This year has been an enriching one. Not in terms of the number of books I read but the books I did manage to read. And while it is difficult to recount all the books, I will try my best to do so. Though I cannot account for the rather dismal number of books I read this year, I think I shall squarely blame it on the fact that I was too busy studying and trying to handle my course work and the fact that during vacations I was lured in by the charms of television and American soaps, which is just sad. But here goes.
I started my year with Fatima Bhutto’s Songs of blood and sword. It is a beautiful, touching memoir of a daughter whose family has been brutally slaughtered, her father killed, aunt assassinated, and grandfather hanged all in the name of politics. Apart from giving an insight into Fatima’s life, this book delves with what makes and breaks Pakistani politics, what makes the country a failed state or otherwise and what it takes for a woman to rise above in a strife ridden country. While this is essentially a memoir hence the account into the politics is essentially one sided yet, the book proves to be a riveting read.
Steve Jobs’ demise brought forth a flurry of biographies- an attempt to capture the enigma of the Inventor of the Century, even as he knocked on St. Peter’s gates. Among those, the one which I believe garnered the maximum attention is I believe the official biography by Walter Issacson simply titled, “Steve Jobs”. When I started reading this book, I thought the book had not done justice to the great man. I thought so myself, and heard a lot of friends seconding my opinion, that the book simply does not hold your attention. Well that is just the beginning. The trick with this book is to not give up. As the book progresses after a rather slow start, it does hold your attention. The book deals with everything, from Jobs’ early start, his friendship with Wozniack and the various Silicon Valley giants, his mistakes, his relationships, his mercurial nature, the way he dealt with his colleagues, the way he pushed his subordinates, what made Apple different and Pixar a success, his psyche, exacting attention to detail and his showmanship, is perhaps one of the most complete and engaging biographies I have read in sometime. It does not sugar coat Jobs though there may be a just a slight hint of sycophancy. With accounts from all the people who contributed to the charisma of Steve Jobs, this book was worthwhile enough to read through exhausting Delhi summer nights even in the middle of my exams (for the record, I managed to perform decently).
One of the most interesting books that I have read in sometime, perhaps the novel that deserves a lot more attention than it has been given in the Indian media, simply because it is just so different from the books we generally read is Room by Emma Donoghue. It has been described as startlingly original and well, it is. I brought this book because I was bored at the airport and its two line synopsis, “Jack is five. He lives in a single locked room with his Ma”, caught my attention unwaveringly from the word go. This book is about Jack and his Ma who have been kept captive for five years. The only world Jack knows about is his Room and the world in the television. His mother tries to educate him about the world outside, survive in a claustrophobic space with her son while trying her best to keep both of them fit, deal with bouts of depression and plan their escape because finally Jack is old enough to aid and abet in her plans. This beautifully nuanced book, which for me was a little bit like a psychological thriller is written from the point of view of Jack. When Jack and his Ma finally (rather heroically) escape Room (Jack personifies everything including the place where he lives) it deals with the consequences and repercussions of being in a world that has changed beyond recognition for Ma and what Jack goes through discovering a whole new world. It deals with every aspect possible. This can only be the work of someone who is extremely talented and I suggest that everybody who has heard of this book from my blog should read it.
Moving away from memoirs, biographies and fiction, I managed to read another extremely compelling work- a Pulitzer Prize winner- The Emperor of Maladies: A biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Mukherjee, an oncologist by profession and a Rhodes Scholar, writes a beautiful work about cancer, how it affects, how it can be deadly and what is being done to combat it. This treatise is written in heart-rendering prose, deals with people as much as it does with the disease, weaving the ancient and the immediate past, the present and the future, some parts of which left me speechless, some depressed and some cheering for joy. It is an engrossing and seminal work and should be read when possible.
A book that has sadly received undue attention, and which intrigued me at first because the newspapers dwelled on how complex its characters and its premise was, but probably wasn’t as great a read as it should have been, was Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James. While sex, especially BDSM is always a difficult premise to deal with, the book struggled to hold my attention because it just turns out to be like the other chick lits, in most parts. I may not be totally justified in reviewing this book since I have not read the other two parts of this trilogy but I think EL James could have done a better job with this rather brave work of hers. So could the newspapers, in focusing their attention on something that actually deserves it.
Ashwin Sanghi’s Chanakya’s Chant, started on a brilliant note, as part historical fiction and part modern day political thriller. The only grouse that I probably have with this book is that he makes the woman protagonist too much of a puppet in the hands of his modern day Chanakya. This is another engrossing read that draws a beautiful parallel between what happened in ancient India with a story set in contemporary north India and manages to reflect the way politics is actually played out in our country. An absorbing read, in most parts.
Sir Jefferey Archer’s Sins of the Father- the second book in the Clifford series, was, while a brilliant read, not as captivating as the first book. But it did build up the mystery and the suspense and it makes waiting for the third book worthwhile.