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Archive for February, 2011

I had gone to the bookstore today to get a gift for someone. Wrong place to go to, when I am trying to buy less books. I got a gift that I think the recipient will like. Unfortunately, I couldn’t resist browsing through the bookstore. I discovered a few ‘must-buy’ books and I held strong and resisted the temptation. When after spending sometime, I still didn’t have anything else in my hand, other than this gift-book, I thought I had finally triumphed against the circumstances ranged against me – that I had finally learnt how to enjoy browsing in a bookstore without succumbing to the temptation of its riches. When I started revelling in triumph, out popped a book from a nearby shelf and as soon as I saw it, I knew that I was doomed. Clearly my feeling of triumph was a false dawn and I hadn’t reckoned with the power of the bookstore. As soon as I picked the book, I heard, in my inner ear, the bookstore laughing at me in triumph. Yes, I had failed again. I looked at the book that had leapt at me. A deep love stirred in my heart and made me feel light and tried lifting me to the clouds. But at the same time a heavy feeling weighed down my heart and tried to pull me down – the heavy feeling of defeat. After a while, the old saying crossed my mind that it was better to have loved and lost – in this case, loved one thing and lost another thing – than not to have loved at all. The heavy sense of defeat continued to sink my heart, but a strong light burned brightly in my eyes – the eyes of an incurable book fanatic. There seemed to be no redemption for him.

 

Now about the book. It is called ‘Four Letter Word : New Love Letters’ edited by Joshua Knelman and Rosalind Porter. It is published by Vintage Books (one of my favourite imprints and editions). It is a collection of fictional love letters written by today’s leading authors, published for the first time. It has most of the leading writers of today and gives a fair representation to writers from both sides of the Atlantic. The odd South African and Australian are also there. The list of writers includes Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (I got that spelling right!), Lionel Shriver, A.L.Kennedy, Francine Prose, Jeannette Winterson, Michel Faber, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin, Jan Morris, Margaret Atwood, Audrey Niffenegger (I got that spelling also right!) among others – a total of 41 writers. I read the introduction by Rosalind Porter and found it to be quite beautiful. I read a few letters at the beginning of the book. The blurb on the book cover said that they are ‘ridiculously enjoyable’, ‘delicious’ and ‘seductive’. They are all that and more. The fanatic’s eyes had burned with good reason.

 

 

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the introduction. Hope you enjoy reading it.

 

On 4 May 2000, I was one of the millions of people to open an email with the subject ‘I Love You’ containing an attachment ‘Love Letter For You’. Launched by a Filipino hacker, the love letter virus ‘Love Bug’ first appeared in Hong Kong before quickly spreading to Europe and then to the United States, infecting servers and costing companies an estimated one billion dollars in lost time and recovery.

      In the UK, both the House of Commons and House of Lords were hit, leading to a shutdown of email that lasted a few hours. ‘The message was noticed before lunch. It was a message sending love to you, which is the sort of message a lot of us here don’t expect to be receiving,’ claimed the deputy sergeant at arms for the House of Commons at the time. Which begs the question : who are the people who would expect to receive such a message?

      Most of us don’t check the post in anticipation of scented envelopes stuffed with locks of hair, though many of us have received a fervent card; a flirtatious email; a suggestive text. Often we save them and reread them to remember a moment in time or a phase of life, even those from relationships long dead.

      Over time, a hierarchy to this kind of semantic courting has developed with the ambiguous text at the bottom and the email only a bit higher up. A card may prove a touching example of someone willing to take the time to find a stamp, seek out an address and locate a post-box, but the letter – with all the noble attributes of the card and no space restrictions – is perhaps the supreme medium to befit a message of love. Also, it harks back to a chivalrous age full of men attaching scrolls to pigeons or throwing bottles into the sea and aligns the writer of the love letter with a whole tradition of literary seduction.

      Written on something highly flammable and sent precariously by post or slipped underneath a door, there has always been something slightly risky about the love letter. Someone delivering it to the wrong person who then got the wrong idea; letters getting lost and therefore never replied to.

 

***

      Unlike a phone call or a conversation, a written declaration of love is a thing : a thing which exists in the world (often for a very long time) with the power to conjure up an emotional disposition, which is why, on occasion, we ask for them back, destroy them, prevent people from publishing them or keep them.

      Something that has survived thirteen house moves is a Valentine I was given when I was five. ‘Dear R,’ it reads. ‘I want to love you. Happy Valentine’s Day, From P.’

      I adore this card. I remember P well, perhaps because I’ve had his Valentine for all those years. Sometimes, when I come across it, I feel the urge to write back – I want to clear up the ambiguity, an ambiguity that’s intrinsic to most love letters. ‘Dear P, Does this mean you don’t love me? That you want to, but can’t for some particular reason? Or are you asking my permission to do so and if that’s the case, well then yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.’

 

***

 

      Like any published writer, the author of the love letter can never take anything back. Words – unlike the actual feelings they connote – cannot simply be loaned….Because all writing is an affective art form – the manifestation of a voice meant to move the reader in a premeditated way – which is why love letters can be so exhilarating and so convincing; which is why so many people opened the ‘Love Bug’ email.

      Even though he got caught, the Filipino hacker was no dummy. He observed our collective hunger for a demonstration of something so ethereal it’s not always possible to demonstrate it, and with prescience, he lured us to him with a false promise of words. Because with words, anything is possible. Through words, even our most ardent desires can be fulfilled.

 

Did you like the excerpts?

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I discovered ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ through reviews that I read in the blogosphere.  I fell in love with the premise of the book and decided to read it. I got it around a couple of weeks back, started reading it yesterday and finished it today. Here is the review.

 

Summary of the story

 

I am giving below the summary of the story as given in the inside flap of the book.

 

I’ve left some clues for you.

If you want them, turn the page.

If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.

 

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

      Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

 

 

What I think

 

The book starts with this passage.

 

Imagine this :

      You’re in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author’s books reside, and there, nestled in comfortably between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook.

      What do you do?

      The choice, I think is obvious :

      You take down the red notebook and open it.

      And then you do whatever it tells you to do.

 

Who can resist this first passage! I wanted to find out what happened next!

 

A page later there is this passage, where the narrator describes the bookstore.

 

Some bookstores want you to believe they’re a community center, like they need to host a cookie-making class in order to sell you some Proust. But the Strand leaves you completely on your own, caught between the warring forces of organization and idiosyncrasy, with idiosyncrasy winning every time. In other words, it was my kind of graveyard.

 

And a page later, the narrator describes himself.

 

      I could have been hanging out with my friends, but most of them were hanging out with their families or their Wiis. (Wiis? Wiii? What is the plural?) I preferred to hang out with the dead, dying, or desperate books – used we call them, in a way that we’d never call a person, unless we meant it cruelly. (“Look at Clarissa…she’s such a used girl.”)

