Today, my eleven-year-old daughter was introduced to George Orwell”s fabulous essay, “Confessions of a Book Reviewer”. The child cracked up with laughter upon reading Orwell’s comments about writing book reviews such as, “grossly overpraising”, “unappetising (books)”, “the complete truth is that this book would be worthless”, and “This book does not interest me in any way, and I would not write about it unless I were paid to”. She hooted with delight when she read that the middle section of a review that constitutes about 600 words is usually avoidable. This is the kid who only reads a book cover-to-cover if it interests her, otherwise she tosses it away after reading the first few pages. And when she likes a book, she loves it. She will not stop reading it, till she is done with it. She only relies on her instinct to appreciate a book. Rarely goes upon recommendations or book reviews or by popular trends amongst her peers. So she absolutely gets what Orwell means. Fascinating watching her respond to the essay.
I was thoroughly entertained as she read out passages from it by doing voices, alternating between Inspector Closeau and Count Dracula/Hotel Transylvania.
A pile of Dorling Kindersley books that Sarah has amassed over the years. They form the core of her library. An absolutely brilliant set of books that are created by teams of experts. Each page layout is done with care to detail, facts, and matching the text with the image. Children of today are #visuallearners and are fortunate to live in an age where books exist that are profusely illustrated with photographs. So they get doses of reality, a visual mapping, while learning becomes an enjoyable experience. These encyclopaedias are so packed with information but the pictures hold prominence in every layout. An interesting methodology to book design as the child immerses themselves in the book, absorbed by the visual richness and slowly, over a period of time, familiarises herself with the text. It is important to note that the text never dumbs down the facts. It presents them as is.
Some of these books were gifted to Sarah when she was 7+ and my goodness, how they magically transformed her reading experience. She would sit for hours looking at the pictures, flipping pages and as her #literacyskills became stronger, she began to make sense of of text too and identify more about the creatures, plants, organisms, experiments, objects, geography, weather, etc presented in the books. These books snapped her out of only being absorbed by picture books and story books. There is some merit in kids being allowed their free time to.do exactly as they please, whether it is daydreaming or flipping through books. They get lost in their own little dream worlds. These moments of daze are crucial to their growth as it is increasingly being documented that the #brain grows in such moments with the nerves connecting, synapses finding new routes. These magnificent volumes are storytelling with a difference. The child visually maps her world. She is incredible to be growing up in a world where these images are easily available. For instance, the book on Oceans has gorgeous pictures that do not make the watery world mysterious. Whereas we grew up in a world where Jacques Cousteau was still discovering the wonders of the deep. This particular volume has a preface by Fabien Cousteau, s/o Jacques Costeau.
During the pandemic, when children were confined at home and had to attend classes remotely, these DK books proved to be extremely useful resource material to have handy. Sure, the Internet exists. It is a vast ocean of readily available information but it is not the same thing as paper editions. Learning and reading in many ways is a sensual exercise. The brain needs to be tickled to come alive and absorb. Kids are surrounded by visuals and learn better if provided sensual opportunities of learning. They need to be left alone to slowly see, observe, ponder over and make connections for themselves. Large format, richly illustrated books like this permit the children to lie down on their tummies and stare into the book. Many peaceful hours can be spent like this without the parents getting frantic about excessive time spent on electronic devices or worrying about which links the children will click upon leading them to external websites etc. Books like this, developed by established brands, are good investments as they are sound on their factchecking and photographs used. It is ethicalpublishing too as every image or text used is always credited. It makes for reliable information that can be shared easily with children.
Of course these books are priced on the higher side but are an excellent addition to any home or school library. I understand the reasons for the expense and do not grudge it at all. I would rather buy one of these books than multiple volumes of different reading abilities to say explain the human body to the child. Children are incapable of grasping more than they can at any given time and slowly grow into these books. But it is incredible watching their growth as one fine day comes that magical moment when everything comes together. Now we are at a stage whereas parents we have to be very careful about identifying animals or fish as Sarah knows the exact species and names them accurately.
