As the year draws to a close, it is time to take stock. So here is a laundry list of books read in 2003.
Bones of the master (George Crane): A beautifully written account by an American poet who accompanies a Buddhist monk to Inner Mongolia in search of the bones of his master, whom he had left around 50 years earlier when he fled China in the wake of the Red Army onslaught on Buddhist establishments. The confrontations between East and West are subtly conveyed through conflicts between monk and poet, and glimpses of rural China bring out rarely encountered qualities about the country.
Swami and Friends (R.K. Narayan): A delightful read. Swami is one of the most endearing characters I’ve encountered so far.
Bachelor of Arts (R.K. Narayan): Narayan’s second novel about a young man passing through the difficult phase of young-adulthood. With characteristic simplicity Narayan brings forth the conflicts the young man faces, and finally comes to terms with. The book makes us look back at that phase of life and smile at ourselves, at the ideologies youth clings to, at the rebel that billows within.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J.K.Rowling): Not Rowling’s best. Parts of it made me wonder who was the central character: Harry or Hermione. Nothing much happens through the book, and that highlighted a principle difference between this and the Lord of the Rings: movement. While Lord Of The Rings is like Voyager II – moving across the solar system exploring one planet after another in a journey to the unknown – the Potter series is like a geostationary satellite – circling the Earth and crossing the same path once every year.
Books read in parts
Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino) : Magic, sheer magic. That is the only way I can describe Italo Calvino’s writing. I hope to write more about this book once I complete it.
Essays of E.B White (E.B.White): Excellent collection of essays from a master of prose.
The Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature (Amit Chaudhuri): Good starting point to a number of Indian writers writing in English and the vernacular. The most memorable piece I’ve read so far in this collection is a memoir titled “Edmund Wilson in Benaras” by Pankaj Misra. Misra, known for having spotted The God of Small Things and for coining the term “Rushdieitis”, is one bright young star in the horizon of Indian Literature. I’ve read a few of his articles so far, and I’m looking forward to his book on The Buddha he is currently working on.
The Vintage book of Indian Writing (Salman Rushdie & Elizabeth West): Interesting collection, but slanted towards Indians writing in English ( a point that caused quite some animated discussions about the selection ).
Interpreter of Maladies (Jhumpa Lahiri): Beautiful collection of short stories, mostly touching upon the condition of the Indian Immigrant. What struck me was the author’s understanding of human nature – at so young an age – that came across in those pages. This year I re-read some of the stories in this collection, and the experience left me convinced Lahiri was a writer to relish. Her next book The Namesake is on my to-be-read list.
Chess Master Vs Chess Amateur (Max Euwe): Great book for serious amateurs who wish to rise beyond the ranks of hobbyists.
The development of Chess Style (Max Euwe and John Nunn): Traces the history of chess champions from the 17th century upto the present, focussing on how the style of each great player influenced other players and the general style of play in that era.
What should I do with my life? (Po Bronson): Could not go beyond first few chapters – too much authorial intrusion makes it unreadable. Instead of trying to find out from his subjects, he tries to influence his own views – on what they should do in their life, or how they should go about finding it – upon them. Instead of letting the subjects speak for themselves, he inserts – very often – his own judgements about their ways of thinking.
White Mughals (William Darlymple): I picked this up on our India Trip and read around fifty absorbing pages while travelling. I somehow haven’t been able to pick it up again after we got back. In 2004, perhaps…
Books apart, this has been the year where I overcame my inertia and started writing a bit. This site, begun early this year in Geocities and later transferred to Typepad, is what little there is to indicate this small beginning. I’m sure it will grow in time; I may not write a lot, but I know this isn’t a fad, so slowly but surely – atom by atom – this mostly private universe will grow, documenting a progression in thought, and in life.