Indian chick lit hall of fame


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I am starting a new series on Indian chick lit authors/books that I love. It was something I thought of doing during my PhD but basically didn’t have the time. Honestly, I don’t know if my love of Indian chick lit has waned or not. Definitely, some authors will stay with me but maybe I overdosed on the genre during my PhD or the books themselves have petered out and become repetitive. Nevertheless, since I am a minefield of information on this topic, I might as well share my hard-won gyan.

How do I define chick lit?

Having read almost all scholarly work written on chick lit up to 2017, I found the most satisfactory definition in an ABC news article by Heather Cabot: “The books feature everyday women in their 20s and 30s navigating their generation’s challenges of balancing demanding careers with personal relationships.”

Thus, chick lit has a few defining features:

  1. The protagonist is an ordinary woman in her 20s or 30s. Some books feature a group of friends as protagonists.
  2. The subject matter of the book primarily concerns this woman’s pursuit of: a) romance b) career. Both have to represented here, though the focus may be on one or the other
  3. A light-hearted tone. This is an addition to Cabot’s description and differentiates chick lit from romance novels, such as the Harlequin or the 80s bonkbuster (think Jackie Collins)

Classic (Western) chick lit

The book that launched the genre was Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary, that I basically consider my gospel. There may have been books with the same sort of story before that (e.g. Mariane Keyes’s novels) but Bridget Jones became a popular culture phenomenon. The genre’s sensibility – stories on the lives and times of single women in the city – soon spread across the pond and to television and film. Along with Bridget Jones’s Diary, the holy trinity of chick lit comprises Ally McBeal and the Sex and the City television series. The SATC TV series was predated by a novel of the same name by Candace Bushnell, but it was really the TV series that became the pop culture phenomenon and that inspired in turn popular writing, including Indian chick lit.

How do I define Indian in Indian chick lit?

My PhD thesis covers women of Indian nationality living in India. While the first “Indian” chick lit books were published in the West (e.g. Nisha Minhas’s Chapati and Chips), I believe the concerns in the books written by NRI women and women in India are slightly different. Both have the pressure to get married, but the NRI books stress cultural conflict (coming to India during the groom search process and having a culture shock of sorts) while the novels published in India from 2006 onwards describe more broadly living as single women and building a career in India as well as the romantic shenanigans. The interest in my PhD became how economic liberalisation generated a new type of young Indian woman who is presented in these novels. However, in this series, I will also cover some NRI chick lit books.

The heydey of Indian chick lit

In my thesis, I propose that the golden era of Indian chick lit was from around 2006 to 2015. This was the time when Indian publishes woke up to the potential of locally produced commercial fiction – the period before this was described by one publisher as “before Chetan” – and foreign capital via mergers with the big foreign publishing houses began to flow into India so there was money to invest in these upstarts. Indian chick lit was one of the first- if not the first – Indian commerical writing genre to be succesful.

Indian chick lit – sub-genres

Initially, Indian chick lit novels were somewhat imitative of the Western formula – particularly Sex and the City. However, writers such as Anuja Chauhan have developed a unique writing style and forged something new.

Like the Western novels, Indian chick lit as it matured could be split into sub-genres: career lit (e.g. Nirupama Subramanian’s Keep the Change), mommy lit, divorcee lit and inevitably lad lit (the likes of Durjoy Dutta and Ravinder Singh that seem to have eclipsed the writing by female authors).  A number of writers who cut their teeth in chick lit have moved on – Swati Kaushal has an excellent detective series, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan did a lovely couple of young adult novels and now is on to a mythological series.

Why do I insist on calling it chick lit?

Yes, chick lit sounds disposable. Yes, authors don’t like it. However, it is now the accepted term, and given the droves of fanpages using the term, it has been reclaimed, or at least readers who love the genre have stopped caring that others find it trivial. The Guardian uses the term in its coverage of the genre; it’s a keyword in academia. And frankly, I like how it sounds – writing that’s fun and about women.

