If you haven’t been introduced to the concept of reading for pleasure in childhood by your parents, teachers or friends, it can at times be hard to adopt it as a hobby in your adulthood. It’s even worse when a recommendation by your “reader friend” lands you with a barely-read copy of a book that was just too challenging to get through. The right book to start with can be notoriously difficult to find.
Keeping that in mind, we asked editors who are in the business of making books to recommend two titles – one from India and one from anywhere else in the world – across 11 different genres, for newbies.
Pujitha Krishnan of Aleph Book Company recommends:
The Folded Earth by Anuradha Roy: Beautifully written, it is a meditative story. Its delightful characters keep the reader coming back for more.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson : Atmospheric and nuanced, it is a slim book and therefore a quick read. But the story and characters will stay with you a long time.
Swati Daftuar of HarperCollins India recommends:
The Private Life of Mrs Sharma by Ratika Kapur: I think Kapur’s voice is one of the most original ones I’ve read in the last few years. She gets the middle-class Delhi-talk exactly right, and using that, captures the minutiae of this life so well – it’s concerns and issues and ambitions. This slim book is very easy to read and deceptively simple, but packs quite a punch.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan: The author has a wicked sense of humour, and introduces you to a whole host of decadent, deliciously scandalous characters in a larger-than-life setting. This is the first book in the series, but chances are, once you finish this one, you’d want to read the other two.
Crime and Mystery
Himanjali Sankar of Bloomsbury India recommends:
Shot, Down by Vivek Rao: Crisp prose, well-paced narrative and a baffling contemporary crime story which any reader will immediately be drawn into.
The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (or rather, JK Rowling): Rowling is a master of storytelling so whether it’s children’s or adult books, who would be a better writer to begin with? This is the first book in the series that introduces the unlikely, unusual detective Cormoran Strike and his equally interesting assistant in a elegant and dark story that follows the death of a famous young model in London.
Trisha Bora of Juggernaut recommends:
A Sweet Deal by Andaleeb Wajid: It’s a light, breezy romance set in Bangalore. The writing is simple and the context relatable. It’s the perfect entry point for a lover of romance who’s just getting into reading.
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: A modern day retelling of the much-loved classic, Pride and Prejudice. Its contemporary setting makes it relatable and accessible and since the story is already well-known – it’s a great starting point for readers of romance.
Ambar S Chatterjee of Penguin Random House India recommends:
Malgudi Days by RK Narayan: Narayan’s fable-like stories, set in the imaginary town of Malgudi in pre-Independent India, offer a charming glimpse into the lives, loves and labours of a rich cast of idiosyncratic characters. A much-loved classic, this remains the perfect starting point to exploring the vastness of the Indian literary canon.
Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne: A dazzling combination of action, adventure and romance, Verne’s magnificent novel unfolds in a thrilling race against time wherein Phileas Fogg must win an outrageous wager to travel around the globe within 80 days – a feat that his rivals are convinced is impossible to accomplish. What unfolds is a riveting journey filled with imminent danger and unexpected twists.
Manasi Subramaniam of Penguin Random House India recommends:
The High Priestess Never Marries by Sharanya Manivannan: In full disclosure, it is a book I acquired and edited. It’s sensual and alive and poetic and graceful and, best of all, eminently readable.
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz: A piercing collection of interlinked short stories that combine humour and pathos in unexpected ways. Both of these books are particularly remarkable for the ways in which they engage with ideas of femininity, loneliness and the search for love.
Ayushi Saxena of Duckbill Books recommends:
Grasshopper’s Run by Siddhartha Sarma : A criminally under-read book! Grasshopper’s Run is a gripping novel about a slice of Indian history that, at least in the YA space and books, is not really talked or written much about. It’s a gritty, grim book and really worth spending a few hours with.
Holes by Louis Sachar: This is possibly my most recommended international YA book of all time. And I have yet to meet a person who has not loved it. It is one of those books you finish at one go, and feel wistful about not having read it as a teen. Holes starts off as deceptively simple, and the complex narrative creeps up on you slowly – Sachar, thankfully, does not talk down to his readers!
Sanghamitra Biswas of Westland Books recommends:
Beastly Tales From Here and There by Vikram Seth : With his characteristic wit and humour, Seth tells ten fables in verse which make for wonderful reading on so many levels.
Poems by Emily Dickinson: Another wonderful poet who draws you into the remarkable world of poetry with her simple lyrical poem. Simply written and yet quietly profound, her poems have much to offer. A great place to start reading poetry.
Rahul Soni of HarperCollins Publishers India recommends:
Lost Loves by Arshia Sattar: A series of essays that considers Rama and Sita’s thoughts and feelings as they live the events of the Ramayana, what happens when the requirements of being a god collide with the needs of being human, what happens to love in separation, and when love is lost. Profound and insightful, they give us new ways to think about a story and characters that are an inseparable part of our collective imaginations.
Bluets by Maggie Nelson: Structured as a series of propositions, this uncategorisable book begins with the author’s inexplicable love for the colour blue, then moves between philosophy, literature, art, poetry, sex, psychology, biology, biography and autobiography, theology, and more than anything else, love, and grief and grieving – all in less than a hundred pages. Wise and beautiful and heartbreaking and uplifting.
Swati Chopra of Penguin Random House India recommends:
Freedom in Exile by the 14th Dalai Lama : Admittedly, an autobiography. An engaging read, that recounts the fascinating journey of one of the best known spiritual leaders today.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot : A genre-defying biography, in a sense. Brilliantly written and researched.
Debasri Rakshit of Westland Books recommends:
Mrs Funnybones by Twinkle Khanna: Innately funny, first-time readers will be able to relate to the plight of the woman of the house and her observations on love, looks, husband, children, domestic help and Kim Kardashian #breakingtheinternet.
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain : A tell-all memoir on the underbelly of the restaurant business, this is a book about sex, drugs, cooking and what foods not to order on a Monday morning. An easy entry point for a first-time reader.
The views expressed here are personal and do not represent those of the organisations with which the editors work.