Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: War of The Foxes by Richard Siken

“Bird 1: This is the wrong story.
Bird 2: All stories are the wrong story when you are impatient.”

Richard Siken War of The FoxesI laid hands on my copy of War of The Foxes through a campaign heralded by a not-for-profit printing company – Copper Canyon Press. What this meant is, I had to wait a long, long time after the book released elsewhere and for a third of the price I had donated to Copper Canyon only because I was going to get a signed copy by Richard Siken. This is all still mostly a dream for me but I stub my toes and stumble often to realize just how lucky and fortunate I truly am.

Richard SikenAnyone who has followed this blog long enough knows Siken’s words mean the world to me. They fall just below the title of my page. Always. The nature, appearance, title of this blog have witnessed drastic and rather dramatic changes but the tagline has not. Richard Siken’s poetry came to me the way Joan Didion’s prose did. Siken came first but I can only put it in reverse chronology for some reason.

In retrospect, I believe I took from Siken’s words a meaning and understanding different from what he intended to express. I found in War of The Foxes, wilderness and love, violent and enormous desires too difficult to contain, devotion, self-perception and imagery beyond what I could have imagined without his words.

“In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness.”

It’s hard for me to review War of The Foxes without talking about Crush – the book of poetry that preceded it. Crush, that did exactly what the title suggested until I had to deliberately put it out of sight instead of making a big mess of myself that I couldn’t clean up. Crush, that sang to me and spoke of grief the way Didion did in The Year of Magical Thinking. Two people so different, trying to deal with death through their words.

Coming to the book, a short collection of about 47 poems that slowly and steadily creep up on you and ravage the core of your soul. I find that whatever words I may use to describe the effect Richard Siken’s words have on me I will always fall short and appear very shabby. In War of The Foxes, Siken inspects further what it is to be alive. He asks questions that we are all afraid to think about. Siken turns over all things and blurs the lines between reality, paintings, landscapes in paintings. He takes the three things I love most – words, paintings and mathematics and draws truths and fabrications and confrontations between various ‘myselves’. What I love about this book, as I did about Crush, is that Siken weaves his own language, in a way. It’s a rearrangement of words in a rhythmic pattern hard to miss. Siken makes you read his sentences the way he would read them.

“Someone has to leave first. This is a very old story. There is no other version of this story.”

So, this book made me cry on subways and local buses and in bed. So, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about some poems but some others tore me up, chewed me and spat me out. What I mean is, they made a mess of me that I willingly stepped into and unbeknownst to me came out wobbling and shaky, afraid that I was no longer me. I came out a different me. A person who is thinking beyond the lines that separate myself, myselves, my body, my skin, my flesh from the rest of the landscape that I exist in. I find that Siken’s questions sometimes as simple as “to supply the world with what?”, “why paint a bird?” and on separate occasions increasingly complex and intimidating, “how much can you change and get away with it, before you turn into someone else, before it’s some kind of murder?” are questions you can spend years and years trying to find the answers for, and before long, lose sight of the question entirely. Years of stumbling and walking around in rooms with dark shelving with thousands of books on them and still not know what you’re searching for.

“Your body told me in a dream it’s never been afraid of anything.”

What I love and love so dearly in this book are the continuations of thought processes from Crush. The slight nods to his faithful readers that took his words and made them so popular and mainstream that it would only be completely foolish to not put them in again. I remember gasping out loud when I found one of my favourite lines from Crush suddenly being thrown smack in the middle of the book. Everyone needs a place.

Although in War of the Foxes, Siken does not add the sentence that succeeds it in CrushEveryone needs a placeIt shouldn’t be inside of someone else.

I spent many days trying to understand why that sentence had been removed. I think ‘removed’ as in withheld not erased, not deleted, not (God forbid hope not) forgotten. I returned to War of The Foxes and reread it a couple of times, only to find that every time the book had a grip on me that went from a clutch on my gut, to a squeeze on my heart, a tingling in my tear glands and before long a stranglehold around my neck. I put the book down.

A few days back, I broke down in hysterics and threw a fit that I only wish I could have had in solitude. I showed my ugly and my damaged and I believe, in that moment, Siken’s words finally came through for me.

Everyone needs a place.

There is no need for a follow up to that sentence. In the poem, War of The Foxes, the rabbit Pip tells the other rabbit Flip that they are doomed because a fox is chasing them. Flip tells him they’re not and that Pip should hide inside him. Pip hides inside him. While the fox can still see Pip, he’s not there and we all know that. You can see him, but he’s not there. And what about Flip? He’s not there, either.