What do I plan to do with this series?

I don’t intend this to be an academic discussion, though I might include some insights from my PhD. I don’t intend to do book reviews either. I just intend to share – as I usually do on this blog – what I like/dislike/generally think about books in the genre.




Oscars frocks


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As ever, I am not as interested in the movies as I am in the clothes. So here are my picks:



Greta Gerwig


Kelly Marie Tran. Weirdly the gaping neckline is not
making me cringe as others have


Laura Dern. She’s not a classic beauty but there’s just something about her.
This old school glamour look makes her seem like a classic beauty though.


Kelly Ripa. Fun, fun, fun.


Helen Mirren. I love that she is giving the young ‘uns a run for their money.


Zendaya Coleman. Undecided on whether I wish it wasn’t brown.


Andra Day. Most of the gowns I loved were fairly traditional.
This though. I had to google who she is.

From the parties


Allison Janney. Everyone went on about the gown she wore to the main event, but I like this better. I’m a sucker for white shirts though.


Allison Williams. Lots of people wore red. This is my fave.


Ava duVernay. Something about the hair and the dress.


Gal Gadot. I think I have a girl crush on this one. Aesthetically unrelated, but I recently watched Wonder Woman and after the initial part on the Amazon island, I was not that engaged. The whole helping the Brits win the war left me cold. Maybe I should have watched on big screen.

Popular choices I did not like


Meryl Streep. It’s red. So? I wish people would stop fawning over her unnecessarily.


Nicole Kidman. Okay she does look better than she has in ages, dress wise. But I cannot get beyond how thin and pale she is.

Best Boy


Tom Holland. Although it’s fashionable to go on about men’s fashion, I normally find it boring, because, well, suits, and the occasional slouchy thing. But this one convinced me a little bit that stuff can be done even with a suit.

Which were your favourites?

Go-to authors


Note: I might keep updating this post, so if you don’t care to see the updates, just ignore it if it pops up on your reader.

I just finished reading Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys, which is basically about high frequency trading on the stock exchanges. I highly reccommend this book if you want to understand some of the terms that are bandied about in relation to the stock market, such as HFT and algorithms. And if you want to understand what went down in the 2008 financial crisis, The Big Short, which is now a movie, is the go-to book. Lewis has a way of laying out these complicated topics in a way that is engaging, but also lucidly explanatory. The interesting thing about the HFT development is not so much that essentially they thrive on unfair access to market information, with several big banks colluding, not how not transparent the market is, more so since the 2008 financial crisis, not even that they thrive on speed, but that while our common perception is that the stock market has become a virtual mumbo jumbo of computers and formulae – in effect, virtual – it turns out that to achieve this, they had to go back to basics. To wires and cabes and switches and digging trenches in the ground to achieve those extra microseconds that would give them the market advantage. That even the virtual comes down to what the poet Gertrude Stein called, the thingness of things.

And that while we nowadays think of Wall Street as full of big bad wolves, in this jungle, there are some outliers and sometimes even the big banks can become forces for good. Heh. It strikes me now that even the last book, The Big Short, was about mavericks who had some sort of moral fibre mixed in with the moneymaking.

After finishing Flash Boys, I began to think about how Michael Lewis was now an author whose work I would read just because it is written by him and bound to be good. And I thought about which other authors have this status in my book. For example, as much as I love Pride and Prejudice and count it among my favourite books, I have never been able to read another Austen novel – though I am determined to persist with Sense and Sensibility. Here is my list of authors whose work I pick up on spec:

