Books update: 2012 and counting down

The books that I have read this year till today. 63 in all.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky

2. What I talk about when I talk about running: Haruki Murakami

3. A New World: Amit Chaudhuri

4. The Immoralist: Andre Gide

5. The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins

6. Heat: Bill Buford

7. The Fry Chronicles: Stephen Fry

8. The Devil in the Kitchen: Marco Pierre White

9. The Sense of an Ending: Julian Barnes

10. Flat screen: Adam Wilson 

11. Medium Raw: Anthony Bourdain

12. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle: Haruki Murakami

13. Dubliners: James Joyce

14. Incest and Morris Dancing: Jonathan Meades

15. Kafka on the Shore: Haruki Murakami

16. Pop. 1280: Jim Thompson

17. Secret Ingredients:The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink

18. A Hell of a Woman: Jim Thompson

19. The Last Good Kiss: James Crumley

20. The Wrong Case: James Crumley

21. After Dark: Haruki Murakami

22. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey: James Mosley

23. Difficult Pleasures: Anjum Hasan

24. A Wild Sheep Chase: Haruki Murakami

25. Knots and Crosses: Ian Rankin

26. Hide and Seek: Ian Rankin

27. Dance Dance Dance: Haruki Murakami

28. Pinball, 1973: Haruki Murakami

29. South of the Border, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami

30. Sputnik Sweetheart: Haruki Murakami

31: Hard boiled Wonderland and the end of the world: Haruki Murakami

32. Hear the Wind Sing: Haruki Murakami

33. The Polyester Prince: Hamish McDonald

34. From Heaven Lake: Vikram Seth

35. The Power and The Glory: Graham Greene

36. Junky: William S. Burroughs

37. Street on the Hill: Anjum Hasan

38. The Humble Administrator’s Garden: Vikram Seth

39. Open City: Teju Cole

40. The Elephant Vanishes: Haruki Murakami

41. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Haruki Murakami

42. Mike and Psmith: P.G. Wodehouse

43. Psmith Journalist: P.G. Wodehouse

44. Mike at Wrykyn: P.G. Wodehouse

45. Psmith in the city: P.G. Wodehouse

46. Underground: Haruki Murakami

47. Cover Her Face: P.D. James

48. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard: Kiran Desai

49. Death of a Salesman: Arthur Miller

50. Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett

51. Em and the Big Hoom: Jerry Pinto

52. A Writer’s People: Ways of Looking and Feeling: V.S. Naipaul

53. Battle Royale: Koushun Takami

54. Something to Declare: Julian Barnes

55. The Third Girl: Agatha Christie

56. Persepolis: Marjane Satrapi

57. Persepolis 2: Marjane Satrapi

58. A Universal History of Iniquity: Jorge Luis Borges

59. Father Brown: The Essential Tales: G.K. Chesterton

60. Narcopolis: Jeet Thayil

61. Mercy: Jussi Adler-Olsen

62. Ficciones: Jorge Luis Borges

63. The Maltese Falcon: Dashiell Hammett

50 books in 2012: Done

At the start of this year, I had planned to read 50 books by December 31st. I’d read 35 in 2011. I have finished my 50th book today. Here’s the list of books that I’ve read. I hope you like some of the books I’ve listed.

