The main title alone should make you reach for this book, though I'm not entirely sure about the cover design. Given how we tend to judge books by their covers, that's a point that can't be ignored, I suppose. But that's pretty much where the criticism ends!
Venugopal has a feel for writing, loves reading, books, and writers in general, and I feel like she could have gone on! Maybe she shouldn't have stopped at 14 short essays. Then again, the length of the pieces - packed as they are into 112 pages - have a charm of their own. This one's ideal for reading on the go (Mumbai locals, if you're like the author! Or even the Delhi Metro, if you're now settled here like she is,) though it also works on a lazy afternoon.
The main point is if you love reading you're going to identify with Venugopal. If you don't, well, it's not like you're buying this book to read, in the first place, though it's not intimidating either! (Sometimes a legitimate problem, I have heard from regular readers, as opposed to those who are part of the industry.)
Unusually for me and with due apologies to the author, I did not read this in chronological order. I actually started with the 12th essay, 'The Allure of Arabia,' and fell right in, skipping forwards and then backwards. Venugopal is honest, descriptive, has a healthy curiosity and is unpretentious, which goes down very well. What helps is that she's clearly well-read, engaged and cross-references a lot of what she talks about, whether it's gender segregation and lesbianism in Saudi Arabia, or Ronald Knox and the rules for writing detective fiction in 'Whodunit' (which does touch upon the clamour over the Aarushi Talwar- Hemraj double murder).
There's plenty I want to read now, having finished this short compendium of essays. With the eponymous chapter 'Would You Like Some Bread With That Book', she reinforced my desire to read Anthony Bourdain's 'Kitchen Confidential' I have read his sequel Medium Raw - A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and People Who Cook, so it's in the natural order of things). The chapter itself is hilarious, and Venugopal doesn't seem to have read any books on cooking or cookbooks that match up to his description of a "high-adrenaline, high substance abuse, hyper-sexualised industry". What's not to love?
I'm not sure I would make that pat gender jump or self-professed "sexist conclusion" though it doesn't sound like something to take too seriously, either. I feel like Venugopal is the sort of person, who would be pleased to be proved wrong - an open challenge to readers, perhaps!
She will take you back to your internal world as a child, with her description of reading 'To Kill A Mockingbird' every year, and finding something new each time. In fact, more and more people seem to be talking/writing about this phenomenon - It's not just what the author puts in, but what the reader takes out of a book, that bears examining. Each subsequent reading unveils and augments, in equal part. It's quite fascinating!
The only thing that left me confused was the Suketu Mehta encounter in 'Love in the Aisle'. That's clearly fantasy, right? Given what she says right after? Or, did the first part of it happen? I'm going to have to tweet her to ask. Which brings me to the 'bang-on-the-money' prize - She does get what it's like to have your heroes and idols all-too-accessible. You know, when you start following them on Twitter and realise they're not all that profound, that they can be quite banal. What a crushing blow! To have our idols be regular, feet-of-clay sorts of tweeple!
And on that note, do you agree? Disagree? Tweet us @ibnlive @amritat
Title: Would you like some bread with that book? And Other Instances of Literary Love; Author: Veena Venugopal; Publisher: Yoda Press; Price: Rs 195/-