  1. Salman Rushdie: I have read almost everything by Salman Rushdie and enjoyed almost everything except East/West *(non-fiction), Fury, and the Ground Beneath Her Feet (which I ditched halfway through and must return to someday). The lesson from the two I didn’t read is that I prefer his novels that are primarily set in India and do the magical realism thing.
  2. Anuja Chauhan: Chick Lit writer extraordinaire and never fails to disappoint. I have reread her novels with satisfaction and basically she features heavily in my PhD so no surprise there.
  3. Helen Fielding: Well, Bridget Jones’s Diaray is my gospel, so. But I even liked that Olivia Joules novel that noone else did. And I want to buy it. When I have bookshelf enough and time.
  4. Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan: This one is a surprise to even me (though she too features heavily in my PhD) but I have enjoyed everything she writes and will buy anything new she comes out with. I surprisingly loved even the YA book.
  5. Allison Weir: I read these fictionalised Tudor histories (she is a historian so she is drawing on propositions in Tudor scholarship and tend to be grounded in fact).
  6. Sophie Kinsella: Admittedly, even the Shopaholic series is beginning to annoy me now (Becky really needs to show some growth) but I’d wager I’d still pick up anything by her. Though I’m uninterested in her Madeleine Wickham stuff.
  7. JK Rowling: I even loved the Casual Vacancy and her detective series under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym. I draw the line at all the Beedle and Bard spin-off stuff though.
  8. Michael Cunningham: I have read two of his novels – The Hours (which counts as one of my favourites of all time, as well as the movie) and By Nightfall (which I borrowed in lieu of something else by him that was recommended and that I couldn’t find, and which I ended up loving) – and I’m pretty sure I’d love anything else by him, though I have not actually gone out looking for it.
  9. Rainbow Rowell: I wrote about her here.

Authors I will read only a specific series of:

  1. Indu Sundaresan: Any of her history books. Similarly, I loved Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s Palace of Illusions but I don’t feel inspired to pick up any of her other books.
  2. Janet Evanovich: The Stephanie Plum series. Even when they get repetitive, I will follow this one through to the end. But I’ve tried and failed to get engaged in the other series.
  3. Hilary Mantel: The Cromwell Trilogy. Although it is obvious she’s a very fine writer, I don’t feel particularly desirous of reading her other stuff. Though I might.
  4. Patricia Cornwell: Kay Scarpetta series. I have tried the others and they failed to captivate me. Even the Scarpetta series has gone tired, but I am still caught up with the characters.

Who are your go-to authors?




When I read Elena Ferrante’s novels, I feel like my nerves are on edge, like I’m in a world of complicity, that they are – through strangers in a strange land – saying what I feel, telling my story. For the one and a half day or so it takes me to inhale the novel, I am in a fog, emerging only reluctantly to the ‘real’ world. V senses this, maybe I get a certain look, and he gets angsty. This too mirrors the world of the novels.

I was predisposed to like Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Books about the strong bond between two girls – it sounds quotidian like this, but I know from experience that it is always more – sign me up.

But it was The Story of a New Name – which ironically is the story of an old name, the names that both girls keep – that really swallowed me. My Brilliant Friend seems almost like backstory, the childhood of poverty and the family and neighbourhood connections that made these women who they are. I did not love the writing, which I suspected would be better in the original Italian. There were powerful sentiments in that novel and the writing conveyed it, despite itself.

[spoilers alert]

The Story of a New Name yanked me in from the start. I’m glad it began where My Brilliant Friend ended – at Lila’s wedding. As we learn what happened to her in excruciating detail, I have flashbacks of my own. No, I was not beaten bloody on my wedding night, but I did have a similar sense of disconnection, this idea that the one one had chosen for stability, for being different, after a heady and charmed courtship that only soured towards the date, was more of the same and the only way to cope, was to detach emotionally if not physically.

Which one am I? is the obvious question, the question a female reader would ask, a tradition at least as long as Little Women, a book Lila and Lena too discovered and that triggered their ambition to write themselves to a better place. The two girls are distinct and yet their names lend themselves to blurring. Lila is Lila only to Lena; she is Lina to everyone else, just as Lena is Lenu.

