This year was a good year for books for me. I had started to diversify my reading list to books by authors in different countries, and even looked into some contemporary Indian authors. My goal was to read 40 books this year but I upgraded it to 50 by August.
I had given up reading books by Indian authors after being disappointed countless times (looking at you Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi). In college I’d read the likes of Anita Desai and found the subject matter morose and the writing high-brow; meant for submission to book awards and discussed in literary societies, not something you’d want to cuddle up with.
Then last year I discovered the books of Manto, Perumal Murugan, and Arundhati Roy’s new work of fiction. Not to mention Amitav Ghosh. This year my journey continued. It’s a good mix of popular and hidden gems, classics and contemporary.
Once again, I divide my list into three different posts of fiction, fantasy fiction, and non-fiction.
Here goes the first list: Fiction.
- The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri: It has been on my reading shelf for a while now because I already saw the movie so was in no hurry to read it. However, I am glad I did. The movie doesn’t encapsulate the feelings as well as the book. Although I haven’t lived the experience described, I can easily see someone going through it…partly because it is well written and partly because it’s the story of so many immigrants, or just anyone’s relationship with their parents.
- The Forest of Enchantments by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: This book voiced so many of the questions I had while reading / listening to the Ramayana…and gave me new things to think about. A refreshing look at an age-old story told multiple times. I found the language casual sometimes…in my head (mostly due to the way these myths are depicted) I would imagine people from that time, especially royalty, talking in a more formal language.
- The Palace of Illusions By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni: This was an Express Mahabharata told from the perspective of the woman who lived it all. It shows how flawed her character can be and at the same time how self aware of what she’s doing and how it’ll affect people. For those who haven’t read the epic may still understand the story but not in its depth.
- The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides: After a long time I’ve read a page-turner. I should’ve guessed at the outcome but I guess I’ve become rusty. Nevertheless, it was an engaging read. The author could’ve delved deeper into the aspects of mental illnesses but I guess this wasn’t an educational book so it’s just briefly described for the purposes of the story itself. I feel though, a little more would’ve helped me to really empathise with the ‘patient’
- Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty: It kept you on edge, annoyingly so, till the end. Dealing with some heavy topics in a casual way, the two mysteries keep nagging at you till you get to the end and say..of course! It looks at what goes on behind perfect lives in the form of domestic violence, bullying in schools, and even a bit of playground politics!
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite: It was a quick read…short and interesting. A fascinating look into the mind of not a serial killer but someone close to them and what motivates them to protect someone obviously in the wrong and how they deal with it. “The most loving parents and relatives commit murder with smiles on their faces. They force us to destroy the person we really are: a subtle kind of murder.”
- Normal People by Sally Rooney: A story of two imperfect teenagers finding their ways in life as they grow up, learning more about each other and getting in touch with their feelings. Not a perfect romance but more real.
- BearTown by Fredrik Backman: After the feel good A Man Called Ove, this took a deep dive in the opposite direction! ** spoiler alert ** It’s a book about hockey and how it affects a small town. It’s a story about rape and how it affects a small town. Many lives and many ways of thinking are covered in a sensitive way.
- Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh: It’s not set in an epic scale like most of his novels but it is an interesting piece inspired by folklore. A simple fable leads to adventure and strange happenings. There are some real-time issues like climate change and the refugee crisis that play an important part. To enjoy this book don’t start with expectations based on his previous works.
- The Dragonfly Sea by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor: It’s a difficult book to explain. It’s about relationships with self and others, with people and the environment, a little in the past and present. Mostly about a girl finding herself and place in the world. It explores the life of a girl living in Pate Island and how she is influenced by the flowing and ebbing waves of the sea
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates: Tales of the age of slavery sound like a fictional dystopian novel, so it is always a surreal feeling to read these stories, even if partly fiction, and get your head around the fact that so many people went through this and worse, that too not too long ago. There is a bit of the fantastical embedded in the story…and you wish it would’ve been true. However, it doesn’t distract from the realness of the journey.
- 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak: She writes so well. This is the second book of hers I’ve read. Told from the POV of a dead sex worker as she tries to go through the events of her life that led her to that moment. Powerful and brilliant.
- The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo: A story of relationships and myths and intertwined lives. It keeps you hooked on to the lives of all the characters until the end. A bit of drama and a bit of mystery. It is set in the British colony of Malaya in the 1930s and explores superstitions and realities of the people involved.
Then there were the great classics that I had heard so much about but didn’t live up to their expectations. Both these books were difficult to get through. I understood the gist of it but did not enjoy the journey of it.
- The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus: I couldn’t follow what he was trying to say in the philosophical essays. I really like the description of cities that gives you such a clear visual of what he describes. Inspired by the myth of a man condemned to ceaselessly push a rock up a mountain and watch it roll back to the valley below, he talks of the value of life in a world without religious meaning. I really could not follow most of it!
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr: A look into the cost of war on a personal level: How it uses and changes people forever. The parts where he explains the protagonist’s fantastical mind as a result of his experiences during the war are both sad and interesting. It got a little tedious for me after a few chapters though and it was difficult to keep track of what was happening.
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