I felt a strong urge to read “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel when I read her frank article in Intelligent Life on how she perceived awards as an author, in particular the Man Booker Prize that she (deservedly) won for this novel. The book is historical fiction set in the period 1500-1535 and tells the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII of England. The relentless pursuit of Anne Boleyn by the king and the resultant set of tumultuous events that led to the English Reformation separating the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church forms the backdrop for this novel. This book is very well-written and is well worth the time it takes to read it.
“More of the same” would be an apt description for “Bring Up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel, when I compare it to its predecessor “Wolf Hall”, and I mean this in a very good way. The author once again delivers a deliciously-written novel on the life of Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister of king Henry VIII of England, while remaining true to the historical record. The second in a planned trilogy of novels on his life, this book covers the dramatic period of about one year (1535-1536) leading to the execution of Anne Boleyn, the queen. Like the first book, this book has also managed to win the author a Man Booker Prize and the prize feels justly-deserved.
I had been meaning to read the book “Animal Farm” by George Orwell for quite some time now, but had never gotten around to actually reading it, until now. The proximate stimulus to do so came after I listened to the “Animal Farm” episode of the excellent “In Our Time” podcast. I should have read it sooner, but as they say, better late than never.
“Freedom” by Jonathan Franzen is a novel that has been called a “Great American Novel” far too many times for me to put off reading it despite its imposing size. Fortunately for me, this novel is a relatively easy and gripping read and lives up to all the hype surrounding it. It is another shining example of good literature that is not hard to read and where the author hasn't tried to be too clever. If you haven't read it yet, it is well worth the dekko and will reward the time you invest in reading it.
“Unputdownable” is how I would describe Philip Pullman's superb “His Dark Materials” trilogy comprising “The Golden Compass” (released as “The Northern Lights” in the UK), “The Subtle Knife” and “The Amber Spyglass”. I am so glad that I picked them up after all the three books had been released as I cannot imagine how I would have borne the agony of having to wait for a couple of years to find out how this delicious saga unfolds.
“The Silmarillion” by J. R. R. Tolkien is a collection of tales that make up the epic mythology that forms the background of “The Lord of the Rings” (LOTR), this book and “The Hobbit” are a must-read for anyone who wishes to fully appreciate LOTR.
“Buddha” is an eight-volume manga created by Osamu Tezuka, perhaps more famous as the creator of Astro Boy. This magnum opus is a fictional account of the life of Gautama Buddha and has more than 3,000 pages that took over ten years to create. Despite its length and the time it took to create it, the volumes read as a coherent whole, with the stories of several characters interleaving with that of Buddha. It is a joy to read this set of books and one cannot help but marvel at the amount of love, effort and discipline that must have gone into creating something like this.
Just like its eponymous hero, “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry packs quite a punch in its tiny frame. Told from the viewpoint of a child looking at the adult world around him in perplexity, even though the narrator himself is an experienced pilot, it holds a lesson for all of us stuck in our respective rat-race who tend to forget the little things in our lives that actually provide joy and meaning to it.
I was tempted to read “Atonement” by Ian McEwan after having watched the eponymous film based on the novel. The film was good, but a novel has more space to develop the characters and present their thoughts. The downside of having watched the film based on a novel before having read it is that it constrains your imagination to be based on the scenes and the actors in the film.
“Watchmen”, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, has been widely hailed as one of the best graphic novels ever written. In fact, Time magazine even went to the extent of putting it in its list of the 100 best English-language novels of “all time” published since 1923. It is also the only graphic novel to have ever been awarded the Hugo Award (given every year to the best work in science fiction and fantasy). It has also won numerous other awards for its creators.
“V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore and Dave Lloyd is the graphic novel that was the inspiration for the eponymous movie by the Wachowski brothers. I was quite impressed by the movie and was eager to read the book. The book did not disappoint me at all. I found out that the movie and the book had many differences in the plot and the characters, but for once I did not mind it - in fact, I quite liked each of the forks in both the media.
“The Name Of The Rose” is on the surface a medieval murder-mystery novel by Umberto Eco (translated into English by William Weaver). When you read it, you realize that it is also expounds on history, theology, philosophy, logic, politics, etc. all the while having an entertaining plot. It provides a nice insight into monastic life in 14th century Europe and the struggles between the church, the state, and the sundry factions of Christianity fighting with each other for dominance at the time. It was also made into a (not so successful) movie of the same name in 1986 featuring Sean Connery.