I identify with Lila’s cold rages more than Lenu’s self doubt. But overall, I’d say I’d identify with Lenu, the bookish wallflower who slowly discovers her place in the world. I’m not sure I had a longstanding Lila. I did have one friend who would qualify in terms of both looks and impetuosity if not intelligence (Lila is a prodigy). In a sense, it is both their intelligence and their emotional complexity that defines the two girls.

In the matter of love, I am more Lila. Lenu stays with and makes out (for want of a better word since they significantly did not have sex) with Antonio although she considers him her inferior. She likes and is attracted to him but balks at committing to him forever. Been there done that.

But Lenu has her sights on the cultivated, intellectual type symbolised by Nino, and it has always puzzled me how I do not share this attraction. From early on, I saw Nino for the self/absorbed brooding intellectual male that he is and hoped Lenu would not pursue him. I was almost relieved that he met his match in Lila, though I empathised (somewhat) with Lenu. Why she didn’t just tell Lila early on or even a bit later what her feelings were is one of my frustrations with her, but I guess that’s how people are. They don’t always do the logical thing and sometimes the face-saving gesture turns into quicksand. But apart from disliking the arrogance and essential selfishness of the intellectual male type, I’m also rarely attracted to that type at a baser sexual level. It’s like a mind body split with me. Or maybe at some level I’m just scared of a competition I will lose and prefer to be the admiree not the admirer in love?

Like Lila in her choice of Stefano, I tend to choose the classically masculine and seemingly safe type. That this safety does not always last is probably part of the package and our (Lila and my) outsized drama at its crumbling is also of a piece.

I am all about female friendships and yet I have only once had that kind of intense singular bond with a woman. Maybe the intensity of it is why I have usually deflect the possibility of such relationships with women, because the potential heartbreak so much more searing.

The thing that set me apart from these characters is of course their poverty. The book makes the reader identify with Lenu and so with her struggles to make it through the upper middle class milieu or academia. Her realisation is of lacking what Pierre Bourdieu called the cultural capital of the middle class; her experience is akin to that described by Dalit students in India, the feeling that no matter how hard you try, you lack something undefinable that is essential to success. Ironically, the reader would have to be of the privileged class, just to be reading the book.

This book engulfed me so totally that having digested and spat me out, my nerves tingling, I’m actually holding back from reading the next one. For one day at least.

Race day



My kids had their school sports day today. There had been no school for nearly month before this due the flu raging in Hong Kong. My two had just finished bouts of flu before the government ordered the school closure so I was like hmph, but in a way, I was glad that they would be away from the chance of relapsing and the holiday sped by without much intervention from me (I didn’t bother organising playdates or arranging activities, and in fact I was ill over the Chinese New Year break and then V the week after me, so even some weekends were blah). Thankfully, the kids entertain themselves, there were other kids at a loose end, and I guess they’d rather be hanging out at home than at school overall. It made me think that homeschooling could be a thing for us – if I had the energy for it.

Anyway, a week before school was due to start, we began waking up to the prospect of sports day, and by we, I mean Nene. To add to the fact that he is sporty and competitive by nature, there is the prospect of medals i.e. shiny things. Silver! G.O.L.D! (he is convinced they are ‘real’ and I don’t have the heart or rather the energy to convince him otherwise). He informed me that he was not the fastest in his year, but third I tried to tell him that he should do his best and that’s what mattered, but he shrugged me off.

Then, we were in the park on the weekend, and we saw a kid jogging, and I explained to Nene that although he makes fun of me jogging (“so slow, mom!), to win races you had to build up your strength by going slow many many times. So he did a round of the park and realised that it was hard, and then he realised that maybe if he wanted to win, he had to practice. Though we probably should have done this earlier.

