Book Review of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in The Rye

William Faulkner understood The Catcher in the Rye as this, “His (Holden’s) tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there…. until he either gave up or was himself, by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed.”

This book is a funny one. Not blatantly entertaining but surreptitiously so. If somebody hands you a classic, they hand you a perspective to go with it. And gradually, as you read it, your mind’s eye recedes and your understanding of the protagonist becomes submerged and buoyed in the immediate nature of the story. And a story like Holden’s, with its undefeated realism, seems stagnant. But is it really?

Holden is an intelligently sensitive character. He demands your complete attention or nothing at all. As a reader, you can only inhabit either one of the extremes. The story he narrates to you is but an echo through his own becoming. He reels you in in how carefully and incisively he tells his story. I observed that his telling of his own despair, his hopelessness, his aloofness, his angst, is ultimately how he shields that very depressive realism of the world from the world. Let me explain.

Depressive realism is the state of letting go of delusion. The very notion that a certain kind of living can make you feel happy, loved, worthy, and accepted is what’s challenged here. In Holden’s story, this is a fine education, women, friendship, and parenthood. Examples of this view are everywhere in the book. What if, on the contrary, you viewed Holden as not a tragic hero or a great American teenager, but as a flawed human being? You recognise his naïveté as a part of growing up. His pinching indifference as the drawing out of a psyche that is more complex than the world would want him to believe.

Book Review of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces

I remember contemplating Siddhartha’s spiritual journey in Herman Hesse’s novel as a solitary one. The ironic completeness of his protagonist through enlightened and carnal pleasures and Siddhartha’s conscious approach to living them. Through The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the portal of change and illumination is revealed once more. Though less lyrically and more symbolically. You can read it as a profound guide to the consistency and relevancy of myth suffused in history, religion, psychology, and spirituality.

There is something truly revealing about Joseph Campbell’s manner of writing. It questions modern psychology and myth through the lens of human plight. It threads the ascend and descend of human endeavor: highlighting its rusty and familiar bits. You read it not as a scholar would to cultivate an interpretation or hypothesis. The structure is not dogmatically dragging. It’s individual and consciously aware – it’s hopeful.

Self-reflection is never possible on a collective scale. It’s never about the others, it’s always about you. Such lonely and shape-shifting contemplation and confrontation with the self can seem alarming and intimidating. But this book makes it easier. So to reflect on the staggering and revelatory questions of life on a human level, to respond to it through your psyche alone opens up a new, deeper understanding. Then you have the tools to achieve self-reconciliation and gain back the beauty and terror of human nature.

It is possible, I believe, to awaken the memory of myth as it is to get closer to symbols and stories. To explore the labyrinth of self-expression and consciousness again, in its vital and resplendent capacities, and find in them the prophetic oneness of human psychology. Is it the otherness of human life that makes you understand yourself? Or is it your own reflection you are so afraid of learning about when you do?

Book Review of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea

“Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel?”

To read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea without remembering its contemplative and thrilling playfulness is difficult. I haven’t read much of Ernest Hemingway besides A Moveable Feast though I have all of his works; The Old Man and The Sea, in its entirety, is the loneliest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s more than enough to read about a gruesomely tiring tale of an old fisherman and a fish. But to have the little boy cast a spell of more solitude and persistence in the old man gives you, the reader, a deeper sorrow to swallow.

Hemingway once wrote, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” And that if a writer is good enough he is destined to “face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” This is deeply and eloquently mirrored in Hemingway’s writing. Those simple words do more than their definitions to illuminate a desolate and cruel world. A world in which old age is often spoken about for longer than it is understood.

This book doesn’t speak of old age. Nor does it show you what it’s like for the world. The structure and language are omnipresent in that they offer you a voyage where you inhabit the vast nature of the sea and the undying and unforgiving nature of the old man. And how the roles keep reversing from one to the other.

You say this is just a story about an old man unwilling to let go. I say this is human nature. To find something that serves you and to see an image of yourself reflected in it, no matter how young or old and small or big it makes you, something that you know better than anyone or anything, and it knows you. I figured it doesn’t matter whether you lose or win to the world. You’ve already won by never giving it up.

Book Review of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other

Turning to the multicultural and labyrinthine narrative of Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, you’re reminded of the multi-faceted and myriad tendencies of a self. A book that reads like a journal into the lives of 12 women – connected somehow in kinship and affectation – is sketched in a fictively symmetrical format.

The first few stories embrace a perceptible current. They prepare you for what’s to come. You’re as much a part of it as you’re the chanced observer. There are no full stops in the book in that every sentence is broken into smaller pieces so that it feels as uninhibited as the flow of water. To me, it proves the spirit of incandescent and translucent honesty of the characters.