      I was horribly bookish, to the point of coming right out and saying it, which I knew was not socially acceptable. I particularly loved the adjective bookish, which I found other people used about as often as ramrod or chum or teetotaler.

 

The main character in the book is a book lover (or more like a book fanatic), he likes hanging out at Strand and he discovers a moleskin notebook there – can there be a better start to a story?

 

What happens next? The book has some clues to the owner’s identity as well as instructions on what to do next. I don’t want to tell you more and spoil the book for you. So do read it to find out what happens next J

 

‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’looked like a modern Young Adult version of a Shakespearean comedy to me. The premise is wonderful, the book picks up pace and mystery and we want to know what happens next. There are comic scenes and there is one nearly sad scene. The story starts just before Christmas and ends on New Year day. The book evokes the Christmas and New Year atmosphere very beautifully. The ending is surprising and interesting from one perspective and predictable from another. I liked the ending.

 

Here are a few thoughts on mine, which are spoilers. Read them at your own risk J

 

I suspected the identity of one of the narrators and I hoped that in the end it will be revealed that Dash and Lily knew each other in the real-world and so will be stunned when they discover that secret in the end (like it happens in the movie ‘You’ve got mail’ where the two mail friends discover that they are professional rivals in real life). But, unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way. I think Cohn and Levithan missed a trick here. I also felt that the story lost some steam when the action moves outside the Strand to other stores and other locations. Some of these locations and scenes are good, but I would have loved it if most of the action had happened in the bookstore – there were infinite opportunities for the authors to indulge in literary references, puzzles and mysteries and they seem to have passed up on that. I also found that the main characters find the mysteries behind the clues too easily. I would have loved something like what happens in ‘The Da Vinci Code’ – where each clue leads to some research and after a few dead-ends the main characters have a sudden insight into the mystery. I hated the character called Edgar Thibaud – his presence was not at all required. There was also a character called Sofia, who was nice, but again was not required (in my opinion, atleast).

 

But these were all minor quibbles I had with the book. Overall, the book is an interesting and a fast-paced read, and looks at the strange and fascinating ways young people find love and how they doubt the genuine article when they find it. I would love to see how it will be if this story is produced as a play – I think it will be fantastic. I think it will work as a movie too, but I think it will wonderful as a play. Hope someone is thinking about it.  

 

Excerpts

 

Here are some of my favourite passages from the book.

 

Children frighten me. I mean, I appreciate them on a cute aesthetic level, but they’re very demanding and unreasonable creatures and often smell funny. I can’t believe I ever was one.

 

I don’t think meaning is something that can be explained. You have to understand it on your own. It’s like when you’re starting to read. First, you learn the letters. Then, once you know what sounds the letters make, you use them to sound out words. You know that c-a-t leads to cat and d-o-g leads to dog. But then you have to make that extra leap, to understand that the word, the sound, the “cat” is connected to an actual cat, and the “dog” is connected to an actual dog. It’s that leap, that understanding, that leads to meaning. And a lot of the time in life, we’re still just sounding things out. We know the sentences and how to say them. We know the ideas and how to present them. We know the prayers and which words to say in what order. But that’s only spelling.

      I don’t mean this to sound hopeless. Because in the same way that a kid can realize what “c-a-t” means, I think we can find the truths that live behind our words. I wish I could remember the moment when I was a kid and I discovered that the letters linked into words, and that the words linked to real things. What a revelation that must have been. We don’t have the words for it, since we hadn’t yet learned the words. It must have been astonishing, to be given the key to the kingdom and see it turn in our hands so easily.

 

The weather was weirdly warm and sunny for a Christmas Day. It felt more like June than December, yet another sign of the wrongness of this particular Christmas Day.

 

When we were kids, our Mrs.Basil E. used to take Langston and me on museum adventures on school holidays when our parents had to work. The days always ended with a trip for giant ice cream sundaes. How great is a great-aunt who lets her niece and nephew have ice cream for dinner? Truly great, in my opinion.

 

It was like the full amount of time we’d been apart was falling between each sentence.

 

She was laughing at something Dov was saying to her, but she was looking at me, like he was the distraction and I was the conversation.

 

(Comment : I loved that phrase ‘he was the distraction and I was the conversation’! I don’t know whether it is a cliché, but it is beautiful!)

 

The Strand proudly proclaims itself as home to eighteen miles of books. I have no idea how this is calculated. Does one stack all the books on top of each other to get the eighteen miles? Or do you put them end to end, to create a bridge between Manhattan and, say, Short Hills, New Jersey, eighteen miles away? Were there eighteen miles of shelves? No one knew. We all just took the bookstore at its word, because if you couldn’t trust a bookstore, what could you trust?

 

I suspected that when something was a beginning and an ending at the same time, that meant it could only exist in the present.

 

Other reviews

 

Here are the reviews which inspired me to read the book.

 

Jenny’s (from Jenny’s Books) review

 

Kelly’s (from KellyVision) Review

 

Michelle’s (from My Books, My Life) review

 

Nymeth’s (from Things Mean a Lot) review

 

In Conclusion

 

If you like stories with a bookish background and also like romantic comedies, you will love this book. Fellow book blogger Kelly, from KellyVision says that Cohen and Levithan’s ‘Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ is even better. I want to read that next.

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I heard last week that former Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden was coming to town to release his autobiography, ‘Standing My Ground’. I decided to go to the event and so planned for it, went early, staked out a place and waited. Surprisingly, though there was a reasonable crowd, which filled the room in the bookstore, it wasn’t huge and stifling – only the book-reading-cricket-fans were there. Matthew Hayden arrived before time (admire Australian cricketers for this!), greeted the audience, talked about his life, his cricket career and his book and patiently answered all the questions that the fans hurled at him. There were even a few questions on the ‘Monkeygate’ incident and Hayden smartly parried them. I liked the way he spoke slowly in a relaxed tone – it made the audience like him even more. When the Q&A session got over, I took the copies of his book that I had got and stood in the queue and went and got them signed. I had a few words with him too, and Hayden talked quite pleasantly and nicely. He was totally different in person when compared to his persona on the playing field – on the playing field he looks very intimidating with his Queenslander WWF-style physique and hammers bowlers and sledges opponents, while in person he is polite, humorous, fun-loving and pleasant to talk to. In his book, Hayden’s wife Kellie comments on this aspect of his personality when she says :

 

“The Matt I see is different to the one the cricket world may know. People say, ‘Oh, he’s fiery, isn’t he?’ I have trouble relating to that because at home he barely ever raises his voice. In fact, the one time he did, I think Grace and I both started crying out of shock.” 

 

I started reading Hayden’s memoir ‘Standing My Ground’ a few days back and I finished it yesterday. Here is the review.

 

Description of the book 

 

I am giving below the description of the book as given in the inside flap.

