Saturday, August 18, 2018

Less means more

A few weeks ago, one of my daughters sent me the description about people like me, a book addict who owns a lot of unread literary books and cannot stop buying books.  I  have since learnt that I engage in tsundoku, a Japanese term for such book people .click

I am not keen to part with most of my books and I love to get books for friends who enjoy reading. It is such a joy and comfort to be surrounded by piles and piles of books. I am ravenous when come to books.
 
My reading has been slow during the past three months due to my work and yet I cannot stop ordering books. I look forward to going to my office knowing that books will be delivered there. After working hard on some files, I give myself a little time-out just to read a page or two of whatever fiction or non-fiction that  I carry with me in my car. At the time of writing this post,  I am happy to have some time alone. Despite the haze that is enveloping the city, life is bliss on a Sunday. 

Less written by Andrew Sean Greer  is an endearing read.  Arthur Less is a novelist about to turn fifty. He did not publish until he was in his thirties and his first book was a moderate success but his latest book has been rejected by his publisher. ‘ He is an author too old to be fresh and too young to be rediscovered, one who never sits next to anyone on a plane who has heard of his books.’ When Freddy Perlu , one of his ex-boyfriend of nine years is getting married, he decides to accept a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world as he does not want to go to the wedding.  From Mexico to Italy, France to India, Germany to Japan, he goes to  the events that most self -respecting authors would not attend and along the way, there were mishaps and misunderstandings that the readers will find hilarious and funny.  

Here is a description of Less by the mysterious narrator.
Once, in his twenties, a poet he has been talking with extinguished her cigarette in a potted plant and said, “ You’re like a person without skin.” A poet has said this. One who made her living flaying herself alive in public had said that he, tall and young and hopeful Arthur Less, was without skin. But it was true. “ You need to get an edge,” he old rival Carlos constantly told him in the old days, but Less had not known  what that meant.’

By his forties, all he has managed to grow is a gentle sense of himself, akin to the transparent carapace of a soft- shell crab. A mediocre review or careless slight can no longer harm him, but heart-break, real true heartbreak, can pierce his thin hide and bring out the same shade of blood as ever. How can so many things become a bore by middle-age  ---- philosophy, radicalism , and other fast foods ---- but heartbreak keeps its sting?’

Name a day, name an hour, in which Arthur Less was not afraid. Of ordering a cocktail, taking a taxi, teaching a class, writing a book. Afraid of these and almost everything else in the world. Strange, though; because he is afraid of everything, nothing is harder than anything else.  Taking a trip around the world is no more terrifying than buying a stick of gum. The daily dose of courage.’

When Less decides to take the voyage with the intent to mend his broken heart, he is desperate and your heart goes to him as he wrestles with aging, self- pity and loneliness. 


Andrew Sean Greer’s prose is beautiful and the story is peppered with humour. Less is a love story.  The ending is joyful and brilliant. It is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2018.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Coming of Age


As you grow old, you become hypochondriac as you hear about the passing of your acquaintances or someone who was in the same class as you when you did your sixth form. When a glass is half filled, you used to see it as half full. As you grow old, you tend to see the glass half empty as your optimism level decreases despite the quote that says an optimistic person sees an opportunity in every difficult situation. But no matter whatever things that life has thrown you along the way, one must not stop daydreaming as it keeps your sanity.

As you grow old, you become entrenched and find it hard to break free from your daily routine, duties and responsibilities. Baby boomers like me learn  new lingos like TMI ( too much information) BRB ( be right back), TTYL (talk to you later) LOL ( laugh out loud) IRL (in real life) and also to execute a selfie  or wefie and these days seemingly everyone can create their own hashtags and a wordsmith in their own right. In this process, some of us lose the ability to spell words while some probably never bother to learn as it appears unnecessary these days.