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Summer 2014 Reading List

“If you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life. You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in beautiful fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories — science fiction or otherwise. Which finally means, may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”

-Ray Bradbury

All of my existence can be summed up in those sentences. Summer’14 has been really good so far and quite exciting for all my reading indulgences. My recent book haul has left me extremely overwhelmed and also confused about what I should read next because each book seems to be competing and tempting me in equal measures. Here is a list of the books I shall be burying my nose in for the next few months. I’ll go in the order of the ones I’ve already read and then proceed to the ones waiting patiently for their turn to be devoured.

1. Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

This is a book I read over a long period of time even though it isn’t a long read. Maggie Nelson’s words sing to me. They’re heavy and wrought with emotion. She is someone who leaks her heart onto paper in a way many female writers these days are afraid to. The book is a collection of 240 entries about love, loss, physical pain and the solace found in the colour blue. It honestly affected me in many ways because I, too, have fallen in love with a colour and often lead my life in a haze depending on the shades of what I saw to make me happy or unhappy. Bluets is a book that blurs the lines between poetry, essay and self-biography. I would highly recommend it to persons who enjoy references to famous authors, thinkers and philosophers and associate with colours just as they would with words.

2. Under The Skin by Michel Faber

Under The Skin by Michel FaberI found out about this book from the movie by the same name made by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson. I made sure I read the book before I watched the film (which won’t release in my part of the world, unfortunately). There is really not much I can tell you about this book without revealing major plot hints and spoilers. But if you’ve already been sucked in by the hype of the movie, just like I was, you’ll know that it is based on extra-terrestrial beings and what it is like to be human underneath it all. I’m not sure how true the cinematic experience will stay to the book but if it is as terrific and uncomfortable as the written word, we will have to keep an eye out for my movie review. Under The Skin is an ambiguous tale of an alien named Isserley who has been put to work to lure well-built hitchhikers from a Scottish land. For a long while, it is unsure what the end goal actually is, what had been done to Isserley to make her appear human and why she would choose to lead a life like this. Mostly, the reader is left to believe what they want. But when the real nature of her job is revealed it puts several things in perspective. Isserley’s character although so alien and queer it’s still very human and ultimately the message is sent across in a very stark way that under the skin, we are all the same.

Here is a trailer if you’re interested in watching a surreal and beautifully disturbing movie about what it’s like to be human being.

3. A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelley

A Gathering Light by Jennifer DonnellyIt has been many, many years since I have felt this strongly about a book and could bring myself to admit that there was writing out there that could actually challenge my favourite book. I favourite things which I relate with the most. I think being able to associate and connect your life with the words written by an author you’ll never personally know and being bound by the secret knowledge that they can put into words exactly what you feel is a luxury every person in the world is entitled to. This is precisely why I loved A Gathering Light right away. That it was a splendid and exciting read and had the most satisfying conclusion only added to and extended the delight of reading it.

“Nobody I knew had both.”
These words will stay with me forever.

A Gathering Light is a compelling and very beautiful read about a young girl named Mattie and how she deals with her familial responsibilities, her dream of being a writer and the flurries in her stomach from the brewing of a first romance. Connected with a real murder at the turn of the century, Mattie comes across letters written by the deceased woman and finds out more about herself and what she wants than she could’ve ever realized on her own.

4. Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno by Dan BrownOne of the main reasons I read Dan Brown books is to know more about cultures, practices and various historical and art references that you barely find in great detail in any fiction novels nowadays. There is always a lot of controversy surrounding his views and opinions stated implicitly or otherwise in his books but I have always affirmed that he is a brilliant author. To be able to set a pace to a story quite the way he does is rare and exhilarating. Inferno is based on a very interesting topic, Dante’s Divine Comedy. The lucid explanation interspersed with beautiful descriptions of various monuments and landscapes of the most picturesque places in the world, Inferno is one of the most gripping books written by Dan Brown, in very close competition to The Da Vinci Code. The plot twist and dramatic climax is done to perfection and is actually so terrifying that think what I might, there’s no escaping the hell on earth itself that Dan Brown has predicted in Inferno.


And here is a list of books I’ll be reading soon. If you’ve read them, it’d be great to know which ones should have my immediate attention and also any further reading recommendations are most welcome. Drop a comment and let me know.

  1. Aftermath – Peter Robinson

Aftermath by Peter Robinson

  1. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls by David Sedaris

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

  1. Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

So if you’re looking for me this Summer, you know where to find me. Happy Reading, folks.

The Lover’s Dictionary – David Levithan

ineffable, adj.

These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.