 

      Matthew Hayden was one of the most commanding batsmen the game has ever seen – and one of its great enigmas. A devout Catholic, and a ruthless on-field sledger. A brutal enforcer, and a soft-hearted family man. The Australian record-holder for highest score in Tests and One Day Internationals, who was at times troubled by self-doubt and doubters.  

      In Standing My Ground, Hayden confronts these contradictions head-on. He talks frankly about the forces that shaped his journey from fringe international to a giant of the game. He dissects Australia’s tactic of verbal warfare and his own role as a key aggressor, taking us on a privileged tour inside the sporting machine that dominated all comers in a golden age of Australian cricket. 

      This isn’t a predictable ball-by-ball account of a stellar career. Instead, Hayden delivers a characteristically direct assessment of the matches and the people that mattered most. He pays homage to great role models like Allan Border and explains his deep connection to controversial Andrew Symonds, but also reveals colourful clashes along the way. He opens up on umpires, the  media, superstitions, teammates and opponents with disarming honesty and humour. 

      The country boy from Kingaroy rose to greatness in the cricket world. Here is the superstar batsman, the surfer, fisherman and chef in a book as bold and powerful as the man himself.

 

 

What I think 

 

Hayden starts his book with this passage.

 

      I was born, raised and live my life as a Catholic. It’s a very important part of who I am. But there is already one Saint Matthew in the Church, and I’m dead certain there won’t be another one coming from the ranks of recently retired Australian cricketers.

      My favourite saint has always been Saint Peter. Peter didn’t always succeed – he was the man who began walking on water with Jesus, but went for a bit of a dip when his faith wavered, and he was also the one who falsely denied his association with Christ three times before the cock crowed. But although he could be uncertain at times,, Peter was also full of enthusiasm, even rashness. In a religion that decrees ‘thou shalt not’ about so many things, Peter was someone who occasionally wondered, ‘Well, why not?’ I’ve always found great realism – and great comfort – in his story.

 

Good first paragraph 🙂

 

Later in that chapter Hayden says :

 

For all Saint Peter’s foibles and flaws, he came to be regarded as the ‘rock’ of the Church. For all my shortcomings, I wanted to be one of the rocks of the Australian cricket team. This book is about how, for better and worse, I tried.

 

Good start to the book 🙂

 

The book is not structured as a traditional autobiography / memoir – it is not chronological from the beginning to the end. The first chapter of the book is titled ‘Sledging’. Hayden shares his thoughts on sledging, gives interesting sledging anecdotes and also says that sledging is not about chirping with opponents but also intimidating opponents with one’s body language and one’s game. One of my favourite passages from the chapter is where Hayden describes an occasion when he was sledged for a change.

 

It’s only fair to note that I wasn’t always the aggressor where sledging was concerned. Adam Gilchrist loves the story about Holland’s wicketkeeper John Smid giving me both barrels at consecutive World Cups in 2003 and 2007. I can remember him saying things like, ‘We haven’t flown halfway around the world to watch you. Get a single and get Gilly on strike because you are crap.’ This from a Dutch wicketkeeper! Do you mind?

 

Later, Hayden talks about his childhood, his parents and his brother, how he met his wife, his early cricket experiences, how he developed as a player, how he struggled to get a break in international cricket and how he succeeded. He interleaves these chapters with other chapters where he talks about his relationship with different players – team mates, mentors and opponents – and he also adds chapters where he shares his thoughts on different topics related to cricket like superstitions of cricketers, cricket bats, team meetings, umpires, reactions to getting out and others. He gives an insider perspective on these topics and they are quite fascinating to read.

 

My favourite part of the book was the start where Hayden describes his life as a child in his father’s farm. He gives interesting descriptions of his parents which go like this :

 

Mum taught drama at Kingaroy State High School and had real artistic flair…Mum had an enormous work ethic, and it’s great to run in to her former students and hear of how much she helped them with their lives. Her theatrical streak was a strong influence in my life, and I know it’s from her that I inherited my love of performance. I also know it’s thanks to her that I developed a passion for trying my best and being positive. I was in her drama class at school, and she would occasionally start a lesson by saying, ‘Okay, tell me something positive…I don’t want to hear the word no.’ I called her ‘Mum’ in class, because it would’ve seemed downright silly to call her Mrs Hayden…Of all the teachers I had, Mum was definitely number one for strictness. She had to be, teaching drama. If you haven’t got total control of your drama class, you might as well not bother. But I never found it uncomfortable being taught by Mum, and I loved what she was teaching. Drama saved my English studies.

 

He (Dad) was the original Mr Fixit, who saved us thousands of dollars by fixing things that would normally require a call to a tradesman. Depending on what challenge confronted him, he could be a wallpaperer, plumber, painter or builder. He could make parts and even invent ones. He could swap engines from one car to another, weld gates, and I remember him even felling and taking the bark off trees to build yards. The only thing he couldn’t do was cook a roast.

 

Hayden also describes his love, affection and respect for his elder brother Gary, who he says is a powerful influence and inspiration in his life.

 

Another of my favourite parts of the book is where Hayden paints interesting portraits of players who are not so famous today. One of my favourites was his portrait of Carl Rackemann, the muscular, bald, Queensland and Australian fast bowler.

 

Carl’s colourful ways will never be forgotten by those who played with him, and I always liked his personalised pain scale for injuries, from ‘thumb tacks’ to ‘knives’ with all sorts of rankings in between. He was a genuine character with a sense of humour as dry as a bush highway. One of his most characteristic lines came during a rock climbing exercise at training, when he ruefully looked up and down the wall before asking, ‘I’m not sure about this…Do you think Sir Edmund Hillary had a hit in the nets before he climbed Mt Everest?’ And I shared his passion for the land and the region. When precious rain fell on his Kingaroy property he’d just sit on his verandah and watch it in blissful silence. Only a rain-starved farmer could truly understand that feeling. Carl was once asked before a crucial Sheffield Shield game at the Gabba what he would prefer – rain for drought-driven farmers or a dry weekend for the cricket. He looked at the reporter as if they were stupid. The farmers’ plight was always going to be far more important to him than a game of cricket.

 

Opposition players gravitated towards Carl in the dressing-room. Warnie only did one tour with Carl – the West Indies in 1995 – but said at the time his biggest regret in cricket was not touring more with him. Carl never announced his retirement, which was very rare for a big-time player, but just phased himself out of the game. When asked why, he said simply, ‘I didn’t announce my arrival – why should I announce my departure?’