Leading up to the sports day, it was all he could talk about and I began to think I should manage his expectations. Mimi, throughout all this, was blithely unconcerned. She was roused briefly to running around the track with Nene, but is honestly so slow that I wonder if she has problems breathing. “There are some people who can’t run fast, you know,” V said to me, but I no, I don’t know. Everyone in my family is athletic – my parents, my husband, my sister, me, my sister’s daughter, my two sisters-in-law and my sister-in-law’s daughter, though come to think of it, Mimi might have a companion in my eldest niece. Like loving animals, being sporty is not something I thought my kids wouldn’t be.) I’m not naturally athletic either – but my parents enrolled me in athletics training with my sister to build up my strength since I kept falling sick and the fact that I’m naturally stubborn, especially about things that my sister did, that it grew on me. I also think that it’s important for girls to be sporty, because when they’re adolescents they can take pride in their bodies in a different way – in how their body moves and feels, and not how it looks. That said, I don’t have it in me to force Mimi into sports classes where she would be forced to exercise, because… I’m lazy.

Anyway, so sports day. Last year, it was just different house games for the Year 1s. This year Nene would have proper races. I was nervous for Nene because I knew how much he wanted to win. In the heats, he came first and second in the hurdles and sprint respectively. Then there was a surprise event – the 400 m – and to my surprise, he came second and got a silver medal. Having broken his arm and had the flu, he wasn’t up to is optimum strength and having watched him run the 60m races, I didn’t think he’d have the strength for the full round. I counseled him to stick to the inner track, not to push himself in the beginning and to pump his arms if he got tired at the end – yes, this is a mum who has run track events talking. He was great in teh event, I think he followed my advice and hung back, but it was his long strides that convinced me that this might be his event. In the sprint event finals he struggled, but he got a bronze in the hurdles, which was good enough for me.

Before the final sprint, he said – I’ve got bronze, I’ve got silver, I have to get gold. But in that race, he didn’t even place. I was pleasantly surprised that he swallowed his disappointment, at least for a while. For someone who insisted he wanted to win, when he didn’t he handled it, he talked over it, even though he did snap at a little girl who said “I got gold in everything”.

There were kids who were really good, I could see that. And then, most of the kids, didn’t really win anything. The same few kids dominated the races, and I was fortunate to be the parent of one of them. After the first race, I had to tell Nene to play down his victories in consideration of his friends, though he didn’t entirely succeed. And then there was Nene’s bestie who came up to him and said, “Nene, I’m cheering for you, okay?”

Mimi’s class didn’t have races but collective activities that she was frankly bored with. I bought her a toy at the concession stand that amused her. And I was the bad mum, who got my kids McDonald’s as a snack as I could see that they were starving.

Sitting under the bright blue sky, watching small humans in colourful t-shirts zip past me, this was one of the happy days. Watching my son do well on the field, part of the pleasure of that was reliving my own glory days (Sports Day was the high point in the school calendar for me, even though I actually never won anything. I always qualified for the finals, and at best may have got a bronze. But my sister always came home with medals, and I loved the excitement of it all. I’m a good spectator). But more of it is a pleasure I only discovered with kids – experiencing things through them, the pureness of their excitement and joy, the trust of a small boy’s hand in yours as you help him find his water bottle since his mum is not here, the beam from your daughter when you are spotted, the chants of support, the little kindnesses (amid the ever-present penchant for meanness), a group of older kids who went back and almost carried a classmate to the finish line, the differently abled kids loping to the finishing line helped by their parents. Being immersed in this world of small people, it is a pleasure I never imagined.







Ice dreams


I’m currently obsessed with the figure skating at the Olympics. Thankfully, I’m now sorted with a local app on which which I can watch the event on my phone. Not ideal, but at least I can catch up on all the competitions, and the commentary is in English and good too boot.

I’ve managed to get the kids, especially Nene, interested too. Maybe it’s because Nene actually took the ice fairly easily the one time we tried it, as opposed to Mimi who fell over a few times but persisted, and me who clung to the side of the rink and am determined never to repeat the experience.

