This year was interesting, yet disappointing for me in terms of reading. I started the year with the intention to give the Hindustan Times’ Brunch Book Challenge to read fifty books a go, but sadly, due to unexpected circumstances I had to suspend active reading for the greater part of the year. But I did manage to read at least a dozen books comfortably, without having to race through them or be compelled to pick up short stories or slimmer books. Here’s my top five for this year in no particular order, followed by the complete list.
1. Palestine by Joe Sacco
Some books are banned. But then, some books should be a mandatory read. The people close to me know my political affiliations, and while I am trying not to force my ideas on you, but once in a while, it is healthy to read something that doesn’t necessarily align with one’s own beliefs and affirmations. I’m talking about you, dear reader. Palestine by Joe Sacco has been a difficult read for me. Just because it is an illustrated book, don’t be under the impression that one can breeze through it. If you can, don’t. This book needs time, and a touch of empathy. It had me livid with rage and even at one point, it had me welling up with tears. Sacco’s experiences of Palestine in the winter of 1991 brings forth the life and times of Palestinians after the First Intifada against the Israeli occupation. The text not only spells out the atrocities meted out to the Palestinians, but forms a broken yet hard-hitting style of narrative. With ample context and snippets, intense conversations and monologues, Sacco transported me to the world he witnessed, a world wrought with gunfire and uncertainty, of being denied basic human rights and land expropriated. Here’s the complete post on this book.
2. Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi
Reading Michel Bussi’s work was like taking an idyllic trip to a village in France, quaint yet strikingly beautiful. Former home to renowned artist Claude Monet, the village seems to be separated from the world, moving at a pace of its own, but a murder soon brings out its darker side. The entire story is based on the duration of thirteen days, when the village opens up for tourists. It begins with a murder and ends with yet another. A lovely read this one, the story is not extremely fast-paced, and it left me with vivid imaginations of Money, his work and the lusciously beautiful village in Normandy that I hope to visit some day. I’ve written a post on this and you can read it here.
3. Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East needs a sexual revolution by Mona Eltahawy
It was through my friend K that I was introduced to Mona Eltahawy, digitally of course, and it was this same person who gifted me a copy of Headscarves and Hymens. An award-winning journalist, Mona is an international public speaker on feminism, Arab and Muslim issues, and I took my time to read this. It is not an easy read. It strives to make people aware in the simplest of forms, how patriarchy is so deeply entrenched in us, that women have been relegated to being worse than second class citizens in the Middle East, and how they have to fight tooth and nail for even the most basic of services. Reality for men and women are exceedingly different. And what I liked best was Mona is not the kind of person who was ‘fed’ an idea but her thought about feminism and patriarchy have been developed over time. This was a journey for her. Filled with personal stories, experiences others’ have shared with her, and hard facts to back her up, reading this book is not for the faint of heart. The narrative is direct and seems to strike at the reader, but provides much needed clarity especially to those who sit on the fence with regard to feminism. This is a must read, for everyone. Click here for the complete post on the book.
4. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
Another leisure read for this year, Iris Murdoch writes about a director and playwright who begins to write his memoirs having retired to a retired to a lonely house ‘Shruff End’ by the sea in search of some solitude and peace, far from the hustle of London. His days revolve around swimming and writing, dining on simple meals and walking around the quaint village of Narrowdean. And this is, if you ask me, the most wonderful part of the story. The silence and solitude, the stories and backstories, and rich descriptions of the English countryside and the rustic cottage – what a treat! But of course, in due time, Charles Arrowby’s life turns upside down with the appearances of certain people from his past. Murdoch brings out Arrowby’s slow descend into obsession, as the stubborn playwright holds onto his relationships from both past and present. Click here for my full account of the book.
5. Stasiland by Anna Funder
This was the last book I bought at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. I had one eye on this every time I would visit the bookshop on the premises, but made a last minute grab at it the day I was leaving the city. A book that talks about experiences in German Democratic Republic or East Germany, how people silently resisted the regime and the stark difference in the state of affairs on the other side of the Wall, who can resist such a premise? The lives of the people in East Germany were difficult, with the Stasi or secret police repressing society, education and culture. Slowly, freedom was curtailed. Interviews with those who were part of the Stasi shed much light on those times, and the thinking behind the men who led the country.
Following are the books I read this year:
1. Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi
2. Night by Elie Wiesel
3. Blue Light Yokohama by Nicolas Obregon
4. A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin
5. A Storm of Swords – Steel & Snow by George RR Martin
6. Incest by Marquis de Sade
7. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
8. Palestine by Joe Sacco
9. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
10. Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan
11. Stasiland by Anna Funder
12. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E Franke
13. The Free Voice by Ravish Kumar
14. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben
15. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
16. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
17. Miss Laila, Armed & Dangerous by Manu Joseph
18. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
19. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
20. Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
21. Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy
22. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
23. A Storm of Swords – Blood & Gold by George RR Martin
24. A Feast for Crows – George RR Martin
25. A Dance with Dragons – Dreams and Dust by George RR Martin
Happy New Year to all my readers. Hope the new year is fruitful for everyone.
I would like to ideally read at least thirty books next year, but do not want it to be a binding contract on myself. Reading books is a joyful experience and should not feel like a burden. Have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think of them?