 

One of the things I looked forward to in the book was Hayden’s thoughts on cricketers – mentors, teammates and opponents. I enjoyed discovering what he thought on Ian Chappell and Greg Chappell, yesteryear Australian greats. During his playing days Ian Chappell was regarded as an inspiring captain who commanded the loyalty of his teammates and who fought for their rights. He was also a tough man on the cricket field and an attacking captain who brought joy to the spectators – if there were two options on the cricket field, a safe one and an adventurous one, Ian probably opted for the adventurous one. Greg Chappell on the other hand was a stylish batsman – one of the alltime great stylists – and probably a better batsman than his brother Ian. He was also a mentally tough character, who had a good captaincy record too. However, his post-retirement career has suffered seriously, as his coaching stints have not gone well, because he has ruffled feathers and stepped on people’s toes during his coaching stint. Ian Chappell has had a wonderful second innings post-retirement as a star commentator and analyst of the game. He cares for the game and his opinions on the larger issues of cricket and his analysis of captaincy and cricket strategy are among the best. I am a big fan of Ian Chappell’s analysis and I think he is the best commentator and analyst of the game today and a fine ambassador and statesman of the game today. Ian, however, has one facet in his personality, which I am not a big fan of. If he decides that he doesn’t like someone, whatever that person does or achieves, this person can never get Ian’s respect or affection. And if he decides that he likes someone, all the sins of that person are forgiven. Typically the players who get Ian’s favour are the flashy, dashing and debonair stars (like Mark Waugh and Shane Warne) and the players who face his wrath are the hardworking ones (like Steve Waugh). This comes out during his analysis sometimes and that is when one realizes that even the best are imperfect. For example, Ian always says that Steve Waugh is neither a good captain nor a good player when in reality, Steve Waugh’s record is exceptional – he started his career as a bits-and-pieces allrounder and reinvented himself as an alltime great batsman with all the stats to match that – a 50+ test average, more than 150 tests played, 10,000+ runs, 30+ centuries. As a captain his record is unparalleled in cricket history – his captaincy record is better than that of Mike Brearley, Greg Chappell, Clive Lloyd, Don Bradman and Mark Taylor. Sorry for the long yarn – I just wanted to give the context 🙂 So, I was really interested in what Hayden, being the hardworking guy, thought about Ian and Greg Chappell. I was also interested in finding out what he thought about Ian Chappell’s proteges Mark Waugh and Shane Warne and what he thought about Steve Waugh, Ian Chappell’s badboy, but under whose captaincy Hayden flowered into a worldclass batsman and an alltime great. This is what Hayden says about Ian Chappell’s views on coaching.

 

I totally disagree with claims by Ian Chappell that the only coach you need is the one that takes you to the ground. Buck (John Buchanan, the Australian cricket coach) often challenged you and was ahead of the game in his thinking.

 

If you are wondering why Hayden took on Ian Chappell here, the answer comes in another part of the book. The relevant passage goes like this.

 

I was playing county cricket in Hampshire at the time, and was interviewed by a journalist from the county’s Daily Echo about some comment Ian Chappell had made suggesting I was ‘suspect’ against the game’s best bowlers. I always loved a good scrap, and because I didn’t think my remarks would go much beyond the county, I fired up and had a few strong things to say about Ian and his thoughts.

 

It looks like the ‘hardworking’ Hayden was a victim of the Ian Chappell wrath too.

 

There is an interesting anecdote about Greg Chappell that Hayden describes towards the beginning of the book.

 

Just as tempers reached boiling point, Australia A coach Greg Chappell stepped in. He told me that at any other time he’d encourage me to continue making my point, but that it wasn’t the time or place. As always, Greg, for whom I have the deepest respect, was the voice of reason. I was the youngster trying to push my way into a world-beating Australian side. The last thing I needed on my resume was a black mark for exchanging pleasantries with a Test legend, one of the biggest cricketing voices in the country.

 

Hayden continues in the same positive vein, about Greg Chappell, for the rest of the book.

 

There is an interesting passage where Hayden talks about himself as a cricketer and also talks about Steve and Mark Waugh.

 

      Throughout my career my greatest challenge was never proving myself to the opposition. My biggest battles were internal. I had to prove myself to me, then my teammates and the selectors. At that time I knew there were plenty of teammates who didn’t especially rate me. Mark Waugh would have been one of these. The game came so easily to Junior that he didn’t rate many people. I could just imagine him saying of me,’Works hard, good player but you wouldn’t call him a champion.’ The thought doesn’t offend me – Junior was Junior and I loved the way he said precisely what he thought. But it was also why, despite my affection for him, I gravitated more towards Stephen, because he knew how hard the game could be. Stephen and I could relate to each other’s struggles.

 

Steve Waugh, probably championed Hayden’s cause and inspired Hayden to realize his potential as a cricketer and Hayden makes sure to mention that in the book. Interestingly, Steve Waugh says in the blurb about Hayden :

 

“No one ever gave Haydos any free passes. He got there the hard way. The biggest accolade you can give a player is that they changed the perception of how a role should be played. Matthew took opening to a new level with his aggressive, dominating style. As a captain the greatest joy you can have is seeing a player fulfil his potential, which Haydos certainly did.”

 

I found those lines very inspiring.

 

Hayden has interesting things to say about Australian legspinning legend and Ian Chappell protege, and probably the greatest captain the Australian cricket team never heard, Shane Warne. Here is one passage where Hayden talks about Warne’s fraternising with opposition players during the 2005 Ashes.

 

During that series I was also tested by Warnie’s fraternising with the opposition. Top players in the opposition sides like Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara often chummed up with Warnie, and that summer it was Kevin Pietersen’s turn. It probably shouldn’t have annoyed me, but our strength had always been our tightness as a team unit. I look back now and realise maybe my own insecurities were to blame. When Warnie mingled with guys like Pietersen, I was asking myself, What’s he doing? In fact, Warnie was doing fine. He took a phenomenal 40 wickets for the series. If the rest of us had been firing anywhere near as well, we’d have won the Ashes at a canter.

 

In another place Hayden talks about the boot-camp which was conducted for the Australian cricket team in preparation for the Ashes in 2006-07. He talks about Warnie’s behaviour during the boot-camp and how he hated it and the training part of cricket.

 

      We had to lay our clothing out on the floor, as well as medication such as asthma sprays. Predictably, Warnie had too much stuff, including several packets of Benson & Hedges, which were taboo. The man in charge came straight up to him and said, ‘What are these?’ Warnie said solemnly, ‘They’re medicinal.’ Then he added firmly, ‘Just to set the record straight: I’ll line up, I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but if these don’t go, the King’s not going.’

      The durries went on the camp and so did Warnie.

      So the iron-clad army rules were broken – in the first hour of the camp! This had been an opportunity for Buck to break Warnie, but instead the King got his way.

 

Hayden also talks about why Warne would have made a great Test captain, and also why he wouldn’t have.

