List from 2015

Anush’s list is now out. Have written enough on another post. Am not going to come up with a to-read list at the end this time. Most of the time I fill it up with those waiting to be read without really a plan. And when did I ever look like a guy with a plan?

Without much further ado, here’s the list. As always, linked ones point to my review.

  1. ಪರಿಸರದ ಕತೆ [Parisarada Kathe] – K.P. Poornachandra Tejaswi. As per tradition, started the first half of the year with a Kannada book. Hilarious set of 14 short stories detailing the author’s life in the Western Ghats. If you’re looking for an easy Kannada book to get started on, this one is much recommended.
  2. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake. The second in the Gormenghast trilogy. I had read the first one in early 2014. A delightful read, the second is even better than the first. But reading the first is essential.
  3. Jitterbug Perfume – Tom Robbins – Came much recommended. But for some reason, I just could not get it or into it.
  4. Family Life – Akhil Sharma. Had been on my list for a while. It was autobiographical in many ways, but it is called an autobiographical novel, so I’ll mark it as Fiction. The writing was absolutely flat, given that he was describing his past. Maybe he wasn’t too comfortable doing that, and kept to a straight narration, while adding more bits about his own personal life away from the family to keep people entertained. I gave it 4 stars, but I guess it’s more of a 3. A lot of it was because I was too impressed by the glowing reviews.
  5. The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul – Douglas Adams. Douglas Adams. Enough said. A lovely, fun read, and was hard not to suddenly laugh when in a crowded bus. Should read more of the Dirk Gently series.
  6. Em and the Big Hoom – Jerry Pinto. A personal favourite. I guess I’ll never get tired of this book. Re-read it and enjoyed it more than the last time. Should visit more often.
  7. On Beauty – Zadie Smith. Picked up in Blossom’s. The writing is just amazing, and the book has a lot of its moments. But I guess I was expecting more. Maybe a lot of cultural references went OTH.
  8. Catching an Elephant and Other Stories – M.T Vasudevan Nair. Translation of his short stories from Malayalam. All of them set in Kerala with dysfunctional families. It wasn’t the typical Indian short story type with quaint characters, and was a lot darker than I expected.(I guess far too many have been influenced by RKN)
  9. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline. Typical geek work. Take the world of video games and virtual reality and weave a cheesy Hollywoodish story around it. Made for a fun, racy read though.
  10. Open Secrets – Alice Munro. Collection of short stories. Obviously, it’s Alice Munro after all. Typical fare, like a slow vacation that you savour while unraveling the threads of ordinary lives one at a time, and get to see a part of them before moving on.
  11. †Levels of the Game – John McPhee. One of my favourite books of the year. All he does is write about one tennis match and everything it holds. The styles of the players and everything the way they play symbolises. Black man fighting his way up the system vs white privileged conservative.
  12. The Kuru Princes – Amar Chitra Katha. I finally bought the 3 Volume Amar Chitra Katha Mahabharatha. The whole set is 42 comics and each volume is 14 comics. This was the first volume and chronicled the Mahabharatha from the start till when the Pandavas are about to start ruling Indraprastha. This is one of the books I read while growing up, glad to be catching up with it all over again.
  13. *†This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate – Naomi Klein. A very polarising book, taking on the fossil fuel industry and how it has fuelled(no pun intended) the climate change we are facing. A strong advocacy for going back to lower consumptions, modest economic growths and leaving fossil fuels in the ground. It’s not based on whimsy and sloganeering. Klein clearly understands the need for countries like India and those in Africa to grow and asks the developed world to vacate that space. One of the more hopeful books to come out. But a lot of articles written on her work do call out her optimism that “things will be ok if we do this and this”as more than a bit misplaced. Or in other words, we are pretty much screwed no matter what.
  14. Hullaballoo in the Guava Orchard – Kiran Desai. Needed a lighter read and picked this up. Fun book. Stays light and easy.
  15. †Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End – Atul Gawande. I stumbled upon this book thanks to Manja. Got hooked on to another good doctor who can write. My review is pretty detailed, and the blog post is linked.
  16. The Robots of Dawn – Isaac Asimov. Finally managed to get to the third of the ‘Robot’ trilogy involving Elijah Bailey and his Robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw. A bit too long, but good stuff.
  17. Kanthapura – Raja Rao. A review of Raja Rao’s works in Caravan put this on my to-read list, and I found one lying around in Blossom’s. Detailed review in GR linked.
  18. The New Life – Orhan Pamuk. I returned to Pamuk last year after a reasonably long gap. Can’t remember why he fell out of my radar, but I guess stuff happens. Hope to read one every year at least.
  19. *The Tusk that did the Damage – Tania James. Again, one of my favourite books from the last year. It’s not often that you come across a book where the author can look at things from an animal’s perspective. This book does a brilliant job of that. There are 3 parallel tracks. One wishes the third one, involving the filmmakers was shorter and the parts involving the elephant and the poacher much longer.
  20. Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie. A story spread across Delhi, Nagasaki, Karachi and New York, a sweeping look at the world from the time of WWII all the way till 9/11 and its aftermath.
  21. †Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan – William Dalrymple. A gift from Raghavan.  Chronicles the events leading up to and from the first Afghan war and Britain’s defeat at the hands of the Afghans, containing a lot of lessons for current and future rulers. For a historic novel it’s actually hilarious at many points given Dalrymple’s way of describing the main players of that time.
  22. The Martian – Andy Weir. Also my first ever audiobook. Made it easy for an audiobook as literary content isn’t much. Mostly a linear narration of events.
  23. ಚೋಮನ ದುಡಿ | Chomana Dudi  – K. Shivarama Karantha. Started off the second half of the year with another Kannada book. This one on the life of Choma, a lower caste worker living in a village. (Review is in Kannada)