During remote learning I found it convenient to consult these books and explain the basic concepts of energy, periodic table, life cycle of rocks, vegetation belts, the various systems of the human body, etc. It was possible to let Sarah browse through the books and get a grasp of the concepts her teachers were introducing in their virtual classrooms. But when the teacher is reduced to a tiny box on a computer screen and valiantly attempts to draw sketches on her computer screen to explain to her class, it works but only to a limited extent. A substantial part of the heavy lifting of ensuring the child understood the concept is left upon the parents — this has been particularly evident during the pandemic. It is as if parents were assisting the schoolteachers in “minding the gap” between acquiring information and learning. Even so, once the kids begin returning to school, this kind of “blended” learning is here to stay. Schools are preferring to adopt the #hybridlearning — mix of digital and physical classes. But somewhere the balance has to be also struck between print books and online resources as well. This is were publishing brands like Dorling Kindersley India prove incredibly useful.
Build This Book by David Eckold has incredible book design to teach young minds the principles of physics. Concepts like lever, bridge ( to defy gravity), balance, winch, joints and links, turbine, spinner and potential energy are defined followed by instructions on how to make a model demonstrating the principle. The models are developed by children by punching out cards of each page. Interestingly, the perforated outlines are created in such a manner so as not to spoil the next page. There is a card backing to each design.
And then you have sights such as this one that I captured today of my daughter building models while attending online classes.
So much thought and detail to precision has gone into creating this book. Extraordinary! These are exactly the kind of tools one requires to nurture a child. More so now during the pandemic when children have been engaged in long-distance learning and do not necessarily have access to their classroom/ school resources.
Beginners by best-selling author, Tom Vanderbilt is a self-help book. Psychologically very uplifting. It is down-to-earth and humble. It is nice to see a memoir-cum-selfhelp book share with all humility one’s own shortcomings and the learnings gleaned from challenging oneself. It is very challenging at the best of times to hurl oneself into an “intensely immersive learning environment” but to do it over and over again as the author has done is commendable. One does learn even if it is to come to terms with one’s own limitations, not be an over reacher and yet continuously be alive to the myriad learning prospects life throws up— accept them and be challenged.
To begin the book with a chess match where he loses to his own daughter is a great start. Tom Vanderbilt does not come across as a snoot or with a large ego. But what is astonishing is the number of things he tries his hand at — chess, jewellery design, swimming, choral music, surfing etc. This book talks about how one is challenged to think beyond one’s own comfort zone especially once the children are born. This is a curious book as it criss-crosses genres such as self-help, parenting, psychology, education, lifeskill classes/workshops, corporate trainers etc. It will work also because it is so accessible in its easy style of chatting to the reader. It is also a positive book to read during the pandemic as it is motivating in the classical sense. It will do well in translation.
This is an extraordinary novel. Beautifully told by debut writer Kate Allen. It is about a young girl Lucy whose mother was a marine scientist specialising in the study of the Great White Shark. They live in Cape Cod where sightings of the sharks have been spotted and Helen had anticipated their arrival in a few years time as the local seal population grew. Unfortunately Lucy’s mum, Helen, passed away unexpectedly when Lucy was a seven years old. Her father, a rescue diver for the police, brought up Lucy with the support of his kind and warmhearted neighbours. Lucy is particularly close to her neighbour Maggie’s son, Fred. The youngsters did everything together including spending every moment of their waking hour in each other’s company. They also worked on a school projects together like the field guide on sharks that involved Lucy drawing and Fred providing the scientific explanations. Sadly, tragedy strikes. It devastates Lucy for whom it is a double blow. “The Line Tender” is an extraordinary glimpse into the world of adolescents as well as how adults around them help form a community and provide support whether in times of sadness, learning or navigating their way through the beauty this world can provide. It is not an us vs them kind of yalit but calm look at how everyone is managing their griefs too and they can reach out to each other for support. It is a way of looking outwards and the manner in which it helps heal Lucy. Read it.