 

      I laughed at the incident – you just had to – because that defiant side of Warnie always cracked me up. Great talent often comes with a bit of rebelliousness. Deep down, though, I had mixed feelings about Warnie getting away with it because the purpose of being there was to knuckle down and rebuild together. And if you weren’t going to be part of the solution, you were only creating more problems. The ‘my way or the highway’ mentality was the reason we were having the camp in the first place. Strategically Warnie might have made a great Test captain, but I’m not sure he’d have been as successful as the two men chosen ahead of him, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting, because he would not have been as inclusive as they were.

 

I am not sure about Hayden’s view, because Warnie has subsequently distinguished himself as a highly inspiring captain in the IPL, taking his underdog team all the way during the first season. But I think Hayden has a point – Warne was an old-fashioned cricketer, who liked working on his skills and didn’t like the physical training part of cricket, which have become a part of cricket today.

 

Hayden also describes his fascinating relationship with Andrew Symonds, his fellow Queensland and Australian teammate and the time when their boat capsized and how they swarm for a mile in shark-infested waters to reach the shore. Hayden also talks about his fellow openers across the years, Michael Slater (Slats) and Justin Langer (Alfie), about his mentors Bob Simpson and Allan Border,  and about his tussles with players from opposition teams – Hansie Cronje, Muralidharan, Harbhajan Singh, Dhoni and. Shoaib Akhtar. Hayden also talks about his tours of India, where had his breakout innings and how he loved the IPL. There is one passage where he talks about the complexity of India.

 

I once heard that when New Zealander John Wright was asked about the challenges of coaching India, he simply pulled an Indian banknote out of his pocket and pointed to it. There’s one sentence on the note that is explained in Indian 15 languages, from Bengali to Nepali to Tamil and a dozen others. 

 

Hayden also talks about his love for surfing. When asked during the book-release-event who his favourite sportsperson was, Hayden said that it was a surfer (I forget the name he mentioned). Here is an interesting passage from the book on surfing.

 

I found hitting cricket balls addictive because I loved the sensation of the bat cracking the ball. But the reality of the game is that you don’t get the chance to do that very often. In surfing, you’re absolutely involved all the time…Surfing is all about balance, and balance equals power – on the board and at the batting crease. Moving about the batting crease seems easy compared to moving on a board. And all the paddling involved helps your shoulders and throwing strength as well. If there’s a perfect sport to help you train for cricket, I reckon it has to be surfing.

 

The book has an introduction by Andrew Flintoff and a piece in the end by Kellie Hayden, Matthew’s wife.

 

The book concludes with Hayden’s World XI, comprising the list of opposition players Hayden admires. The usual suspects (Sachin, Sehwag, Lara, Ambrose, Akram) are all there, but there are some surprising omissions – Waqar Younis is not there (I love Wasim Akram – he is one of my favourite players. But Waqar’s record stacks up with the best – he has one of the best alltime bowling strikerates in test matches, which is better than Akram’s, and I remember once in England during a One Day series in 2003, he bent the ball at will and took 6 wickets, 7 wickets, and 6 wickets in three consecutive matches – I don’t think any bowler has bowled like that ever! I feel that the sad thing is that Waqar is not a flamboyant and articulate character, while Wasim is and that seems to have carried the day), Dale Steyn is missing and so is Allan Donald – all very surprising. But there are only eleven places in the team and Hayden is entitled to choose his favourites 🙂

 

Interesting pictures

 

My favourite pictures from the book were these two. The first shows Hayden when he was a boy growing up in his family’s farm. He is the plump boy on the left. The second shows him celebrating his first test century.

 

 

 

 

 

If a plump boy can become the handsome hunk Hayden, I think there is some hope for the rest of us 🙂

 

 

In Conclusion

 

Hayden’s biography is an inspiring read. It is wonderful to read how a farm boy pursued his passion and inspite of tough setbacks went on to become one of the world’s greatest cricketers. If you are a cricket fan, this book is a must read.

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Perfection

I found this beautiful quote about this terrible thing in a book I got a few days back.

Cell division allows us as organisms to grow, to adapt, to recover, to repair – to live. And distorted and unleashed, it allows cancer cells to grow, to flourish, to adapt, to recover and to repair – to live at the cost of our living. Cancer cells grow faster, adapt better. They are more perfect versions of ourselves.

– From ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ : A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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I discovered ‘Nothing But You’ many years back when I was browsing in my favourite bookstore. It was a collection of love stories from the New Yorker. It was published by Modern Library. I am a big fan of Modern Library books. I have quite a number of them in my collection like the two volumes of Chekhov short stories, ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’ by Alexandre Dumas, ‘Possession’ by A.S.Byatt (I have three editions of this book and I haven’t read any of them yet!), ‘The Tale of Genji’ by Murasaki Shikibu (the world’s first novel as some scholars put it), ‘The French Revolution’ by Thomas Carlyle and surprisingly ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ by Edward Gibbon. I don’t  know why I got that last one, because it is a 3000+ page tome and I don’t know whether I will ever read it. Maybe I got tempted by the raving comments that my dad gave about it, when I was young.

 

Like all Modern Library books, ‘Nothing But You’ had a cover which was wonderful to feel, the pages were smooth and pleasant to the touch, the font was pleasant to read and the book was a collector’s item. I couldn’t resist it. I read probably one or two stories then, but somehow they didn’t stick with me and I put the book in the bookshelf to savour at a later time. Then later I moved cities and countries and ‘Nothing But You’ always travelled with me and was a favourite star on my bookshelf – a constant companion who brought a lot of pleasure just by its appearance but who was never understood and never read.

 

Last week, when I was thinking of what book to read next, I pulled down ‘Nothing But You’ from the bookshelf. The book cover was still intact inspite of the careless way I handle books and the papers were still smooth and had all their magic. I decided that it was time to give my old friend some attention and understand it better. So, I started reading it and finished reading a couple of days back. Here is the review.

 

Description of the book

 

I am giving below a description of the book as given in its back cover.

 

Raymond Carver, Alice Munro, John Updike, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mavis Gallant, Julian Barnes, Michael Chabon, Jamaica Kincaid, John O’Hara, Muriel Spark, Ann Beattie, and William Maxwell are among the contributors to ‘Nothing But You : Love Stories from the New Yorker – assembled by Roger Angell, senior editor at The New Yorker. This is the first fiction anthology in more than three decades from the magazine that has defined the American short story for almost a century. As noteworthy for its range as for its excellence, Nothing But You features a stunning array of present and past masters writing about love in all its varieties, from the classic love story to dislocated narratives of weird modern romance. Taken separately, these stories suggest the infinite variety of the human heart. Taken together, they are a literary milestone, a comprehensive review of the way we live and love.

 

 

Who can resist such a description!

 

What I think

 

I will first borrow a few words from the above description. One is ‘dislocated narratives of weird modern romance’. Another is ‘Taken together, they are a literary milestone, a comprehensive review of the way we live and love’. I will request that you make a mental note of them and remember them. I will come back to these two interesting descriptions later.

