Readings in 2016

You have read 24 of 52 books. Edit 46% – 9 books ahead of schedule
  • Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek ShanbhagReturn of a King by William DalrympleThe View from Castle Rock by Alice MunroA Handful of Dust by Evelyn WaughIn Custody by Anita DesaiAncestral Affairs by Keki N. Daruwalla

This is what Goodreads  told me a couple of weeks ago. I had set a modest target of 52 weeks for this year but as the first quarter draws to an end,  I have already gone through 25. The fare has been varied, some old, some new and mostly fiction, but history and essays too!

My encounter with the crime genre (Collen McCollough’s On, Off and Henning Menkell’s Faceless killers and Dogs of Riga) I have already recounted. I enjoyed Menkell’s detective so much that I have read the 4th one in series, The white lioness. Menkell’s non-crime book “Daniel” was outstanding. Its an amazing story of a young Swedish entomologist who sets off to the Kalahari in the 1860s to collect insect specimens. He returns home with a young  black boy, who he names Daniel. It is an engrossing tale told in a lovely style. The others were contemporary works and three classics – all as varied as could be. I just picked this one out while browsing through Midlands Book Store, one of my favorite book stores in the NCR. It is such a great feeling, when an impulse buy turns out so good!

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Let me talk first of the classics –  Alice in Wonderland I read after many decades and although written in 1865 it is essentially timeless and place less – and the mother of all fantasy fiction. While modern fantasy is a genre I am not partial to, I enjoyed Alice for its so-English-language and the humor!  Sc-fi, is another genre I have never taken to, although I think i did enjoy  Arthur Clarke in the past, am not very sure! I had not read Childhood’s End and found it interesting and entertaining.

I am going through TIME 100 Books list, as a leisurely challenge (no time targets) and from this list,  I read William Styron (The confessions of Nat Turner, 1967), Elizabeth Bowen (The death of the heart, 1958), Nathaniel West (The day of the locust, 1939), Evelyn Waugh (A handful of dust, 1934), James Baldwin (Go tell it on the mountain, 1953) and James Franzen (The corrections, 2001) – the 4 American books were distinctly different from the 2 English ones (Bowen and Waugh) in style and the issues addressed. The writing styles also differed hugely, generically between the two sides of the Atlantic, as well as individually! Franzen, of course was the only contemporary one and I enjoyed this book enough to read his latest, Purity.

I also read a whole lot of books, out of the to-be-read list (which in my case, rests partly on my phone, partly on Goodreads, some on Amazon wish-list and  in stray note books) – Life after Life by Kate Atkinson (an author on Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s 2015 reccos, though not his book), The year of the runaways by Sunjeev Suhota (booker long list 2015), The Guernsey Literary an Potato Peel society by Mary Ann Shaffer (for its curious title, and on many recco lists), In other rooms, other wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin and the recently published Ancestral Affairs by Keki Daruwall (which was interesting and enjoyable) Then there were the random pickings from the library shelf, some enjoyable and some not so much – A hundred horizons by Sugata Bose (interesting theme, not so absorbing to read), Inner workings by JM Coetzee  (Essays on European authors and their writings), Curious pursuits by Margaret Atwood ( a delightful set of essays on her early struggles as a woman writer), and The view form Castle Rock by Alice Munro (among the few short story writers I enjoy).

I also finally read  Return of the King, William Dalrymple’s opus on the Afghan wars of 1938-42, which I had started a few times and abandoned. Once I got trough the early part, which was a challenge, it was absorbing and readable, like his many books on India. It gives you a great sense of bearing on Afghanistan, its ethnography and terrain which had then and continues to dictate the geopolitics of the area. I had a similar feeling when I read A short walk in the Hindukush by Eric Newby, a book which had me hooked to the travel genre.

A book which was a huge disappointment  was When breath becomes air, the book by the neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, written in the brief period between his diagnosis with lung cancer and his death. While frank and forthright about his journey, it had very little new to offer. I cannot say it was over-sentimental or too pragmatic, or that the persona were not interesting, but  the hype around  I could not fathom! The out-of-the-ordinary feature in the tale was the conscious decision taken by the couple that they should conceive a child, who the father was certain he would not even see!! I would not classify it as brave or stupid – but individual, and on the part of the mother brave!!

Finally, a few words about Vivek Shanbaghs’s  Ghachar Ghochar – a remarkable book, which has stood the test of translation and reached us English readers, for which I am really grateful. It was probably the best reads in the year so far.

PS – Only 10 of these 25 were on Kindle – so I’m not doing so well on saving the tress!

 

 

 

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