Akin by Emma Donaghue is about a retired professor and widower, Noah Selvaggio, who is looking forward to visiting Nice after decades. It is his 80th birthday present to himself. He was born in Nice but after emigrating to USA with his parents, he had never returned to France. Nor had he spoken French in many decades except while conversing with his mother and even then it was a one-sided conversation as she spoke to him in French and he replied in English. A couple of days before his departure he is suddenly saddled with the responsibility of his 11-year-old grand-nephew, Michael. Michael’s father is no more and his mother is in prison. Noah is his nearest kin who is capable of looking after the child. Akin is about Noah and Michael tied by blood, learning to live and be responsible for each other. It is a stunning novel told by a writer who is mostly known for her historical fiction. The last “contemporary novel” which Emma Donaghue wrote to critical acclaim was Room. This is her second after that and is so worth reading. It has been written by someone who is extremely familiar with childish behaviour, pre-teen angst, with its glimpses of pure, innocent babyness. Michael is “difficult”, seemingly stubborn and brash, but it requires a great deal of emotional reserves on Noah’s part to remember that Michael has had a tough childhood and is behaving the best way he has learned to survive. The behaviour of the boy juxtaposed with the very similar tantrums that an elder is capable of throwing or watching the energy levels of the older and younger peaking and ebbing at more or less the same time reveals that they are not only akin in familial ties but in temperament too. It is part of life. Of course Noah being the older of the two manages most effectively to mask his feelings and reveal them only to the reader. But the intuitiveness of the elder in his caregiving of the boy are heartbreakingly sweet and tender. A transformation that seems to take place rather quickly given the few days they have spent together.
He watched Michael sleep, that reassuring regular rise and fall fo the ribs. Not cute at all; powerful. A tiny sound, as if he was sucking his tongue. The extraordinary thing about children was that they changed all the time, Noah thought, but not by attrition, the way adults did. Kids were always growing, moving up, away from their only ever temporary carers.
At the same time there are moments of learning that the little boy gives to the older man when discussing contemporary politics. This odd couple with nearly sixty-one years of age difference between them is in Nice also to revisit places that Noah recalls or his mother photographed and remain preserved in his collection of black and white pictures. While in Nice they realise that Nice was a Nazi base and Noah’s mother seemed to have had very easy access to the German forces. It is not clear for a while what her intentions were or was she sympathetic to the Resistance, but whatever the case may be it leaves Noah rattled. This revelation is not helped in any way by Michael’s awareness of contemporary events around the globe such as about Isis and Boko Haram that are equally distressing for Noah. Michael is constantly searching for news and images on his phone. Noah is unable to comprehend why, till Michael replies with a wisdom beyond his years, “If the world’s like that, I’d rather be ready.” Although Michael admits that after browsing through such terrifying images he does have to resort to “eye bleach” of cute pictures of kittens and similar stuff. Unfortunately Michael is too young to realise that memory does not work in such a manner, horrifying information cannot be erased at will. And this is borne by their holiday in Nice where there are constant reminders of the German occupation in the city as well as meeting survivors of the period who remember events of the past clearly. Soon it transpires that Noah’s mother was responsible for photographing and whisking away Jewish children hidden in secret around Nice and helping provide documentation for them in triplicate to ensure their safe passage out of the country. This is based on a true story as acknowledged by Emma Donaghue who says that this novel is her “homage to Marguerite Matisse Duthuit. Apparently the real Marcel Network managed to save 527 children from the camps by hiding them in and around Nice from 1943 to 1945. Only two were captured and sent to their deaths in Auschwitz. For the rest of their lives, the surviving members of the network preferred not to speak publicly about what they’d done.”
Akin by literary stalwart Emma Donaghue is a fine example of what literary fiction must be. It is a stunning piece of work that delves into a slice of history but at the same time remains focussed on the unlikely relationship of Noah and Michael. It is a beautiful novel that puts the spotlight on caregiving and its various aspects. For example, Noah’s mother during the war too took care of children who needed to be rescued and saved from fascist forces. At the same time this parallels Noah’s own life where he has to fend for a great nephew whose mother is incarcerated in prison and Noah has to provde the security blanket, love and emotional and physical sustenance. In both scenarios the children are for all practical purposes orphaned and need to be taken care of. While describing these stories, Emma Donaghue is able to portray a sensitive and empathetic portrait of the relationship between and older man and a young boy, who is on the cusp of growing up. It is a tough situation for any parent to be in but for an eighty-year-old to suddenly have this responsibility foisted upon him is startling but Noah does rise up to the occasion and towards the end of the story promises the sceptical boy a number of things who merely screws up his nose as if in doubt. But as caring adults know that promises given to children are meant to be kept and Noah vows to do so for Michael — as long as he can. Of course the story raises questions about “faux fatherhood” and what it means to be a parent, the feminisation of parenting whereas in this case it is only about the men, but it is portrayed with so much sensitive understanding that very soon the reader forgets there is nothing unusual in this single parenting or the lack of a physical presence of a mother in the immediate family. Instead as Noah quietly says to himself about Michael, “He is just a little boy”, a fact that one tends to forget when the child is being abrasive and brash.
