Everyone feels December is a good time to reflect on all the great books you read in the year gone by, whether you went through 12 titles or 182. It’s also a good time to make “to read” lists for next year. To help build an unusual one, we asked seven authors about the two books they’re most looking forward to reading next year – one that’s being published in 2018 and another that may have been on their list for a while. Of course, as book lovers tend to do, not everybody stuck to just naming two titles.
I have heard good things about the Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami, especially about Ms Ice Sandwich, which tells the story of a boy obsessed with a sandwich seller. Haruki Murakami has called Kawakami his favourite writer and with the English translation hitting the stores in January we will get to know why she is such an important writer in Japan.
I have been meaning to read My God Died Young by Sasthi Brata since my schooldays. It was the most conspicuous book in my father’s library, a hardback edition with a yellow jacket showing a pitch-black figurine. I don’t know what made me leave the book unopened. But the other day I found out that the book has survived many relocations and is still with me. In 2018, I will discover why Mr Brata’s god died young.
I mostly read non-fiction and poetry. Among the scores of good books I read in 2017, Upinder Singh’s Political Violence in Ancient India stood out. The book has a contemporary relevance as it challenges our age-old notion and claims of being a non-violent society. Through her deep research and easy accessible writing Singh successfully proves how violence has been at the core of enforcing a highly unequal society. Scholars and ordinary readers must have this book to understand how much of what is happening now has an ancient past.
Another book that I found unputdownable is Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants. It was the most awaited book of 2017 and proved to be worth the wait. A searing account of growing up in an untouchable family, Gidla’s book is a must read for everyone. It is as much a story of her family’s struggle, her own travails as much as of the failure of the Indian state. The book stays with you for days.
In 2018, I am looking forward to the first-ever English translation of Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan Agyeya’s Shekhar: Ek Jiwani. It is sad that the translation will be coming out more than 70 years after the two-part novel came out in Hindi. Among the most iconic novels of the 20th century, Shekhar: Ek Jiwani is the story of a revolutionary, autobiographical to a large extent and among the earliest modern Hindi novels. Translated by eminent scholar Vasudha Dalmia along with Snehal Singhavi, it will finally be available to the English speaking world. I am sure it will create a storm like it did when it first came out.
I am also impatiently waiting for Snigdha Poonam’s Dreamers: How Young Indians are Changing Their World. Among the best long-form journalists in the country, Snigdha’s book is the story of six young Indians in small towns and villages; their dreams, aspirations, anger, frustration and their battles. The book also talks of how this generation has successfully created new options in places that are refusing to move. Through her extensive travels, eye for minutest details and a language that is inventive and lucid, Snigdha has recreated the world we think little about. Snigdha will be the most sensational debut of 2018.
Pranay Lal’s Indica: A Deep Natural History of the Indian Subcontinent, which came out this year, seems terribly timely and pertinent. And I find I’m being drawn to the subject not just out of curiosity about our geographical past but also as a writer who would like to embark on a similar fictional project at some point.
I will also be reading Witold Gombrowicz’s bitterly funny, deliciously scathing, and sometimes just plain bonkers Ferdydurke. Published in 1937 and deemed utterly scandalous, the novel was banned in Poland for decades. Can’t wait.
Next year, I’ll be reading that extraordinary woman, Shanta Gokhale’s memoir, tentatively titled, Here’s Looking at You, Body. It’s a memoir told through the body of a woman and promises to be quite remarkable.
I also just acquired Jean-Paul Sartre: Typhus, translated by Chris Turner. Sartre wrote a screenplay? For Pathé? There’s a night club singer and a disgraced doctor and an epidemic of typhus. This sounds like Greeneland. Can’t wait.
The book I am looking forward to in 2018 is The Death Of Paharia by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. I have just finished Sowvendra’s The Adivasi Will Not Dance and found it incredibly disturbing and inspiring. He is a talented writer and I wish to hear more stories from him as those stories had never been told before.
The book I have set aside for reading is Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young. I have already started it and because it is a heavy book to carry for my rheumatic shoulders, I feel impatient to be home just to finish the rest of it. It is a brilliant plot and cleverly told story.
I have an immense TBR pile – part of the reason is that I’m constantly goading myself to catch up with whatever is coming out in India and every week there’s something that I do not want to miss and I keep making a note of it. One of the books that is quite an urgent read for me is (the late) Praful Bidwai’s The Phoenix Moment: Challenges Confronting the Indian Left. I really believe that under the present right-wing government all of us who are on the broad Left have to learn more about the history of communism in India, why we are not yet having a people’s mass uprising given that the grassroots conditions have never been so stark. I want to read this book because I hope to find answers as well as be better informed. I need to wait a little because my partner is right now reading this book, so once he’s done, I’m going to take it up.
In terms of books that are going to be out in 2018, I’m eager to read Nikesh Shukla’s The One Who Wrote Destiny. Having moved to the UK last year I first encountered his anthology The Good Immigrant which became simultaneously a survival guide and a map of emotions for me to navigate. In terms of fiction from India, though they are 2017 releases, I’m eager to read Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints and Janice Pariat’s The Nine Chambered Heart.
One book I have been wanting to read for some time – and of which, in my enthusiasm, I ended up buying two copies in two different places – is Frank Trentmann’s Empire of Things. As the name suggests, the book is about the birth of consumerism and how, of all things in the world, goods and commodities emerged as forces to reckon with and shaped the world we see today, in the course of five eventful centuries.
As for a forthcoming work, there’s a long list but I shall be partial to one fascinating title – Desperately Seeking Shahrukh by Shrayana Bhattacharya. This covers a decade-long journey with working class women, all united, across geography and diverse personal circumstances, by their affection for a favourite film star, who becomes both a channel for escape as well as a catalyst for their own aspirations. I have heard one chapter at a reading, and it was both thoroughly entertaining and intellectually interesting.