Reading this book is no simple feat. The succinctness of each woman’s story may trick you into believing so. What Bernardine Evaristo does is she embraces certain consistent motifs that run along the length of the book. And out of this emerges a few crocheted structures. Upon each thread, each stream of thought, a woman is willed into being. You read her life to fruition. If at some point you stop reading her story, this “girl, woman, other” who is a sentient presence, by setting the book aside, it’s as if you’ve completely erased her.

The book’s ideal reader is someone who appreciates a quick and light read. It unabashedly taps into feminism but remains as a fictive impersonation of it. The boundaries of which, for the sake of literary fiction, have been pushed to extremes. And this was a significant let-down. It also brings up questions of entitlement. But they’re posed simply as questions; the answers fail to surface as the story stretches in its narration.

Book Review of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

“Did it matter then, she asked herself, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”

If somebody told you that an hour is long enough, would you believe it? That, when measured against a string of forgotten, dry, and vain days, an hour is your only means of getting through life. The scales of time on a clock are well-defined, perhaps, to illustrate desire and the lack of it. The scales of time, however, inside our minds are not the same. They resist the temptation of passing. They grasp at what’s near; what’s remarkable and symbolic. Time asks nothing of us and still, we give to it our whole selves. So that later on, when we have become forgotten memories to time, time is somehow immeasurable to us.

Reading about age against the receding grains of mortality is thrilling. It’s disquieting as much as it’s the only thing sincere to the act of living. And Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which is a book about a single day, is overwrought with the temporality of humanity. And why, as long as we are alive, living is a serious anomaly that most of us, for the most part, are oblivious to.

Mrs. Dalloway is a book about contemplation and presence. It halts the train of time so that it can offer you, in these troubling and uncertain moments, budding hope. Woolf’s embryonic stream of consciousness and awareness of time is insightful and inspiring. After reading To The Lighthouse and The Years first, my admiration for her work has only deepened.

The central theme of the book is time and its lasting effect. The narrative is perplexing; her language is determined to put you where her characters are placed; where their lives are given identity and also where they’ve been deprived of them. I wish I could have read this book in a single day. To live the entire story myself and walk the streets of London, past the urbanity of life. Precisely because it so redefines our idea of a normal life, considering the global pandemic. And helps us understand Woolf highlighting hers, in 1923, when Influenza was only a few years old.

Book Review of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own

In the meandering course of life, you need a book like A Room of One’s Own to ground you. The book reflects a lifelong yearning, to tirelessly be, to consider the self as an eternally shifting dimension, which comes together in the form of strength, conviction, and knowledge. This book contains the spirit of spirit itself. From beginning to end, it unshackles the imperfections of perfection.

The human mind, Woolf writes, must realize its masculine and feminine characteristics. This is what sets the foundation of all human experience. Only then is the being and becoming of a self primitive. Since its inception, a novelist is so absorbed in one’s own sex that it overwhelmingly devours one’s words and actions. That’s when ‘I’ becomes “a convenient term for somebody who has no real being.”

This ‘I’ in a self is also what defines a person in “the relation of stone to stone.” It’s lacking in emotion and truth. Woolf urges you to map your inner and outer world in “the relation of human being to human being.” This activates in each of us a beauty and familiarity that is profound and indispensable.

Read A Room of One’s Own for its stunning wisdom and honesty. It’s for the androgynous mind. The mind that, in its every crease, has an unfathomable depth. The mind that shares in the common language that Virginia Woolf so contemplatively inhabits. Her words, her stream of consciousness is, in its very being, a stroke of genius.

Book Review of Jorge Luis Borges’s Fictions

The stories inside the cocoon of life’s perplexing and re-defining boundaries are never linear. They all inhabit different realities, different mysteries, different creators, and different evils. The point, however, is how they’re told. What if, within those worlds, every dream and its remembrance ignited a chain reaction? Sort of like a tunnel through which you could step over reality’s time-bound singularity and tuck yourself in as if tucked tightly under a blanket, an incomprehensible and strange dimension.

Reading Jorge Luis Borges’s Fictions felt like a tussle between known and unknown worlds. It occupies a prolific and celestial field. And on each stop on your journey is a unique and magical story; The Garden of Forking Paths, The Library of Babel, The Circular Ruins, The Shape of the Sword, and so many more. “Thinking, meditating, imagining,” Jorges writes, “are not anomalous acts – they are the normal respiration of the intelligence.” He instills in each of his characters, his worlds such an acute and concentrated sensitivity. That to understand the complexity and nothingness of life, you are relieved of the heaviness that is your own.