Like diving and gymnastics, I love figure skating because it’s both athletic and aesthetic. It takes huge strength and skill to do the kids of jumps and lifts that figure skaters do, and to look graceful while at it. Having experienced firsthand how treacherous the ice is, the thought of people leaping up, twirling three times, then falling over and getting up and attempting another jump, leave alone lifting another human being and holding them in the air with just their hands, astounds me.

I’m not an expert by any means and trying to read up on the jumps has only somewhat enlightened me, but I have my favourite performances.

There is of course the masterful Yuzuru Hanyu, only the first male skater since 1952 to win back-to-back Olympic golds. There was Nathan Chen’s six quads (rotating in the air four times) in one routine feat. There was Mirai Nagasu, who made American history with her triple axle. Jumps, especially, quads have become the focus of the figure skating, and the ticket to winning medals.

This was evident in the women’s competition, with its head to head rivalry between Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva, so that the rest of the field basically has to compete for bronze. Alina is known for her jumps, Evgenia for her grace. In the end, Alina edged out Evgenia by a hair, probably on the strength of her jumps which were backloaded into her programme to earn her bonus points. She got flak for that, but it takes strength to land jump after jump perfectly at the end of a programme when you are tired. In the short skate, Evgenia broke her own world record, only to be bested by Alina five minutes later by a mere 1.31 points. Those points proved crucial, because in the free skate the two women tied, basically giving Alina, at 15 years old, an Olympic gold. It was a heartbreaking moment for Evegnia, who was until recently the unbeaten world champion. Although Alina gets criticized for being basically a jumper – an astounding one – when I first saw a version of her winning routine in the team competition, I was gobsmacked and thought she was indeed slightly better than Evgenia. Overall, though, I’m Team Evgenia, and I’ve been fangirling on instagram ever since the women’s competition ended.

In the pairs, there were the amazing Shibutani siblings who I am convinced deserved gold just for their amazing twirling. Though Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron were stunning too, and speak to my conviction that Moonlight Sonata should be the go to music of choice for anyone in doubt. Gabrielle had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction in the short skate, that could have cost them the gold. I’ve always wondered at how skimpy the women’s costumes are compared to the men, and while there’s an argument made for them looking pretty, I’ve seen full sleeved and even some leggings and they look amazing too. I’ve also been thinking about the inherent heterosexism in the pairs routine, the routines are predicated on romantic love. I’ve been wondering whether we might ever see two men or two women in the pairs. I’m sure men can do lifts with other men – there’s actually a Yuhuru Hanzu video fooling around with another male player, but would women’s only pairs work. It would be great to see.

Winners aside, my favourite performance of the whole competition, the one that made me gasp and hold my breath in equal measure for its sheer artistry was Adam Rippon‘s free skate routine in which he pretty much became a bird. Another memorable performance was Ivett Toth’s goth routine – never thought I’d hear AC/DC at a competition at that level.

Can’t believe I’ll have to wait four more years for this. In the meantime, there’s this Yuzuru Hanyu/Shoma Uno tumblr.





  1. That colonialism was evil. There seems to be some resurgence of a need to propose that there might have been some good in colonialism after all. Sorry but no. Accidently, the odd good thing might have happened. But that is no justification.
  2. The Holocaust happened and was horrific.
  3. The atom bomb was inexcusable. (even if, you know, the war would have gone on and the bad guys may have won, so it’s okay that we condemn generations of them to cancer).
  4. The caste system is wrong (no, it was not just assigning people to different occupations. Please.)
  5. That slavery was a blight on human history (No, African-Americans should not get over it).
  6. People have the right to body autonomy at the very least.

