Rita has requested a 5 best reads list for 2014 just she did for books read in 2013. So here it is! You already know the books I read last year, so these are filtered from that list. They are the best because they have stayed with me long after the back cover was closed, Goodreads entry updated and the book returned to the shelf. The list is in the order in which I read the books. I want 2015 to be a year that exceeds my expectations so I am starting off with a list that exceeds Rita’s expectations. These are the nine outstanding reads of 2014.
Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud
Now this is a book I won’t forget in a hurry. Esther Freud is the daughter of painter Lucien Freud and great granddaughter of the Sigmund Freud. But that’s not why I remember the book. It’s the voice that haunts me. The protagonist’s point of view of an adult looking back at her childhood and describing it in piercing psychological detail. A child who is living and observing the nomadic life that she did not choose.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
My first Ishiguro. I have been hearing about Ishiguro for a long time but somehow never read his works. What I remember best was this cloud of innocence that hung about the book. As if no one wanted to face the ugly world outside. The characters Ruth, Tommy and Kathy are very young and live intense lives in the present. The novel follows the tradition of the British boarding school novel and Science fiction without descending into the mechanics of it all. But is so much more than that. The circumstances under which I read the book makes it rather special for me. Someone I knew and loved passed away this year had gifted me this book. In fact it was the last gift she gave me.
Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Genre: short stories and fiction respectively
I cannot stop raving about these two books. Díaz is my discovery of 2014. I was drawn into the detailed worlds he creates which explore questions of identity and race and what it means to be an outsider on the fringes of American society. This is what I wrote about them earlier last year.
Painting That Red Circle White by Mihir Vatsa
Vatsa’s poems have the rare capacity to transport me into a different place. Focusing on the everyday ordinary world, his poems give me insights that are piercing and timeless. The rhythm of his language makes me want to read them again and again. This is the poet’s first collection so I expect fantastic things from him in the future. Two poems here and here will give you an introduction.
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
I tried reading this book many years back but the second person narrative did not work for me then. Maybe I was not ready for it yet. So after years of owning the book and reading all sorts of literary criticism on it, I finally got around to reading it in 2014. And it blew me away. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is not just one book; it is ten first novels that reflect, refract and play with and against each other as if images in a house of mirrors. It seems to do that with the ideas in my head as well – sparking off so many different thoughts in all directions that in recording one I lost ten others. I want to go back to it and read it again just to reclaim those thoughts. I am so terrified to write about this book.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
Some of the most exciting writing that I have read lately has been from Africa and its many countries. I had been eyeing We Need New Names since I read the first chapter, which was published as a short story called Hitting Budapest. It has this raw and biting intensity that is so appealing. I am a fan of Bulawayo’s (a pseudonym if you have not guessed it by now) craft. The way she explores inner landscapes through simple and beautiful language had me paralysed. I have written about it here.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Since If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler proved to be such an eye-opening read, I had to read his other books. Invisible Cities came highly recommended from friends. Of course I had read about it but never got down to reading it. Invisible Cities is not a traditional story. Marco Polo regales Kublai Khan with accounts of hundreds of imaginary cities, which are a reflection of Venice. Each city is less an actual location on a map and more an idea constructed by Marco Polo in his head. It’s Calvino’s hall of mirrors again, this time though through the prism of cities. At first I enjoyed the philosophising a lot but a bit into the book, I started craving for a narrative. Towards the end I become comfortable with the abstractness again. When I stopped questioning what the book was trying to do, that’s when the book opened up to me. I had to abandon the yearning for a traditional story and go with the flow in order to appreciate this book.
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I am going to remember 2014 as the year I discovered Calvino and Adichie. Purple Hibiscus has been on my radar for a while. It astounds me that (a) this is Adichie’s first novel and (b) it took such a long time to come to me. Adichie is a master storyteller. I am yet to recover from reading the book. It’s a book that stays on long long after the last page has been turned. Her characters are so well etched, her stories so descriptive and her craft so precise that I am at a loss for words. Purple Hibiscus took my breath away. I haven’t touched another book of fiction after reading it because I want to hold on to that feeling of being under the spell of her writing a bit longer.