Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

I was flitting from one book to another in the last few days of June, without settling on one book. Then I picked Knausgaard’sA Man in Love‘ and the days of flitting were over.

In ‘A Man in Love‘, Knausgaard continues the story he told in the first part, ‘A Death in the Family‘. I won’t bore you with the plot outline – the book is 664 pages long, and I won’t be able to do justice to it. I will just say that most of the book is about how Knausgaard met his wife Linda, how they fell in love, and started a family, and how each of their three children bring a lot of joy and test their patience everyday. So the book is about love, family, children, being parents. The book is also about books, literature, reading, writing.

There is one thing about Knausgaard’s prose that I noticed while reading this book. The book fluctuates between two styles. The first is the regular storytelling where there are events which move the story and there is a lot of dialogue. The second is where Knausgaard takes a topic or a theme and runs with it for many pages. The first aspect of the book was good. But my favourite was the second one. That was where Knausgaard took a pause from the story and wrote most of my favourite passages. Sometimes I highlighted whole pages continuously, that it became too much. Later, I just marked the top of the page to indicate that the whole page has been highlighted. I have heard readers say that they liked this part more than the first part of the series. But I think I liked the first part more. I think that is probably because the first part had more of those contemplative passages than the second part. Or maybe I was just new to Knausgaard’s style and so the first part left a bigger impact.

As the book is about family, and as Knausgaard is famous for his unflinching close observations, the story is not always pleasant. It might sometimes feel uncomfortably too close to home. So, read at your own risk.

I’ll leave you with two of my favourite passages from the book.

“When I think of my three children, it is not only their distinctive faces which appear before me, but also the quite distinct feeling they radiate. This feeling, which is constant, is what they ‘are’ for me. And what they ‘are’ has been present in them ever since the first day I saw them. At that time they could barely do anything, and the little bit they could do, like sucking on a breast, raising their arms as reflex actions, looking at their surroundings, imitating, they could all do that, thus what they ‘are’ has nothing to do with qualities, has nothing to do with what they can or can’t do but is more a kind of light that shines within them. Their character traits, which slowly began to reveal themselves after only a few weeks, have never changed either, and so different are they inside each of them that it is difficult to imagine the conditions we provide for them, through our behaviour and ways of being, have any decisive significance.”

“What had started out as a long essay slowly but surely was growing into a novel, it soon reached a point where it was everything, and writing was all I did. I moved into the office, wrote day and night, sleeping an hour here and there. I was filled with an absolutely fantastic feeling, a kind of light burned within me, not hot and consuming but cold and clear and shining. At night I took a cup of coffee with me and sat down on the bench outside the hospital to smoke, the streets around me were quiet, and I could hardly sit still, so great was my happiness. Everything was possible, everything made sense. At two places in the novel I had soared higher than I had thought possible, and those two places alone, which I could not believe I had written, and no one else has noticed or said anything about, made the preceding five years of failed writing worth all the effort. They are two of the best moments in my life. By which I mean my whole life. The happiness that filled me and the feeling of invincibility they gave me I have searched for ever since, in vain.”

Have you read ‘A Man in Love‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Natsu Miyashita’sThe Forest of Wool and Steel‘ through one of my friends who highly recommended it. The book was about the piano and its music and I couldn’t wait to read it.

Tomura is in high school. One day one of his teachers tells him that a man will arrive in the afternoon at school, and asks Tomura to take this man to the gym. When this man arrives, Tomura takes him to the gym and leaves him there. While Tomura is leaving the gym, this man opens the piano there, presses down some of the keys and plays a few notes, and something beautiful, magical happens in Tomura’s mind. It is like someone opened his heart to a Narnia filled with music, in which when each musical note is played, Tomura sees the warm earth, whispering leaves, the forest, the trees. And Tomura comes back while this man is tuning the piano. And that is the end of life as he knows it. The boy from the mountains, Tomura, now wants to dedicate his life to the piano, he wants to become a piano tuner. What happens after that forms the rest of the story.

