Poem of the Month: New Year Special

Welcome to the third poem of the month.

1st January 2020 marks the beginning of  a brand new decade and also heralds the coming of so much hope.

We all ring in the new year with promises and resolutions, leaving behind our losses and the things we didn’t do, promising that we will do better!

So this month, I chose a poem that expresses that hope and that promise so well.

Burning the Old Year
 Naomi Shihab Nye
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

Source: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/48597/burning-the-old-year

The metaphor of burning suffuses the poem. Though ironically it is a literal burning that the persona is engaging in: burning the letters, notes, incomplete poems etc. The action is very tangible and one that immediately connects with leaving behind everything unfortunate and old and stepping into the new, starting afresh.

The title also references the tradition of burning the old man during new year. Burning effigies to signify the burning of the past and also of evil is a common motif across cultures, one that resonates with the people’s need to dissolve their bad deeds and usher in goodness in their lives. This poem, however, depicts a burning of a personal nature rather than a symbolic one. No effigy is being burnt here but actual personal things to bid goodbye to the losses.

What do you think about the poem? Please share in the comments below!


Do you have a favourite poem you absolutely love? Share them with The Book Cafe as part of the Poem of the Month! Click here to know more.

2 Books Down in 2020

As I mentioned in last month’s The Reading Spree: Hindi Writing Post, January 2020 will be dedicated to reading books from the Middle East.

Strangely given the US-Iran tensions that erupted by the end of 2019 and going into 2020, it felt prophetic to be reading works from this region.

And the first two books I picked to read were coincidentally from Iran as well.

The first book for 2020 was the non fiction memoir, My Prison, My Home by Haleh Esfandiari. The work recounts her imprisonment in Evin Prison in Tehran, Iran on false charges of trying to destabalise the country. She is a scholar who works in US. She has also worked with the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Middle East Program and has taught at Princeton University.

I was proud to have picked this book as the first one for 2020 because I usually stay away from non fiction works but this was a moving tale and a story of strength in the face of solitary imprisonment.

The second book I picked was A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri. This book is at once heartwarming but also melancholic as it narrates Saba, the protagonist’s search for her missing twin while growing up in a fictional village in north Iran, amidst Irani traditions and aftermath of the Revolution.

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Will keep you posted about other books that I have read this month in the The Reading Spree post for January 2020.

Stay tuned!

8 Books For When You Are Down and Out!

2019 is well and truly done now. Post party blues are bound to set in. In a world where even the tiniest thing we do winds its way online and creates an online image, comparing ourselves to other people’s lives on social media platforms becomes second nature to all of us. Studies have shown a correlation between anxiety, self esteem, and social media.

As a whole, mental health issues are not very often talked about in India. Depression is simply shrugged off as a mood and not recognized as a prolonged state of mind that needs to be addressed. There are many ways in which anxiety and issues associated with depression can manifest themselves. Anxieties over festivities or self image issues due to long social media exposure are only two examples.

Seeking help should not be considered a taboo or looked down upon.

One more way to feel better is to engage yourself in reading relevant books; books that can motivate you and help you tackle your situation. The Book Cafe presents a list of eight such meaningful books that can help you get through the worst of times.

THE HEN WHO DREAMED SHE COULD FLY BY SUN MI-HANG

That’s all there is to it. We look different, so we don’t understand each other’s inner thoughts, but we cherish each other in our own way. I respect you.

This short South Korean novella possesses a beautiful fable like quality and narrates the gutsy story of a hen, Sprout, who refuses to do what she is forced to do – lay eggs for humans – and dares to set her own path. For once, she wants to be able to hatch the egg and not let it be snatched away. She decides to break free from her coop and face the world which is full of uncertainty. The novella cum fable deals with several relevant abstract issues of our times with the utmost simplicity. One important theme of the story is the need to be comfortable with your own identity and not try to fit in constantly with the majority. This is an important lesson in our world of idealized social media presence that we may or may not live up to.

Read my complete review here.

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Short Story of the Month: The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko

Welcome to the second Short Story of the Month!

It is a brand new year! 2020! Love the sound of it and it makes me think that something wonderful is going to happen to one and all this lovely year.

Since it is new year, the short story The Book Cafe is going to be reading is related to both Christmas and New Year. The short story is titled The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko.

What is the short story about?

