So many books (still). So little time (and it’s getting worse). Here’s one way to cut through the clutter and discover what book to read next. We asked, authors answered.
I gifted two books – Manu S. Pillai’s The Ivory Throne and Sanjeev Sanyal’s The Ocean of Churn – to my US-based sons. They are both very interested in history but neither book is published yet in the US, and I wanted them to have these to add to their knowledge of their motherland!
I have also just gifted my own book, An Era of Darkness, to an old British friend I had briefly shared an office with as a junior UN official in the early 1980s, to tell him what his compatriots did in India!
I gave a friend of mine Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, by Giulia Enders. This is because her mother suffers from IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and I thought it might be of some help.
The last time I gifted a book was to my niece Kevi Kevichüsa at New Year. The book was, incidentally, A Naga Village Remembered which I had written in 2003. Because both my niece and her husband are from the village which I wrote about. It is also a portion of village history that has shaped the identity of the village today. My niece is a creative stay-at-home mother of two, and an artist and a fabulous storyteller. I felt she would connect to the story in the book and pass it on to her children someday.
The last book I gifted was the appropriately-titled Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow. I gave it to a friend because it was right before me in a bookstore – we were in a bookstore together – and I recalled the joy the book had given me, and wanted to pass the experience on to another person. This friend is a fantastic novelist and I felt he would connect with Bellow’s passionate deployment of ideas in his narrative, and the attention paid to the confused lives of writers.
I recently gifted Stasiland by Anna Funder and The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl by Italo Svevo to the writer and dancer, Tishani Doshi. Stasiland tells the stories of East Germany’s ordinary victims, and has an absorbing, sentimental and literary style of narration. Giving the book is a part of my old campaign to make novelists and poets I admire to venture into journalism, or to use that moronic word “non-fiction”. The Nice Old Man and the Pretty Girl is a little known, under-appreciated and brilliant novella which the novelist Tabish Khair had introduced me to. An insight of The Nice Old Man... is that what decides the punishments for our sins is not the nature of the sin but our age.
The last book I gifted was I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. It’s supposed to be a book for young adults, but I believe that a really good book works for any age. The last few books I’ve gifted have been picture books and YA books – all to adults! And they have loved them. If you read Markus Zusak, Frances Hardinge or Philip Pullman, you realise how specious it can be to divide books into categories of adult and children’s books. I gave the book to a friend who is going to have a lot of time on her hands, and who I know loved Zusak’s The Book Thief.
I gifted Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb to my brother. It’s a thought-provoking book, to understand the volatile times we live in and to help us make a blueprint to survive, even thrive, in this atmosphere. It’s exactly the kind of book my brother would like.
The last book I gifted was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi to my best friend.
Paul was a brilliant neurosurgeon who before becoming a doctor had majored in English literature. Cancer struck him at 36, and claimed his life by 37. The book is not only poignant and powerful but is poetic too. What makes this a “must-read” are the questions he asks and the answers he finds. Throughout his life, Paul had sought to find the answer to the question “What makes life worth living?” and in the face of death, he finds it.
Having just finished the book, I was in that strange state of calm, having been made acutely aware that there exists a place, where life meets death and, despite death having the final say, life wins. I gifted this book as I wanted my friend to experience all that I did while reading it. There are some books that change your perspective towards life. Paul’s book is one of them.
The last book I gifted was Arvind Krishna Mehrotra’s collected works from Penguin. The book was given to a friend, Frank Loric, who is a French translator.
I live in Europe and my problem with lot of Europeans is that their understanding of modernity is very euro-centric and that’s often very detrimental. They are very enlightened in terms of their politics and humanitarian projects, like those in Syria for example. But the real understanding of how people are elsewhere, how a Syrian person is in Syria, that’s somewhat limited. This often happens when you come from a dominant culture where everyone has adhered to your culture.
So, I think Arvind is important for the understanding of a certain kind of indigenous modernity and a good way of understanding how people think. I was actually looking for an Akhil Katyal, who is my current favorite poet from Delhi, but I couldn’t find a book by him. But Arvind is a classic.
The last book I gifted a friend was Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road. Because he had it on Kindle, and I said that didn’t count, so I bought him a paper copy. Because it’s devastatingly beautiful, and will break his heart, and that’s what friends do. They gift each other books that will break their hearts.