I first read about “Cloud Atlas”, the novel, when I came across “Cloud Atlas”, the film. Written by David Mitchell, it turns out to be more a collection of six linked stories than what is traditionally called a novel. The author has referred to these stories elsewhere as forming a Matryoshka doll of tales of reincarnation spread across space and time.
“The Best of Rumpole” is a collection of seven Rumpole stories personally selected by the author John Mortimer and considered by him to be the best among those he has written so far.
As its name implies, “Khushwant Singh Selects Best Indian Short Stories (Volume 1)” is the first part of a collection of short stories written by various Indian authors and selected by Khushwant Singh, an eminent writer and a former editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India. These stories were originally published in English, Hindi, Urdu and other regional Indian languages and have been translated into English where necessary for inclusion in this book. Most of the stories collected here are fairly short and are fairly good, making this book an ideal read for short and long breaks alike.
“Train to Pakistan” is a short and deeply moving novel by Khushwant Singh. It shows the effect of the partition of India, as the British left the country, on the simple folks of Mano Majra, a small Indian village on the banks of the river Sutlej near the border of India and Pakistan. The Sikhs and Muslims of the village, living happily together for centuries without any animosity towards each other, get caught up in forces beyond their control with the Muslims forced to flee to Pakistan and the Sikhs getting ready to kill unknown strangers who just happen to be Muslims.
“50 Greatest Short Stories” is a book put together by Terry O’Brien that contains stories all right, but reasonable people will very likely differ on whether these are really the “greatest” in this genre or whether some of them can even be called “short”. That said, everyone is likely to find an enjoyable and memorable story or two in here.
“Above Average” by Amitabha Bagchi is a novel about a smart boy with a middle-class background and his life before, during and after his stay at IIT Delhi. It is the story of friendships forged and lost, love blossoming and withering. It is a coming-of-age novel that has also been termed a “campus book” because of the many recent Indian novels based on life at the IITs and the IIMs. However it is certainly one of the better-written novels of the lot.
“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns”, written by Frank Miller and published in 1986, presents a Batman that is completely different from the stupid television series of the 1960s. If you liked Tim Burton's “Batman” and “Batman Returns” movies, you will love this graphic novel.
Umberto Eco's “Foucault's Pendulum” is another of the books recommended to me by Yumpee. Any novel that features a complete program in BASIC for generating all the permutations of the letters of God's name in Hebrew (“Yahveh”) has to be interesting.
I hadn't known about “The Agony And The Ecstasy”, a biographical novel of the great artist Michelangelo Buonarroti by Irving Stone, until Pradnya told me about it. While she had recommended that I read the book before my recent trip to Italy, I ended up reading it only after I had come back from the trip. This book is a majisterial work on the life and the works of a superb sculptor, painter and architect. It deserves to be read by anyone interested in art or history - especially if you have traveled to, or are planning to travel to, Italy.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is the seventh book in the “Harry Potter” series by J. K. Rowling. At least as of now, this book is supposed to be the final book in this series. So it was natural for me to wonder before picking it up whether it would provide a closure and a satisfactory resolution for this saga.
The sixth book in the Harry Potter series also manages to keep one interested throughout. It has a rather sad ending though and, unlike the previous books, doesn't achieve “closure” (in my opinion, also shared by Ananth) - one longs to read the seventh book to find out what happens to Harry after the terrible tragedy. Be that as it may, I would still highly recommend it to anyone who hasn't read this volume yet.
The fifth book in the “Harry Potter” series by J. K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” is so much better than the previous one (which was the worst, in my opinion) in the series “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”! It is the biggest book in the series and yet manages to keep the reader interested throughout by various turns in the plot.
“The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown has action, pace and intrigue sustained right throughout and not since “Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets” have I wanted to finish a novel in one day and enjoyed it all along! The plot can be summed up as one big treasure hunt (with cryptic clues leading to more clues, as in the eponymous game) for that ultimate Christian quest - the Holy Grail.