The Forest of Wool and Steel‘ is a beautiful love letter to pianos, piano tuning, music. I loved it. I am happy that I discovered a new favourite book, a new favourite writer. I love how Japanese writers take delightful things, sometimes even everyday things, and compose a beautiful book around them – the way Yoko Ogawa wrote a book about mathematics and baseball, Ito Ogawa wrote about the pleasures of food, Banana Yoshimoto wrote about the seashore and the beach, Hiromi Kawakami wrote about the thrift store, Haruki Murakami wrote about running, Sayaka Murata wrote about the convenience store, Shion Miura wrote about the dictionary, the way Takashi Hiraide, Hiro Arikawa and Genki Kawamura wrote about this beautiful being called the cat. Natsu Miyashita’s book is a beautiful addition to this wonderful list of Japanese books which sing a song in praise of all this beauty that surrounds us.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“And here was another thing : ‘beautiful’, like ‘right’, was a totally new word for me. Until I’d found the piano I’d never been aware of things that you might call beautiful, which is a little different, of course, from not knowing they exist…The delicate frown lines between the brows of a crying baby. The bare mountain trees beginning to bud, and the ecstasy of the moment when the tips of the branches reflect a reddish hue, casting a warm glow across the mountain. The mountain on fire with these imaginary flames would stop my breath and fill my heart to bursting.
It liberated me to have a word for these things – for the trees, the mountains, the seasons. To call them beautiful meant I could take them out any time I wished, exchange them with friends. Beauty was everywhere in the world. I had just never known what to call it or how to recognize it – until that afternoon in the school gym, when it flooded me with joy. If a piano can bring to light the beauty that has become invisible to us, and give it audible form, then it is a miraculous instrument and I thrill to be its lowly servant.”

Have you read ‘The Forest of Wool and Steel‘? What do you think about it?

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I am not sure how I first discovered Rafia Zakaria, but I clearly remember the first time I read something by her. It was an article by her in ‘The New Republic’ called ‘Sex and the Muslim Feminist‘. It was a fascinating article and I loved it. I have wanted to read more by her since. I finally got around to reading her first book ‘The Upstairs Wife : An Intimate History of Pakistan‘.

The Upstairs Wife‘ starts with the story of Rafia Zakaria’s aunt, Aunt Amina. When Rafia was a child, one day Aunt Amina visits their home and stays there overnight and for the next few days. It is something unthinkable during that time, because married woman don’t stay overnight in their parents’ homes in Pakistan. Over the next few days, the story slowly emerges – that Aunt Amina’s husband Uncle Sohail had decided marry again and get a second wife (which was allowed according to the law, but almost never happened) and he had come to ask her permission, but she had refused, and inspite of that, he had decided to go ahead. Aunt Amina had got upset and had gone to her parents’ home. After the elders from both sides meet and discuss the situation, at some point Aunt Amina goes back to her husband’s home, to share her house and her husband with a second wife. At this point Rafia Zakaria goes back in time and tells us the story of her grandmother when she was living in India in Bombay, before the partition. Then she narrates a third story about Pakistan as a newly independent country. Zakaria weaves these three story strands together – her aunt’s story, her grandmother’s story and Pakistan’s story – and we get this beautiful book called ‘The Upstairs Wife‘.

