“Recommend a book for me” asks a friend. I get such requests from cousins too. For someone who finishes close to 30 books each year, I really struggle. Not that there’s a dearth of good books I read, but these requests usually come with a rider, like “something light, the previous one was heavy.” How do I go about this business?
To be honest, every time someone asks me for a reco, I open up goodreads diligently, go through the list and draw a proper blank. This year, the reading has been especially heavy. Last year at least I buffered hard ones with lighter ones. But even then, the lighter ones were mostly Sci-fi and RKN. This year, I got bitten badly by one RKN (The financial expert) which, all of 220 pages, seemed extremely difficult to finish. Somehow I never got interested much in Margayya’s financial doings.
Of course there was also the epic ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ last year, but am usually wary of recommending such books to friends. It’s not up to everyone’s taste and needs a special kind of bookworm to bore through 6 books set in 10th Century Tamilnadu. The Kannada books of course are not recommendable to most friends or relatives as most don’t read much Kannada.
Coming to this year, the really light ones have been ‘The blaft anthology of Tamil pulp fiction – Vol 1′( fun reading, but again not up everyone’s alley), ‘A shot at history’ to some extent (but try convincing yourself to read about a shooter’s journey to Olympic gold medal and see how much it enthuses you for a lazy read), to some extent ‘A case of exploding mangoes’ (Thanks Bharat for that reco, it’s still a dark book, just that the writing style is so damn brilliant and effortless), ‘Jingo’ (Pratchett takes a while getting used, but it is mostly satire and parody), ‘John Wright’s Indian summers’, ‘Rahul Dravid: Timeless Steel’ (only for cricket fans both) and ‘The rest of the robots’ by Asimov(not a great book, won’t reco even for sci-fi fans), and a re-reading of Wodehouse’s ‘The Gold Bat'(one of his early works).
There was also the awesome ‘Phantoms in the brain’, but non-fiction. Rest have all been nice and heavy. Oh well, I guess I am a bit wary when it comes to recommending books. Maybe a tad protective and even defensive of my tastes. Maybe I want to come up with a fun book, something that everyone will like, like a blockbuster movie that will work for everyone, with a thrilling story and a surprise twist that no one saw coming.
I guess I left the stage of reading quick paperbacks and keep looking for books that keep dragging me in and unraveling more about the world, about people or even about myself. Yes, sometimes I want some mindless reading, just so that I don’t move on from one heavy one to another. At least, I definitely needed a light read after something like Parva which demands a lot from you as a reader. And it was helpful that I was coming off some light reads – the cricket books – before I was drawn into Parva.
I guess in a way every book presents a challenge for you and thus needs some process and preparation to get into the right frame of mind to tackle it. There was ‘The English Patient’ that I picked up from the library on a whim and found myself ill-equipped to handle it. It demanded a lot of quiet and slowness to appreciate it fully as it was entirely internal to the characters. At one point the patient tells Hana as she reads Kim:
“‘Read him slowly, dear girl, you must read Kipling slowly. Watch carefully where the commas fall so you can discover the natural pauses. He is a writer who used pen and ink. He looked up from the page a lot, I believe, stared through his window and listened to birds, as most writers who are alone do. Some do not know the names of birds, though he did. Your eye is too quick and North American. Think about the speed of his pen. What an appalling, barnacled old first paragraph it is otherwise.'”
In many ways, reading slowly is something this book also demands and I found myself not in a state to give it that. One of those books that should be read on a quiet, lazy holiday with only birds chirping around you. Oh, and one thing that this book recommended me – Kipling’s Kim. Kipling is another author I started reading, with ‘The Man who would be King’. Kinda oddball and would need some getting used to. Not an easy author this one, will need a lot of acquired taste. He was put on my list thanks to this quote from Rahul Dravid in a book, which was mentioned during his retirement:
For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack.
Coming back, what am trying to say is not that am a snooty bastard who’ll throw his nose up if you ask for a reco. To be honest, I have no idea what am trying to tell you through this post. Maybe just that I really try my best to do a good job of it, but like everything, it might depend on your personal tastes also. But I do mention what a particular book is about and let people decide if they want to go for it, but there are some that I hard-sell. Like the amazing ‘Calcutta Chromosome’ or ‘A case of exploding mangoes’. They are good reads. Not light, but good ones. A personal favourite this year remains ‘The Shadow Lines’. Would I recommend it? Probably, if you have been reading regularly. Don’t pick that for a quick read on a journey. It demands you give it everything and Ghosh will give you a lot back too.