Non Fiction

If You Were Me and Lived In the American West by Carole P Roman (Illustrated by Paula Tabor)

If You Were Me and Lived In the American West by Carole P Roman (Illustrated by Paula Tabor)

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Children, Nonfiction, Educational
Imprint: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, North Charleston, SC
ISBN: 1532877846

Carole P Roman, a children’s books author, is best known for her series “If You Were Me and Lived In…” that tells children, and adults, about how life was at different places during different times. She collaborates with different artists for illustrations of her books.

In the book If You Were Me and Lived In the American West, Carole P Roman tells us what it was like to live in the times of the Great Migration, with the help of neat and appealing illustrations by Paula Tabor. The author tells us about where the people started from, how they travelled during migration, what happened throughout the journey, what they did once they reached the west, what they ate, what they wore and where they lived. It must be appreciated that the author also talks about the Red Indians and has tried to explain as much as possible keeping the children in mind.

As usual, the books of “If You Were Me and Lived In…” series by Carole P Roman are informative for both children and adults. Yet another good book from the series.

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Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Biography
Imprint: Anchor Books, a division of Random House Inc., New York
ISBN: 0-307-27563-9

Mitchell Albom, known to the world and in the book, Tuesdays with Morrie, as Mitch Albom, is a sports journalist and radio broadcaster turned novelist. He has written many books related to sports, and fiction and nonfiction novels. He is most famous for his books Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet In Heaven.

Morrie Schwartz is a professor in Brandeis University and Mitch Albom is his newly graduated student, a favourite student. After graduation, Mitch is engrossed in his own life and loses contact with his “coach.” Years later, when a successful Mitch hits a road block in his work field and is made to sit at home due to worker union strike, he sees his coach on a national TV show. Morrie is diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and is sure to die soon. Shocked to see his professor in such condition, Mitch reaches out to him. Even after no communication since the graduation day, Morrie welcomes Mitch as though nothing has changed. They make it a habit of meeting every Tuesday so that Morrie can teach Mitch about different aspects of life because no one can explain life better than a dying man. Mitch, with Morrie’s approval, records their “classes.” Each Tuesday, Mitch finds his professor in a more deteriorated condition. Mitch worries but Morrie wants to serenely die. ALS consumes Morrie’s body completely and he knows that he will die at any moment. As per his wish, he serenely passes away when his family is under the same roof. After Morrie’s death, Mitch publishes Tuesdays with Morrie, which the old professor always called “the last thesis” of his favourite student.

Tuesdays with Morrie is not a self-help book. It is a book that imparts an old dying man’s knowledge about life to others. It is not preaching kind, but tells you from the view point of a person who had been there, done that. If it helps, you can imagine Morrie as Arthur in the movie, The Holiday. A dying man has courage to make fun of everything, even death. By the time you near the end of the book, your heart will be heavy, but you will wish it never ends. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is a book that everyone should read at least once in their lives. Read the book to know what “the last thesis” has to offer to any soul that is lost in the daily humdrum.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and the Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and the Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Autobiography, Nonfiction, Graphic Novel
Imprint: Vintage, UK
ISBN: 978-0-099-52399-4

Marjane Satrapi is also the author of Embroideries and Chicken with Plums. I have not read any of her other novels, therefore I won’t be comparing Persepolis with other works of the author.

Persepolis is the autobiographical graphic novel that tells us the story of Marjane Satrapi’s life in and out of Iran. It is one of those rare books that swallow the reader into its world as soon as they read the first line. The Satrapis are Iranians with a modern outlook towards life. They suffocate during the revolution and suffer immensely when the war begins in Iran. Though they belong to the family of the last emperor of Iran, who was ousted by rebels with the help of English, they live like normal public. Satrapis have seen it all in Iran. The young one of the family is Marjane Satrapi, the author of this book. As a child, she is brought up by liberal parents and grandmother, and tried to suppress by fundamental Islamist. War is etched in her life. Relatives, friends and neighbours disappear in weird circumstances. Those who survive, they leave the country as soon as possible. Those who can’t, they send their children abroad. The same happens with Satrapis too. Marjane’s parents send their only child to Austria because they don’t want her to grown up in regressive environment after living in a progressive environment since birth. A teenage Marjane finds it difficult to adjust in Austria where people treat foreigners, especially refugees, badly. The Western culture daunts her, but she manages to survive. Only after a bad breakup with a cheating boyfriend, Marjane returns to Iran after four years. Iran has worsened further. Marjane readjusts to Iran. Her parents have aged and so has her grandmother. Her friends have changed beyond recognition. Leftover relatives give her free unwanted advice. How does she cope with the changes in her country during her childhood and teenage? In what way does the country affect her life? What does she do in Austria? What does she do after coming back to Iran? Read Persepolis to know.