 

Before I write about what I think about this book, I have to reveal something about myself as a reader. I read all kinds of books. I love novels, short stories and plays. In novels, I read all kinds of genres. I like a good story, but I also don’t mind reading novels which are experimental or which don’t have a plot or where the plot is very thin and the novel is more about beautiful prose or the insights it offers. One of my alltime favourite novels is ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barbery, which fits this description – beautiful prose and insights, not much plot. Another of my alltime favourite novels is ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ by Pascal Mercier, which has a plot, but its strength is its beautiful prose and the insights it offers. Another is Roberto Bolano’s ‘The Savage Detectives’ where the story is so discontinuous and the perspective shifts every few pages that it is difficult to make sense of the book. But I discovered that when I ploughed through it painfully, it turned out to be a rewarding read in the end. So, I think with respect to reading novels, my taste is probably well-rounded. But I am a more conservative reader when it comes to short stories. I prefer the story to have a beginning, a middle and an end. If there is a twist in the end, I prefer it even more. Sometimes I don’t mind if the short story paints a picture of a slice of life. But if the short story looks only vaguely like a story and it expects the reader to discover some abstract things hidden inside it and delight at these hidden abstractions, then I have a problem. If a short story is extremely experimental, and has no semblance of a plot, then I find it difficult to like it.

 

Now, back to the book. And back to the two descriptions of it. ‘Dislocated narratives of weird modern romance’ is actually a wonderfully perfect description of the book. There are few, if any, classic love stories in the book. Most of the stories are either ‘dislocated narratives’ or ‘slice-of-life’ kind of stories or have abstract themes and none of them had the beginning-middle-end with the twist, that I expected. Most of them were realistic. ‘A comprehensive review of the way we live and love’ was a perfect description of most of them. I have to say that, unfortunately, inspite of this book adorning my shelf for so many years and I having fallen in love with it and getting started on it with a lot of expectations, it was a deep disappointment for me. Many times, I wanted to drop the book, in between, and move on. Because life is short to waste time on books that we don’t enjoy. Even if they are critically acclaimed. But one part of me – the never-say-die part – said that I shouldn’t give up. That I will be admitting failure and accepting that I am incapable of reading a book which is out of my comfort zone. These two parts of my mind wrestled with each other constantly and I went back and forth and was undecided on whether to continue or whether to drop the book. The never-say-die part of my mind triumphed in the end. I continued and after a lot of hard work finished reading the book.

 

‘Nothing But You’ book had contributions from a stellar group of writers. All the stars – Raymond Carver, Jean Rhys, John Cheever, Alice Munro, John Updike, John O’Hara, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jamaica Kincaid, Julian Barnes, Mavis Gallant, Vladimir Nabokov, Harold Brodkey, Michael Chabon, William Trevor, Donald Barthelme – were there. None of their stories worked for me. One inference out of this could be that these ladies and gentlemen don’t know how to write short stories, which is quite a preposterous conclusion. The obvious conclusion would be that I am out of touch with the short story genre these days and my short story tastes are more classical and have been shaped by older writers like Mark Twain, Anton Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Ernest Hemingway. I probably am not aware of what is a model short story as accepted by literary critics and fiction editors of literary magazines today. Maybe the stories by the above authors all fit the current model. They all seem to be critically acclaimed and famous. Alas, that was not enough for me!

 

They say that every cloud there is a silver lining. Fortunately, there was one here too. The lesser known authors in the book – they came out firing on all cylinders! And boy, was I glad! You could relate to some of the stories they told, in a complex way, as if the story happened in your own life. (Here I should add a comment – the lesser known authors are lesser known to me. All the featured authors are stars in their own right and are quite famous in the short story universe.).

 

My most favourite story was ‘In the Gloaming’ by Alice Elliott Dark. It describes the beautiful relationship between a mother and her son. The son is dying of a terminal disease. The mother and the son start having evening conversations everyday and discover new things and interesting surprises about each other. It is beautiful, musical and sometimes sad.

 

There is a description of the mother at the beginning of the story which went like this :

 

She knew she was generally considered sincere, but that had more to do with her being a good listener than with how she expressed herself.

 

There is another description on what the mother would do to keep her children entertained.

 

It was one of those moments when she felt nostalgic for cigarettes. On nights like this, when the air was completely still, she used to blow her famous smoke rings for the children, dutifully obeying their commands to blow one through another or three in a row, or to make big, ropy circles that expanded as they floated up to the heavens. She did exactly what they wanted, for as long as they wanted, sometimes going through a quarter of a pack before they allowed her to stop. Incredibly, neither Anne nor Laird became smokers. Just the opposite; they nagged at her to quit, and were pleased when she finally did. She wished they had been just a little bit sorry; it was a part of their childhood coming to an end, after all.

 

Here is an interesting conversation between the mother and the son.

 

      “Is this still your favorite time of day, Mom?”

      “Yes, I suppose it is,” she said, “although I don’t think in terms of favorites anymore.”

      “Never mind favorites, then. What else do you like?”

      “What do you mean?” she asked.

      “I mean exactly that.”

      “I don’t know. I care about all the ordinary things. You know what I like.”

      “Name one thing.”

      “I feel silly.”

      “Please?”

      “All right. I like my patch of lilies of the valley under the trees over there. Now can we change the subject?”

      “Name one more thing.”

      “Why?”

      “I want to get to know you.”

      “Oh, Laird, there’s nothing to know.”

      “I don’t believe that for a minute.”

      “But it is true. I’m average. The only extraordinary thing about me is my children.”

      “All right,” he said. “Then let’s talk about how you feel about me.”

      “Do you flirt with your nurses like this when I’m not around?”

 

The below passage sets the context for the above conversation.

 

Parents and children were all captive audiences to each other; in view of this, it was amazing how little comprehension there was of one another’s stories. Everyone stopped paying attention so early on, thinking they had figured it all out. She recognized that she was as guilty of this as anyone.

 

Here is another interesting conversation between the mother and her son.

 

      “I don’t like reading about sex.”

      “Big surprise!”

      “No, no,” she said. “It’s not for the reason you think, or not only for that reason. You see me as a prude, I know, but remember, it’s part of a mother’s job to come across that way. Although perhaps I went a bit far…”

      He shrugged amiably. “Water under the bridge. But go on about sex.”

      “I think it should be private. I always feel as though these writers are showing off when they describe a sex scene. They’re not really trying to describe sex, but to demonstrate that they’re not afraid to write about it. As if they’re thumbing their noses at their mothers.”

      He made a moue.

      Janet went on. “You don’t think there’s an element of that? I do question their motives, because I don’t think sex can ever actually be portrayed – the sensations and the emotions are…beyond language. If you only describe the mechanics, the effect is either clinical or pornographic, and if you try to describe intimacy instead, you wind up with abstractions. The only sex you could describe fairly well is bad sex – and who wants to read about that, for God’s sake, when everyone is having bad sex of their own?”

