Jorge Louis Borges once said “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” Here’s my list of the 10 best books that I have read in the recent past. Of course, this would need a disclaimer. Note: This list is in no particular order. It is a personal list, which means that it is not a comprehensive one. And do feel free to disagree with it!
1. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Beg, borrow, or steal these books and read them. It’s a once in a lifetime experience! The story is great and stretches the human imagination to the limit. Pullman has borrowed from mythology, Milton and spiced it with pure magic.
- In The Golden Compass, young Lyra Belacqua journeys to the far North to save her best friend and other kidnapped children from terrible experiments by evil scientists.
- In The Subtle Knife, Lyra journeys to the shimmering, haunted otherworld called Cittágazze, where she meets Will Parry. Together they travel from world to world and discover an object of extraordinary power, and uncover the truth of their own destiny.
- In The Amber Spyglass, Lyra and Will are in unspeakable danger. With help from Iorek Byrnison the armored bear and two tiny Gallivespian spies, they must journey to a dank and gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone. The Amber Spyglass brings Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials to an astonishing conclusion.
2. Gabriel García Márquez’s books. I would ordinarily suggest ALL of Márquez’s books but if you can’t get your hands on all of them, the crown jewel of them all- One Hundred Years of Solitude should be on your list of must reads. It was written in Spanish in 1967 and first translated into English three years later. If I had a say, I would have given Márquez the Lit Nobel just for this novel alone. The story of the Buendías in the far away imaginary land of Macondo is a pyrotechnical narrative joined by several smaller stories of the characters involved. What is considered the highlight of the book is the fact that this book introduced the world to magic realism.
3. Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra. A literary tour de force that is unforgettable because of both its characters and the plot. It spans a mind-boggling length of time starting from the 18th century till the 20th century all told from the eye for of a character who lives first as a poet and then as a monkey. It’s from the typewriting monkey’s perspective that we see the action. There are many strings of narratives running parallely. One is the present where the monkey uses the typewriter to convey his eventful past life. The second is the events of the 18th century till the partition of India. The third parallel narrative of the America-returned angst-ridden Abhay. While the narratives dance around each other going into contortions that bewilder as well as drive the reader to ecstasy.
4. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I still remember when I finished reading this book. The feeling was one of complete awe. Even when I read it again, I can still find some thing or the other to discover. You could say that this book is India’s answer to Márquez. But of course, they are of completely different styles. Rushdie rewrites the history of India from the perspective of Saleem Sinai who is coincidently born along with India on midnight of 14th August 1947. Rushdie uses the man Sinai as a metaphor for the nation and shows how the nation/man travels from hope and life to death and disintegration, quite literally. If you want the history of India in a nutshell, this is it. But it is a subjective nutshell.
5. Satyajit Ray’s Feluda stories. I read the first Adventures of Feluda on a train from Calcutta (not Kolkata) to Madras sitting amidst good looking North Eastern boys who were playing the guitar. And have been hooked on it ever since. The book that is, not the boys. It twisted my world upside down. Till then, I never knew that Indian writers (I think Ray was the first Indian writer I read and loved) could write good racy intelligent crime fiction at all. I loved everything about the book. The translation was flawless. And even today I go back to the 6 or 7 of the stories. They make me feel good that I’m a Bengali (Yes, I’m honest). The plot is not simple. That’s such a relief. Ray’s characters are funny and real at the same time. Feluda is of course apparelled in the history of detective fiction in India. Tapesh is the Indian Watson. They are joined by the writer of cheap thrillers who is a complete foil to Feluda, Lalmohun Ganguly.
Watch out for the next 5 best reads in the next post!