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Your Favorite Book: Always Coming Home with Shruti Swamy

Your Favorite Book: Always Coming Home with Shruti Swamy

Welcome to another installment of a collaboration between the Chicago Review of Books and the Your Favorite Book podcast. Malavika Praseed, frequent CHIRB contributor and podcast host, seeks to talk to readers and writers about the books that light a fire inside them. What’s your favorite book and why?

This week’s guest is Shruti Swamy, author of debut novel The Archer. What does it mean to pursue art as a woman, especially when society imposes rigid goals and obstacles never cease to block the path forward? Shruti Swamy explores this in her detailed character study of a young Kathak dancer. Vidya, who wishes to devote her life to the classical Indian dance, must eke out an honest existence for herself as family, teachers, friends, and many others cast doubt along the way. With rich prose and loving interpretations of pure dance, we are transported to an India of yesterday, distinctly specific in its detail. It boldly declares that art is not only a calling, but one that must be heard.

Shruti, a longtime Ursula Le Guin fan, brings to the table a recent read as a new favorite book. Always Coming Home, considered the culmination of Le Guin’s cultural musings and varied influences, is by no means an easy read. This fictional ethnography of the postapocalyptic Kesh people combines anthropology, poetry, prose, linguistics, and numerous other genres to paint a portrait of this new society. It combines the agrarian with the scientific, bleakness with hope, and is one of the most unique books we’ve covered on this podcast.

Shruti reflects on what makes a novel a novel, what inspires her about Kathak and stories of the Mahabharata, what it means to create a culture and honor existing ones, and so much more. This is a spirited discussion full of recommendations aplenty, and no spoilers.

See Also

Sula by Toni Morrison (with Saeed Jones, Author of Alive at the End of the World) Your Favorite Book

Our guest this week is Saeed Jones, the acclaimed memoirist and poet, whose recent collection ALIVE AT THE END OF THE WORLD takes on both individual and collective grief in the midst of a nation in crisis. Spanning topics from the legacy of Black artists and entertainers to visions of the end of the world as a chaotic rave, Saeed brings every feeling to the forefront and never turns his back to the hard questions. Saeed chose a book stemming from his adolescence and one that continues to generate deeper meaning for him, Toni Morrison's SULA. This book, hardly two hundred pages in length, delves deep into what it means to be a Black girl, and to be both in and out of a community, and the complicated social dynamics it takes to perpetuate said community. The book is luminous at a prose level and never ceases to shock at every turn. There are some spoilers for this episode, but none that take away from the integrity of the novel. Together we chat about all things crafting a poetry collection, why the United States struggles with creating a grief culture, the triumphs and pitfalls of high school literary opinions, and so much more. Books discussed: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel Moniz, Magical Negro by Morgan Parker Buy Saeed's book: https://bookshop.org/books/alive-at-the-end-of-the-world/9781566896511 Follow the show on instagram and twitter @yfbpodcast
  1. Sula by Toni Morrison (with Saeed Jones, Author of Alive at the End of the World)
  2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (with Joe Meno, Author of Book of Extraordinary Tragedies)
  3. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (with Adam Levin, Author of Mount Chicago)
  4. The Song of Everlasting Sorrow by Wang Anyi (with Belinda Huijuan Tang, Author of A Map for the Missing)
  5. A Death in the Family by James Agee (with Jean Thompson, Author of The Poet's House)

Listen to this episode of Your Favorite Book at the link above, and stay tuned for more episodes with other writers in the weeks to come. If you enjoy this episode, check out other episodes of Your Favorite Book on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or other major podcast platforms.

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