      “Mother!” He was laughing helplessly, his arms hanging limply over the sides of his chair.

      “I mean it. To me it’s like reading about someone using the bathroom.”

      “Good grief!”

      “Now who’s the prude?”

      “I never said I wasn’t,” he said. “maybe we should change the subject.”

 

Here is a passage when the mother thinks about the simple things that she had desired and how getting even them was difficult.

 

After Anne left, Janet always had a tranquil moment or two as she walked back to the house through the humid September air. Everything was so still. Occasionally there were the hums and clicks of a lawnmower or the shrieks of a band of children heading home from school. There were the insects and the birds. It was a straightforward, simple life she had chosen. She had tried never to ask for too much, and to be of use. Simplicity had been her hedge against bad luck. It had worked for so long. For a brief moment, as she stepped lightly up the single slate stair and through the door, her legs still harboring all their former vitality, she could pretend her luck was still holding.

      Then she would glance out the window and there would be the heart-catching sight of Laird, who would never again drop by for a casual visit. Her chest would ache and flutter, a cave full of bats.

      Perhaps she had asked for too much, after all.

 

Here is a passage at the end of the story, where the mother is angry at the way fate has dished out things.

 

“It’s so wrong,” she said angrily. She hadn’t felt angry until that moment; she had saved it up for him. “A child shouldn’t die before his parents. A young man shouldn’t spend his early thirties wasting away talking to his mother. He should be out in the world. He shouldn’t be thinking about me, or what I care about, or my opinions. He shouldn’t have had to return my love to me – it was his to squander. Now I have it all back and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it,” she said.

 

That passage made me cry.

 

I will stop quoting passages from this story here. If I go on, I will end up quoting the whole story. If you decide to read just one story from this book, this is the one – ‘In the Gloaming’.

 

To my delight, I discovered that ‘In the Gloaming’ was selected as one of the ‘Best American short stories of the century’. Well, well! My short-story-taste is not as off-the-radar as I think J I also discovered that it was made into a movie starring Glenn Close, Bridget Fonda, Whoopi Goldberg. Wow! I want to see this movie now!

 

My second most favourite story in the collection was ‘Roses, Rhododendron’ by Alice Adams. It is about a girl’s love for another family and how this love grows and evolves and the interesting consequences of it. I identified very much with this story, as I had been in a similar situation when I was younger, when I loved another family as my own. The narrator of the story describes this theme in this passage (Margot is the narrator’s mother).

 

      A word about Margot’s quite understandable jealousy of the Farrs. Much later in life, when I was unreasonably upset at the attachment of one of my own daughters to another family (unreasonable because her chosen group were all talented musicians, as she was), a wise friend told me that we all could use more than one set of parents – our relations with the original set are too intense, and need dissipating.

 

Here is a beautiful passage from this story (Emily is the narrator’s new friend’s mother).

 

      There must have been a moment of “meeting” Emily, but I have forgotten it. I remember only her gentle presence, a soft voice, and my own sense of love returned. Beautiful white hair, dark deep eyes, and a wide mouth, whose corners turned and moved to express whatever she felt – amusement, interest, boredom, pain. I have never since seen such a vulnerable mouth.

 

Here is another.

 

      Once, I told Emily what I had been wanting to say since my first sight of her. I said, “Your hair is so beautiful. Why don’t you let it grow?”

      She laughed, because she usually laughed at what I said, but at the same time she looked surprised, almost startled. I understood that what I had said was not improper but that she was totally unused to attentions of that sort from anyone, including herself. She didn’t think about her hair. In a puzzled way, she said, “Perhaps I will.”

 

My most favourite character in the book was called Edna and she featured in the story ‘The Man in the Moon’ by William Maxwell. It is a story where the narrator looks at a photograph of his uncle which brings back memories from the past. Edna is his uncle’s wife. Here is a description of her.

 

      Edna I took to on sight. She had dark eyes and a gentle voice. She was simple and open with my wife, and acted as if meeting me was something she had been hoping would happen. Looking around, I could see that they didn’t have much money, but neither did we.

      I wrote to them when we got home, and heard from her. After my uncle died, she continued to write, and she sent us a small painting that she had done.

 

Here is another description of her.

 

      She never spoke about things they lacked, and never seemed to realize how poor they were. She lived in a world of art and music and great literature.

 

‘The Man in the Moon’ is about love, but it is also about the role fortune plays in our lives.

 

I also liked very much ‘We’ by Mary Grimm. It is about three friends who are married and have children at the same time. How their lives pan out forms the rest of the story. Here is a description of what happened when two of them meet for the first time.

 

      But whatever we thought we wanted or thought each other was like didn’t matter – was forgotten, even – because from the first words we said to each other we knew we were going to be friends. I had thought that wouldn’t happen anymore now that I was married. I went back from the supermarket to her house for coffee (I felt like my mother – having coffee and doughnuts with a neighbor) and we talked for two hours while my groceries melted and slumped in the car. I can’t remember what we talked about. Everything. Suzanne said it was like being in love, which I found upsetting when she said it. But it was true. We leaned across the table toward each other, that morning and other mornings, drinking cups of coffee (later Sanka) and eating and smoking until we had to quit, and told each other stories about our pasts, our families, our school loves, our hopes for adventure. It wasn’t like a conversation, which sounds too stiff and polite; it was more like a piece of music where we each had parts that overlapped, or a play where the actors say what is closest to their hearts.

 

Here is a passage about what happens when the three friends have babies.

 

For a while we didn’t have to worry about the thing of being married. For quite a long while. There was all the business of doctor visits, baby showers, maternity clothes, painting the extra bedroom. And then the hospital, the drive home with the baby looking so cute in the infant seat for the first time, the adoring grandparents waiting at home with giant panda bears and potty seats that played a tune. And then the long plunge into babyness. All of life was baby life : baby food, baby clothes, baby wipes, the baby changing table, baby’s schedule, baby’s nap, baby’s bed time with breast-feeding / colic / teething. All our stories were baby stories : how baby had thrown up yellow, how baby had pulled the pierced earrings right out of our ears, how baby had rolled over for the first time while we were out of the room and almost fallen off the bed, how baby would not go to sleep until a certain song was played on the tape player.

 

And here is a nostalgic passage from near the end of the story.

 

      Now we’re too busy to think or to remember the time when Suzanne and I sat in one of our kitchens with the kids milling around while we talked on, oblivious, or cooked together, or sat under the apple trees; how we were pulled together like magnets every morning after our husbands went to work; how we spent the whole day together; how our kids had lunch together, took naps and went to the bathroom together.