“Selected Stories” is a collection of short stories written by one of the most famous Urdu writers of the Indian sub-continent Saadat Hasan Manto as translated by Khalid Hasan. This collection brings together some of his best-known stories, especially the kind of stories that made him (in)famous - the travails of ordinary people during the particularly bloody partition of the Indian sub-continent into India and Pakistan and the stirrings of sexual desire in conflict with a prudish society.
“Khushwant Singh Selects Best Indian Short Stories (Volume 2)” is the second part of a collection of short stories written by various Indian authors and selected by Khushwant Singh. I was looking forward to reading this volume after having read the first volume. Most of the stories in the first volume were of a good quality and I had hoped the same for this volume - unfortunately for me this volume is quite disappointing and the stories vary wildly in quality.
“The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society” is a historical novel by Mary Ann Shaffer (finished by Annie Barrows due to the former’s ill health). It is an epistolary novel comprising letters and telegrams written by some of the characters to each other (as well as the odd set of diary-entries by one of them). It is an enjoyable novel that is partly funny and partly tragic and mostly romantic. It was recently adapted into an eponymous movie as well.
“Lyra's Oxford” is a short book by Philip Pullman set in the universe described by the fantastic His Dark Materials trilogy. I had immensely enjoyed the trilogy when I first read it, so I was looking forward to reading this book to reinhabit that universe.
“The Blaft Anthology Of Tamil Pulp Fiction” is the first in what turned out to be a series of anthologies published by Blaft, comprising short stories and excerpts from short novels, originally in Tamil, and considered to be “pulp fiction” by the literati. The first volume has been selected and translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy (and edited by Rakesh Khanna). Its intent is best summarized by the first sentence of the translator’s note, which claims that it is “an attempt to claim the status of ‘literature’ for a huge body of writing that has rarely if ever made it into an academic library, despite having been produced for nearly a century”.
“Angels and Demons” was written by Dan Brown before he wrote his bestseller novel “The Da Vinci Code”. As such it shares the same protagonist Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon and a plot revolving around medieval Christian mysteries. The story is about an ancient brotherhood named Illuminati and its alleged attempt to blow up Vatican City using antimatter.
I picked up “Benaami”, a debut novel by Anish Sarkar, despite having read a brutal review by Rrishi Raote in Business Standard because the author happens to be a friend of a good friend. There are many positive reviews of the book for sure (e.g. this one), but I'm afraid I'll have to side with Rrishi on this one.
“Electric Feather” is a collection of erotic short stories by various writers and edited by Ruchir Joshi. It sets out to correct “a dearth of good erotic writing” (in English) in the Indian sub-continent. It is a commendable and courageous effort, given the excessive prudery of people in this part of the world in recent times. I would not term it an unequivocal success though.
“Tamil Pulp Fiction: Volume 2” is the second in the “Blaft Anthology Of Tamil Pulp Fiction” series of anthologies published by Blaft. I had read Volume 1 earlier in the year — this volume is fairly similar, except for having longer stories. Similar to the first volume, the stories in this volume have been selected and translated by Pritham K. Chakravarthy (and have been edited by Rakesh Khanna). Once again, it includes cover-art from various Tamil pulp-fiction books as well as short biographical notes on each of the featured authors. However, this volume didn’t quite work for me and was a disappointment on the whole.
“After The Quake” is a collection of six short stories by Haruki Murakami (translated into English from the original Japanese by Jay Rubin). All the stories in this collection are linked in some way or another to the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and take place some time after that. The characters in the stories are not physically affected by the earthquake, but the news of the destruction unleashed by the earthquake affect them in some way.
“Year's Best Graphic Novels, Comics, and Manga”, edited by Byron Preiss and Howard Zimmerman, is a collection of short snippets from graphic novels, comics and manga published between May 2003 and December 2004.
This short novel by Chetan Bhagat tells the story of the narrator and his two friends and their stay in IIT Delhi. While some of the lines did make me chuckle and some made me say “So true!”, I still do not feel that all the hype over this novel is justified. Some of the stuff was a bit of an exaggeration too - this is not what generally happens in the IITs people (the coke bottles episode, the making out with a professor's daughter thing, etc.)! Then again, IIT Delhi has always been a bit different from the other IITs, so who knows. ;-)