This book has two parts because it is a combination of book one that is about childhood and book that is about teenage and early adulthood. Though there are no quote-worthy lines, each line by every character teaches you something about life irrespective of whether you are in Iran or not. All the illustrations in the book are in black and white, pretty much as in life. It is a hard-hitting fact that you realise while reading this book that not everybody has all the privileges, and this is conveyed through simple narration and illustrations. There is no negative point of this book. You can’t find one even if you try to.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is for everyone irrespective of your favourite genre. If you are a parent who wants to teach your child about life or just want to keep them grounded, or keep yourself grounded, then this humble book is especially for you. Stay humble.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Political Memoir
Imprint: Crown Publishers, New York
ISBN: 978-0-307-38209-2

Barack Obama is the President of the United States of America. He was a Senator at the time of this book’s release. He has penned few other books apart from this.

The Audacity of Hope is about Obama’s hope to make America great again, the same line which is used as slogan in this time’s presidential elections. In this book, he tries to convey all his dreams for a better USA than it is now.

To read this book, you need to be aware of the current scenario as well as history of politics of the USA. Otherwise, you have to hold this book in one hand and use the other hand to constantly search on Google for the historical figures that are named often. Not just historical, even the recent ones. Each chapter starts with a positive note about President Obama’s experience before and after he was elected as the President of the USA. But soon the whole chapter turns into a comparison between Democrats and Republicans, a comparison between Obama and Bush. Irrespective of what the chapter is about, it all boils down to comparison. I agree this is a political memoir, but it is not necessary to compare and make it a Democrat campaign. He could have written more about his experiences than comparing with Republicans.

The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama is a disappointment. If you pick this book, then be prepared to be bored. It is okay if you are a political buff.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

Review by Shwetha H S

Genre: Beat generation, nonfiction, memoir
Imprint: Penguin Modern Classics
ISBN: 978-0-141-18267-4

On the Road is Jack Kerouac’s novel that tells you about the road trip that Salvatore Paradise takes along with Dean Moriarty across the country of USA. Jack Kerouac belongs to the beat generation, the generation that prized the life of leaving on one’s own terms rather than by society norms. On the Road is the story of the author himself but the names of the characters in the story are changed. Jack Kerouac becomes Salvatore (Sal) Paradise and Neal Cassady becomes Dean Moriarty.