  24. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain. It’d been a while since I read Tom Sawyer and really wanted to read this one. Found a 1$ audiobook version narrated by Elijah Wood. Best thing was that you get accents closer to how they’d have been spoken then. And many words wouldn’t have meant what they did on reading.
  25. Blue Shoes and Happiness – Alexander McCall Smith. Somewhere during the second half of the year I realised that I had gone long without a McCall-Smith. Got around to finishing the 7th book of the ‘No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series.
  26. A Wild Sheep Chase – Haruki Murakami. Typical Murakami. Multiple threads converging at the end. The usual themes of the supernatural, loneliness, young age crises. But somehow never gets old with the stories he tells. Relatability?
  27. Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry. Was on my list for this year. Wasn’t as brilliant or spell-binding as ‘A Fine Balance’ or even ‘Such a Long Journey’. Meanders along different streets before finding its way home, but not too convincingly either. But his writing style is always good to get back to.
  28. †To the Elephant Graveyard – Tarquin Hall. The author accompanies a hunter on his assignment to shoot down an elephant that has gone rogue and killed multiple people. Lots of elephant lore and lots of wandering around Kaziranga. Good stuff, but prepare to be heartbroken at the end.
  29. Divisadero – Michael Ondaatje. My Ondaatje for the year. Three different lives, three different tracks. All diverging from one incident. But read it mostly for the poetry in Ondaatje’s words. All you want at times is to have your life described by him.
  30. †‡A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson. Whattay awesome book! Goes straight into the “hows” of everything. How did people figure out what they did! Much recommended.
  31. The One Straw Revolution – Masanobu Fukuoka. Natural Farming and all about the natural way of living life. Written in the late 70s it holds true more now than ever. Eat local, eat seasonal is the main lifestyle advice he gives while talking about how to grow food naturally without using fertilisers or pesticides. Note that this is about natural farming, and not organic farming.
  32. Snow Country – Yasunari Kawabata. This was the book that got me interested in Kawabata. But I got to this after multiple detours through ‘Master of Go’ and ‘A Thousand Cranes’. Reads slowly, deliberating on each sentence. Almost a meditation on beauty.
  33. The Persian Boy – Mary Renault. Second in the Alexander Trilogy. I read the first last year. While the first book stopped at Phillip’s death and Alexander becoming King of Macedon, this book traces his conquests through Asia, right till the point where he reaches India and is forced to turn back. And his eventual death at Babylon. Hope to complete the last of the series this year.
  34. †‡ Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies – Jared Diamond. Pretty much everyone has probably read this book. If you haven’t do go read it. Tracing the history of humanity and its development into current civilisations over the millennia, he looks at why some civilisations ended up gaining an upper hand over the others, and why not the other way around.
  35. The Devourers – Indra Das. Can’t believe this is his first book. A ‘race’ of shape-shifters passing through history right from the time of the Mughals into modern age. What can they tell us about us, about humans, about being human? Heady, fast paced and hair-rising, this is a very underrated, and under-appreciated book.
  36. Dear Life: Stories – Alice Munro. Had already read some of them in The NewYorker(pretty much everything written by Munro for NewYorker is available free to read on their website). Typical Alice Munro fare. Deliberative and looking at ordinary lives and the beauty in ordinariness.
  37. Ghost World – Daniel Clowes. An entire blog post should be enough I hope? Do watch the movie too if you can.
  38. Complications: Notes from the Life of a Young Surgeon – Atul Gawande. Another excellent book from Dr. Gawande, talking about how doctors are also human. It can be really scary too!
  39. †‡Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman – Richard Feynman. Again, pretty much everyone’s probably read this. This was an audiobook. Made it an easy listen during the commute.
  40. Selected Stories – Nadine Gordimer. Read this slowly, one story at a time. Stories that start mid-sentence and never complete. Glimpses into the lives of people, and in more than one way a whole country coming to grips with its identity.
  41. The Bachelor of Arts – R.K. Narayan. Was nice to get back to Malgudi. This book takes off from where Swami and Friends leaves you. Was not too surprised to note that these two were pretty autobiographical, drawing a lot from his childhood and early adulthood.
  42. Franny and Zooey – J.D. Salinger. The last of the Salingers for me. And probably my most favourite of the lot.
  43. Silent Spring – Rachel Carson. The pioneer in environmental journalism in many ways. The events and stories are from the ’60s, but many of the themes are still recurring, like the blatant flouting of norms by big Corps. Sad.
  44. The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett. Finally got around to the second part of ‘The Colour of Magic’. This is the second in the Discworld series, and a typically hilarious read.
  45. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive – Alexander McCall Smith. Managed to squeeze in a second McCall-Smith for the year, the 8th of the ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ series.
  46. The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea – Yukio Mishima. After constant searching I finally found a Mishima in Blossom’s. Dark, brooding with violence always hinted at without being explicit. Hope to explore more of him.
  47. *† H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald. I wanted to finish the year with this book. After her father dies suddenly, she struggles to come to terms with it. To deal with it she tries to train a goshawk and also goes back into the past of falconry and in many ways, of England itself. Training a hawk, she becomes one with it, realises that it cannot help her, comes out, seeks help, and comes to terms with life. Meditative, almost Zen, this is again, one of my most favourite reads this year. I usually stay away from reading books that are more meditative or literary on the Kindle. This time I gave in, and wasn’t too pleased. I guess will have to stick to paper ones for such books and use the kindle for lighter/non-fiction ones.