One of the quickest reads I’ve ever come across. David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary is a very poignant, unusual and refreshing love story told in a sort of epistolary format with the usage of dictionary words. Like I’ve already mentioned in my previous book review I enjoy books that don’t stick to normal timelines and always go back and forth. This book is a collection of memories of a lover and how every dictionary word has a unique meaning for him. It’s a reflection of a relationship gone awry due to infidelity, among other things. You realize that pretty early on in the book. However, the other memories that the narrator has are so touching it conjures up a very heart wrenching love story of two people who were way too right for each other but ultimately couldn’t last.

Having met on an online dating website, and being smitten right from the first date, the couple had my thumb of approval.

aberrant, adj.

“I don’t normally do this kind of thing,” you said.

“Neither do I,” I assured you.

Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: “I don’t normally feel this good about what I’m doing.”

Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling.

Everything else will be measured against it.

The book rummages back and forth in the memories of the first date, family funerals, possible break ups, mundane arguments, momentary joy and everyday realities. This has got to be one of the most raw and breathtaking young adult fiction books I’ve ever read. You tend to wonder how so much can be said in a sentence or two. I’m someone who loves long and detailed sentences, this was a sharp realization that brevity really is the soul of wit. Being concise doesn’t necessarily imply that you are holding back.

suffuse, v.

I don’t like it when you use my shampoo, because then your hair smells like me, not you.

Here are a few entries that stayed in my mind long after:

catharsis, n.

I took it out on the wall.

I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU. YOU FUCKER, I LOVE YOU.

autonomy, n.

“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.

dispel, v.

It was the way you said, “I have something to tell you.” I could feel the magic drain from the room.

defunct, adj.

You brought home a typewriter for me.

Levithan has very intricately put across a story with 185 well-defined words. The sheer emotion and lack of it in certain entries has never been done this beautifully before and sums up everything about the young couple’s relationship. I would recommend this book to you if you’re a selective sap like me and/or are in love.

Necrophilia Variations – Supervert

I will admit I was a little hesitant to write this. But I honestly don’t know if that’s justified because I’m only trying to share a rather luscious and beautifully disturbing book with you. Read this if you may and don’t forget to judge me all you want.

necrophilia-variations.01

“Go ahead, darling. Slip me on. Laugh. Live. Love—while you can. Eat, drink, and be merry. What do you think I do? I’m death, and I laugh and make merry too. I dance with skeletons and make goblets out of skulls—to drink from the cranium, you should know, is very fine. When your brains are gone, what nobler substitute could there be than wine?”

Sometimes I wonder if Goodreads has a way of reading my mind, if it does than this is exactly what I needed to read on iBooks to get a hang of reading books in the electronic form. Now that I’ve devoured the book, I think my greatest desire is to purchase this small and crisp, elegant in all black covers book called Necrophilia Variations by Supervert. Supervert, being a nom-de-plume.

It’s only fair to admit this right at the start that I am not into necrophilia. I’m blunt and I won’t beat around the bush or probably try to convince you that dead bodies freak me out. I am afraid of dying, (uh oh, so is every necrophile, right?) but in no form am I one to want to please myself with the dead. However, I will not deny my intense interest in the things people indulge in and the reasons behind it. I only picked up Fifty Shades of Grey because I knew it had masochism and other forms of sexual asphyxiation. I stopped reading it 70 pages through because that’s all there was in the book and I couldn’t stand it any more. It felt as though there was something more than the descriptions-the gory, obscene descriptions that I needed to know but no one was writing about them.

Stumbling onto Necrophilia Variations was the best thing that could happen to my urge to know what goes on in a person’s mind when they steer away from the conventional. I also think people who are too quick to judge something by its title, are ubiquitous. There’s no escaping the scrunching of the eyebrows and the twitching of the nose when you mention that you’ve been reading such a book. I’m lucky I know a friend who doesn’t fit in that category and enjoyed the book exactly how I did. We even ended up having the same favourite stories, which goes to show, I’m dark and twisted but I’m not alone.

The book starts with a sublime, slightly disturbing story but don’t be quick to get ticked off by it. If you came to it expecting a gory cadaver fest let’s have erotic sex with fresh dead bodies dug out of the cemetery and things that could help satisfy your dark urges, then you’ve come to the wrong place. Necrophilia Variations is not about death. It is everything in and around it. It delves into the why’s and not so much the how’s. It has black humour, sarcasm, loneliness, despair, tragedy, isolation, everything. Of course, if you simply cannot stand all the ugly talk that is somewhat necessary to the plot of every short story in this book, I’m actually sorry for you and you should know you’re missing out…a lot.