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky

2. What I talk about when I talk about running: Haruki Murakami

3. A New World: Amit Chaudhuri

4. The Immoralist: Andre Gide

5. The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins

6. Heat: Bill Buford

7. The Fry Chronicles: Stephen Fry

8. The Devil in the Kitchen: Marco Pierre White

9. The Sense of an Ending: Julian Barnes

10. Flat screen: Adam Wilson 

11. Medium Raw: Anthony Bourdain

12. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle: Haruki Murakami

13. Dubliners: James Joyce

14. Incest and Morris Dancing: Jonathan Meades

15. Kafka on the Shore: Haruki Murakami

16. Pop. 1280: Jim Thompson

17. Secret Ingredients:The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink

18. A Hell of a Woman: Jim Thompson

19. The Last Good Kiss: James Crumley

20. The Wrong Case: James Crumley

21. After Dark: Haruki Murakami

22. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey: James Mosley

23. Difficult Pleasures: Anjum Hasan

24. A Wild Sheep Chase: Haruki Murakami

25. Knots and Crosses: Ian Rankin

26. Hide and Seek: Ian Rankin

27. Dance Dance Dance: Haruki Murakami

28. Pinball, 1973: Haruki Murakami

29. South of the Border, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami

30. Sputnik Sweetheart: Haruki Murakami

31: Hard boiled Wonderland and the end of the world: Haruki Murakami

32. Hear the Wind Sing: Haruki Murakami

33. The Polyester Prince: Hamish McDonald

34. From Heaven Lake: Vikram Seth

35. The Power and The Glory: Graham Greene

36. Junky: William S. Burroughs

37. Street on the Hill: Anjum Hasan

38. The Humble Administrator’s Garden: Vikram Seth

39. Open City: Teju Cole

40. The Elephant Vanishes: Haruki Murakami

41. Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman: Haruki Murakami

42. Mike and Psmith: P.G. Wodehouse

43. Psmith Journalist: P.G. Wodehouse

44. Mike at Wrykyn: P.G. Wodehouse

45. Psmith in the city: P.G. Wodehouse

46. Underground: Haruki Murakami

47. Cover Her Face: P.D. James

48. Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard: Kiran Desai

49. Death of a Salesman: Arthur Miller

50. Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett

Today was such a stellar day. A friend got me the first 2 Murakami novels never to have been published outside Japan. My Murakami collection is now complete. This includes all novels, short stories and non-fiction ever published in English.

My friend Sonal

Who is a friend? In the digital world that we live in, this is hard to define. I have met a lot of people over the last few years, some whom I call friends. I’ll leave it to Thoreau who said ‘The language of friendship is not words but meanings’.


When you have a friend you can be comfortable with and talk freely without being judged, you have struck pure gold. Sonal is a friend who lets me be the way I am. She has a Zen-like calmness and is uber talented. She paints and sketches, reads and is a gifted artist. I truly enjoy her company. She is pretty amazing. I am proud to call her my friend.

To quote Hunter S. Thompson ‘To make a point of declaring friendship is to cheapen it. For men’s emotions are very rarely put into words successfully.’

I wrote this with her in mind.

baubles of solace

enlivening comradeship

life nourishing gifts

Happy birthday, Sonal. Hope that your day is as lovely as you.

P.S. If you are on twitter, you should follow her on @gargsonal. 

blank page poem

kathleenjoy:

Let me rest my bare feet in your lap while you teach me something. While I read to you and the page is a wall to brush between us.

Together we will hold a blank piece of paper at opposite corners, and watch it quiver while we say nothing.

(Reblogged from kathleenjoy)

Bloomsday

Bloomsday is a commemoration and celebration of the life of James Joyce during which the events of his novel Ulysses (which is set on 16 June 1904) are relived. It is observed annually on 16 June in Dublin and elsewhere. Joyce chose the date as it was the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle; they walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend. The name derives from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. (Wikipedia)

Sydney has events planned on Bondi. Here’s the link.

BBC Radio 4 has all day broadcasts to celebrate James Joyce’s Ulysses. 

I’ve always wanted to read James Joyce chronologically in 2012. 

 

The James Joyce Centre, Dublin , Dublin is dedicated to promoting an understanding of the life and works of James Joyce. We are also the home of Bloomsday in Dublin, and organise events throughout the year to celebrate, discuss and promote the works of Ireland’s greatest Modern writer. 

I have the following 4 editions.

1. Dubliners

2. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

3. Ulysses. The 1932 text

4. Finnegans Wake

If you are on twitter, follow the tag #bloomsday to check out activities throughout the world. Here’s what’s happening in Dublin

Do give James Joyce a whirl. Buy a book for yourself or gift it to someone. Make Bloomsday a celebration of his masterful writing.