The Upstairs Wife‘ weaves personal story and historical narrative together into a fascinating book. I loved reading the personal stories and experiences of Zakaria’s family members and the stories about Pakistan as a new country. I think the love story of her grandparents Said and Surrayya deserves a separate book. I knew about some of the events of Pakistan’s history, but it was insightful to read it in detail in the book and understand the way it impacted Zakaria’s family. Zakaria’s packs in so many historical details into this 250-page book, that it is hard to believe how she managed to do that. The story that Zakaria tells is sometimes beautiful, sometimes moving, sometimes heartbreaking. There is one place where she describes how her grandfather goes to the government office to get something called the domicile certificate for his grandson. This certificate proves that one belongs to a particular place. To prove that one belongs to a particular place, it seems one has to prove that one’s father belongs to that place too. And to prove that one’s father belongs to that place, it seems that one has to prove that one’s grandfather belongs to that place too. It was so absurd and almost Kafkaesque, that I laughed when I read that. And then it made me sad and angry. But this is not the situation just in Pakistan. Immigrants from time immemorial, in every country, have faced this question on where they are from and have been asked in increasingly absurd ways to prove that they belonged to a particular place. It is sad and heartbreaking. Zakaria’s grandfather doesn’t give up though and is unfazed by these bureaucratic mountainous obstacles. He pushes ahead with dogged determination, and we cheer for him, and he wins in the end, and we want to hug him and give him high-fives. I hated Uncle Sohail at the beginning of the book, but towards the end I felt that he was not as bad as it looked, and things were more complex than I imagined. I think that was one of the great things about Zakaria’s writing – it was unsentimental, non-judgemental, and she followed the golden rule, ‘Show, don’t tell.’

I enjoyed reading ‘The Upstairs Wife‘. It is a fascinating look into Pakistani history of the last 70 years seen through the eyes of a few individuals. I am glad I read it.

Have you read ‘The Upstairs Wife‘? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read Roxane Gay’s ‘Bad Feminist’ since the time it came out. I finally got around to reading it.

Roxane Gay’s book is a collection of essays, many of which she had written for literary magazines and literary websites, and some essays that she wrote for this book. I thought that the essays were mostly on feminism and gender and though there definitely were many essays on those topics, the range of the essays were wide and they covered race, and other topics of contemporary interest. The essays are collected under different sections – Gender & Sexuality, Race & Entertainment, Politics Gender & Race. There is a section at the beginning which is autobiographical in which Roxane Gay tells us more about herself and her family, her initial days as a professor, her love for Scrabble. The Scrabble essay was one of my favourite essays in the book. The section titled Gender & Sexuality was probably the core of the book and that is where Gay explores most of the burning topics of contemporary interest. I liked many of the essays here. One of my favourites was one about three coming out stories. The section, Race & Entertainment, has essays on film. Gay mostly picks up a film and tears it apart 🙂

At the beginning of the book, there is an introduction in which Gay says feminists are placed on pedestals and they are knocked off and she is a bad feminist because she is imperfect and we can already consider her knocked off the pedestal. At the end of the book, Gay continues this theme and says why – though she loves the colour pink, she loves listening to thuggish rap with misogynistic lyrics, though she wants to be independent but also wants to be taken care of, though she considers some domestic tasks are gendered and should be done by men, though she is human and imperfect and is filled with contradictions – she loves feminism and considers herself a feminist, though a bad feminist. I loved what Gay said.

There are many things that Gay said that I agreed with. There were also things that she said that I disagreed with. One of my biggest disagreements happened with her essay on the movie, ’12 Years a Slave’. Gay found many reasons to criticize the movie, and it was hard for me to agree with her (I haven’t seen the movie yet). The movie was based on an actual memoir written by a black slave, the movie was faithful to the book, it was directed by a wonderful director and talented actors and actresses played leading roles with acclaim. The movie won awards. I think these are all good things. Sometimes a movie is just well made and good and there is nothing wrong in acknowledging that.

I enjoyed reading ‘Bad Feminist’. It was interesting to read Roxane Gay’s take on feminism, race and other contemporary topics. I want to read her memoir ‘Hunger’ sometime.

Have you read ‘Bad Feminist’? What do you think about it?

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I have wanted to read E.R.Braithwaite’s classic memoir ‘To Sir With Love‘ for a long time. I finally got around to reading it now.

