Read To Win

If a writer gifts a book, it must be really worth reading, right (even if it’s their own)?

Ten writers talk of the last book they gifted someone.

So many books (still). So little time (and it’s getting worse). Here’s one way to cut through the clutter and discover what book to read next. We asked, authors answered.

Shashi Tharoor

I gifted two books – Manu S. Pillai’s The Ivory Throne and Sanjeev Sanyal’s The Ocean of Churn – to my US-based sons. They are both very interested in history but neither book is published yet in the US, and I wanted them to have these to add to their knowledge of their motherland!

I have also just gifted my own book, An Era of Darkness, to an old British friend I had briefly shared an office with as a junior UN official in the early 1980s, to tell him what his compatriots did in India!

Jerry Pinto

I gave a friend of mine Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders. This is because her mother suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and I thought it might be of some help.

Easterine Kire

The last time I gifted a book was to my niece Kevi Kevichüsa at New Year. The book was, incidentally, A Naga Village Remembered which I had written in 2003. Because both my niece and her husband are from the village which I wrote about. It is also a portion of village history that has shaped the identity of the village today. My niece is a creative stay-at-home mother of two, and an artist and a fabulous storyteller. I felt she would connect to the story in the book and pass it on to her children someday.

Karan Mahajan

The last book I gifted was the appropriately-titled Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow. I gave it to a friend because it was right before me in a bookstore – we were in a bookstore together – and I recalled the joy the book had given me, and wanted to pass the experience on to another person. This friend is a fantastic novelist and I felt he would connect with Bellow’s passionate deployment of ideas in his narrative, and the attention paid to the confused lives of writers.

Manu Joseph

I recently gifted Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo to the writer and dancer, Tishani Doshi. Stasiland tells the stories of East Germany’s ordinary victims, and has an absorbing, sentimental and literary style of narration. Giving the book is a part of my old campaign to make novelists and poets I admire to venture into journalism, or to use that moronic word “non-fiction”. The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl is a little known, under-appreciated and brilliant novella which the novelist Tabish Khair had introduced me to. An insight of The Nice Old Man... is that what decides the punishments for our sins is not the nature of the sin but our age.

Anushka Ravishankar

The last book I gifted was I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s supposed to be a book for young adults, but I believe that a really good book works for any age. The last few books I’ve gifted have been picture books and YA books – all to adults! And they have loved them. If you read Markus Zusak, Frances Hardinge or Philip Pullman, you realise how specious it can be to divide books into categories of adult and children’s books. I gave the book to a friend who is going to have a lot of time on her hands, and who I know loved Zusak’s The Book Thief.

Amish Tripathi

I gifted Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to my brother. It’s a thought-provoking book, to understand the volatile times we live in and to help us make a blueprint to survive, even thrive, in this atmosphere. It’s exactly the kind of book my brother would like.

Preeti Shenoy

The last book I gifted was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to my best friend.

Paul was a brilliant neurosurgeon who before becoming a doctor had majored in English literature. Cancer struck him at 36, and claimed his life by 37. The book is not only poignant and powerful but is poetic too. What makes this a “must-read” are the questions he asks and the answers he finds. Throughout his life, Paul had sought to find the answer to the question “What makes life worth living?” and in the face of death, he finds it.

Having just finished the book, I was in that strange state of calm, having been made acutely aware that there exists a place, where life meets death and, despite death having the final say, life wins. I gifted this book as I wanted my friend to experience all that I did while reading it. There are some books that change your perspective towards life. Paul’s book is one of them.

Sarnath Banerjee

The last book I gifted was Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s collected works from Penguin. The book was given to a friend, Frank Loric, who is a French translator.

I live in Europe and my problem with lot of Europeans is that their understanding of modernity is very euro-centric and that’s often very detrimental. They are very enlightened in terms of their politics and humanitarian projects, like those in Syria for example. But the real understanding of how people are elsewhere, how a Syrian person is in Syria, that’s somewhat limited. This often happens when you come from a dominant culture where everyone has adhered to your culture.

So, I think Arvind is important for the understanding of a certain kind of indigenous modernity and a good way of understanding how people think. I was actually looking for an Akhil Katyal, who is my current favorite poet from Delhi, but I couldn’t find a book by him. But Arvind is a classic.

Janice Pariat

The last book I gifted a friend was Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road. Because he had it on Kindle, and I said that didn’t count, so I bought him a paper copy. Because it’s devastatingly beautiful, and will break his heart, and that’s what friends do. They gift each other books that will break their hearts.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.