Books read: Been there. Done that.

These are the books I have read this year. Ironic, considering that I could read 35 books in 2011. How many have you read? Any common books? 

1. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Stephen Chbosky

2. What I talk about when I talk about running: Haruki Murakami

3. A New World: Amit Chaudhuri

4. The Immoralist: Andre Gide

5. The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins

6. Heat: Bill Buford

7. The Fry Chronicles: Stephen Fry

8. The Devil in the Kitchen: Marco Pierre White

9. The Sense of an Ending: Julian Barnes

10. Flat screen: Adam Wilson 

11. Medium Raw: Anthony Bourdain

12. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle: Haruki Murakami

13. Dubliners: James Joyce

14. Incest and Morris Dancing: Jonathan Meades

15. Kafka on the Shore: Haruki Murakami

16. Pop. 1280: Jim Thompson

17. Secret Ingredients:The New Yorker Book of Food and Drink

18. A Hell of a Woman: Jim Thompson

19. The Last Good Kiss: James Crumley

20. The Wrong Case: James Crumley

21. After Dark: Haruki Murakami

22. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey: James Mosley

23. Difficult Pleasures: Anjum Hasan

24. A Wild Sheep Chase: Haruki Murakami

25. Knots and Crosses: Ian Rankin

26. Hide and Seek: Ian Rankin

27. Dance Dance Dance: Haruki Murakami

28. Pinball, 1973: Haruki Murakami

29. South of the Border, West of the Sun: Haruki Murakami

30. Sputnik Sweetheart: Haruki Murakami

31: Hard boiled Wonderland and the end of the world: Haruki Murakami

32. Hear the Wind Sing: Haruki Murakami

33. The Polyester Prince: Hamish McDonald

34. From Heaven Lake: Vikram Seth

35. The Power and The Glory: Graham Greene

36. Junky: William S. Burroughs

My Reading Holiday: The Follow up post

This is a follow up post to the one I wrote earlier. Here’s the link to the earlier post.

I wrote the post on the 17th of April and embarked upon my reading holiday on the 13th of May. Immediately after writing the post, I thought to myself “Damn, I hope I’ve not jinxed my reading.” Once you start doubting yourself, the road to nowhere is a clear stretch. I carried 4 books with me. 

1. Anjum Hasan: Difficult Pleasures

2. Haruki Murakami: A Wild Sheep Chase

3. Haruki Murakami: Dance Dance Dance

4. Walter Mosley: The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

All the books were lovely. Anjum Hasan’s short stories are beautifully crafted. Each story is polished and contains a world of emotions. Love and loss are poignantly portrayed. Walter Mosley’s book is a mystery ensconced in a tale of an old African American gentleman in the throes of early dementia. 

We stayed in South Goa, far from touristy hotels and restaurants and the madding crowd. We drove aimlessly on village roads, ate in local village restaurants, and went to the beach around sunset. 

I think I finished the 4 books in 6 days flat. Driving around, we stumbled upon the Broadway Book Centre. It had a book sale. Bingo! I ended up buying 35 books. (Don’t judge me. OK!) 

Check out some of the books we bought. 

By the end of the trip (12 days in all), I had read 8 books. My mind felt invigorated. We did have a brilliant reading holiday. These are the books I read. The photo does not have Haruki Murakami’s Pinball, 1973. It was an ebook. 

Pro Tip: In Goa, go local.

My Murakami obsession

It started off quite innocently. I bought Haruki Murakami’s ‘Norwegian Wood’ two years back. It lay on my shelf for more than a year. Something held me back from reading Murakami. Then, last November, on my reading holiday, I read Norwegian Wood. It was a book about love, obsession, loneliness, and above all, memory. The writing style was unique and prismatic. I was hooked. 

On my birthday, my lovely friend Soan, (@aethyiaa on twitter) who’s also an avid Murakami reader like me, gifted me 1Q84, Murakami’s 3 book opus. I finished it by the end of December 2011. I then set about buying all his fiction. The novels, I mean. The photo below is my collection of his novels. They are organized chronologically (top to bottom). I have read them all. 

