Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book of Lists


A 2-Pager by Ajit Chaudhuri: September 2012

This note traces its origins to a conversation with a pretty young thing at the IRMA students’ mess – she was late for breakfast (and therefore not surrounded by her admirers), I was at my usual time (scheduled so that I avoid the deluge of students trying to grab a bite before class), and we decided to eat together. Now, what does an old codger (I turned 49 in August) talk to young ladies about? They know zilch about football, my been-there-done-that stories are boring even to me, and a discussion about development economics and public policy would have led to indigestion. Well, it turned out that she had an interest in reading – so we talked about the best books we had read, had our respective breakfasts, and went on with our lives.

The encounter had me thinking, ‘what were the best books I had read?’ Here is a final (and heavily culled) list – 42 in total! I include the year of publication and the approximate time of my life that I first read it – which may account for why some of them made such an impression. And there are some with an author I have extensively read and enjoyed, in which case I include my second-favourite of that author. The list is in alphabetical order!

Animal Farm – George Orwell – 1945 – a satire on socialism – read in my late teens – I also recommend ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’ (1937)

Battlecry – Leon Uris – 1953 – a story of a Marine battalion in the WW2 Pacific theatre – read in late teens – I also recommend ‘Armageddon’ (1963)

The Call of the Wild – Jack London – 1903 – a story of a domestic dog’s survival in the Canadian north – first read in mid teens

Changing Places – David Lodge – 1975 – British professor switches places (and other things) with an American one, a story of academic life set in two universities as seen by the outsider – first read in early thirties

Cider House Rules – John Irving – 1985 – a long-winding love story set in Maine that challenges accepted values – first read in mid-thirties – I also recommend ‘The World According to Garp’ (1978)

The Clan of the Cave Bear – Jean M. Auel – 1980 – pre-historic novel of a girl migrating with a group of Neanderthals – read in mid-thirties

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Mark Haddon – 2004 – family life as seen by an autistic kid – read in early forties

The Devil’s Alternative – Frederick Forsyth – 1979 – the cold war powers reach a precipice and a British ex-spy and his Russian lady ex-love coordinate to bring them back – first read in late teens

The Eagle Has Landed – Jack Higgins – 1975 – WW2 novel about a crack German paratrooper unit looking to kidnap Churchill – first read in mid teens

Eaters of the Dead – Michael Crichton – 1976 – Arab guy moves with a group of Vikings back to the North and fights their enemies – read in late thirties – I also recommend ‘Rising Sun’ (1992) and ‘Congo’ (1980)

Eye of the Tiger – Wilbur Smith – 1975 – roguish fishing boat captain is forced into violence and finds love – read in late teens

The Far Pavillions – MM Kaye – 1978 – love between an Indian princess and a British soldier who grew up as an Indian orphan – first read in mid teens

Flashman – George Macdonald Frazer – 1969 – a British villain manages to become a hero in Afghanistan and yet retain his villainy – read in early thirties

Flint – Louis L’Amour – 1960 – a western in which a gunfighter moves east to become a successful financier and then comes back west to rediscover his past – first read in early-teens – I also recommend ‘Shalako’ (1962)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson – 2005 – a depraved Swedish novel about women and the men who hate them – read in mid-forties

The Godfather – Mario Puzo – 1969 – turf wars between mafia families – first read in early teens

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck – 1939 – the westward movement of depression affected people in search of work – read in late teens – I also recommend ‘Tortilla
Flats’ (1935) and ‘The Moon is Down’ (1942)

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie – 2006 – a novel of life and times set around the Biafran War in Nigeria – read in mid forties

Hook Line and Sinker – Lynn Turner – 1986 – rich boy meets, falls in love with, and grovels to win beautiful girl – an M&B I read in early thirties – another I recommend is ‘The Widow and the Wastrel’ by Janet Dailey (1977)

How Green Was My Valley – Richard Llewellyn – 1939 – the story of a Welsh mining town – read in early twenties

The Hunt for Red October – Tom Clancy – 1984 – a cold war story of a top end Soviet nuclear submarine defecting to the West and almost setting of another world war – read in early twenties

King Rat – James Clavell – 1962 – a story of power and domination in a Japanese prison – read in late teens – I also recommend ‘Shogun’ (1975)

