In pursuit of the upkeep of my New Year’s Resolution of ‘reading more books’ I continued to pick one book after the other. However, it turns out I’m a slow reader. Very slow reader. Of the fifty-two books required to complete the ‘Book Reading Challenge’ that I’ve undertaken, I’ve read seventeen till now i.e. less than one-third of the quantum in more than half the time.
Further, the fact that I’m writing about a quarterly update after a month of the passing of the quarter also accentuates the point about my slowness. So, it becomes evident to me that this New Year’s Resolution would probably require another new year before it is completed. Of the one ticked in the picture above, here are the eight books that I read during the last quarter,
- The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara – A Book That was Originally Written in a Different Language
As someone who recently concluded a motorcycle adventure of his own, I’d picked up the book with high hopes of reading a memorable travelogue, but it turned out to be much more than that. So much more. This is an actual ‘coming of age’ story. The story of an adventurer and his friend growing, understanding and changing, as their eyes witness the Latin American landscapes and the plight of the indigenous people who are housed in these landscapes.
The writing is dashed with wit, humor & sarcasm, but melancholy finds its place as well. The descriptions in the book are passionate and thus, come out to be lucidly coherent. I also find it utterly unbelievable and astonishing that a selfless rebel who dedicated his life for the betterment of people was, actually, as simple and imperfect – like any of us.
- Lord of Flies by William Golding – A Book That Became a Movie
A dystopian novel from half a century ago, it explores the evil side of humanity and human nature that underlies even the most civilized and innocent. It probes into the human psyche and tries to point out that the only thing stopping some people to commit savagery is the eye of the society surrounding them. Take that away and all we are left with is a barbaric bunch. The book is about a group of British schoolboys who are stranded on a tropical island, without a ‘grown-up’. They appoint Ralph from among them as the leader but soon their group degenerates into rival clans and violence becomes common.
The book is allegorical, and being written only years after the Second World War, it is profoundly pessimistic about the human nature, and in my opinion, rightly so.
- A Walk in the Woods – Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson – A Book Set in a Different Country
Bryson is the man. This book will either make you lunge for the mountains or make you cancel your planned camping trip, depending upon your pre-inclination. Bryson himself, many a times in the book, tries to reason why he’s subjecting himself to a months’ long slogging in the wilderness. He informs us the perils of the wilderness – the cliffs, the bears, the murderers. But when he talks about the woods, the trees, the peaks and the satisfaction of being there and crossing them – away from the society that we call civilized – you want to be where he is, taking a walk in the woods.
The book is essentially about traveling. It is about hiking the Appalachian Trail or AT – a 3500 Kms marked hiking trail covering 14 states in the eastern United States. The book does not come with a background story for why Bryson is taking the journey, there are no internal revelations waiting to be unearthed, he is not doing it because he needs to ‘find himself’, he is simply doing it because the AT lies there. After spending two decades in the UK, Bryson comes back to his homeland and rediscovers America on the AT. He is not alone; he is joined by his friend Stephen Katz – a blustery, junk-food addict. Barring a few of Katz’s habits, his mostly like any of our Uncles and is likable as he’s at the core of most of the humor in the book.
The book is not only about the hiking, it also informs us about the culture, history and the contemporary state of the places the trail traverses through. But the way all this has been sewn into the writing it seems natural. Bryson’s writing style is impeccable and easy to read. I’ll surely be picking up his other books.
- The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Sallinger – A Banned Book
Although, Mein Kampf is freely available in India, informed sources have told me that it is such a bore. So I picked up ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ – not exactly a banned book, but challenged by many. One of the largest selling books, it needs no introduction. I came to know about the book first while reading about the Beatles and the shooting of John Lennon by one Mark David Chapman from whom a copy of the book was found, in which he had written “This is my statement” and signed as Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the book. While the novel is linked to several murders and murder attempts, it has been claimed that the novel’s overall effect on society is “far more positive than negative.”