Rick Braithwaite has just come out of the Second World War. During the war he was in the RAF (Royal Air Force). During his time in the RAF, he enjoyed the camaraderie of his fellow airforce colleagues. People treated him well, everyone was equal, there was no racism. When the war ends, Rick hopes to get a job in the field in which he is trained and educated – electronics engineering. Rick has got a masters degree from Cambridge university. When he applies for jobs, he is immediately invited for an interview, because of his impressive education and experience. But when the interview panel members see him in person and discover that he is black, they refuse to hire him. One interview panel member is frank – he says that he can’t ask white employees to report to Rick, but he also cannot hire Rick for a low-level position, because Rick is overqualified for that. Rick is frustrated and remains unemployed for eighteen months. When Rick says –

“It is possible to measure with considerable accuracy the rise and fall of the tides, or the behaviour in space of objects invisible to the naked eye. But who can measure the depths of disillusionment?”

– we feel like a knife has been plunged into our hearts, and it hurts us deeply as much as it does Rick. A kind stranger gives Rick good advice and asks him to apply for a teacher position. Rick does, and is immediately hired and asked to join an East End school. His fellow teachers are all white and mostly women and they all welcome him. His students are an unruly bunch though and they test and challenge him everyday. Whether Rick is able to gain their respect, and whether the students accept him is told in the rest of the book.

To Sir With Love‘ is a beautiful, inspiring memoir. The racism in post War London and the many subtle variations in which it manifests itself is so insightfully portrayed in the book. In one place Rick compares the way black people are treated in America and in Britain and it is fascinating to read. It will be interesting to find out whether what he says holds true even today. The way Rick tries to tame his students and the way they resist his attempts are also very fascinating to read. Rick even manages to fall in love with his fellow teacher who is white, and she invites him to meet her parents, and what follows is a scene straightaway from ‘Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner‘, with the father telling Rick how difficult it will be for Rick and his daughter if they get married – we can almost hear Spencer Tracy speaking there. The book has a wonderful introduction by Caryl Phillips. I did some research and discovered that Caryl Phillips is himself a Caribbean novelist and has a huge backlist of award winning novels. It is so exciting! I can’t wait to read some of them.

I loved ‘To Sir With Love‘. I can’t wait to read more books by our favourite Rick. Have you read this book? What do you think about it?

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It is not often that one of your favourite writers publishes two books in the same year. But that is exactly what happened, when Gae Polisner’s second book came out a few days back. It felt that Christmas came a second time, and we need all the Christmases we can get during these extraordinary, challenging times. This time it is a book which is jointly written by Nora Raleigh Baskin. This is the first book by Nora Raleigh Baskin that I am reading, and I was very excited.

The story told in ‘Seven Clues to Home‘ goes like this. It is Joy’s thirteenth birthday. Her younger sister and brother knock her door and enter and jump on her and kickoff the celebrations. Joy is happy for a brief while. But then she remembers the same time last year when her best friend Lukas was still around. Something happened to him at that time (I won’t tell you what) and it has been a tough year for Joy. Lukas and Joy play a scavenger hunt every year on her birthday, during which Lukas leaves clues for Joy to discover and one clue leads to another and at the end there is something beautiful waiting for Joy. Lukas left the first clue for Joy the previous year and Joy had still not opened it. She decides to open it now and goes where it takes her and what follows is many beautiful discoveries for Joy and for us.

The story is told through the voices of Joy during the present time and Lukas during the past. The prose moves the story beautifully. In books jointly written by two writers, I don’t know how the two writers divide their work and whether they like their individual styles getting reflected separately on the page or whether they develop a composite style which merges their individual styles. In this book, the writing flows so smoothly, and the transition between Joy’s and Lukas’ voices happens so seamlessly, that it is hard to tell that two writers have written the book. It is so beautiful.

And the ending – I am dying to talk about it, at the very least I want to say whether it is happy or sad or bittersweet, but I can’t do that. It is for you to read and find out.