So The Goldfinch


These are scattered thoughts, not a review

  1. Overall, I liked it.
  2. I like books about art, so I was prone to like it. The artwork at the centre of the book by a little know artist, a painting I would have otherwise looked at and gone meh. But the characters in the book read so much significance into it, which is exactly what art does. It’s the details, the more you look at it, that you realize the thing is not the obvious thing but a spark something else (yeah, I’m being articulate here). But apart from that, how the book set up that one painting as a touchstone – or keystone as Theo calls it – speaks so much to the idea of the art object as fetish.
  3. The book is also a bildungsroman and I’m a sucker for that too. It’s been compared to Dickens (well, Great Expectations I guess), but I’m not a fan of Dickens – sacrilegiously, I don’t think I’ve read an entire Dickens novel ever although I’ve read the abridged versions as a kid so I feel like I have (and maybe I will remedy that). I thought it was more Cacther in the Rye in spirit, what with the precocious New York boys and all.
  4. That said, why does Donna Tartt seem to always have male protagonists? (oh wait, I realize the middle book doesn’t). I wasn’t a great fan of The Secret History. I hated all the characters in that book. The protagonist was tolerable but just about; it was never clear to me why he was so enamored of the others. Even the horrible thing they did was pretty obvious. There’s a better book about girls obsessed with their Latin teacher with a deep dark mystery that I read. Maybe because it has girls, and their feelings and motivations and characters are better drawn.
  5. People have said they didn’t like anyone in this book either, but I liked Theo (mostly) and even Boris and definitely Andy. In fact, I disliked Theo the most when he chose not to call Andy when he came to New York.
  6. There is a point at which, however, the book just gets to be too much. Like okay all literature from the 20th C onwards is bound to be miserable, but the rollercoaster that is Theo’s life just got to me at some point. Every time things seemed to be settling down, bam! another crisis. At one point, I couldn’t take it any longer and turned to Wikipedia for a plot summary, which at least tided me through one of the crises that pained me the most. After all that, the book came as close to a happy ending as a 21st C novel with literary pretensions will allow so I guess that’s some consolation.
  7. There seems to be debate about whether the book is literature or not. This is always a sticky question, but I guess if Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is, then why not this? Though, yes, as someone has pointed out, some of the metaphors (the moon one) for example are trite, and I did think that stream of consciousness parts could not hold a candle to the greats of that style – Woolf, Joyce, or even Allen Ginsberg.
  8. One reviewer on said that if it’s possible for a book to give one PSTD, then this one did it for her. I won’t say the book traumatized me, but it was hard going in parts, mainly because so much happens to the same person. The story and characters will, however, stay with me, so there’s that.

When silence is golden


It’s apparent that the #Metoo movement has now entered the backlash phase, with critiques of the movement going too far, the dangers of not following due process, etc. etc. It is almost amusing to see “liberal” men expressing their unease, of course prefaced with how they absolutely respect women but you know.

 Over dinner, one of my friends started pontificating about the movement and how now some woman in the US is suing her boss for putting his arm around her, and how Michelle Williams got money out of Mark Wahlberg. His rant was filled with misinformation (e.g. Williams never asked Wahlberg for money, but he was embarrassed when it was pointed out how he was paid so much more than her to reshoot scene in their movie and so donated the money to the Time’s Up fund, not to Williams). But more obvious was his discomfort at the opposite gender essentially striking back.

 Then someone else said how offices have now become so constrained by fear that one hesitates to even compliment a coworker. The clincher was when one guy started suggesting that the women who were abused by Harvey Weinstein kinda sorta deserved it because why would they go there at night.

 All through this the women in the room maintained silence, until someone could bear it no longer and shared her own experience of sexual harassment in the workplace and how an arm around a woman can be really creepy depending on whose arm it is and where it is placed. A couple of others, including myself, pitched in.