The book is in five parts. The first part sees Sal meeting Dean, not liking him much at first and later missing him and going off on a cross-country hitchhiking trip from New York to Denver to meet the later. Sal is a writer and Dean is a car thief. Sal sees Dean and Carlo Marx, a common friend, get high and talk their hearts out. Dean is in the process of divorcing his first wife Marylou and marrying Camille. Sal leaves Dean and others, and goes to San Francisco to be with his childhood friend, Remi, and his wife, Lee Ann. Lee married Remi thinking he is a wealthy man, but he is a night watchman at a sailors’ camp. He gets Sal a similar job. Both rob things from others to make a better living, but eventually blow things up. On his way back to New York, Sal meets Terry, a Mexican girl who has left her harassing husband and come out with her child. Sal and Terry fall in love and stay together for some time, but he eventually leaves her and comes back to New York. Part two shows what happened a year later. Dean, Marylou and Ed Dunkel come to pick Sal from his relatives’ place in Virginia, and go off again on a road trip to New Orleans and to San Francisco. Dean has left Camille with his new born daughter and come back to Marylou. Ed Dunkel is a lost soul. On this road trip, Dean comes up with creepy things making Sal uneasy. Once they reach San Francisco, Dean leaves Sal and Marylou stranded without money and food, and goes back to Camille. Disheartened with both Dean and Marylou, Sal leaves them and comes back to New York. Part three sees Sal going in search of Dean again a year after leaving him. Sal misses Dean and the excited life that comes along with the later. By then, Marylou is married to someone else. Seeing Sal with Dean, Camille is assured that the duo will again go away leaving her pregnant with the second child and to look after the first one, and she throws Dean and Sal out of their house. They both decide to go to Italy after reaching New York. On the way, Dean creates havoc and steals many cars for the sake of having fun. Sal and Dean quarrel for the first time. After reaching New York, Dean meets Inez and decides to marry her after he divorces Camille. Fourth part has Sal, Dean and Stan driving to Mexico to start a new life. The usual dope and girl chasing happens. Sal falls sick due to dysentery. Dean leaves him with Stan in that condition because his divorce from Camille came through and he is in a hurry to marry Inez and give her a child. Sal starts to hate Dean. Part five shows Sal falling in love with Laura, and Dean coming into their lives briefly and exiting again.

On the Road is not a story, but is an experience. It is not about bromance but about brotherhood. Sal wants to live an excitement filled life and thinks Dean has and can provide him one. Dean is a car thief who steals cars for fun, but likes to make a living in a decent way. Marylou, Camille and Inez are Dean’s wives. Of all of them, he loved Marylou more and keeps going back to her. Sal knows that Dean is a prick but still loves his company. Since the characters are the real life ones, there is not much of a character development.

This book gives a lot of insight about the beat generation. This generation lived as if there was no tomorrow. Work less, party hard. Dopes, sex, road trips, cars, parties and booze are what made that generation happy. The book is written is simple language using simple narration. It is not quite what I expected, but it did not disappoint me either. The experiences of Sal on the road with four trips are overwhelming and the emotions he goes through are a lesson for life. I might recommend it to the readers who want to read something on the road trips.

In the cover picture of the book, you see Jack Kerouac (Sal Paradise) on the left and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty) on the right.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan

Review by Shwetha H S

If you tried reading In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan and failed to complete it, then don’t be disheartened that you might be in nutrition world. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by the same author is like a summary of In Defence of Food, but is humorous and short enough to make readers understand the good and bad of the food world.

The book is divided into three parts to answer three simple questions: What should I eat? What kind of food should I eat? And how should I eat? The answers to these questions too are very simple: Eat food. Mostly Plants. Not too much. In each part of the book, Michael Pollan has given simple rules to follow to make sure you eat healthy food, and not food-like substances. Yes, he calls all the science-generated food as food-like substances and refuses to acknowledge them as food. His motive is to take food back to its original intention: to get energy, to fulfil your taste necessity and give happiness by satisfying taste buds.

To write Food Rules, Michael Pollan asked his readers to send him the top food rule that they follow in their personal lives. According to him, many “rules” were sent by his readers, but he chose the true and logical ones. And he says all of them are based on traditional knowledge about food and not based on science. Buy the book, read and remember the rules, and go for food. You will stay healthy.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan

Review by Shwetha H S

Food is no longer just food. It is nutrition. This is the gist of In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. Being a journalist, the author has a natural penchant to dig deep into happenings around the world. In this book, he has explained the transition of food since the advent of Nutritionism. With evidence about how trying to scientifically breakdown the food to make it better only led to devastating failures that were tried to hide by more theories about nutritionism. The science used to provide better nutrition forgot the basic essence of wholesomeness. While concentrating on individual nutrient, scientists have ignored the nutrients’ behaviour with each other and the fact that the wholesome behaviour might be the key to the food’s goodness and not individual behaviour. The author has used research articles, government-run campaigns and famous nutritional claims of all times to show how flawed food and nutrition field is, especially in the USA. He also mentions that human body is capable of digesting any kind of diet except the Western Diet which consists of high protein, low carbohydrates, high fat (masked with other nutrients) and low micro nutrients.

