Book#1 of 2020: The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry

A.J. Fikry owns a failing bookshop. His wife has just died, in tragic circumstances. His rare and valuable first edition has been stolen. His life is a wreck.

Amelia is a book rep, with a big heart, and a lonely life.

Maya is the baby left on A.J.’s bookshop floor with a note.

What happens in the bookshop that changes the lives of these seemingly normal but extraordinary characters?

A few days ago, I was going through difficult times, and in my Facebook group, I asked for the book suggestions—the kinds of books that give you a warm and snuggly feeling. This is one of the books that was suggested, and I think it was a good suggestion.


The story starts with a reclusive bookseller and a sales representative trying to sell some books to him. The initial chapters hook you in with different specific likes and dislikes of the bookshop owner. Slowly the story changes and morphs into a place where bookshops make a difference in the life of the people. A recluse bookshop starts getting more involved and the community starts coming together because of this. Life has not been easy for A.J. Fikry, but despite this, he manages to find the second chance, love, and a reason to live for. He manages to stitch the community together with his books and his big, grumpy heart.

What I loved

  1. The Positivity: As I wrote above, I picked up this story because I wanted to feel joy or warmth or some kind of positive feeling. I have been down for days now, and this book was supposed to be a step up from that depressed feeling. This book did not disappoint me in that respect. That makes it a very good book for me.
  2. Literary References: There are so many of them throughout the book. I am going to make this a mission for this year to read all the stories referenced in this book. That’s a 15-January kind of resolution.
  3. The feeling of connectedness: You know sometimes, you come across the stories where you feel a strong connection to the characters. This was that kind of book. I connected with so many lines in the books. Like this one sentence is going to be an answer for all the stupid excuses people try to make:

“A.J. nods out of politeness, but he doesn’t believe in random acts. He is a reader, and what he believes in is narrative construction. If a gun appears in act one, that gun had better go off by act three.”

Another one of the sentence that stood out for me was this:

“He has read enough to know there are no collections where each story is perfect. Some hits. Some misses. If you’re lucky, a standout. And in the end, people only really remember the standouts anyway, and they don’t remember those for very long.”

I can quote the whole book here, but the point is that I enjoyed reading these small nuggets of life wisdom.

What I did not Like

  1. Romance: I know it is essential for the story and all, but the chemistry didn’t flow out of the page for me, and that’s the kind of romance that doesn’t interest me.  
  2. Predictability: There are parts of the story which are predictable. I didn’t mind them while reading mostly because I was in a different frame of mind, but this is something that could be added to the unlikeable parts of the book.

Overall Opinion

This was a perfect first book of the year 2020. It lifted my spirits and made me smile while reading. I am thankful for this. I am rating it 3-star, but it would be half star extra just for making the beginning of the year better.

2019: Year End Musings

Today is 31st December, and it has been too long since I have been on this blog.

2019 has been a difficult year for me– a year which flooded with me so many changes, it felt like I am being de-puzzled and rearranged.

I shifted the cities. Again. Returned back to Delhi from Mumbai. Those who say coming back home is easy, they are wrong. For months, I have felt without any roots. I have moved in my house, and it is better than changing the houses every year in Mumbai, and yet, it has been so difficult. Some days, I felt like just giving up. It isn’t the pace of city (people have given me this reason), but it is the pain of not knowing where you belong.

It was an emotionally challenging year as I had a brush with that feeling of “extreme loneliness” after a decade again. This is not the regular loneliness which comes and goes, this feeling of loneliness is razor sharp, cutting in your happiness and hope. It took months to pass. I am still not sure I am over it, but I am doing much, much better. And yes, I understand the reason behind it. One of them is the shift I mentioned above. Another reason is the people around me. I don’t have better words to explain this. So, I will leave it here.

Book-wise, this year might have been worse than any year in past. If I count correctly, the number of books I have read is less than 20 books, which is a very small number compared to my regular reading habit. This is all linked with the above two points, but mostly, it was because I just could not delve into the stories. Even the comfort books became too heavy and difficult. Most of the books I have read have been read in the beginning of the year. The past six months just degenerated me into a non-reading sloth. I could cite lack of time as an excuse, but I know it wasn’t so.

Writing wise, I am doing better than last year (Yay me!) I managed to write one very ambitious story that I started with. I have the ideas in my head again, and I am on this topsy-turvy ride to find the words for these ideas. Maybe they will translate well in terms of words, or maybe they won’t. But I am just happy to be able to write. Some days, it feels like the words are angry with me, and they refuse to come to me, but I am hopeful that they aren’t going to stay angry forever.