Why should you read Murakami? What kind of a writer is he? I shall try to answer these questions. I suspect that in the end, you’ll be even more mystified (just like a Murakami novel!).

From his earliest writings, Murakami was deeply influenced by Western culture, films, music and fiction. The novelists he read included Kurt Vonnegut, Raymond Chandler,  Truman Capote and F. Scott Fitzgerald. 

The primary literary themes in his novels are existentialism, alienation and loneliness. Unrequited love is also a common thread. The protagonists in his novels, are typically (but not always), a male in his late twenties to thirties. Passivity is a key characteristic of the protagonist. He is often un-named (conventionally referred to in jun-bungaku as “Boku”). Jun-bungaku is Japanese literature. The recurrent use of Western symbols, specially jazz and classical music, junk food, western literature, is a clear and unqualified rebuttal of traditional Japanese literature. Women are often mysterious, and could be mediums for the protagonist’s understanding. The protagonists often feel incomplete. The stories are often two steps away from being ‘normal’.

The novels themselves, range from love stories to postmodern metaphysical mysteries. His love for gumshoe noir, specially Raymond Chandler, often shines through. The books are shot with surrealism. Some less, others more. There is often an inflection point, where the novels jump into surreal territory. Murakami himself, states that he plots as he writes. The uniqueness of this approach has some pitfalls. His more ambitious novels (Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) have several sub-plots running through. Characters vanish, plots juggle together, all plot ends may not tie up cleanly in the end. There are multiple realities, personalities crack with a loud pop, and there are alternate worlds that one can access. Dreams play powerful roles. Then there are ears, wells, blocked water ways, jazz clubs, cats, talking cats. Most protagonists either have a cat as a pet or have done so before. 

Above all, one should not expect resolution of each story. In two of his novels (Kafka by the Shore, and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World) , there is a split narrative. Murakami’s true brilliance is in writing a propulsive narrative. The storytelling is  magnificent. For literary fiction to be such a page turner is incredible. 

Murakami is someone who has taken a strong stance against war and nuclear energy. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle shocked a lot of Japanese readers, because it turned the notion of Japanese victimhood on its head. Jazz (Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, John Coltrane) and Western Classical music form a tonal soundscape to the books. The numerous Western pop culture references make one forget that you are reading a Japanese novel, set in Japan, in translation.The strangeness quotient winds down. Murakami’s translators are Alfred Birnbaum, Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin. The earlier novels have been translated by Alfred Birnbaum, who takes a freer, more American translation approach. 

Why do I call it an obsession? Reading Murakami is a wholly immersive experience, like entering a water body face down. I was often breathless, reading the books. I stayed up late, reading the books in a dream like fugue. Of the last 11 books I’ve read in the past month, 8 have been Murakami novels. I wanted this post to be authentic, so I read all the novels. 

Murakami’s first two novels (Hear the Wind Sing, and Pinball 1973) have not been published outside Japan. I read a .pdf of Pinball.  The first three novels (Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball 1973, A Wild Sheep Chase) are what is commonly called ‘The Rat Trilogy’. Dance Dance Dance is a sort of sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase. However, it is not part of The Rat Trilogy. On a pleasant note, one of my awesome friends has very kindly bought the books off Amazon for me. 

The books are uneven in consistency. Not all are unfailingly good, I hated ‘After Dark’. For me, his best 2 novels are The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. Both are unique, powerful and are his bonafide masterpieces. 

I must confess that I tend to read my favorite authors chronologically. However, this did not happen with Murakami. The reading order chaos was emblematic of his work. I have also not read his short stories yet. Murakami himself believes that long fiction is his greater strength.  Clearly, my year of James Joyce has metamorphosed into a year of Murakami.