I loved ‘Seven Clues to Home‘. It is one of my favourite reads of the year. I have read all of Gae Polisner’s books till now – there are six of them including this one – and I loved them all. This is my first Nora Raleigh Baskin book. I am happy to discover a new favourite writer. I am excited to find out that she has written thirteen other books. It is always wonderful to discover that a new favourite writer has a big backlist. I can’t wait to read them. I also heard that Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin are collaborating on two new books. I am excited and I can’t wait to read them.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Lukas once told me that there is an infinite number of moments in every second, that every second you can halve, and then halve again and again and again. There is still time left. It might be too small for our brains to comprehend, but it exists simply because of the math of it. And it is in one of those fractions of a moment of a second that I let myself get my hopes up.”

Have you read ‘Seven Clues to Home‘? What do you think about it?

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I discovered Helen Lewis‘ ‘Difficult Women : A History of Feminism in 11 Fights‘ when I was browsing in the bookshop last week. There was only one copy in the bookshop and the book looked very fascinating and I couldn’t resist getting it.

In ‘Difficult Women : A History of Feminism in 11 Fights‘, Helen Lewis tries to gives us an unconventional history of feminism. She looks at feminism in the past 150 years through 11 different themes, or fights as she calls them. Many of the themes are familiar to us, like the right to education, the right to vote, the right to equal pay etc. But the fascinating thing about the book is this. Though Helen Lewis mentions some of the feminist pioneers, she mentions them mostly in passing. What she does is, she goes and searches for and discovers the feminists who were well known or who played important roles during their time, but who are forgotten today, either because they have complex, inconvenient histories, or they fell out with other prominent feminists and so have been written out of history, or they were not considered feminists during their time, or they have just been plain ignored. These are the difficult women that Helen Lewis writes about.

What follows is an wonderful list of amazing women and their inspiring achievements – like the footballer Lily Parr who was so famous for her football skills that she and her team used to draw crowds of 50,000 during the 1910s, Jayaben Desai who led one of the biggest worker strikes in the ’70s demanding better pay and benefits, Erin Prizzey who has been written out of feminist history today but who during her time ran the first refuges in Britain for victims of domestic violence, Maureen Colquhoun the first ever lesbian MP from Britain whom everyone seems to have forgotten now, Sophia Jex-Blake who alongwith six other women fought for the right of women to pursue a medical education and inspite of the universities trying every trick to deny them that education, how she and her friends finally won and became the first female doctors in Britain – the book tells the stories of these and other amazing women. When I read what Colette Devlin – who as a 67-year old, fought for abortion rights alongside two other friends, in Northern Ireland – said :

“I believe that I have a legal duty to uphold good law, but I have a moral duty to disobey bad law.”

I got goosebumps.

Difficult Women‘ is a beautiful, wonderful, inspiring book, which is guaranteed to make you angry and happy, and give you goosebumps. I am glad I read it.

Have you read ‘Difficult Women‘? What do you think about it?

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‘Tennyson’s Gift’ is the second novel featured in ‘The Lynne Truss Treasury‘. The story takes place in 1864 in a place called Freshwater Bay in the Isle of Wight. The poet Tennyson lives there with his family. The famous pioneering photographer Julia Cameron also lives there. Julia’s dream is to take a portrait of Tennyson’s, but Tennyson keeps avoiding it. One day Charles Dodgson, more famously known as Lewis Carroll, drops by. Then the painter G.F.Watts and his wife Ellen arrive on a visit. Then more people drop by and more and more interesting things happen. We are provided a glimpse of Tennyson’s poetry and some of the crazy things happening in the island start resembling the events described in ‘Alice in Wonderland‘. Soon the events start spiralling out of control and the book, in typical Lynne Truss fashion, ends up as a screwball comedy.

