Tag: Jhumpa Lahiri

The Clothing of Books

the-clothing-of-booksby Jhumpa Lahiri

Translated by Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush

ISBN 978-0-525-43275-3

“Like a translation, a cover can be faithful to the book, or it can be misleading. In theory, like a translation, it should be in the service of the book, but this dynamic isn’t always the case.”

When you pick up a book, the first thing you see is the jacket. In most cases, the author of the book has had little or no input into the design. The words do not belong to the writer, but to the publishing house’s copy writers, charged with marketing the book, and to the other writers or critics who have praised the book in blurbs. With the exception of their name, and possibly the title, the author is nowhere to be found. In The Clothing of Books, Jhumpa Lahiri interrogates this tension between form and content, both from her early perspective as a reader, and her later experience as a writer.

The Clothing of Books was originally delivered as the keynote address at the Festival degli Scrittori in 2015. The speech was written and delivered in Italian. As chronicled in her book In Other Words, after completing her 2012 novel The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri moved with her family to Rome, and largely gave up reading and writing in English to focus on her passion for the Italian language. In that book, she also expressed her dislike for translating her own work into English. The Clothing of Books was translated into English by Lahiri’s husband, Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush.

Clocking in at only seventy pages, The Clothing of Books is really an essay published as a small gift book, with a price tag of $7.95 USD. However, it is a very cute little book, cleverly designed by Joan Wong, who also designed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s little book We Should All Be Feminists, as well as the paperback cover for Americanah. The cover flaps fold out to form the two sides of a double breasted jacket, with buttons illustrated on the front flap, and button holes on the back. Combined with graphic effects that mimic stitching and textured fabric, the book looks as if it has been literally clothed for its debut.

Inside, Lahiri contemplates how jackets affected her own reading life. With a librarian for a father, Lahiri borrowed many of her books, which were mostly stripped of their dust jackets before being circulated. With these “naked books,” the author’s words were the first thing she encountered. She also expresses this preference for her own books: “I want the first words read by the reader of my book to be written by me.” Yet she also acknowledges that a naked book is “incomplete, in some ways inaccessible. It lacks a door through which to enter the text. It lacks a face.” At used book sales, jacketless books often languish, unsold.

On the flip side, Lahiri examines covers, both those that fit, and those that do not. She contrasts individual designs with those for part of a European publishing series—American readers, think like the Modern Library, but with contemporary authors rather than classics—regarding the latter as a sort of uniform. Contemplating the relationship between Virginia Woolf, and her sister Vanessa Bell, who painted her covers, Lahiri notes that a designer does not even necessarily have to read the book to capture it, as Bell did not, taking only a summary from her sister. She also reflects on the stereotypes of India that have been evident in designs for various editions of her own books, even those set entirely in America. Taken together, the two angles form a fascinating, if brief, meditation on the role of the jacket in the life of a book.

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Audiobook Memoir Mini-Reviews

I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and I’ve written before about all the awesome ways they make my life better. However, I don’t usually write reviews, because driving, cleaning, cooking, or walking while I listen means that I don’t usually take any notes, which is a key part of my regular review writing process. But this year I’m trying out short reviews that will share my quick impressions of the books I’ve been listening too. These are admittedly not as in-depth or analytical as my usual reviews, but rather a quick record of what I thought about my latest listens.

Scrappy Little Nobody

Cover image for Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick Anna Kendrick

ISBN 9781501117206

This memoir features a series of funny essays about Kendrick’s rise to fame read by the actress herself. She is best known for Up in the Air and Pitch Perfect, and forgotten for, but financially supported by, her bit part in the Twilight franchise. Scrappy Little Nobody shares Kendrick’s stories about being a theatre nerd, the weirdness of appearing on red carpets in borrowed dresses that cost more than your rent—which you can barely pay—and yet having everyone assume that you are rich because you’re famous. I especially enjoyed the story about the first time she realized she was being followed by a paparazzo, and her strategy for avoiding stakeouts of her apartment (use your introvert super powers to stay inside, watch Netflix and eat take-out until they go away).  Kendrick was both funny and relatable and this audiobook made for enjoyable company while getting my chores done.

Being Jazz

Cover image for Being Jazz by Jazz JenningsJazz Jennings

ISBN 9780735207448

Being Jazz is a sweetly earnest memoir by a trans girl who realized her identity at a very young age, and was blessed with the rare support of her family despite the difficulty they faced in finding any information about raising a trans child. Jazz has now featured in several TV specials, a children’s book, and a reality series, in addition to her own memoir. Honestly, I felt like a bit of a creepy snoop for getting this intimate look into the life of a very young person, who will probably be embarrassed by some of these stories down the road. Apart from her advocacy work, Jennings’ life is pretty normal, and while that is important for people to see, it isn’t terribly interesting, especially if you’ve already been a teenage girl once yourself. Jennings also touches on her struggles with depression, and evinces a sex-positive attitude with little room for shame. Her straightforward message focuses on self-love and acceptance.