Akin is an extremely beautiful book that is meant to be treasured, shared, read, and discussed. It is an extraordinary portrait of an odd couple who despite their moments of friction find their comfort levels and with it contentment with each other’s presence.
Novelist Louise Erdrich’s The Blue Jay’s Dance about balancing life as a mother and a writer is a fascinating account. It was written in the mid-nineties but is ever so relevant decades later. There was a lovely essay written in the The Paris Reviewby Sarah Mekendick on revisiting The Blue Jay’s Dance. It was published on 10 May 2017. It is a book certainly worth reading by many especially new mothers.
There are many passages that are beautifully written encapsulating the new life women professionals find themselves plunged into with the birth of a child. Two really stand out. These are:
To keep the door to the other self — the writing self — open, I scratch messages on the enevelopes of letters I can’t answer, in the margins of books I’m too tired to review. On pharmacy prescription bags, dime-store notebooks, children’s construction paper, I keep writing.
and the second is:
Most of the instruction given to pregnant women is as chirpy and condescening as the usual run of maternity clothes — the wide tops with droopy bows slung beneath the neck, the T-shirts with arrows pointing to what can’t be missed, the childish sailor collars, puffed sleeves, and pastels. It is cute advice — what to pack in the hospital bag (don’t forget a toothbrush, deodorant, a comb or a hair dryer) — or it’s worse: pseudo-spiritual, misleading, silly, and even cruel. In giving birth to three daughters, I have found it impossible to eliminate pain through breathing, by focusing on a soothing photograph. It is true pain one is attempting to endure in drugless labor, not “discomfort,” and the way to deal with pain is not to call it something else but to increase in strength, to prepare the will. Women are strong, strong, terribly strong. We don’t know how strong we are until we’re pushing out our babies. We are too often treated like babies having babies when we should be in training, like acolytes, novices to high priestesshood, like serious applicants for the space program.
Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Author Academy is hosting an event over lunch at Hotel Le Meredien, New Delhi . It is to introduce and discuss their self-publishing programme– Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP. The panel will include Sanjeev Jha, Director for Kindle Content, India, Amazon. I will moderate the conversation.
Anyone who is interested in selfpublishing their book online is welcome to attend. It could be a book or a manual ranging from fiction, non-fiction, self-help, parenting, career advice, spirituality, horoscopes, philosophy, first aid manuals, medicine, science, gardening, cooking, collection of recipes, automobiles, sports, finance, memoir, biographies, histories, children’s literature, textbooks, science articles, on Nature, poetry, translations, drama, interviews, essays, travel, religion, hospitality, narrative non-fiction, reportage, short stories, education, teaching, yoga etc. Any form of text that is to be made available as an ebook using Amazon’s Kindle programme.
In December 2016 Amazon announced that Kindle books would be available in five regional languages in India — Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam. This is a game changing move as it enables writers in other languages apart from English to have access to a worldwide platform such as the Kindle. Best-selling author Ashwin Sanghi called it an “outstanding initiative by Amazon India. It’s about time that vernacular writing moved out from the confines of paperback. It will also enable out-of-print books to be made available now.” Another best-selling author, Amish Tripathi, said this will address the inadequate distribution and marketing of Indian language books, for the much larger market is the one in Indian languages. “I am personally committed to this and am very happy that of the 3.5 million copies that have been sold of my books, a good 500,000 of them are in Indian languages.” Others remarked upon the best global practices it would bring to local publishing.
Director for Kindle Content, India, Amazon
cordially invites you for a session on
Amazon for Authors:
Navigating the Road to Self-Publishing Success
Hear how Indian authors have used Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) to build and reach audiences across a variety of genres
Date: Thursday, 30 November 2017
Time: 12 -1pm (followed by lunch)
Venue: Hotel Le Meredien, Delhi
This event is free. Registration is mandatory. Please email to confirm participation: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Jaya Bhattacharji Rose
International publishing consultant
“Grit is about working on something you care about so much that you’re willing to stay loyal to it.”