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini – 2003 – a story of relationships set in Afghanistan – first read in early forties

The Ladies of Missalonghi – Colleen McCullough – 1987 – women’s empowerment Australian style – first read in mid thirties

Lord of the Flies – William Golding – 1954 – a group of boys lost on an island turn into a bunch of vicious beasts – read in early twenties

Moscow Twilight – William E Holland – 1992 – a complicated Soviet romance in the times of perestroika – read in early thirties

Mr. God This is Anna – Fynn – 1974 – philosophy on life by a five-year-old abused orphan girl – read in late teens

Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami – 1987 – a coming of age novel set in Japan – read in late forties

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey – 1962 – a story of power and domination in a lunatic asylum – read in late teens

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver – 1998 – reluctant daughters’ version of life as a missionary family in 1960s Congo – read in early forties

Polar Star – Martin Cruz Smith – 1989 – a whodunit set in a Soviet factory ship during the cold war – read in early thirties – I also recommend ‘Gorky Park’ (1981) and ‘Havana Bay’ (1999)

The Prisoner of Zenda – Anthony Hope – 1894 – love and intrigue in a fictional minor middle European kingdom – first read in mid teens

The Range Robbers – Oliver Strange – 1930 – a western in which ‘Sudden’ gets the girl – first read in early teens

The Razor’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham – 1944 – traumatized American searches for the meaning of life in the fleshpots of Paris – read in early twenties – I also recommend ‘Of Human Bondage’ (1915)

Running Blind – Desmond Bagley – 1970 – an about-to-retire British spy is given a hospital pass assignment in Iceland – read in early teens

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian – Marina Lewycka – 2005 – old man wants to marry buxom gold digger woman who already has a husband and son, and his daughter doesn’t like it – read in early-forties

Snow – Orhan Pamuk – 2004 – a story of love, life, clash of values, and women’s empowerment in eastern Turkey – read in mid forties

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth – 1993 – don’t remember the story but I read 1349 pages in one sitting, so must have had something – read in mid thirties

Tara Road – Maeve Binchy – 1998 – troubled Irish woman switches houses temporarily with troubled American woman – first read in late thirties

Tiger By The Tail – James Hadley Chase – 1954 – the best JHC – first read in early teens – I also recommend ‘The Vulture is a Patient Bird’ (1969)

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee – 1960 – a lawyer stands up for what’s right in a racially tense part of southern USA – read in early twenties

War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – 1869 – a fictional account of events in Russia around the Napoleonic invasion of 1812 – read in early twenties


Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Thanks for this.

Your introduction (about the breakfast and conversation) really cracked me up!


Ajit Chaudhuri said...

The Aubrey–Maturin series is a sequence of nautical historical novels—20 completed and one unfinished by Patrick O'Brian, set during the Napoleonic Wars and centring on the friendship between Captain Jack Aubrey of the Royal Navy and his ship's surgeon Stephen Maturin, who is also a physician, natural philosopher, and secret agent. The first novel, Master and Commander, was published in 1969 and the last finished novel in 1999. The 21st novel of the series, left unfinished by O'Brian's death in 2000,
appeared in print in late 2004. The series received considerable international acclaim and most of the novels reached The New York Times Best Seller list. These novels comprised the canon of an author often compared to Jane Austen, C. S. Forester and a myriad British authors central to the English literature canon.

The 2003 film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World took material from books in this series, notably Master and Commander, HMS Surprise, The Letter of Marque, The Fortune of War, and particularly The Far Side of the World. Russell Crowe played the role of Jack Aubrey, and Paul Bettany that of Stephen Maturin.

Highly recommended as it covers not just naval engagements and life afloat in the ocean, but society and social norms, science, philosophy, natural history, aspects of human nature and, of course, the bitter-sweet sides of romance, all set in those times. Go for it. You may just need to set aside a large chunk of your life to read these, as I have, and be richer for it!


Indrek Roy

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Just realised what a poor reader as compared to you...still remember how you used to sneak in the casual novel (anything you got your hands on) during your board exams too. Nothing disturbed you whilst you read! Reading was always so important to you. I feel happy you kept it up and more than what I
can say for myself, gave reading the time and dedication it deserves.

There are a few books which have deeply touched me...don't know if they are your type, but they are powerful and definitely worth a read if you haven't
read them already.