“I am death and when I love you, it’s forever. And why shouldn’t you love me back? I know that sometimes you fantasize about me, lay in bed at night wondering how and when I will come and what I will look like when I do. Am I a knight in shining armor? A fiery dog of hell? Do I look like a vampire? A skeleton, a ghost?”

Every story is gripping and the first person narratives does wonders to the story. You can feel yourself in the mind of the person, struggling, trying, failing. You realize that maybe sometimes people have wars in their mind and that what you see on the outside is all but a mere façade. Maybe we need to fit in so hard that we don’t want to show this grotesque side of our imagination. I remember shivering when I read “Death and The Dilettante” , and that’s the story that had me hooked. Would you find a story of a proud and beautiful woman wanting to make love to her boyfriend in a coffin fascinating? Wouldn’t that repulse you? It would and it should. But not in Necrophilia Variations. There is so much going on in that short story, you’d wish it’d never end. Sometimes even morbidity when done right can make something hideous feel enticing. But like my Person rightly said, “Reality eventually kicks in.”

Other stories that will definitely stand out are “Diary of A Sick Fuck”, “Postmorterm”, “Fragment of A Love Letter” and my personal favourite “Confessions of A Skull Mask”. It actually sent cold sweat down my neck and you wouldn’t know what I mean by that until you read it. Maybe you should check out this reading, it has an excerpt of it and some other things which shocked me and had me take down the share from my Facebook.

Supervert has enthralled me so much that I’m already reading Perversity Think Tank. If you made it to the end of this post, you probably like what you found out about the book and are curious. Feed that curiosity. Go download the free PDF because well, it’s free. Embrace this book, but I also genuinely understand if you won’t. Half the pleasure of necrophilia is not having to cuddle afterward.

And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

image(5)Being a huge fan of the bestselling author Khaled Hosseini, I will be careful not to be biased in the review of his latest book “And The Mountains Echoed”. After a six year long wait, Hosseini brings to us another tale, or should I say a number of intricately woven tales. Haunting stories of love, of longing, of jealousy and deep regret, tragedies that surpassed from brother to sister, to cousins to caretakers, the complex nature of family and the number of trials one undergoes trying to face up to your own kin.

image(6)

The very first page of the book had my favourite Rumi quote and I cannot tell you how happy that made me. I knew that the journey the book was going to take me on was going to be of wrongdoings and rightdoings. I knew better than to expect misfortunes and excruciating grief. What I didn’t expect was the sudden moments of joy, the little moments that made me laugh, even when my heart felt crushed for the characters Hosseini had brewed in fine detail.

The story starts with a father narrating an Afghan fable to his children, Abdullah and Pari. Later in the story you understand the significance of that tale. You understand why it is that their father chose that night to narrate that specific tale. You realize that it is true, sometimes a finger must be cut to save a hand. Sometimes, and most of the times, the decisions we make aren’t ones that we want to. Also, there are questions which cannot be answered in yes or no.

“I now know that some people feel unhappiness the way others love: privately, intensely, and without recourse.”

Starting that night, a journey begins that will take you from Afghanistan to Kabul to Paris, across continents and oceans. You will find yourself grieving after a chapter only to be subjected to a totally new kind of sadness in the next. There’s hideous grief and suffering, there is also treachery but underlying it all there is love. There’s hope and even after everything else dies, that’s what lives on.

“The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck.”

Hosseini is a very gifted storytelller. There is something very fascinating about each and every story he was woven in this novel. His characters are distinct and each flawed in ways they know but do not accept. They make decisions and these decisions have long-lasting repercussions. Repercussions that transcend from generations to generations. Almost like a hand-me-down.

“Kabul is… a thousand tragedies per square mile.”

Underneath it all, there is the imagery of Afghanistan. The true picture and imagery that Hosseini never fails to create. I would also say that if you’re pinning your hopes too high based on his previous two books “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” you probably shouldn’t. This novel, it’s nothing like those two. There is some kind of safety in this book, something you know that is bound to happen before the chapter ends. In the previous novels, you never knew what to expect.

“Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.”

After finishing the book there are some characters that stand out which would be Abdullah and Pari’s uncle Nabi, Nabi’s object of affection Nila Wahdati and of course, Markos Varvaris and the bond he has with his mother. I would say that the book is honestly a one-time read but that too, a difficult one because it can be so tragic and painful, you may want to put it down altogether. However, remember that Hosseini knows how to balance out the pain with momentary joy. He knows how to pull every string in your heart and he rightly does so in And The Mountains Echoed.