I found ‘Tennyson’s Gift‘ quite interesting. Lynne Truss says in the preface that the characters in the book are all real people, even the two maids of Julia Cameron. The story though, is imaginary. I love the way the book is interspersed with passages from Tennyson’s poems. I have read ‘In Memoriam‘ and ‘Ulysses‘ and probably ‘Maud‘ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade‘. It made me want to read more of Tennyson. Julia Cameron was a likeable character and I loved her. Ellen was also a wonderful character. Lewis Carroll was not at all the way I expected him to be. He looked very creepy. Tennyson was interesting and complex. I learnt interesting things about what these real-life artists did during that time. But as a comic novel, I liked Lynne Truss’ first book more. There was, however, one very fascinating thing in this book. In the middle of the book, there is an interesting conversation between Ellen and Tennyson, about being an introvert, guarding one’s privacy, and the less desirable aspects of fame. It was beautiful and fascinating to read. I loved that conversation. I am giving it below.

Conversation between Ellen and Tennyson

Ellen : “Why don’t you pose for Mrs Cameron? It would make her so happy.”

Alfred Tennyson : “Happy? But, my dear, Mrs Cameron’s happiness in this matter is neither here nor there.”

Ellen : “It isn’t?”

Tennyson : “Consider what she does when she has a person’s photograph. She exhibits it, she gives copies to anybody who calls. She gives away albums.”

Ellen : “She has a generous nature.”

Tennyson : “And I have a desire for seclusion. Why do you think I live on the Isle of Wight?”

Ellen : “Because the Queen likes it? And she once said she might visit you? And then you might get a Knighthood?”

Tennyson : “Yes, but aside from that. I simply will not accept that, just because I am a poet, people should know what I look like –”

Ellen : “Well, everyone knows what I look like.”

Tennyson : “Take this point, my dear. On a walking holiday last year, my companion shouted “Tennyson!” in the hotel, and the price of our simple lodging was doubled at once. Already visitors come to our house, pushing their noses at the windows, frightening Emily, disturbing the boys. People send me their poetry to read. They want to intrude on my private life in a most unseemly manner. I fear for this development, my dear, especially if the railway comes to Freshwater. Even in death I will not be safe. For there is a fashion for writing lives of poets, publishing their diaries and letters.”

Ellen : “Yes, but that’s to show how important they are. Poets are dreadfully important.”

Tennyson : “But such scoundrels might tell the world that a man was mad, or dirty, or worse! And he has no defence!”

Ellen : “But don’t you agree that fame has its price, Mr Tennyson?”

Tennyson : “It has a price. But I firmly believe that no one can make you pay it.”

Have you read ‘Tennyson’s Gift‘? What do you think about it?

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When I was wondering yesterday which book to read next, ‘The Lynne Truss Treasury‘ leapt at me. Lynne Truss is, of course, known for her book on punctuation, ‘Eats, Shoots & Leaves‘, which brought her international fame. But before she became an international bestselling author, Lynne Truss wrote comic novels. This book collects three of those novels and one collection of her columns, which all came out in the ’90s. I read the first book in the collection today, ‘With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed‘.

With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed‘ (that title definitely needs improvement! Who suggested this? What were the editors doing here?) is concerned mostly with people who are working in a magazine called ‘Come Into the Garden’. Osborne writes a weekly column for the magazine after interviewing a celebrity, Lillian is the secretary in the office who refuses to pick up the phone and whom everyone is scared of, Michelle is the Chief Sub Editor who works hard and stays late, Tim is a young Deputy Editor. Osborne is going to interview a famous actress called Angela Farmer during the coming week. But, meanwhile, the magazine has been sold off to a new owner, and the new owner decides to shut it down. But when the story starts, the characters in the story don’t know this. I can continue the story, of course, but I won’t. I will just say this. More characters make their appearances, strange things happen, the plot becomes more and more complex and spirals out of control, and how it all comes together in the end, is described in the rest of the book.

I enjoyed reading ‘With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed’. Lynne Truss’ prose was beautiful, engaging and filled with humour, the story was comic and hilarious and I couldn’t stop laughing at many places, and towards the end, the story became a screwball comedy. I think it will make a great play or a movie. I loved nearly all the characters in the story (except one who was malicious and another who was annoying) – they were all charming. Towards the end, there is even a chapter where the story transforms into a murder mystery and all the main characters who are potential suspects are sitting in a room and discussing which one of them could be the murderer. It is hilarious!

