Its been an interesting beginning to the year. The family is away traveling and only my mother and I are here in Gurgaon. So it has been a quiet New Year for us. And then I opened Mgzter to read the recent issue of the magazines I subscribe to (This has been erratic since my iPad died on me!). And I found this! What a New Year bonanza for a book lover!
New Year is a time of lists on everything. But this was not a list of top this or that, it was a compilation of the ‘hundred books, chosen by our jury, and the reasons they should be read – and re-read”. And the jury of Mukul Kesaven, Mani Shankar Iyer, David Davidar, Nilanjana Roy and Sunil Seth seemed serious enough for me to look at the list with some interest.
A fair number of the books were from genres that I seldom read, political history, economics and so on. But then the list was biased by the bias of the jury members. But never the less, I was happy to see that I had read more than one third of the list. And of the 15 titles which were on the list of at least 2 members of the jury, I have read 11. This is not to boast of my reading, but rather to emphasize that if you are a regular reader of a serious kind, a number of books would be common because they are good books. This is particularly true for fiction, non-fiction being a vast field. There are a few books on the list that I don’t think I will be reading such as Marx, Ambedkar, Freud. There are many I have read and do not think will re-read, such as Katherine Boo’s Behind the beautiful forever, Tagore’s Gora (I found it tedious, and attributed that to the translation), Calvino’s Invisible Cities, Amis’ Lucky Jim, Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, for differing reasons,but mostly because they did not leave that kind of impression. Some like Dickens and Jane Austen have been read so many times (and in some cases like Pride and Prejudice, the number of movie adaptations), that they are always fresh in one’s mind.
There are many that I read so long ago, that this was a reminder that they need to be re-read – George Orwell’s 1984, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Nehru’s Discovery of India, Truman Capote’s In Cold blood, Rushdie’s Midnight’s children, Marquez’s One hundred years of solitude and some others. A whole lot of others are more recent books which I have enjoyed and am not ready to re-read yet such as Ishiguro (only one to have 2 books), Mantel, Amitava Ghosh. The surprise inclusions were Seth’s Suitable Boy and Georgette Heyer who I always thought of as a less than serious writer! And I was delighted to see Lampedusa’s Leopard, a personal favorite that is seldom mentioned by many.
If I had to make my own list of books that have made an impact, it would feature a fair number of the ones on this collection, but others that come to mind are Robert Grave’s I Claudius, Coetzee’s Disgrace, Guaresci’s Don Camillo series, Maugham’s Of Human bondage, Llewellyn’s How green was my valley, Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dam, Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskerville. So much depends on the age and frame of mind at the time you read a book.
Finally, the list has also brought forward some books that have been languishing in my ‘want to read’ list such as Maya Angelou, Bruce Chatwin’s Patagonia, Durrel’s Alexandria Quartet and Shukla’s Raag Darbhari. It has also given suggestions for new areas of exploration which I am hoping will lead to many hours of reading pleasures.
Thank you Outlook for an interesting afternoon on New Year’s day.
Postscript: Its a pity that one has to actually buy the book to read it – and many of the non-fiction ones are not available in paperback, making it an expensive proposition.