By providing too much of information, Michael Pollan has done his best to convince the readers of the facade of nutritionism and has burst many myths. But there are times when the readers feel like they are reading the same thing over and over again. It is not his fault that all the information available and provided related to nutrition and nutritionism are interrelated. If you are interested in nutrition and want to know where humanity went wrong with respect to food, pick this book and rummage through it along with your kitchen.

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple

Review by Venkatesha M

This is a collection of nine different stories, an honest attempt to throw light on various customs which are still in practice in Modern India.

Author Dalrymple travelled across India and Sindh region in Pakistan and tried to cover Nine different lives in this book. Stories include customs from Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism and also forms of Tantric practices. Each story in the book starts with introduction to a specific custom and runs into the biography of an individual.

Entire book is on the theme ‘Faith’ and ‘Principles’. I liked all the stories in the book. In a few stories, Dalrymple tried to show difficulties faced by some of the backward communities in India. I couldn’t agree with this part as many things about caste system are changed in Modern India. You can see that Author has done lot of research and travelled to different places for this book.

My personal favourites from the book are ‘The Nun’s Tale’, ‘The Monk’s Tale’ and ‘The Maker of Idols’. Author also explains how the Modern India is a threat to the continuation of these traditions. Most of the customs are hereditary in nature and the new generation is not interested as they are more intended towards alluring professions. Personally I have seen similar cases of Gen-Y not willing to continue the family business which is also affecting few traditions mentioned in the book.

There are few poems/songs translated to English. I will definitely suggest this book.

One of the poems:

“My soul cries out,
Caught in the snare of beauty,
Of the formless one.

As I cry by myself,
Night and day,
Beauty amassed before my eyes,
Surpasses moons and suns.

If I look at the clouds in the sky,
I see his beauty afloat.
And I see him walk on the stars,
Blazing within my heart”

Unspotted: One Man's Obsessive Search for Africa's Most Elusive Leopard by Justin Fox

Unspotted: One Man’s Obsessive Search for Africa’s Most Elusive Leopard by Justin Fox

Review by Vijaya Raghava

Unspotted is an easy one hour read that gives you glimpses of the ‘Mystical Cape Mountain Leopard’. Mystical because the people of Cape Town know they exist but no one has ever really spotted them. Make an exception to that. Quinton Martins has been studying about these beautiful creatures for over a decade and making efforts to reduce human-animal conflict. He also founded Cape Leopard Trust to further this effort. The author travels to Cape Town to meet Quinton and have a sighting of the leopards. In this book, he gives first hand account of Quinton’s efforts. The book is written in a very informal tone and it rather feels like reading a blog. While I enjoyed reading this book, being uninitiated in South Africa’s geography, I spent a lot of time on the internet trying to learn more about the places the author was trying to describe.

Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will by Eldon Taylor

Gotcha! The Subordination of Free Will by Eldon Taylor

Review by Sagar K V

It’s an interesting book for conspiracy theory enthusiasts. The author has backed all the facts with enough references.

I know few things mentioned in the book; there are few things which are really hard to believe but makes some sense. The book talks about side effects of vaccination, and polio vaccine is not exactly responsible for Polio’s decline. Not sure if I should believe it or not. Not only about vaccines, there lot of things I took for granted and this book makes me question them all. But as the book says, I’ve to think, analyse and question everything… I’m doing the same about the book.

I love mystery, conspiracy and I’d like to believe there is something extra in this world; book feeds my curiosity. I was happy that I’m already aware of many things mentioned in the book..

The book is all about US, hardly few mentions about other countries. It makes me think, if the so called developed nation has so many problems, issues and conspiracies or whatever you’d like to call them, what about developing and underdeveloped countries? Or is it like smaller nations are lot more simpler?

I’ve given myself an assignment of looking out and finding gotchas in every news article I consume.

Over all, a good read. I would rate this book 3.5 out of 5.