There is a beautiful, charming preface at the beginning of the book, in which Lynne Truss says this :

“As I write this, I can’t quite visualise the book you are holding. All I can imagine is that it must be quite substantial, and I can’t help remembering a review I once published in ‘The Listener’, which said that the book in question (a one-volume ‘Cambridge Companion to English Literature’) was so thick that you could stand on it ‘to kiss someone tall’. Please do employ this giant tome in any similar useful way you can think of. On busy, fuggy subways, for example, you could stand on it to reach the better air. On icy days, load this book in the trunk of your car to prevent unwanted slewing! If you find yourself on a yacht drifting towards dangerous rocks, attach ‘The Lynne Truss Treasury’ to a sturdy anchor chain and heave it over the side. I won’t mind a bit. I have never written anything remotely weighty before. It makes me feel so proud.”

I fell in love with Lynne Truss after I read that. I can’t wait to read the next story in the book.

Have you read this or other comic novels by Lynne Truss? What do you think about them?

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I have had Phil Ball’sThe Hapless Teacher’s Handbook‘ with me for a long time. It looked like a comic memoir, and I thought that it was written by someone who was new to the teaching profession and it looked like he had taken all his new experiences and spun it off into a fun memoir. I thought I’ll read it when I was in the mood for something comic, and so it rested in my bookshelf for years and gathered dust. A few days back, I decided to take it down and read it.

First things first. My perception of the author was totally wrong. It was Phil Ball 100 – Me 0. When I read the book, I realized that Phil Ball was no green horn, he was no spring chicken. He has been a teacher for decades and after starting his teaching career in England, he has taught in many different countries. He has written books on teaching. He was an experienced hand, he was a veteran. So the comic nature of the book, the humour, springs from the weight of experience, and it is not a newbie’s attempt to sound cool. I was surprised and happy when I discovered that.

In the book, Phil Ball describes the first four years of his teaching career, starting from the time he applied for a certificate in teaching course after finishing university. He gives more weight to the initial years in the book – they occupy more pages. The time when he joins a school for ‘Teaching Practice’, which is part of his course, and when he tries teaching for the first time, is covered in considerable detail. It was one of my favourite parts of the book. He also talks in detail about the initial months and year when he first took a job as a teacher in a school. In these two parts of the book, we are able to see the teaching profession through a new young teacher’s eyes and it is fascinating, because we discover that however much one prepares for it, reality is always more complex and different. Through the book, Phil Ball also tells us about teachers who inspired him, teachers who were eccentric, students who were interesting and students who were eccentric outsiders. The music teacher in his school is one such character – his piano playing is divine and he should have been a concert pianist, but as he is introverted and shy, his fellow teachers make fun of him, and his students bully him. There is a student who thinks that he is the reincarnation of the poet Andrew Marvell, and he rarely listens to the lessons in the class, because he is composing poetry. There is an elementary school teacher with whom he worked with, who brings a lot of joy to the class, and his own high school teacher who takes the class textbook and throws it into the dustbin (makes us remember Robin Williams’ character in ‘Dead Poets Society’) and then proceeds to do something very inspiring. It was wonderful to read about all these amazing people.

From its first lines –

“There are proactive people and there are reactive people, and that’s basically it. It took me a long time to realise that I belonged to the latter group”

– ‘The Hapless Teacher’s Handbook‘ is captivating and it refuses to let go till the end. Phil Ball’s understated British humour is wonderful and in many places we can’t stop laughing. I loved this memoir – it was comic, insightful, fascinating filled with wonderful real-life characters. It is one of my favourite books of the year. It is a shame that it is not more well known. It deserves more readers.

Have you read ‘The Hapless Teacher’s Handbook‘? What do you think about it?

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