I have watched A LOT of movies and shows– Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hotstar, and Theater. But the most interesting thought about these is that most of these shows have been meaningless, background chatter. I am sure I have given chance to a few “interesting” movies in theater, but mostly it has been the regulars. Here is hoping to drifting towards substance again. (And no, I do not consider the background chatter as wrong, but sometimes, it can drown your thoughts. Hence, the break from them is essential.)

I have not clicked many photographs on my camera in the year (I actually cannot remember even a single photo clicked, but maybe I am forgetting something).

This looks like a bad year overall, but the good thing that happened, the most memorable thing that happened is my drive from Mumbai to Delhi. That kicked off one thing off my bucket list.  The second good thing about the year is my swimming lessons. They were only 22 days long, and I was absolutely terrified of water, but at the end of the day, I managed to cross the pool.

So that’s 2019 in nutshell, the year which drained me completely. I was this distraught once a decade ago (exactly in 2009). This time, it looks more arduous; the pieces feel more brittle. I am actually glad that 2019 is coming to an end.

It feels like I should write my resolutions too, but that might be too much of a stretch at this point of time, so I will end this very longish update here. Here is hoping this year be better than the last. Here is hoping better, healthier, stable us in 2020. Here is wishing for more books and less drama in real life.

U=US(South) from Gone With the Wind

U was a difficult letter for me. I almost gave up on writing for U because I couldn’t find a book which described such a place. But then, I realized that USA starts from “U” too, and there definitely is a book which had made me aware about US and the civil war is “Gone With the Wind”. I have talked a lot about this book already in my past posts, so I am not going to explain the virtue of the book in this post. So, with “U”, I am going to talk about US, especially Southern US.

I wasn’t aware about much of the history apart from what is told in history classes. I had known about the civil war that happened in US, but while reading history books, one is not able to imagine the pain of losing so many young men, the hunger that must have been perpetual, the fear of the women etc. These are the factors that you see in the stories only. This story brought US-South of that era alive. I could see the parties, the tiny waists, the corsets, the plantations, and even the wars.  

The South of that time felt overloaded with formalities. There is a quote in which Mammy tells Scarlett to eat before the party because “you can always tell a lady by the way she eats in front of folks like a bird”.

The setting is such an integral part of the story that it is a bit difficult to define it in a post. But it does cover the horrors of the war and one of the quotes I love is:

“All wars are sacred,” he said. “To those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn’t make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles. But so few people ever realize it.”

T=Tamil Nadu of Poonachi

For T, I want to talk about Tamil Nadu from a book called Poonachi. This is state which I have seen quite closely because of various visits in different parts of the state. Most of these visits were official. Only a few personal visits have been to Tamil Nadu. Poonachi is a book which I read very recently. I got this book as a part of the Prime program and wanted to see what is so special about the book. The book did not disappoint me as it explained the life of female goat from its birth to its death.

The setting in this book is not very strong, but it is inherent in the story itself with some fantastical elements weaved in. The story starts with a pondering of rain, wherein the narrator observes that people crib when it rains too much, and they complain when it doesn’t rain as well. This is a true enough sentence, but with my travels and my friends, I have learned this is quite commonly spoken dialogue in Tamil. The story moves further and explains a sunset that the narrator sees while the goats are moving around and frolicking nearby. Then he is given the gift of a very feeble goat called Poonachi, whose story this is.

The description of setting is mostly limited to parts and pieces afterwards, but still, the story carries in it the aroma of the south India in it. The words like dhooyi, ayah etc. roots the story in southern part of India, while the people’s taunts about dark colour and puny shape are like social commentary.

As I said, the story veers in a bit of political foreplay by showing a regime which likes to number the goats and is made out to be quite oppressive. But despite the non-matching of these political situations, the story does transport you in Tamil Nadu. And for a moment, you wonder whether you want to live as a woman in one of the interior villages of Tamil Nadu or not.  

S=The Romantic Scotland

This post is the proof that I am not ready to give up. I might not be consistent, but I am determined. And I am going to finish all the alphabets

I am writing about today’s alphabets, and rest of the alphabets I will catch up slowly and steadily. Please cheer for me as I fight for my time to write.