In Other Words

Cover image for In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri Jhumpa Lahiri

ISBN 9781101875551

After completing her 2012 novel, The Lowland, award-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri largely gave up reading and writing in English, and moved to Rome to pursue her passion for the Italian language. After studying it sporadically for more than twenty years, she wanted to immerse herself in it to become truly fluent, something that she felt was impossible in New York. In Other Words was written in Italian (In Altre Parole) and then translated back into English by Ann Goldstein. The audiobook is read by the author, first in English, and then again in Italian. I was absolutely fascinated by these layers of mediation, as well as the process of learning another language, and I listened to the entire English half of the audio book during the January 24 in 48 readathon. Lahiri explains why she felt she had to give up English, the reason she chose to have someone else translate her book into English, and meditates on the experience of trying to express herself in a language she has only just begun to grasp with any fluency. The collection includes two of the stories she wrote during her time in Rome. One is the first story she wrote in Italian, and the other is one that came later. She also reflects on how her three languages—Bengali, English, and Italian—relate to her identity as the child of immigrants. If you find languages or the writing process interesting, or are curious about the relationship between language and identity, you absolutely have to check out this memoir!

24 in 48 and Diverse-a-thon Kick-Off

In a fit of over-ambition, I’ve signed up for two awesome reading events that are taking place over the next week across various social media channels.

Cover images for my readathon TBRToday marks the start of 24 in 48, a read-a-thon during which ambitious participants aim to read for 24 hours out of the 48 hour weekend. I participated for the first time this summer, and succeeded in hitting that goal thanks to a combination of dedicated reading and audio books. Having hit that high bar once, I am planning to rest on my laurels and take a more relaxed approach this time out, and instead use the event to make sure I log a solid block of reading time this weekend.

Overlapping with 24 in 48 is Diverse-a-thon, an event that started on BookTube in September 2016. This is their second outing, which is expanding beyond BookTube to include book bloggers and Bookstagram. The purpose of this read-a-thon is to bolster marginalized writers, and particularly own voices titles. Taking part in this read-a-thon seemed like a natural extension of my participation in the Read Diverse 2017 challenge. This is a longer event that runs from January 22 to 29, which means dedicating an entire week to diverse reads!

So what’s on my TBR for these two events?

24 in 48

The Fate of the Tearling 

Cover image for The Fate of the Tearling by Erika JohansenThe first two books in Erika Johansen’s series, The Queen of the Tearling and The Invasion of the Tearling, introduced an intriguing world that is part fantasy and part dystopian, centering around the ascension of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, and her fight to retain her throne. This one tops my list because I am curious to get answers to the many questions that were left unanswered at the end of the second book, and also because this is the next book in my stack due back at the library.

In Other Words 

Cover image for In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri It is impossible to have a really good 24 in 48 without audio books, for me at least! Suddenly, necessary chores and exercise are transformed into additional reading time on the clock. Jhumpa Lahiri wrote this book in Italian, and it was translated into English by Ann Goldstein. The audio version is then performed by the author–talk about layers! This autobiographical work describes Lahiri’s 2012 move to Rome in order to immerse herself in the Italian language. I am fascinated by bilingualism, and the process of learning another language, so I can’t wait to check this out.

Diverse-a-thon

You Can’t Touch My Hair 

Cover image for You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe RobinsonPhoebe Robinson is a comedian best known for her podcast, 2 Dope Queens, with Jessica Williams. I have to admit that I have never listened to it, but I discovered this collection on a display at my library. A book of essays seems like the perfect choice for reading in bits and pieces throughout a week-long event. And since I love to laugh while I learn, this seems like a strong pick for getting an own voices perspective on being a black woman in America.  Bonus task: Listen to an episode of 2 Dope Queens sometime this week.

Juliet Takes a Breath 

Cover image for Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby RiveraI’ve seen so many good reviews of Gabby Rivera’s book around the blogosphere, that I finally decided to request it from the library. And what do you know, it landed in my lap just in time for diverse-a-thon. Juliet has just come out to her Puerto Rican family, and is now moving across the country for an intership with her feminist hero, Harlowe Brisbane. But when she arrives in Portland, she quickly realizes that Harlowe’s feminism doesn’t seem to have room for people like her. A story about the importance of intersectional feminism seems like just thing for diverse-a-thon.

Naturally, I reserve the right to shake up my TBR at a whim, as the spirit moves me during the read-a-thon itself. Plans are worthless, after all, even if planning is everything. Now let’s get reading!

Are you participating in 24 in 48 or Diverse-a-thon? What’s on your TBR? Link me up!