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Shop around the corner

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan | Updated on March 02, 2018

Parting gifts: Among the books the author picked up from the closing sale at Strand was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese   -  Vivek Bendre

Austenistan Edited by Laaleen Sukhera Bloomsbury India Fiction ₹350

The local bookstore may or may not stock this month’s recommendations, but it’s worth giving them a fighting chance

 

I was thinking the other day about bookstores. I was in Mumbai recently, and the iconic Strand Book Stall was in the process of closing down forever, so customers flocked there from all over the city to look for one last bargain. So did I. Since we only went two days after the sale was announced most of the shelves were pretty empty, but I did manage to pick up some “gift editions” of poetry books for myself and friends’ kids, so I thought I did okay. I was also thinking about bookstores when I was in Kochi recently, and the (pretty big) shop I visited didn’t have my latest book in stock, my cousins wanted to buy a copy and went away disappointed. I realise now it’s just a matter of habit for me as a writer to refer people online when they want to buy my books — I know the websites will always have them, as long as they are in print.

There is a space for physical stores in the world — I have my favourites, and I like to go there when I don’t know what I want to read next, I want to browse and discover. But this sort of store has to be well curated and excellently stocked, or the model is going to fail. I’m not sure if the books I’m recommending today will be in your local shop, but it’s worth checking, just once before you try online, so that they’re given a fighting chance.

Water cooler

Austenistan Edited by Laaleen Sukhera Bloomsbury India Fiction ₹350

 

 

Fluffy romance plus Jane Austen writing prompts plus reading about a country that’s right next door? Yes please! I read Austenistan edited by Laleen Sukhera in a day, and got immense pleasure out of it. Back story: there’s a Jane Austen Society of Pakistan and they have gotten together and published this book. As I wrote in my Instagram caption when I photographed the book for social media (because what is the point of reading without logging it anymore?), this book could very well be called Rich People Problems: South Asia Edition. And yet, people are talking about it, because it’s two such different things; Jane Austen in Pakistan. The novelty of that actually lasted me through the entire book, and though there are bits where I wish the authors had gone a different way — only two stories are not Pride and Prejudice inspired, and one of those is a version of Emma which is the Austen book that has been so adapted you can see exactly where each adaptation will go. For the most part though it’s fun, it’s fluffy and it will ease you into summer with a twirl of a parasol.

Watchlist

 

 

The recent school shooting in Florida was tragic but it also made me think, “Again?” The US has a gun problem, and I wanted to go back to the very first school shooting they had to see why this keeps happening. Columbine by Dave Cullen was recommended when I asked for more books about true crime, but it’s not really true crime, not the way I think of it: with a central mystery and wondering if the person accused is the person who did it. Instead it’s a meditation on a massacre — two boys walked into their high school in Colorado and opened fire on classmates and teachers. The book goes into the psyche of the killers; it turns out one was a textbook psychopath, the other a depressive. It explores the lives of some of the victims both before and after the killings. It’s a difficult read, especially in these troubled times, but it does offer insight into why these things happen. Usually the answer is no more satisfying than “because they wanted to kill people.”

Way back

 

 

I’m going to read more poetry this year. It used to be easier for me to do: I just went into a “poetry mood” and sat down with a book, dipping in and out and getting great pleasure from it, but as the years have gone by, I seem to have fallen out of practice. One of the books I bought at the aforementioned Strand Book Stall closing sale was Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, 44 love sonnets that I have been reading about but have never actually read in entirety. You probably know the most famous one, which is number 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” The poems were written for her soon-to-be husband Robert Browning and are almost spiritual in their tenderness. I’ve discovered some new favourites too, especially number 20: “Beloved, my Beloved, when I think/That thou wast in the world a year ago.”

 

 

 

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, with the sixth, The One Who Swam With The Fishes, now in bookstores; @reddymadhavan

Published on March 02, 2018

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