“S” is such a common letter that it can represent millions of things. When I started thinking about the places, I thought of writing about Shire from “Lord of the Rings”. I dreamed about it, you know—peaceful expanse of land, greenery, flowing rivers, and hobbit-holes. It is like one of the dream places. But there is something else from “S” which is special for me—Scotland.

This also comes from reading a lot of romance novels. Like Ireland, I know every inch of Scotland. I know there are glens, mountains, standing stones, and their English is a bit different from ours. What else I know about Scotland? That there are times when the ground is covered with purple flowers of heather and that there are castles. I know more about the war between England and Scotland from these romance novels than from my history books. I also know that there is a falconry somewhere in Scotland.

Like Ireland, this is my dream place. Someday, I will visit the Scotland. I don’t know whether I will find the Scotland I read of or not, but I am sure it will be magical still. And, now I realize I did not mention any author here. There are many, actually. But the very first author who introduced me with Scotland is Julie Garwood. She taught me a lot of things about Scotland. Then came Diana Gabaldon with her Outlander series. There have been many more books and authors in between, but these two are the most influential authors for me.

Update and a small Hold

I haven’t forgotten that I am supposed to be posting for A to Z. This is a one week’s break. My brother is getting married tomorrow, and I am a bit busy. I know I should have scheduled the posts and all, but life has its own plans.

Please bear with me for a week and then I would have caught up the past and the present.

J= J&K from Ministry of Utmost Happiness

J was a conflicting choice for me. Let me tell you first that I am going to talk about Jammu & Kashmir from Ministry of Utmost Happiness today. I have a friend who dislikes the author Arundhati Roy so much that he is not ready to give any of her books a chance. We had had a dirty shouting match about the left-right political ideologies, and since then, I have been very afraid of talking about this book. I tried to change my choice to Japan, but that didn’t feel right. I thought shifting the book to Delhi because the book covers almost all of the country, but that also didn’t feel right. So, here I am, writing about Jammu & Kashmir of the book that I know somebody hates.

What do you think of when Jammu and Kashmir comes to your mind? A paradise? Or as the book starts with the description of Kashmir—“snowy landscape and happy people in warm clothing sitting in snow sledges?” But this book shows the murkier water of Kashmir.

Next time the Jammu and Kashmir she talks of is in Delhi—sitting near Jantar Mantar, protesting. She wraps this J&K in “Association of Mothers of the Disappeared, whose suns had gone missing, in the war for freedom in Kashmir”. She explains their banner as

The Story of Kashmir

Dead= 68000

Disappeared=10000

Is it Democracy or Demon Crazy?

I ask again the question I kept on asking myself as I read the book. What do I think of when I think of J&K? The answers I had were “Pakistan”, “India”, “Wars”. But the book hinted on the mass exodus of Hindu Pandits from their houses. And I could not stop thinking of how many partitions we are going to go through?

The book further explores the concept of “freedom of Kashmir” and how absurd it is to the people from outside Kashmir. She goes deeper explaining the Kashmir from dissociative POVs—there is J&K which calls for our sympathy, where people are killed and imprisoned without any reasons, where terrorists are borne out of nowhere, where they are fighting to survive. There is J&K which is stupid in being swept away in the wind of “Jihad”, which does not understand what is good/right, which is an enemy of humanity.

I will deny the fact that the book is a chaos. There are threads crawling in the book from so many places. It is like you untangle one tragedy, there will be a next one waiting for you in the next lines. Despite that, the book made me think and wonder and worry. It made me rethink the meaning of humanity for me. There is a chapter in the book called “The Death of Miss Jebeen” which describes how a three-year-old girl ended up becoming a martyr along with her mother. Even the thought about this gives me Goosebumps.

There are many villains in the story. In fact, every character is a villain of some or the other kind. What J&K was left in my mind after reading the book? The J&K which is explained in this passage:

“In every part of the legendary Valley of Kashmir, whatever people might be doing—walking, praying, bathing, cracking jokes, shelling walnuts, making love or taking a bus-ride home—they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier. And because they were in the rifle-sights of a soldier, whatever they might be doing—walking, praying, bathing, cracking jokes, shelling walnuts, making love or taking a bus-ride home—they were a legitimate target.” 

Please understand this is one of the most political books I have read, and it happened to have quite a lot of vitriol in it. But then when I read, I dissociate and see from different perspectives. If your are in any way bothered by such thoughts, don’t read it.

Previous Older Entries