Separate yourself from your known reality’s dimensions to read Jorge Luis Borges. It is like transcending and strolling down multiple realities, each interlaced by its abstraction and mystery. You can be a different person in each, converge with different identities, laws, and natures.

Book Review of Raghu Karnad’s Farthest Field

“People have two deaths: the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of the memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone. Then a person quits the world completely.”

The measure of all things echoes in the stories that are left behind. The photographs of history tucked away between covers and in old and oxidized jewelry boxes. Farthest Field, penned in bold and imaginative strokes, is a story of India’s role in the Second World War. The fabric of the book is non-fiction but the patterning that gives it a personality is a fictionalized acquaintance of 3 young men.

The story is in parts sketched out of the author’s faithful and passionate re-telling of his ancestry. So it’s not all fiction. The roots of history have been dug up and revealed to the reader through records, memoirs, and interviews. The book shoulders that weight from the start. Especially when the following words, “For my mother, who didn’t let me forget” are pasted on the book’s dedication page.

This is history like you’ve never matriculated in school before. It’s factual, gripping, but oftentimes, a bit stretched to the extremes. But if you keep at it, the story sinks in deeper and stays there as something you aren’t forced to learn before understanding, as most of us did when learning about our history for the first time.

You can think of this story as “imperfect, live flesh drawn over skeletons rebuilt from scattered bones.” But what it also is is a quick and captivating read. Heavy with grief, loyalty, and courage rather than sacrifice. The kind that pulls you closer to home as you fathom a seedbed of humanistic force and conviction.

Book Review of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Does all deep and unfortunate pain that is closed off and suffocated turn into distorted and excessive desire? The kind of yearning that, in imagination, relinquishes and claims the stillness, the emptiness, and non-existence of time’s passing. So what is to be is you and your desire and everything you do to prove, to nobody but yourself, that it still is yours. .
Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often misconstrued as a romantic novel. The sort in which our character, Jay Gatsby, falls in love and abandons himself in a dream. Through an ironic display of grandiose materialism and wealth, he seeks to take back and pardon those lost years between his conquest, Daisy.

And there exists our protagonist, Nick Carraway, though solitarily. As he fastens his grip on the knife’s sharpest edge, you see characters like Jay Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle, and Jordan taking shape. Their unconscious movement and uniformity arouse complete dormancy of identity. Is that tragic? What stroke of living could possibly negate the nausea of such self-deception? Or is it that the few who do survive sail in the same boat that goes “against the current” and shoulders the weight of “the past” as Nick Carraway?

The Great Gatsby exists in the known and the unknown. It tests its limit on how far you, the reader, can go before injuring the innocence of each of its characters. So the most predictable way of navigating this tragic and loathsome story is to perceive in it a different kind of beauty. A beauty that exists not as a quality in the lives of the characters but as a beauty that lets us into their self-serving psyches as a standard of desire and its unending pursuit.

Book Review Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale

You gather the courage to look back to look into the future. Margaret Atwood’s compelling and profound novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was published in 1985. The story is dystopian – a possibility that directly and effectively stamps on the feet of what makes human humane.

What makes this novel so captivating is that it has a human element. It’s not just a story that restricts women into their homes, compartmentalizes them based on their fertility and corporeal value so that it brings profitability to the men in power. But it’s also a historical story. A strict regime, punishable by death offenses, rape, moral codes, chaste clothing and conduct, and social and cultural regimentation. What Atwood does is she fictionalizes all this hurt, this puritanical pecking order without minimizing the historical suffering of it. The story merely reflects what has been done before. And the telling of it, in crisp, elaborate, and provocative sentences, is one of the best I’ve read.

You feel the intensity of the story and of the lives of all the women under surveillance and unconsented conformity to Gilead when you read the following lines. “What I need is perspective. The illusion of depth, created by a frame, the arrangement of shapes on a flat surface. Perspective is necessary. Otherwise, there are only two dimensions. Otherwise, you live with your face squashed up against a wall, everything a huge foreground, of details, close-ups, hairs, the weave of the bedsheet, the molecules of the face. Your own skin like a map, a diagram of futility, crisscrossed with tiny roads that lead nowhere. Otherwise, you live in the moment. Which is not where I want to be.”

The narration is chilling and terrifying. You’re catapulted into the past, before the regime, where the protagonist lived an intellectually, politically, and sexually uninhibited life. Then, in the present, where you read her words as your own as she navigates the “burning city” in all its heaviness, darkness, and soulless existence. Read The Handmaid’s Tale not because it’s one of the top dystopian novels of all time. The novel is psychologically-incisive in that it’s reflective of what we are all familiar with