      Which is O.K. But do we miss it, what we had together when there was no one else in the world but mothers and children? And do we miss it, the soft solid feel of our children’s bodies under our hands, the sweet smell of their breath, their voices in our ears singing the alphabet and the names of trees, puddings, television characters; the look of their bodies asleep, arms and legs flung out like a star or would in a tight breathing ball; their questions asking why and what and how the world is made and ordered and laid out before us?

 

I also liked this short gem called ‘Yours’ by Mary Robison. It is about the love of an elderly man (Clark) for his young wife (Allison) and how they spend an evening together carving pumpkins and making jack-o-lanterns during Halloween. Clark’s sister thinks that Allison has married him for the money, but he knows that the truth is different. Here is a beautiful passage from near the end of the story.

 

He wanted to get drunk with his wife once more. He wanted to tell her, from the greater perspective he had, that to own only a little talent, like his, was an awful, plaguing thing; that being only a little special meant you expected too much, most of the time, and liked yourself too little. He wanted to assure her that she had missed nothing.

 

I also liked ‘A Country Wedding’ by Laurie Colwin very much. I knew of Laurie Colwin as the author of ‘Home Cooking’ and ‘More Home Cooking’ and so it was surprising to know that she wrote stories too. ‘A Country Wedding’ is about Freddie and her husband Grey who are going to attend the wedding of their friend Penny. During the journey Freddie thinks about the affair she had recently with another man and she also thinks about the love she has for her husband. Here is a beautiful passage which introduces Freddie and her husband.

 

Grey was more used to being dressed up than Freddie, but he did not like it any more than she did. He was a Wall Street lawyer, with a closet half full of pin-striped suits. The other half was full of walking shorts, hiking boots, old bluejeans, and waders for the trout season. He had been Freddie’s guide to the outdoors, which she had experienced mostly through books. As a child, she had read endlessly about bats, birds, frogs, and the life of swamps, but her parents were entirely urban, and no one had taken her into the natural world until she met Grey. Together they had hiked, trekked, climbed, explored swamps, gone for own walks, and kept life lists of birds. When the trout season opened, Freddie was perfectly happy to sit on a bank swatting midges and reading while Grey stood up to his hips in cold water. On their honeymoon they had gone to Dorset to search for fossils.

 

Here is what Freddie feels when she thinks about the affair she had.

 

Love made strange bedfellows, Freddie thought, and then did absolutely nothing to help them out.

 

Here is a passage which describes how Freddie and Penny spend time just before Penny’s wedding ceremony.

 

      A sweet breeze blew in through the window. Freddie lit two cigarettes and watched the air bat the smoke around. She and Penny never smoked except when they were together. It was a childhood tradition. Neither of them inhaled but both blew very beautiful smoke rings, a skill they had been perfecting for years.

 

Here is a snippet of a conversation between Penny and Freddie after the ceremony.

 

      “I feel as if life is all spread out in front of me but I don’t know what’s there,” said Penny.

      “That’s what life is like,” Freddie said.

 

Other stories I liked in the collection were ‘Dating Your Mom’ by Ian Frazier, which was on an interesting and unconventional topic, ‘The Man with the Dog’ by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, which was about the love between a single middle-aged Indian lady and her Dutch tenant, ‘The Cinderella Waltz’ by Ann Beattie which is about a divorced couple, their daughter and the husband’s gay lover and the complex way they love each other and ‘The Kugelmass episode’ by Woody Allen, which is about a man who falls in love with Emma Bovary (from ‘Madame Bovary’) and how he enters the book and spends time with her every weekend and how once, he finds a way of getting her out of the book and come to the real world and the interesting consequences which result. When I first heard of this premise – characters coming out of the story into the real world, or characters missing from stories because they were busy doing something else rather than doing what the author wanted them to – I was amazed. I found it extremely novel and mind-blowing! I first discovered it, when one of my friends wrote a novel which was based on this premise and she showed me excerpts of it. Later, I discovered that Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series (which starts with ‘The Eyre Affair’) is based on this concept. ‘The Eyre Affair’ was published in 2001 and the series is all the rage now. Woody Allen wrote this story in 1970 – nearly forty years back and thirty years before Fforde wrote his – which just shows what a visionary storyteller he is. Woody – you are a genius!

 

Do you know of other writers / stories which are based on this premise?

 

Other than my favourites and the stories I liked very much, honourable mention should go to ‘Elka and Meir’, Nobel prize winner Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story of two unlikely lovers, ‘Sculpture 1’, Angela Patrinos’ story about a sculpture model and one of the sculpture students and ‘Love life’ by Bobby Ann Mason which is about a woman who comes back to a small town after being away for many years and discovers some interesting surprises there. One of the lines in the story describes this perfectly :

 

“Her old rebellion against small-town conventions gave way to curiosity.”

 

Another interesting story was ‘The Diver’ by V.S.Pritchett. The story was not bad, but the writer was someone I had encountered before in a different medium in interesting circumstances. If you have seen the movie ‘The Dead Poet’s Society’ which has Robin Williams in a starring role as an English teacher, you will remember this scene. During  his first class at a new school, Robin Williams takes a poetry anthology which is assigned to the class, reads the introduction to the anthology and then tears the pages of that introduction and throws them away. Then he asks the students to do the same. Then he tells the students that poetry shouldn’t be analyzed but it should be read and experienced with one’s heart. It is a powerful scene. If you haven’t guessed it already, that introduction was by V.S.Pritchett J

 

There were four other stories in the collection which were bearable – ‘Blackbird Pie’ by Raymond Carver, ‘The Nice Restaurant’ by Mary Gaitskill, ‘Here Come the Maples’ by John Updike, ‘How Old, How Young’ by John O’Hara. My most favourite title in the book was ‘Spring Fugue’ by Harold Brodkey. Unfortunately the story behind the title didn’t work for me.

 

Out of the thirty-eight stories in the book, I liked ten stories and I found three others interesting. That is a thirty-four-percent strike-rate. For a book that I found ‘deeply disappointing’, I think that is a pretty awesome strike-rate. It just shows that while we might think that we don’t like something, when we think about it a bit more, it might not be all that bad. Maybe the book grew on me, while I continued reading.

 

Final Thoughts

 

I am glad that I finally read ‘Nothing But You’. It was like getting to know an old friend at close quarters, discovering new facets about him / her and finding out secrets about the friend which was a world apart from my perceptions.

 

So, what is my conclusion about ‘Nothing But You’? Firstly, I would say that it is a collector’s item. Secondly, if you are a sophisticated reader and are in touch with the short story genre today and are familiar with its themes, you will like it very much. If I liked thirteen stories, you might like all of them. Thirdly, if you are a reader like me and you are not a book collector, maybe you can borrow this book from the library and read some of the stories. If you decide to do that, don’t miss ‘In the Gloaming’, ‘Roses, Rhododendron’, ‘We’ and ‘A Country Wedding’. And ‘The Man in the Moon’. And ‘Yours’ J

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