgements and to step into someone else’s shoes, if only figuratively. They give me the details, help me paint a picture that movies do not allow. In a movie my imagination is never engaged, what I feel for characters seems transitory. I have experienced this feeling many times, but I felt the full thrust of it when I read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I was not a fan of the two main characters, but I was so invested in their story, their struggles, where they were coming from, that I could not stop reading. All I could think of was their story and even though they both had done some pretty despicable things, I empathized, if not loved them till the end.