Monday, February 22, 2016

My Book List 2016

I am going to start something new here, more than anything because I need this exercise now. While I am not at all for any grand declarations of new year resolutions and such like, I do want to read a lot more books this year than I usually manage to. Let me not burden myself with a number though.

Starting today, I am going to list all the books I have read this year, both for work and for pleasure, along with a small paragraph or so of a review. Well, review would be the wrong word. I don’t want to talk as much about the story/subject of the book or the craft of the writer as much as what I, as a reader, thought of the book while reading it. It might not always be politically correct, like the tone I employ in the reviews I write professionally. These are not a reviewer or even a critic’s thoughts, just a plain reader’s. Okay, right then.

(Grouping the ones read so far in one post here, in no particular order)

1. Yellow Lights of Death by Benyamin: I couldn’t possibly over-sell his first translated book, Goat Days. That book was, in a word, brilliant. So I went into this with tall hopes and wasn’t overly disappointed. Markedly different from Goat Days, this book is a Dan Brown-ish page turner, a novel within a novel. Racy, intriguing and a tad too complicated in an attempt to be too many things at the same time, it sort of crash and burned for me towards the end. Somehow the fast paced narrative throughout the book went into a bit of a free fall in the end. Well enjoyable, nevertheless. And the little history of the Mar Thoma Church, early Christianity in India was very interesting.

2. The Adivasi Will Not Dance by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar: Loved this one, and have been recommending it to everyone I know that reads. I admit I picked it up with a little apprehension but once I began, couldn’t put it down. The short stories are about the Santhal tribe of Jharkhand, where the writer works as a doctor. They don’t exoticise the tribals and the political in their stories isn’t in your face. I love subtlety like this, letting the reader arrive at the heart of the story. I look forward to reading the writer’s debut novel. His dual profession instantly reminded me of the other writer who juggles writing and a medical profession – Kavery Nambisan, an old favourite.

3. Yoga Girl by Rachel Brathen: I have very happily gone back to my yoga recently and have been reading on yoga again. Rachel Brathen made her name as a yoga sensation on Instagram, and other social media, by sharing deeply personal battles – very relatable ones at that – along with, of course, photos of handstands on Caribbean beaches. The issue of white, thin, bikini clad women doing difficult poses in picture postcard perfect locations is something I am mostly unsure about, but I like Brathen for her honesty. Anyway, Yoga Girl is part memoir, part self-help, part recipe book and part yoga manual. I read it at a time when I desperately needed to read something like that and to be reminded of some very obvious things. But then the most obvious things are what we need reminded about often, huh?

4. A Bad Character by Deepti Kapoor: I am always very skeptical of books that everyone is oohing and ahing about, rarely do they match the hype, for me. So I steered very clear of this one, only to see I had added it, at some point, on to my online bookstore wishlist. I must say it is most of what was written about this book. It is racy, disturbing and filled with phrases the kind I would want to note down somewhere. The ending, for me, was a little too Bollywood-ish, all strings came out being neatly tied together but nevertheless it is a great book. Too closely relatable in parts for my comfort. But one book that I mean to read again, at leisure, slowly savouring the wonderful sentences.

5. In Other Words by Jhumpa Lahiri: Lahiri is one writer I have always thought was overrated. Good in parts, but overrated as a whole. I think she came up at a time when the immigration story was the in thing in popular culture. Except perhaps The Lowland which I quite enjoyed, the rest of her books have been predictable for me. I should have known better than to read her latest then, a book written in Italian, a language she learnt because it did not come with the baggage that English and Bengali has for her. It was one of the most tedious, full of itself writing I have read in recent times. Don't waste time on it. Thankfully, I was not the only one to think this about her. An artist friend and I talked just yesterday about how the book would never have seen the light of day if it wasn't written by a Pulitzer awardee. So there, that was a bad one.

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