Spectator by Seema Goswami: Page-turners

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As the days go by and I remain confined at home for the most part, I seek solace in other worlds. Sometimes it is through travel and food shows that take me to destinations I can’t visit. At others, it is by scrolling through the Instagram feeds of friends who share my passion for travel, and revisiting their old posts. But more often than not, I venture into different worlds by simply picking up a book and reading.

Okay, make that picking up my Kindle and reading. Over the past couple of months, when bookshops and physical books have not been available to us, I have taken to downloading the latest titles and reading them on my devices (I even have the Kindle app downloaded on my phone). And unlike book snobs who insist that they need the actual feel, touch, smell and whatever else of a book, the printed word on a screen serves me just fine.

As I have written earlier, I started off the lockdown by trying to read worthy books, which required oodles of concentration, so that I could make best use of the stretches of empty time that I now had to negotiate. That didn’t last long. As my anxiety about the pandemic grew, so did my inability to digest new and complicated information. So I fell back on my comfort reads, the books that have sustained me for years now, seeking refuge in the words of my favourite authors.

Although book snobs insist they need the actual book, the printed word on a screen serves fine!

Well, that phase – lovely though it was while it lasted – ended a few weeks back, once I realised that lockdown was going to be a way of life now. And slowly and cautiously, I dipped my toes into the waters of new releases, starting off with some light fiction, graduating to memoirs, and taking in biographies along the way.

So here, based on my own recent reading, is a list of books that I enjoyed reading – and that you may want to read as well.

Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld: What if Hillary Rodham had turned down Bill Clinton when he asked her to marry him? How would her life and career have developed if she hadn’t been weighed down by her husband’s serial infidelities? Would Bill Clinton still have become President of the United States if he didn’t have Hillary by his side? This book tries to answer these questions, retelling the story of Hillary from the time she met Bill in college. The first half of the book can get a bit tedious because it goes over events we know all too well. But the second half, in which Sittenfeld’s imagination takes flight, more than makes up for it.

The Art Of Her Deal: The Untold Story of Melania Trump by Mary Jordan: Melania Trump, the First Lady of the United States of America, has often been described as the most famous unknown person in the world. Mary Jordan, in this painstakingly-researched biography, tried to fill in the portrait of Melania with details from her childhood in Slovenia, her modelling days in Milan, her arrival in America as a little-known model, and how she finally made it to the White House, on the arm of her husband. Even if you’re no fan of the Trumps, this insightful book, written in a relaxed, easy style, should keep you entertained.

The Mirror And The Light by Hilary Mantel: Okay, it pains me to say this but say it I must. This last instalment of Mantel’s trilogy – after Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – is not a patch on the two earlier books. Unlike the two others, which were sparkling and effervescent, this one seems stodgy in parts and entirely too weighed under by extraneous details about the Tudor court. But don’t give up after a couple of chapters. If you persist, you will be rewarded by a book that not only brings Oliver Cromwell to life but takes him to his death as well.

Lady In Waiting: My Extraordinary Life In The Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner: I picked up this book thinking it would be a light and easy read, written as it was by the lady in waiting to Princess Margaret, Anne Glenconner, whose husband, Colin Tennant was the man behind the development of the island of Mustique. But what I found was a searing tale of love and loss, written by a woman who has endured more adversity and bereavement in her world of privilege than you could possibly imagine. That she remains optimistic and upbeat despite all she has gone through, and that she has managed to write a book that sings and soars, is a remarkable achievement.

The Mothers: Five Women. Five Secrets. One Missing Husband by Sarah J Naughton: If you are looking for a nice, light read, that delivers a few surprises along the line, then you can’t go wrong with this one. The Mothers refers to five women who meet in their antenatal group but remain good friends even three years later, catching up with each other’s lives during boozy evenings. Everything falls apart, however, when one of their husbands goes missing and the police are called in. The ladies band together as the investigation begins but cracks soon start showing up as the book builds up to a surprising reveal. If you liked Big Little Lies, you will love this (as will Reese Witherspoon, if she hasn’t already bought the film rights!)

Journalist and author Seema Goswami has been a columnist with HT Brunch since 2004

Spectator appears every fortnight

From HT Brunch, June 28, 2020

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