January 14, 2019

Book Review: Unmarriageable by Sonia Kamal

Publication Date: January 15, 2019

Source: Vine

In this one-of-a-kind retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in modern-day Pakistan, Alys Binat has sworn never to marry—until an encounter with one Mr. Darsee at a wedding makes her reconsider.

A scandal and vicious rumor concerning the Binat family have destroyed their fortune and prospects for desirable marriages, but Alys, the second and most practical of the five Binat daughters, has found happiness teaching English literature to schoolgirls. Knowing that many of her students won’t make it to graduation before dropping out to marry and have children, Alys teaches them about Jane Austen and her other literary heroes and hopes to inspire the girls to dream of more.

When an invitation arrives to the biggest wedding their small town has seen in years, Mrs. Binat, certain that their luck is about to change, excitedly sets to work preparing her daughters to fish for rich, eligible bachelors. On the first night of the festivities, Alys’s lovely older sister, Jena, catches the eye of Fahad “Bungles” Bingla, the wildly successful—and single—entrepreneur. But Bungles’s friend Valentine Darsee is clearly unimpressed by the Binat family. Alys accidentally overhears his unflattering assessment of her and quickly dismisses him and his snobbish ways. As the days of lavish wedding parties unfold, the Binats wait breathlessly to see if Jena will land a proposal—and Alys begins to realize that Darsee’s brusque manner may be hiding a very different man from the one she saw at first glance.

I thoroughly enjoyed this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice in modern-day Pakistan. P&P retellings are a dime a dozen and the storyline is so well-known that there are no narrative surprises – one already knows the outcome. So the journey towards that outcome must indeed be extraordinary to be enjoyed.  

First - the setting in circa-2000, marriage-obsessed Pakistan, which mirrors Regency Era England of the original.  I loved all the colorful and lively details of the culture, including the mouthwatering descriptions of food, customs and lavish wedding celebrations (only one wedding but like Indian weddings, the festivities can last an entire week!)  I was also tickled by this version's Mrs. Bennett, Pinkie Binat, whose single-minded, old-fashioned views and laughable mispronunciations kept me laughing.

Second, I was delighted by the passages detailing Alys's deep knowledge and love of literature.  As an English lit teacher in an all-girls school, the book opens with Alys tasking her students with rewriting the famous opening line of Pride and Prejudice, with very revealing results.  All very meta, but Kamal also occasionally comments on the original, such as when she allows her version of Charlotte Lucas, Sherry, to explain convincingly why she chose her Mr. Collins, and then provides her with not only a comfortable arrangement, but a very happy marriage.  

Alys and Darsee work in this version of P&P because they both have a love of literature in common and, when not disagreeing about most things, have enviably rich conversations about the books they've read.  

January 7, 2019

Book Review: What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami

While training for the New York City Marathon, Haruki Murakami decided to keep a journal of his progress. The result is a memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid recollections and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer. By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, here is a rich and revelatory work that elevates the human need for motion to an art form.

Here is a sentence, I never thought I would write:  I have lately taken up running. Up until three months ago, I would have more likely said that I hate to run and that I was just not made for running.  In high school, I dreaded the annual physical tests, where I lagged in every single area, including running/limping/trying not to crawl the mile.  I was always dead last, wheezing and clutching my chest as I barely crossed the finish line. 

And if you had told my 16-year-old self that I had just finished a 10K race – willingly – she would have probably fainted from shock. So what changed?  I feel as if I walked through a passageway and entered a place I had only heard about.  And of course, I wanted to read up on this new place – not so much a how-to, but to describe its inner life. 

What I Talk about When I Talk about Running is that book.

According to Murakami, the most important aspect of marathon running is “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”  I feel that this is a truth for plain old running, at least for me. Yes, I will struggle for a mile or two until I get going and afterwards, my knees might hurt but whether I keep going or not is up to me. Somehow, I need to transcend what is happening to my body to keep going. Mind over matter.

Most of what he writes about resonates.  For instance, I would have thought that as he ran (6 miles a day!) he had deep, meaningful discourses with his inner self, or worked out a complicated plot to one of his fantastical novels.  But no, he mostly thinks about nothing, or about running itself.  I find myself nodding yes to this.  I also think about nothing - the weather, the road conditions, the sheer pleasure of running on soft dirt as opposed to hard pavement. What I also found gratifying was that he has days where getting up to go running is a joyless chore.  Many a dark, cold early morning I have battled with myself. It is a comfort - and a dread - that despite his many years of running, Murakami still has these difficult days. 