Here are some useful links:

1. The Paris Review Interview

2. Pinball, 1973. The pdf version from The Millions

3. The New York Times Magazine story on Murakami

4. A Murakami documentary

5. The New York Times compilation of reviews

6. The official website

7. Town of cats from 1Q84, The New Yorker

P.S. In the dark alleys of the interwebs, I chanced upon the ‘Hear the Wind Sing’ ebook. It occurred to me that I’d read The Rat Trilogy backwards. I read The Wild Sheep Chase (Book #3) first, then Pinball, 1973 (Book #2) and finally, Hear the Wind Sing (Book #1). Weird but true.

Check out the amazing Murakami Bingo card from the New York Times. Thanks, Gauri. 

I have started on the short stories and non-fiction now. Watch this space.

I finally finished reading all of Murakami’s published work in English today. This includes the novels, short story collection and the non-fiction works. How do I feel now that it’s over (for now)? The novels are clearly his strong suit. Murakami relishes the challenge of weaving a story (or several stories) in the longer novel format. The short story collections are good. However, the nature of Murakami’s work (surrealism in particular) precludes that the novel form works best. Character development takes a beating in the short stories. However, some stories are astonishingly good. Barn Burning was one such story. Some stories are worked into novels. I leave you to scope that out.

A friend on twitter asked me to rank the books (novels, I guess). Here is my ranking order (it’s hard to list something you like so much). 

1. Kafka on the Shore

2. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle

3. The Boku Trilogy (Hear the Bird Sing; Pinball, 1973; A Wild Sheep Chase)

The trilogy is meant to be read in this order

4. Dance Dance Dance (The follow up novel to A Wild Sheep Chase, not quite a sequel)

5. Hard boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Incidentally, Murakami ranks this novel as the one closest to his style)

If you are new Murakami reader, I’d like to urge you to read the novels chronologically. (The picture at the top has the novels organized that way)

Who’s hungry for a burger? Burger love is true love.

English, August. An Indian Story: My deserted island book

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August, An Indian Story is the one novel that’s influenced me the most. It was released in the late 80s and became an instant success. It was also, one of the few novels that heralded the start of the English fiction movement in India. 

English, August is a novel about a young I.A.S. (Indian Administrative Service) officer who gets posted in a district in rural India.  Agastya’s dislocation starts early in the novel. He’s posted in the sticks, and he stays relentlessly unfocused and bored. The writing is poetic, and very subversive. You can sense Agastya’s alienation seep through the pages. The pointlessness of his time in Madna is echoed in the plotlessness of the novel. Agastya (Agastya Sen, the protagonist) shirks work, smokes pot, masturbates, exercises, and listens to music. The languid pace of the writing is emblematic of Agastya’s mind. 

Some of the passages illustrate this vividly.

He himself made no effort to know his new world; as it unfolded, it looked less interesting to him; and later, even to see how far he could extend his ignorance became a perverse and obscure challenge.

Sitting with the three men, he was again assailed by a sense of the unreal. I don’t look like a bureaucrat, what am I doing here. I should have been a photographer, or a maker of ad films, something like that, shallow and urban. 

'How old are you, Sir?'

'Twenty-Eight.' Agastya was twenty-four, but he was in a lying mood. He also disliked their faces.

'Are you married, Sir?' Again that demand that he classify himself. 

If you pay attention to the sentence construction, its apparent that the long sentence, broken up by punctuation, is a telling statement about Agastya’s state of mind. 

There are no sacred cows. 

Gandhi Hall stood beside the city police station, a three-storeyed building. For a moment he thought it had been bombed, something out of a news clip on Beirut, broken window panes, old walls, an uncertain air, a kind of wonder at not having collapsed yet. A red banner over the door, and outside, a statue of a short, fat bespectacled man with a rod coming out of his arse. He asked in wonder, ‘Is that a statue of Gandhi?’

His loneliness is a recurring motif.

He realized obscurely that the sense of loneliness was too precious to be shared, and finally incommunicable, that men were, ultimately, islands; each had its own universe, immense only to himself, far beyond the grasp or the interest of others. For them the pettiness of the ordeal was unrecordable, worthy, at best, only of a flicker of empathy. 

