Our contributors are our aesthetic.
TBLM did the exercise of asking its contributors to write back with a couple of their favorite books read in 2014. We basically asked for the books that really made a difference for them this year. Some responded, and voila, now we have an awesome TBR list for all you readers.
BobCat and Other stories by Rebecca Lee, because it gives me faith in the modern short story. Because it captured adult vulnerability and allowed the reader to analyse the masks they wear everyday and our inability to take them off as freely as we think we can. Because it shows us how globalization makes a certain class of us homogeneous and closer but our own mind and spiritual self so distanced.
The Infatuations by Javier Marias : Because it had a compelling but simple story. Because the author managed to throw in philosophy , and talked about death peacefully and candidly. The narrative allowed us to examine the running around of life and feel sorrow for its ultimate pleasures. Finally, because life in its most twisted of fates can still be premeditated and good writer can ease us into these understandings with hope remaining in the heart and Marias has done exactly that.
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie: My first novel by an African writer, the writing made me envy her maturity and talent.
Kite Runner by Khaled Hoseini: Made me ponder over my friendship with my closest friends and whether they also had something in their life that would make them compromise me like Amir did?
A New World by Amit Chaudhuri: There’s no future without letting go of the present. This story of dislocation, for me, came at a time when I was grappling with my own demons from the past. The hurt in these pages healed me.
Lovers like you and I by Minakshi Thakur: You don’t need to know that you are in love. You need to know, though, that love is an image that can only be created but never owned. With poetic precision, the author overwhelmed the lover in me.
Julio’s Day by Gilbert Hernandez: This is a graphic novel and I loved it. It charts 100 years in the life of Julio in mere 100 pages. Pretty ambitious, you’d say. But I was surprised with how relaxed and smooth the execution was, introducing a gallery of supporting characters, all affected in their own ways as their continent and their way of life kept changing over 100 years. Hernandez is walking in the footprints of Marquez here, and what he ends up achieving in emotionally moving. I am a sucker for stories that culminate towards a resounding emotion, be it a single, glaring one, and I love to revel in it for days. There is at the corner of my mind a tiny, little goal to write a family saga based in Gujarat, beginning from early 1900s in the sea-coast village of Khambhatt to the present times. Though I am not ready with the full plot yet, any book that does something similar in a moving way, in a given cultural context, gets my respect.
Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo: There is a mysterious crime at its center, but then that’s common in most of the good crime novels. What works here is the investigation. Martin Beck, the series detective, and his team are almost always busy, jumping from one clue to another, but nothing much happens. They follow possible leads that reach nowhere. It makes you realize how much of the police work depends on chance. This book is all about pacing. It is not slow but a quietly assuring book, not at all like those maddeningly fast popular thrillers that throw one gimmick after another to keep the reader busy. A lot of its effect comes from stillness and not movement. Think about it! I try to achieve something similar in the mystery stories that I write, try to wash my narratives of unnecessary McGuffins, the way I have done in ‘Because if nothing matters,’ published in TBLM. An interesting fact: the husband and wife duo (Maj & Per) used to write at night after their children went to bed, and believe me when I say this that they are still the best in the business.
Christ Recrucified by Nikos Kazantzakis is definitely the best novel I have read this year. It is deep, original, and timeless, the way some of Dostoyevsky’s works are. Set in a Greek village where villagers re-enact the life of Christ every four years, the book has a rich cast of well drawn out characters. There are village notables on one side, the men of power, and on the other side are six innocent villagers chosen to play important roles in the skit that year. They deeply identify with their roles, transform, take a moral stand in a situation of crisis and instigate a (justified) rebellion. This novel in essence shouts to tell us “[you sacrificed] in vain, my Christ, in vain”. One only has to turn to newspapers to see how relevant this still is.
There was a sense of serendipity while I read this one. I was casually leafing through books from a friend’s shelf only to discover, when I read the blurb and the first pages of a beautiful Faber & Faber paperback, that the highly celebrated Indian movie ‘Rang De Basant’ was more than influenced by it. It was exciting to find parallels at first, and joy to read Jonathan Griffin’s (the translator’s) lyrical language that seemed to add another dimension. However, all those emotions waned soon and I read the novel in a steady and an almost reverential awe.