Of course, there is only so many similarities I can draw between me and this Nobel prize contender.  He wrote his first novel almost on a whim, just deciding one day to sit down and write one, which in turn won a prize.  He runs a marathon once a year.  And in fact, the narrative arc of this book seems to build up to the New York marathon as the climax. However before that, Murakami sneaks in the one time he ran an ultramarathon- 62 miles. His description of how he physically and mentally battled his way to the finish was so painful, I felt drained just reading it.  This was the true climax of the book, and the New York marathon, oddly enough, is never described.  

Juicy tidbit: He likes to listen to Lovin' Spoonful during his daily runs.

January 1, 2019

2018: My Year in Books


1. Bellamy and the Brute by Alicia Michaels *
2. The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers (V)
3. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn *(L) (1/24/18)
4. Everless by Sara Holland (L) (1/28/18)


5. The English Wife by Lauren Willig (L) (2/1/18)
6. How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry (L)* (2/23/18)


7. Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn (L) (3/24/18)


8. Half Bad by Veronica Henry (L)* (5/3/18)
9. Matchmaking for Beginners by Maggie Dawson *
10. Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica * (5/21/18)
11. Venice as I Love It by France Thierard (5/22/18)


12. The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware (L)
13. The Wife between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (L) (6/9/18)
14. The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy (L) (6/9/18) 
15. Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton (L) (6/12/18)
16. The Favorite Sister by Jessica Knoll (L) * (6/14/18)
17. The Girlfriend by Michelle Frances (L) * (6/15/18)
18. Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell (L)* (6/16/18)
19. Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney (L) (6/19/18)
20. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani (L) (6/21/18)
21. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (L) (6/23/18)
22. The House at Riverton by Kate Morton (6/25/18) (reread)
23. Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris (L) (6/25/18)
24. The Broken Ones by Sarah A. Denzil * (6/26/18)


25. A Paris All Your Own edited by Eleanor Brown (7/1/18)
26. Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl (L) (7/12/18)
27. A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell (L) (7/21/18)
28. Nightmare House by Douglas Clegg * (7/24/18)
29. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig (L) (7/27/18)
30. Believe Me by J.P. Delaney (V) (7/28/18)


31. Grim Lovelies by Megan Shepherd (NG) * (8/2/18)
32. Paris Times Eight by Deirdre Kelly (L) (8/4/16)
33. Paris Ever After by K.S.R Burns * (8/5/18)
34. I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land by Connie Willis (L) (8/9/18)
35. Our House by Louise Candlish (L) (8/14/18)


36. Calypso by David Sedaris (L) (9/8/18)
37. The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Butland (L) (9/13/18)
38. Ghosted by Rosie Walsh (L) (9/14/18)


39. Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling (L)* (10/1/18)
40. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (L)* (10/4/18)


41. The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton (11/23/18)
42. What I Talk about When I Talk about Running by Haruki Murakami (11/25/18)


43. You Think It I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld (L) (12/1/18)
44. The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick (V) (12/1/18)
45. Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyanchenko (L) (12/15/18)
46. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger (L) (12/21/18)
47. French Milk by Lucy Knisley (L) (12/22/18)
48. The Burned Tower by Marina and Sergey Dyanchenko * (12/26/18)
49. Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi (L) (12/28/18)
50. Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell (L) (12/30/18)
51. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (L) (12/30/18)
52. The Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie (L) * (12/30/18)
53. Little Darlings by Melanie Golding (V) (12/31/18)

Sometime in November, I felt sure I was not going to make my goal of 52 books this year, but lo and behold, Vita Nostra by Marina and Sergey Dyanchenko broke my mini reading slump. As was the situation last year, graphic novels helped pushed me to the finish line and a thoroughly mesmerizing ARC, Little Darlings (review to come), led me to exceed my goal.

My one big reading obsession this year was the domestic thriller - you have only to peruse June's mammoth list, which includes 12 entries in that genre to see that.  Once I had my fill, I next indulged in a small binge of humorous memoirs. Some historical fiction, some nonfiction, some fantasy round out 2018. What reading pleasures will 2019 bring me?