In The New Year’s Tree by Mikhail Zoshchenko, the protagonist, Minka, is recalling his first memory of the Christmas Tree or the New Year Tree (yolka) as it is known in the story. The story is set in the Soviet Union where it was forbidden to celebrate Christmas and hence this name was adopted. Minka speaks of a specific incident which had a long lasting impact on his behaviour.

He was five. He clearly remembers the New Year Tree and how it was then filled with presents and candies that Minka and his sister, Lyolya, were competing over. The presents and candies were meant to be given to other needy children as a gesture of kindness but childish quarreling of the siblings, children and the mothers led to the guests leaving until the father put an end to such ungracious behavior from his kids and decided to give the presents to the needy children as had been agreed upon before.

Analysis:

Since the story centres on a childhood memory, the tone has a touch of naivete and innocence while at the same time showing covetous behaviour among children. The sense of playfulness is clear in bickering over eating Christmas sweets between Minka and Lyolya. The story has a definite moral lesson about the benefits of being kind and sharing with others. Michka at the end states that it was because of that day 35 years ago that made him more considerate and selfless. He also attributes his happiness and good health to those characteristics as well. That lesson in itself is an important manifestation of the Christmas spirit and the joy of giving.

Where to read it?

The story is translated from Russian by Ross Ufberg and is part of the anthology, A Very Russian Christmas: The Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time.

You can read the short story here. Read and enjoy! I promise it will not take more than 15 minutes to read and in that 15 minutes you can relive the warmth and joyousness associated with Christmas and New Year.

 

Let us know in the comments below what you thought about the short story!

Happy Reading!


This is part of the series called, Short Story of the Month. Click here to find out more!

Looking Back and Ahead: 2019 Highlights!

Doesn’t 2020 sound exciting? Just the sense of symmetry and the roundness of the number makes me believe that it would be a great year! Pretty odd huh? Turns out I do show favouritism to even numbers!

Though of course Climate Change is truly upon us and we do stare at a bleak future, which many politicians refuse to see. The Oxford Word of the Year for 2019 was also Climate Emergency. I think I will also remember 2019 for its freak weather show, particularly rain and snow in India along with some strange, contradictory decisions I made.

Yet I do think we all can do out bits even though our politicians and policymakers let us down.

For starters, let us reduce our plastic usage and be conscientious about it. Why use something for just 15 minutes, that which is going to last on this planet for about 50 more years?

But there are many more things one can do as well!

But on to books for now!

So what was new on The Book Cafe in 2019?

Several new series!

  • This included the very cool: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly which is a great way to clearly recommend books.
  • The very cool The Reading Spree series where I showcase the books that I read in a particular month!
  • Another nascent one was the Pick it Up, which I plan to do monthly on the books recommended by The Book Cafe!
  • The blog also started two very ambitious series, Poem and Short Short Story of the Month. Poem of the Month is my way to share some of my favourite poems to increase a love for poetry. Short Story of the Month is for those hard pressed on time and money but still want to read. Short stories are here to rescue you. I will only pick those that one can read online. This way it helps you read without spending too much time and money. Hopefully can continue Short Story of the Month and Poem of the Month diligently.

Books I did read from 2018’s wish list:

  • I did manage to read A Strangeness in My Mind from my wish list last year! It was biggest book I have read this year and after a long time had enough time on my hands to commit to a lengthy book! Yay to me!
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  • I also did strike off Touching Earth by Rani Manicka and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter from my to read list that I made in December 2018. Though to be honest, I do need to reread The Bloody Chamber as I did not fully absorb it that well, except the hilariously retold, Puss in the Boots.

My Favourite Reads of 2019:
The Oscars 2019 for my Favourite Books go to:

The Best Character: Aliya in The Women’s Courtyard by Khadija Mastur.

The Best Setting: Tiger Hills by Sarita Mandanna. The novel is set in the beautiful Coorg. It was my first book of the year 2019!

The Best Book to Make you Emotional/Cry: Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin.

The Best Parallel Time Lines: The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

The Best Style: Daura by Anukriti Upadhyay concocts a mesmerising tale within the form of a utterly disparate and mundane government report.

The Best Poetry: It is a tie between The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy, The Narrow Road to the Interior by Basho and Selected Poems by Anna Akhmatova.

The Best YA novel: Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar.

The Best Bildungsroman: The Patiala Quartet by Neel Kamal Puri.

The Best Children’s Novel: It is again a tie between Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and Vinod Kumar Shukla’s fantastical, Hari Ghaas ki Chhappar Waali Jhopdi Aur Bona Pahad.

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