This is a post that should have been done in the last week of 2016 – but it was a busy and hectic week, with the marriage of my niece in Chennai and some travel following it. On 31st itself I was in Puducherry – and the weeks since I got back has been hectic for a variety of reasons. So January just sped by and well into February, I am at this post.
While I achieved the target of a book a week or 52 books by October, the final tally for the year was 70, as against 80 in 2016.
As is evident from the list, almost one fifth of the list is of one author, Henning Mankell. I have written previously about discovering this author and the obsessive reading I did of all his books. But I read a fair scattering of authors, representing many countries across three continents. My progress on the TIMES 100 books list has not been great – having only progressed through 7 books, all American authors, and abandoning one. Of these highly acclaimed books ‘The day of the Locust’ (Nathaniel West) and ‘The death of the heart’ (Elizabeth Bowen), Falconer I could not appreciate, probably because they were very specific to a time and place to which I did not relate. While very specific to the period, ‘The confessions of Nat Turner’ (William Styron) was a book that conveyed the realities of slavery through brilliant writing. ‘Go tell it to the mountain'(James Baldwin), ‘The heart is a lonely hunter’ (Carson McCulles) and ‘Housekeeping’ (Marilynne Robinson) were lyrical and wonderful books. Other American authors I read from this list were, Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, which I felt was a great contemporary story, John Cheever’s Falconer (which was disappointing, since I had so enjoyed his Wapshot Chronicle) and Philip Roth’s The Anatomy lesson, which was tough going to finish. And from the same list I also read the ‘ A handful of dust’ by English author Evelyn Waugh.
The hype around the Neapolitan novels by Elenor Ferrante, did keep me off them for a while – but once I started, I had to get through all four. Everything is so ordinary in what happens, but it all adds up to an extraordinary story. I think I enjoyed it all the more, since the protagonists (two close friends from a poorer part of Naples) were almost my contemporaries – born 3 years before me and lived through world events in another part of the world – but still not so different in their aspirations, challenges, successes and failures. Another author who is popular and acclaimed and who I had never read (for no special reason, I must admit) was Haruki Murakami – and the first book of his I read (A wild sheep chase) was absorbing and different! I also read ‘Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his years of pilgrimage’ – will definitely read more of his works.
There were some re-reads (Alice in wonderland, A handmaid’s tale etc) and some that did not live up to expectations, like Sunjeev Suhota’s The year of the runaways (Booker nominated), Yann Martel’s The high mountains of Portugal (A previous Booker winner), Hanif Mohammed’s Our lady of Alice Bhatti (his Case of exploding mangoes was a great book). Many on the other hand were true to their reputation, such as Kamila Shamsie (Kartography), Andrea Levy (Fruit of the lemon), Kate Atkinson (Life after Life) and I thought Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In other rooms, other wonders (which I had missed reading when it first came out) was really insightful and honest.
Although I did not read much non-fiction, those that I did were all outstanding- Rana Ayyub’s Gujarat files (almost scary in its reality), Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The gene, Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath becomes Air and William Dalrymple’s Return of the King.
But, the book I enjoyed the most has to be Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar – so simple a tale of our modern times, so local in context (written in Kannada and brilliantly translated) that we can all relate to the protagonist and yet so universal in portraying the isolation of each of us!