 But apart from a few comments, I stayed quiet and when I could bear it no longer, walked away. I am actually quite proud of myself for not really engaging. My policy on these issues is that these kind of drawing room discussions cost more than they are worth:

  1. Certain topics concerning politics and social justice tend to get heated. People have entrenched positions, and it’s hard to ensure that the discussion remains civil especially after a couple of bottles of wine. Better to not even go there. If one does engage, compose one’s response, state one’s position and then back off. There’s no point getting into an argument in a social setting, because honestly I have yet to see anyone getting ‘converted’, people just go away upset.
  2. Discussions related to women’s issues are particularly triggering for me. They are both theoretical and deeply personal. I cannot trust myself to keep my composure and be polite in the face of thinly veiled misogyny.
  3. Usually men discussing women’s issues do not want to learn or change. They want to win. If they wanted to learn, they would listen more carefully to women instead of mansplaining our lives to us.
  4. There is so much information out there on gender injustice – and other forms of social injustice for that matter – that people serious about educating themselves could do so without demanding explanations from those at the receiving end of injustice.
  5. It is not incumbent on the disenfranchised to explain and justify their pain to the privileged.
  6. Those of us interested in social justice have to save our energy for bigger fights, to pick our battles carefully.

 I respect and am grateful to those women who choose to speak up and patiently engage with these men who just never get it on the off-chance that one of them may see the light (though the odds are slim). However, I reserve the right to not be that woman all the time, even though I am an avowed feminist. Sometimes, if I feel up to it, I will. Somtime’s silence or a dignified exit is the best response to willful stupidity, which is really fear and defensiveness.

S is for Sue Grafton


I recently finished all 25 of the Sue Grafton’s alphabet titled detective stories, starring the female detective Kinsey Milhone. After three years of reading almost nothing unrelated to my PhD – even the chick lit was read with an analytical mind and anything not related was read with latent guilt – reading something as innocuous as not one, not two, but two dozen detective stories was like a luxury that I had to keep pinching myself about. I had promised that I would not just read light stuff, but literary stuff – well that would happen anyway – but also academic stuff. Right now, though, I seem to be basking in the frivolous, if one can call crime that.

These are not the most ingeniously plotted narratives – I could guess what happened at the end of more than a few, especially as I went deeper into the series. There are long descriptions that one could just skip – what she saw and how she felt while running (I actually liked this because she seemed to describe my own sentiment while running so perfectly). More tedious are the detailed descriptions of Santa Teresa landmarks (initially I appreciate the sense of place, and then it wore on a bit too much) and worse the landscape and geography, but hey, she’s got to fill pages.

One part of the appeal are the characters – Kinsey, her neighbour Henry, the feisty restaurant owner Rosie and the other members of her surrogate family. There are slowly progressing plotlines such as Kinsey discovering more of her own family history and her relationships with men. As the series progresses, Grafton gets more experimental in her writing – nothing pomo, but I could see she was trying new things. From telling the story only from Kinsey’s perspective, she introduces multiple perspectives and also chronological leaps back and forth. I must say that I preferred the parts that focused on Kinsey, though in the very last book, I did like the multiple perspectives.

I believe Grafton had some biases. She described people’s body weight in detail, and often the fat ones didn’t turn out to be nice. Pearl in the last couple of books is an exception. I also recall that when there were gay people in the book, they ended up being baddies. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but hey I kind of almost have a doctorate in that.

Ultimately, the appeal of the detective genre – as opposed to crime thriller –  is that despite the crime and the potential for mayhem, the world rights itself. The detective by solving the mystery restores order to the world. That is subliminal satisfaction of the genre. That is why I found it so comforting to read at a tumultuous time in my life.


If I had to pick a favourite, I’d say the Y book – though maybe because it’s most fresh in my mind, but I also liked the high school setting and drama. I liked the ending of the X book best. I loved the romance in the book in which she and Dietz get together.

Grafton died before she could finish the last Z book in the series, which is a shame. I believe she would have tied up some loose ends in that final book. By the Y book, Kinsey was financially secure. She had come to terms with, if not completely embraced, the idea of having some blood-relations. The chick lit enthusiast and auntyji in me of course wants to see her settled down. Because of the way Y was set up, I’d put my money on her landing up with Cheney. I wouldn’t have minding Dietz, but somehow I don’t think that would have happened. Actually, any of the three men in Kinsey’s life would be fine by me. I would also liked to see Henry get together with Pete Wolinsky’s widow Ruthie.