The book is largely about teenage life and the phase in the life of a young person when he feels alienated from everything. It talks about rebellion, identity and independence and the loss of innocence. It is allegorical at places. The book brings home the point that all of it is just a phase and it too shall pass.
- The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond – A Book With a Color in the Title
The name is Bond. Ruskin Bond. A Sahitya Academy Award winner and a Padma Bhushan awardee, he is one of India’s most celebrated and loved writers. Like majority of Bond’s books, ‘The Blue Umbrella’ is also a children’s book and is a short read. The story is set in the mountain state of Himachal Pradesh, and is about a small girl, Binya, and, obviously, her Blue Umbrella. It is an innocent little story. The characters are natural and, to an Indian, are easily recognizable. The illustrated version is sort of a must for a child’s bookshelf.
- 2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – A Book You Can Finish In One Day
Never published as a standalone book, it is actually a short story. But given my slow reading, this was the only thing that could’ve been completed in a day. The title is pronounced “2 B R naught 2 B”, referencing the famous phrase “to be, or not to be” from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In the story, the title refers to the telephone number one dials to schedule an assisted suicide with the Federal Bureau of Termination. Because, a cure to aging has been found and the only way to maintain the perfect balance on this seemingly perfect far-future Earth is to limit the population to precisely forty million souls. The science fiction dystopian utopia shown in the story is more in vogue today than in 1960 and more so to an Indian.
- Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions by Palden Gyatso Tenzing – A Book Set Somewhere You’ve Always Wanted to Visit
As the cover suggests the book is about a man traversing through the country on a motorcycle. So, it’s set in a place that I always wanted to visit – the whole of the country. It is a travelogue as P G Tenzing rides through most of the country biking 25,320 Kms in total. Tenzing is not any other person; he is bureaucrat from the highest echelons of the bureaucracy in the country. He took an early retirement and with the cash from his retirement benefits set out on a ‘whimsical journey through karmic networks’. Tenzing hails from the north-eastern state of Sikkim, but was posted, for the majority of his career, in the southern state of Kerala. Both the places diagonally opposite in every aspect, except their love for liquor. The book covers his journey throughout the country and outside of it as well (Nepal). Tenzing writes less about the road and more about the people he met on the road. His style of writing is easy-to-read and dashed with humor, and is thus likable. I love to hate this guy. He has already done what I hope of doing.
- नमक स्वादानुसार (निखिल सचान) – Salt to Taste by Nikhil Sachan – A Book of Short Stories
It is a collection of short stories and is written in Hindi. Hindi as a language, since the beginning, has swallowed digested and vomited all other languages it came in contact with. The result we get is the language spoken by the p opulace of the country at large – pure Hindi with a dash of Urdu and other Indian languages all of it sprinkled over with free usage of English. The book is written in a language which is such a mixture – exactly the way it is spoken in the country today. The stories in the book are simple and range from being about childhood and its innocence to about a prostitute and her customer. This is what irked me – the stories are mostly mutually exclusive in regard to plot subjects or themes and they make these transitions without a warning. However, on a stand-alone basis I liked few of the stories very much – my favorite stories are the opening story ‘Parvaaz’ and the story about a struggling actor – ‘Hero’.
‘नमक स्वादनुसार’ निखिल सचान द्वारा रचित एक कहानी सङ्ग्रह है। हिन्दी एक ऐसी भाषा है जो हर उस भाषा जो इस्के सम्पर्क मे आती है उसे, निगल कर, पचा कर, बाहर उगल देती है। जो नतीजा निकल् के आया वही हमारी आज-कल के बोल-चाल की भाषा है। ‘नमक स्वादनुसार’ भी इसी भाषा मे रचित है। निखिल की कहानिया सरल और नैचुरल है। परवाज् और हीरो नामक कहानिया मुझे सब्से ज्यदा अच्छी लगी।
Three of the eight books above are about traveling. I wonder what it means. Anyways, I’m currently reading the mammoth of a book, 529 paged Maximum City by Suketu Mehta. I’ll reserve my comments on it till I complete it. I just hope that the number of books in the next quarter doesn’t fall any further.