Agastya ruminates. 

Anchorlessness - that was to be one of his chaotic concerns in that uncertain year, battling a sense of waste was another. Another fodder too, in the farrago of his mind, self-pity in an uncongenial clime, the incertitude of his reactions to Madna, his job, and his inability to relate to it - other abstractions too, his niche in the world, his future, the elusive mocking nature of his happiness, the possibilities of its attainment. 

The tumult in his mind is clear in this prophetic passage. 

'Of course, nothing is fixed. I'm in a sort of flux, restless.' He shuffled in his chair. 'I don't want challenges or responsibility or anything, all I want is to be happy-' He stopped. 

I am not ambitious for ecstasy, you will ask me to think of the future, but the decade to come pales before this second, the span of my mind is less important than its quality. I want to sit here in the mild sun and try and not think, try and escape the inequity of the restlessness of my mind. Do you understand. Doesn’t anyone understand the absence of ambition, or the simplicity of this.

There is a great deal of chatter whether this novel is a bildungsroman or simply, a slacker novel. When the book was released in the US (New York Review of Books Classic) in 2005, it was positioned as a slacker novel. Can this novel be classified as such? I say nay. It is a different novel each time you read it. One reading barely scratches the surface in a single reading. There is a crystalline beauty in the writing. The violence (when it emerges) in the novel is so sudden, so brutal that it wakes the reader to the inherent realities of the novel’s landscape. It also accelerates the schism in Agastya’s mind. 

The novel is about two Indias. Rural and Urban.The twain never meets. It’s about angst, internal strife and schism. The voice of the protagonist remains authentic. A steady vein of extraordinary black humor stitches the novel together. Agastya’s angst is raw, and yet, the prose of the novel never makes it seem bitter. His confusion is genuine, and he makes no effort to resolve it. The novel is also about memory and loss. A loss of what was, and what could be. 

Why is this such a cult novel? Why does it sell so many copies? The writing was unlike anything that existed at the time. Indian novels were expected to reek of poverty and sadness. The protagonist had to be noble, have lofty ambitions. Later on the great Indian novel morphed into an over-ripe fruit, such as the overwrought God of Small Things. English, August gave voice to so many readers, who felt trapped in their destinies. Ironically, there is no resolution for the protagonist. 

Is the novel elitist? No. It is an essential read for its authenticity. Upamanyu Chatterjee still works in the IAS. He has written four more novels. I recommend them. 

Has the book dated? A couple of  references, maybe. The theme of being a stranger in your own country is relevant today too. Mammaries of the Welfare State is a continuation of the Agastya story. More than a sequel, it is more a damning indictment of India. It’s way more comedic in its voice. Agastya is someone who links the stories together. 

The New York Review of Books edition is brilliant. It is accompanied by a lovely introduction by Akhil Sharma. It is their top bestseller. 

I have the Faber first edition hardcover. I quote this lovely article For the love of a book. Though the first edition of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August is the Faber UK edition, the one to cherish and collect is the  Rs 40  Rupa paperback we bought off the pavements in the 80s. It is perfectly worded. I have the Rs 30 Rupa paperback. I only re-read this edition. 

Above all why do I care so much about this novel? There is a personal reason. I read the book when I was studying to be a doctor. I was trapped in a circle of self loathing and self pity. I hated everything.The novel was like a clarion call. It also started my journey as a serious reader. I come back to it often enough. It remains a dazzling read and it never fails to awaken my consciousness. It is the one novel I’d carry if I was marooned on a deserted island.

Here are some great online resources.

1. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s interview with Leonard Lopate discussing English August. 

2. Upamanyu Chatterjee reads from English August.

3. The NYRB edition: Introduction and First Chapter.

4. The Complete Review compilation of reviews.

5. The New York Times review.

6. The Hindu interview discussing The Mammaries of the Welfare State

A movie, English August, starring Rahul Bose as Agastya Sen was made by Dev Benegal. The screenplay was co-written by Upamanyu Chatterjee. Of course, the book is much better.