Angela Duckworth‘s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseveranceis an analysis of how those who are successful in life are primarily due to their grit, their passion and perseverance rather than talent or being naturally gifted at it. This is the conclusion she came to after studying students and professionals across the spectrum. She wortked with the cadets at West Point to sales people, to school children and interviewed many achievers to understand what made them tick. Surprisingly it was not the IQ scores that determined whether a child/person would succeed at their task. It was dedicated hardwork, perseverance and a passion to excel. Sometimes the hardwork involved in the attempt to excel can be exhausting but it is at this precise moment that the grit of the person decides whether s/he will finish their task. Angela Duckworth interviewed Bill Gates too who said that when he used to screen applicants for Microsoft he inevitably selected the candidate who had completed the tough programming task he had given. He appreciated the candidate’s stamina to stick on till the end rather than give up in frustration. There are many, many examples strewn through the book that confirm her hypothesis that grit determines success, not necessarily talent and IQ. This is a strength of character she states is a good quality to inculcate in children too. The satisfaction of doing something important and doing it well even though it’s so very hard. Children “recognize complacency has its charms, but none worth trading for the fulfillment of realizing their potential.”
Grit is one of those exceptional thought-provoking books that will be influential for a very, very long time. More so since it takes one idea and explore it satisfactorily providing sufficient empirical evidence to make it plausible. Here is a short TED talk Angela Duckworth made based on her research. It does share the gist of her wonderful book although it is advisable to read the book for the concept to really seep in.
Angela Duckworth Grit Vermilion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing, Penguin Random House, London, 2016. Pb. pp 340
Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a slim little book which developed out of a letter she wrote to her friend. It contains advice to Ijeawele on how to raise her daughter as a feminist. There are some fine pearls of wisdom such as “Teach Chizalum to read.” Or ” Teach her that the idea of ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense”. Chimamanda Adichie selects fifteen of the classic arguments associated with feminism that are bandied about which are primarily internalising patriarchal arguments. For instance, mixing up feminism and femininity, choice of dress being confused with morality, perceiving marriage as an achievement and using the language of ‘allowing’ which encapsulates the power equations, learning about gender-neutral roles instead of capitulating to definitions that are primarily patriarchal constructs, rejecting the idea of gender roles, appreciating to identify yourself as an individual who is composed of many parts to make the whole — motherhood is not the sole definition of a woman’s identity, talking about female sexuality and celebrating it rather than being ashamed of it, and finally not to be caught in biological arguments that ultimately constrict a woman’s movement and ambitions.
But, but, but…Dear Ijeawele reads too much like a primer for feminism. Agreed it is a good starting point for those who want to understand what feminism is about, the exercising of choice and all genders being equal. Adichie does warn against generalisations from one’s personal experience and does try and encompass various aspects of the feminist spectrum. Yet it is too simple and reductive. For instance it is all very well to stress on the independence of a woman and how to negotiate for her spaces in the world but how can she do it if she does not have financial independence? Adichie touches upon it but specifically within the context of Igbo culture being materialistic so “while money is important — because money means self-reliance — you must not value people based on who has money and who does not”. Whereas this is the crux of feminism and a woman’s identity for economics is the basis of any relationship. Most cultures around the world are deeply embedded in patriarchal structures that essentially clip a woman’s financial means by domesticating her and reminding her of her primary responsibilities being towards the family and children. But if women are taught to be financially sound to earn their independence it will be the first step in “correcting” the social imbalances which exists today in relationships. Otherwise all the good advice which a commercially successful author such as Adichie gives on feminism will sound hollow. ( Brittle Paper, 27 March 2017 “As Sales Approach the Million Mark, Is Americanah Now Adichie’s Signature Novel?” . Also see “New Yorkers just selected a book for the entire city to read in America’s biggest book club“, a “One Book One New York” programme started by NYPL. )
Ultimately feminism like any other ideological language has to be lived daily. The basic tenets can be taught and shared but it varies from individual to individual on how to practise it and thus bring about the social change is aims for. As for bringing up children and introducing them to feminism — the best way is by the parent/s being role models. Children learn best through action and not instructions.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions 4th Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, London, 2017. Pb. pp. 68 Rs 250