The Meditative Mind: The Varieties of Meditative Experience, one of the early and less popular books of Daniel Goleman, is my favorite non-fiction this year. As such, the book may not look to be much – three of the four parts of the book are a young scholar’s survey and classification of the psychological principles and methods of mystical religions of the world, with regard to altered states of mind they account. Taking the ancient Buddhist treatise Visuddhimagga (or ‘The Path of Purification’) as the basis, it goes on to compare and underscore the vital similarities, and the differences, among these states and in the instructions to attain or experience them. Goleman here is interested only in the psychological aspects of the religious texts that too w.r.t meditation – this constraint adds value to the book. There are no unnecessary digressions and commentaries, and one can see that the task of the writer was to boil down to this essence and stay clear and focused on it. It is exactly the kind of scholarly work that I would have loved to undertake as a grad student, which Daniel Goleman was when he visited Dharamshala on a research grant and started working on this book.
S, by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst: S is an authentic fraud, a nesting doll of pages; it is a story within stories. The central story is a novel about an amnesiac on a ship on which the crew has their mouths sewn shut. The novel itself is presented as a translation and the translator has provided footnotes in which a political story is told. Since this is all a library book, there is the medieval concept of marginalia in which two borrowers, Jen and Eric, chronicle their reactions to the central story, the footnotes, and the growing love-relationship between them. Got all that? I haven’t even said a word about the illustrations because this is also a graphic novel that dispels the notion that “picture books” can’t be literature. Brilliant.
How We Got to Now: The History and Power of Great Ideas, by Steven Johnson: In simple but magisterial prose, Johnson explains how six inventions and their consequences changed the world. From the comet-struck Libyan Desert to Turkish and Venetian artisans, Glass became the material from which we produce the vessel of the same name from which we drink; out of which the jewelry we wear is fashioned; of which the eyeglasses we use to improve sight are made; and the conduit through which we explore the invisible world of microbes and the distant galaxies. Cold enabled the transportation of food on ships and trains and air-conditioned comfort in hot weather. Sound and its capture led to communication, entertainment, and propaganda. Clean, as in cleanliness, inspired urban engineering and planning, and the creation of sewer lines. Human diseases are stemmed or propagated in two ways: either by abiding by or flouting the simple rules of cleanliness, one of the simplest of which is washing one’s hands. Galileo’s pendulum and quartz crystal measured Time and later the agreement on time zones got the world to agree on the measure of our days. Time is both music and mortality. Light moves through fiber optics, and makes the difference between staying up late to read a book or not having a photograph of a loved one.
In The Country Of Men, by Hisham Matar: This was an exquisite read. The author captures truths through the eyes of child. The language is unbelievably beautiful and poetic in places. The images created in my mind of the favourite spot on the roof, the childhood friends and a mother who was forced to marry young drowning her sorrows with alcohol, cling so vividly to my mind, months after reading the book. It’s only one book but, if ever someone were to ask what life in Libya was like in 1979, this is the book I’d recommend they read.
Being Here, compiled by Robin Malan: This collection of short stories from Southern Africa is something I found as I hunted online for second-hand books, as is my wont. Published in 1994, the volume contains stories from some of my favourite Southern African writers; Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer, Bessie Head, Charles Mungoshi and the “mad” genius, Dambudzo Marechera. The stories are set in the late seventies through to the early nineties. It was such a pleasure to be able to reacquaint myself in a single compilation, with the writing I was raised on and to view a cross section of life in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique during that era. Every piece is masterfully written, unique and beautiful.
Lepota L Cosmo
Certainly On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea by Pablo Neruda Antonio Skármeta, Alastair Reid (Translator), Mary Heebner (Illustrator), Published 2010 by Rayo, and Love Poems by Pablo Neruda Translated by Donald D Walsh Bilingual (English-Spanish) Edition, Published 2008 by New Directions New York, A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, Published 2010 by Scribner, although this was also the year of Octavio Paz (1914-2014) Centenario de Octavio Paz, Selected poems by Octavio Paz, by New Directions New York.
Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky: This one made cliche look like a non-existent entity. Poignant, rich, unafraid to showcase sentimentality in its rawest form, this book clearly was the highlight of my reading year. Too bad, Nemirovsky could not complete the 5-part series she had imagined in her mind. Someday, and very highly optimistically speaking(sigh), I hope to be able to give life to characters like those in this novel.
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan: Another one of those books that stun you with their acuity. This is how a psychologically charged ‘love story’ ought to be.