 


* – Read on Kindle.
† – Non-fiction.
‡ – Audio book.

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7 thoughts on “List from 2015

  1. Oh my, a list with legend keys to boot. This is something. I have simply never cared enough to track my reading or films and then consolidate all of them. Do you add to the list as you read or do this at the end of the year? Quite a task if you are doing it all at once.

    Em and the Big Hoom is perhaps the only Jerry Pinto book that I did not wholeheartedly enjoy. Marketing hype kills everything for me and given my fangirl moments for his earlier works, I perhaps approached it with expectations that were not fulfilled.

    Who are the other medical writers? I used to devour Robin Cook as a teen and enjoy some of Kalpish Ratna’s works now, but barring Gawande haven’t read anyone else. Emperor of Maladies has been on my list, but still to get to it.

    1. I use Goodreads, so the tracking happens there itself. I just have to read that list and put it out here with some words added.

      I really don’t think Em and the Big Hoom was marketed that much, but then I guess expectations are set by our circles too, and that counts as marketing. But given his earlier works were way different from this one, maybe your expectations were just different? But then I don’t know what I would have felt about that book at a different point in life. There’s so much that goes into reading a book anyway…

      Emperor of Maladies is a must-read kind of book. I also liked VS Ramachandran’s “Phantoms in the Brain”.

      1. I read about it a lot before it was released though like you said, it could be a derivative of what our circles are telling us. I also used to stalk him on Facebook a fair bit and maybe that is why. With the book, I did know what to expect, so it wasn’t so much a departure from his usual than just a general unnameable dissatisfaction with the narrative. A very close friend grapples with mental health issues so my reading was also coming from a place that was raw and instead of identifying with it, there were perhaps portions that I simply did not want to read through. But, yes, there is a lot that goes into the reading and appreciation of a book which is why I blank out when asked for recommendations by people whom I don’t know well.

        Will look up Phantoms in the Brain. It is really not a genre I look forward to reading, but nevertheless do it with the same stoicism I reserve for taking medicines.

      2. Yeah, agree, they do read like horror stories at times, mostly giving us thoughts we shouldn’t be thinking of to get through a day normally.
        “Complications” was pretty scary. You don’t want to think your surgeon is human and could be dealing with major personal issues while cutting you open!

  2. Again almost a book a week, impressive!

    Every year I add atleast 2-3 books into my reading list from this list, I think I know already which ones I will read for sure

    “And when did I ever look like a guy with a plan?” – Really? 47 books in an year and so many interesting trips as well squeezed in between… hmm 🙂

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