When my children were growing up, I came across Allison Pearson’s first novel “ I don’t know How She does it” and had thoroughly enjoyed as it was hilarious and spot on about life of a working mother who tries desperately to fit in everything. The protagonist Kate Reddy is a supermom and she had a successful career at Edwin Morgan Forster where she founded the Hedge Fund for the company. The eternal question is  Can you have it all?  When I came to know that there was a sequel to the novel, I was delighted to get hold of a copy of it. Thanks to online purchase, I had the sequel delivered to my office in a few days' time. For a books addict like me, nothing cheers me up more than receiving a text from a courier service stating that your order is being delivered and subsequently seeing the parcel sitting on your desk. There are days when I will keep the parcel unopened until the weekend.
Kate Reddy in How Hard Can It Be has a rude awakening when Emily, her sixteen- year old daughter sent a belfie  of her bum that was meant for only the girls in their Whatsapp group and her so-called best friend in school, Lizzy tagged her bum #Flagbum and now everyone on Facebook can see it and knows it’s hers. Lizzy has told her that it was purely accidental but Emily is definitely freaking out as she has received lewd messages from lads like Tyler who texts:
Ur ass is well fit make me big lol !!! (smiley icon for lol )
 Kate is appalled when she comes across Tyler’s text after Emily approaches her for help. In Kate's narration,
   Christ , the Village Idiot is talking dirty to my baby. And ‘Ur’instead of ‘Your’? The boy is not just lewd but illiterate. My Inner Grammarian clutches her pearls and shudders. Come off it , Kate. What kind of warped avoidance strategy is this? Some drooling lout is sending your sixteen-year-old daughter pornographic texts and you’re worried about his spelling?’

Kate has to stop the belfie to spread further without telling her husband, Richard.

In How Hard Can It Be, Richard after being let go by his ethical architecture firm has turned into his inner Dalai Lama and he will not be earning for two years so he can get retrained as a counsellor. While Kate is a few months shy of fifty, she refuses to stay invisible. Kate has been a stay home mother for several years and now she has to reinvent herself, work on her CV and look for a full-time job to keep the family finances afloat. Meanwhile, Kate has to do the washing, cleaning, cooking, preparing herself for interview with a headhunter and fix the Emmy’s belfie problem. As Kate combats hormones that have her in shackles, she deals with a home life where her husband is not working and very much into the regime of cycling and yoga and  finding himself  and their  two adolescents are going through their growing pains and turn to her for all their needs and on top of that she has to run to her husband’s aging parents and her own aging mother whenever they call for help. And as if she has not gotten enough on her plate, she has a builder working on her kitchen as she has defied Richard’s preference and insisted on purchasing an old house that needs restoration work. She was able to ‘clinch the deal with Richard by pointing out that the house in the catchment area of a superb secondary school.’ Though she has her dream house ( a money pit due to repair work), Richard pretty much hates the house from Day One.
Kate has joined the Women Returners group, a support group of wives and mothers who are fighting their way back to work. Sally who is a decade older is her new found friend from Women Returners group. After her children had flown the nest, Sally got herself a part-time job as a cashier at Lloyds Bank. She used to work for Santander, a big Spanish bank and in Kate’s narration ‘Sally’s nostalgia for those days is so acute that sometimes I can’t bear to watch the dormouse-bright eyes in that lined face.

After a humiliating interview with a headhunter, Kate has an opportunity to apply for a temporary junior position at her old work place, Edwin Morgan Forster when her friend, Candy Stratton happens to give her name to someone at a women’s networking thing. Although it is marketing business development and a bit of admin, Kate sits down and redo her CV. She  decides to lie about her age.
Until you start trying to conceal your age you have no idea how many ways there are to give it away. Teen idols, pop stars , fashionable restaurants, famous football matches, Olympics, moon landings, children’s TV programmes, historical knowledge, having seen any movie made before Pulp Fiction, being able to spell. Each and every one of them is a potential trap for a woman pretending to be seven years younger.’

As if Kate’s life is not complicated enough, seven years ago by some internet intervention, she had accidentally pressed sent to her client, Jack Abelhammer a note that read “ Drunk and disorderly? Not exactly. I don’t need to be drunk to be disorderly”, the note that was intended for her woman friend, Candy. Jack is the charming client and friend whom Kate has left behind along with her job at Edwin Morgan Forster.
Years later, she tells Jack,
But the world Is not ideal. Never was, never will be. Ideals are for people who are free, for people who can act for themselves. I can’t, I have to think of other people. I have so many people who depend on me. The thing with ideals is they don’t inspire. They screw you up, make you sad, always dangling there out of reach.”


Most working mothers will see a bit of themselves in the harried and capable Kate Reddy, the protagonist in both I don’t know how she does it and its sequel How Hard Can It Be?. Allison Pearson’s observations about the sandwich generation, parenting amidst the social media age and ageism for women are acute and poignant. Her take on coping with perimenopause is hilarious and how Kate has to cope with her roller coaster ride in her home and work life is funny indeed. The downside is it is still a feel-good read about middle-class woes. 

How Hard Can It Be ? has been optioned and adapted for tv. click  I don’t know How She does it”  was earlier on made into a movie and Sarah Jessica Parker acted as Kate Reddy.