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer (a historical novel leading to the battle of Waterloo) Also, Faro's Daughter and These Old Shades by the same author.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Divakaruni ( The story of the Mahabharata from the eyes and point of view of Draupadi)

Daddy Long Legs by ___Webster (you must have surely read this...about the orphan girl who was sent to college and her daily diary to her benefactor)

Desiree by Anne Marie Selinko - (the bestseller about napoleon's first love)

Some more, but I forget now!

Lots of love

Nomita Roy

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Some of the old ones that come to mind... these were so important during school days

Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Guns of Navarone

Thanks for the trip down memory lane with that list.

Mathew John

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

In your list I miss Snow Leopard and what about Tolkien, Gone with the wind, not Thorn Birds but another one from her (?) and did you not read Cutting for Stone? I read it as preparation for a mission to Ethiopia and while on mission read 'A vision for Africa' (Wangari M). Was a great way to connect what I was seeing.

Rupa M

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Thanks for letting us know of so many interesting books. Of these, I have read only a few: To
Kill a Mocking Bird (liked both the book and the movie), and Animal Farm, and seen the movies
on The Hunt for the Red October (I didn't see a single woman in that movie!!) and One flew
over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I am surprised not to find Uncle Toms Cabin (Harriet Beecher Stowe), and none by V.S.Naipaul
(one of my favourites is A Turn in the South), and Paul Thoreau ( The Great Railway Bazaar; I
like travelogues) in your short-list!! There were no biographies or auto-biographies either.

RK Anil

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

For once i read you email immediately as the interest to know about books is still there. Excellent choice, have read a few and i would like to add to this list someday.

Two i recall instantly- Great Indian Novel- Sashi Tharoor and Glass Palace - Amitav Ghosh. Sea of Poppies was not too bad also.

Amitabh Kharkwal

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

Ok, here are a few you might like to check out:

count of monte cristo - alexander dumas
the magic mountain - thomas mann
the jungle - upton sinclair
tin drum - gunter grass
cannery row - john steinbeck
Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
nine stories / For Esme, With Love and Squalor - JD Salinger
Franny & Zooey - JD Salinger
the old man & the sea - ernest hemingway
the great gatsby
in cold blood - truman capote
death of a salesman - arthur miller
memed my hawk - yasar kemal
slaughterhouse 5 - kurt vonnegut
one day in the life of ivan denisovich - alexander solzhenitsyn
so many hungers - bhabani bhattacharya
things fall apart - chinua achebe
100 years of solitude - gabriel garcia marquez
bullet park - john cheever
revolutionary road - richard yates
my god died young - sasthi brata
invisible cities - italo calvino
the family of pascal duarte - camilo hose cela
the storyteller - mario vargas llosa
midnight's children - salman rushdie
all the names - jose saramago
the song of solomon - toni morrisson
the name of the rose - umberto eco
the english patient - michael ondatje
the famished road - ben okri
blindness - jose saramago
rouse up O young men of the new generation - kenzaburo oe
a quiet life - kenzaburo oe
women as lovers - elfriede jelinek
the golden gandhi statue from america - subimal misra

V Ramaswamy

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

This was awesome. Nostalgic and heartwarming. Some of these I havent read and promise to. The ones I would have listed (and all these were read in thr teens, for some reason I remember that era of reading fondly).

John Buchan - The Thirty Nine steps - Racy story of a middle aged man on the run, chased by German spies, bravely trying to avert disaster.

F Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby - the mysterious American tycoon, and a great love story.

Daphne Du Maurier - Rebecca, a most intriguing romance. Also read My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn

Will send a few more soon. Among recent reads, Keep is a masterpiece....of black maids in America.

Amir Khan

Ajit Chaudhuri said...

It is just so lovely to hear from u, as always! I know I'm part of that crowd (if it is a crowd), that gets ur mail, greedily devours ur two-pager, and then just never takes the time to tell u how much I've enjoyed it, or what it's made me think of or what memories it's brought back...

But they always do, evoke a wonderful sense of something and great fulfilment, so THANK YOU! May u keep them coming hard and fast!!

Lots of love,
Nishka Crishna

Anirban Mukerji said...

Interesting list I think except for Khaled Hosseini's "Kite Runner", we don't have any in common