In one of his columns titled “Growing Up With Books In India”, Shashi Tharoor talks about his voracious reading habits. He mentions that one year he kept a journal of all the books he read [comics didn’t count] to see if he could reach 365 before the calendar did. And sure enough, he reached the mark before Christmas.
I tried the same this year, and found I reach nowhere near the Great Indian’s impressive total. Firstly, I didn’t strictly maintain a journal; I just compiled one whenever I felt jobless [which wasn’t very often in sem 5; the first time at NITK I felt like we had work we could do]. However it turns out to be quite an okay number, thanks to my jobless period in the summer vacations. However, not all of them are worth listing here, so here are some of the better books I read:
- Loads of Asimov – Entire Foundation series, the whole Elijah Baley bunch, I, Robot and his complete short stories – Essentially the entire Robot series. Also read Nightfall, which IMHO is his best work, after A Fantastic Voyage which is a biological thriller.
- Silence of the Lambs – Was a disappointment. I’d expected it to be a bit more wild, the movie had raised my expectations.
- Orwell’s Animal Farm. Good one, I’ll say.
- Orwell’s 1984. Easily the scariest novel I’ve read.
- The Motorcycle Diaries. I think I should get the sequel, too. I came across a version written by Alberto Granado… it wasn’t half as good.
- A bit of Wodehouse – Psmith, and Jeeves.
- A lot of Perry Mason, so much that I’m sick of it now.
- And I also started on Agatha Christie. Never liked her mysteries before, now I think they’re okay.
- The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Yeah, the book that was banned on account of it having a “negative influence” on its readers after it was found in the possession of John Lennon’s assassin, who was said to be obsessed with the lead character. Awesome read. Makes you never want to grow up.
- A House for Mr. Biswas by Sir VS Naipaul. And lo, I’m a Vidiaphile! After a long, long time, I’m reading a book where the writer focuses more on the story than on how he tells it. I read somewhere that if, while reading a piece, you stop and say, “Wow, this guy writes well!”, the writer sucks. That doesn’t happen with this book; you’re so riveted to the fate of Mr. Biswas [referred to thus throughout the book, even when his toddlerhood was being described] to worry about anything else. And you know the end before it happens, but all the same, you can’t help but feel elated when you read that he’s finally got a house to call his own, and that he didn’t let his widow suffer the same fate as her sisters; she didn’t have to depend on her mother’s fast-fragmenting house for anything.
- The Great Indian Novel, by Shashi Tharoor. It lives up to its name. Easily the best Indian English novel I’ve come across. Most others are written with the writers oh-so-conscious about the fact that they’re Indian.
- Jug Suraiya’s Where On Earth am I?. It’s a great travelogue, the writing style is quite OK, ranging from descriptive to satirical, like his Sunday column in the Trash of India [ToI]. Which isn’t surprising, considering that some of the shorter pieces have appeared in his column Jugular Vein.
- Satanic Verses. And got introduced to one of the most endearing characters in fiction ever – Gibreel Farishta. The novel isn’t all that great, and other than the fatwa, there isn’t too much shock value about it. Not as good as Midnight’s Children, or The Moor’s Last Sigh.
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Pseudo SciFi. Avoid it unless you really really want to read something that has PRETEND written all over it.
- And, oh yes, The Fountainhead. I really wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Some woman who can’t write dialogue to save her life spun a 500-page yarn filled with walking-metaphor characters just to say she wants to do her own thing.
- Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. Dunno why, but I feel it’s only for people who don’t, or can’t make their own philosophy.
- Ice-Candy Man by Bapsi Sidhwa. Sad one. Don’t bother.
- And oh, yes, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by AlexanderMcCall Smith. It’s a useless bit of pop-lit, not the sort you adorn your bookshelf with; finish reading it in the store itself. I’ve particularly grown to despise the author, and this lack of regard I have for him only increased when I saw that he had written the preface for an illustrated version of RK Narayan’s autobiography, My Days [With excellent illustrations by RK Laxman – It does really bring alive the reckless schoolboy in Madras with his monkey and peacock, his headmaster father… it’s worth a buy]. All he does is summarize the contents of the book in boring prose with absolutely no personal touch, as a preface to an autobiography should be.
And some I hope to finish some day:
- Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
- Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
- Mein Kampf
- Hemingway’s For Whom The Bells Toll
- Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea. Bit surprising I haven’t, yet.
- Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. Liked the movie.
- Salman Rushdie’s Grimus, Haroun and the Sea of Stories
- …….just want to exhaust the neighborhood bookstore: it might not be as large as Landmark@Forum or Crossword on Residency Road, but it certainly has a large collection of books, and a lot more variety than the two-floored Crossword offers: A lot less self-help, a lot less pulp fiction and chicklit, really few coffee-table books, a lot more fiction, a lot more volumes worth stocking your bookshelf with… the sort that’ll keep you company on a rainy day when there’s no electricity…
There’s a lot more to look forward to in 2007… hopefully HP7 will release – JK has revealed that the book’s going to be called Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It hopefully won’t disappoint, and the finale will be something that’ll be enough to keep us engaged for a while after the book’s hype has died down. And us Numbskulls are Pottermaniacs, so I guess we’ll work ourselves to a PotterFrenzy and come up with a long, long list of speculations like this one, and possibly a review like this one.
Hopefully, we’ll widen the spectrum of our literature. I’ve never found nonfiction enthralling, save travelogues, collections of letters and a few columns. In the coming year, I hope to come across well-written specimens of the above, too.
Most people probably curse the end-sem exams for taking the fun out of their lives, and cite them as the prime reason for the loss of their reading habit. I used to be among them too, as I found that that was the time when you’d want to do anything but cram, but can’t. Over the past two-and-a-half years, I’ve learnt to let fiction coexist with textbooks over the period of endsems. For that is the time when you’re most aware of what you’d like to read, what you’d like to write,which book is best suited for which mood, what JK Rowling should do to Harry and his friends after Book7…… not quite thoughts you’d want to fly away from your head, right? To top it all, you’d feel like going through the first fifteen pages of that very unreadable The Hunchback of Notre Dame just for the vivid description that suddenly seems so soothing to the senses – certainly not a mood you’d like to let slip away.
And, apart from all of that very enjoyable reading, we have a killer semester coming up. Which might mean huge volumes to be pored over and notes made from. And yeah, there are three-and-four-lettered competitive exams coming up, too, which means there are more pages for our noses to be between. It’ll be the same as reading good fiction – you don’t really believe what’s said to be happening, you’ll learn new words, new facts, and read the same thing over and over again, and on each subsequent reading, come across something you hadn’t noticed before.
Here’s a prayer to Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of Learning and all things literary asking her to bless us that we might be successful in all our endeavours this year, starting with acads [including job interviews and competitive exams], and all the other sidetracks we’ll have [like this blog], and also bless us further, so as to never let the reading habit wane or die, and may we help proliferate it, and also thanking her not only for letting us read, but also for the fact that others read us today.