“We like lists because we don’t want to die”, says Umberto Eco.
Not sure if that’s the reason I am writing this post but then the apocalypticaly tagged 2012 is also hanging close, so who knows what the subconscious mind may be cooking.
Anyhow, coming back to the title of the post, I actually didn’t read the whole year, save for the last two or three months. Part reason was the miserable business of life and also i didn’t much look beyond the few good writers I had read some years ago. A small opening, reading one or two previously unread but only heard voices led to a resurgence of sorts and am pretty glad for that. So without much further ado I’ll just list(Yeah, Mr Eco must be grinning now) some of the good titles.
Solo – Rana Dasgupta
Coincidence is what comes to my mind as I think of this book now. Though i read it now, I had in fact brought a copy some two to three years ago, when it was yet to be the winner of prestigious commonwealth prize. Going back home as I stayed over at a dear friend’s place, a book on his shelf caught my attention with its title and I decided to read a few pages. It was The Case of Exploding Mangoes and after having read some I decided to trade the book for Solo, with the intention of taking it back while coming back from home, though it never happened. Incidentally The Case of Exploding Mangoes later that year won the Commonwealth First book prize and Solo won the Commonwealth Best book prize the next year.
Solo is a story narrated by a hundred year old blind Bulgarian, Ulrich, who reminisces over his past and often daydreams. Overtly ambitious in its scope it tries to capture the life of a common man, an everyman, torn through the upheavels of the last century, which forms the 1st part of the novel, named – First Moment : Life. The second part, named- Second Moment : Day Dreams, takes few characters, with certain similarities to the cast of the 1st part, through the much changed landscape in the later part of the century, though the fate of these characters remains overpowered by the sociocultural and political forces of historical magnitude. A brilliant read.
Tokyo Canceled – Rana Dasgupta
It was imminent that after having read Solo one would seek his other novel, which is a collection of short stories, narrated by passengers stranded on an airport after their flight got canceled. Though the tone and character of these stories remains the same through out, for which the author was pointed out by numerous critics, but nevertheless the inventiveness and imagination behind them sails the book through many a miles. The stories are often surreal imbued with elements of magical realism. A highly recommended read.
The NewYork Trilogy - Paul Auster
The books contains three stories City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. All three are one of the initial works of Auster and were published individually, though they have been clubbed now as the Trilogy. Told in the form of detective fiction they are essentially existential tales of certain individual in search of certain identities, which often merge with their own identities blurring the lines of reality. I had some time ago read the Travels in the Scriptorium by the same author but it didn’t enthuse me enough to explore him further. I guess now I’l read few more of his works.
The High Window – Raymond Chandler
This book was another highlight of the year.I had never much liked detective fiction before, but after reading about Murakami’s inherent indulgence in his works, I was tempted to see what was being offered there and that check proved to be a rewarding experience. Its now easy to see from where the stylistic influence in Murakami’s fiction comes from.
The protagonist, Marlowe is the perfect hardboiled detective. He’s a tough, clever, contemplative chap who’s always ready with a wisecrack up his sleeve. Effortless in holding his own in any tough situation. A literary influence on many a crime fiction writers after Chandler. Another of the best thing about Chandler’s writing style is how beautifully things, places, faces or people are described. A delight to read. Quite a savoury experience.
Lady in the lake by Chandler is what am reading now.
Will you be quite, please? – Raymond Caver
The obsession to check the writing influences of Murakami made me read Raymond Caver too. Will you be quite, please? is a shot story collection. These are stories of common people, of their everyday mundane encounters, bordering on some quirky, eccentric upheaval, though mostly the tension is built but never released. The stories end usually with a tantalizing feel.
One Last Story and that’s it – Keret Etger
After having read Caver and Dasgupta’s short stories, reading some article about contemporary short story writers got me to check out Keret Etger and what a delightful experience it turned out to be. Etgar writes in a playful, mundane manner. The stories are often 2-3 pages long. All starting with everyday people or situations that are ready to take sinister tragic turns. There’s a tragicomic hint to every situation. At times things have their dreadful fated ends, though on others times events unfold to leave a smile on your face.
While Mortal’s Sleep - Kurt Vonnegut
While on that short story reading spree I also tried this. A great Humanist as Kurt was, these stories too mostly serve the purpose of telling a moral or driving home some point, though this implicit push robs the stories of their sheen. These stories are from his early times and were published posthumously this year.
Open – Biography of Andre Agassi
Whatever was seen over the years on and off the court was filled by this book with a heart wrenching as well as uplifting story of a great human. If Tennis is music to some, then he’s the Jim Morrison who’s survived through. These stories are once lived and then only told afterwards.
Also read some literary essays from Stranger Shores by J M Coetzee.
Read some in poetry too. Currently half through Rumi’s Selected Poems, Penguin edition. Also got hold of The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtormer and Charles Bukowski’s The pleasure of the Damned.
There were few currently half read, ready to be finished ones also. Orhan Pamuk’s The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist and Coetzee’s Elisabeth Costello top that list. Though there were few other’s too but i don’t see my self completing them except these two.
Currently reading Murakami’s 1Q84, apart from few mentioned above.
Lets see what 2012 has in store.