Even as we face the deluge of year-end lists lauding the best books of 2018, it’s never too early to start planning your reading list for the year to come. Nine authors who wrote some of 2018’s most celebrated works told Scroll.in about two books that they’re each excited to dive into in 2019 – one that will be published in the coming year and another that they’ve been meaning to read for a while and are determined to finally get around to.
Amitabha Bagchi (Half The Night Is Gone)
This is cheating since I have already read this book in manuscript form but I am looking forward to a collection of short stories, Blue is like Blue by Vinod Kumar Shukla, translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Sara Rai. I have been puzzled and seduced by Vinod Kumar Shukla’s writing since I read Naukar ki Kameez in Hindi some years ago. Reading his prose is like ingesting a subclinical dose of a psychedelic substance, it ushers the reader into a world that teeters on the edge of reality, only occasionally falling over to the other side before quickly appearing to right itself again. A priori this mind-altering quality should not survive translation, but the translators have somehow managed.
An older book I am tempted to read this year is I Allan Sealy’s Zelaldinus. The recent attempts at vilifying them have brought the great Mughals back into the discussion of late, and I am keen on seeing what Sealy makes of Akbar at Fatehpur Sikri. But the thing is that no matter what he writes about – the spellbinding book he wrote before Zelaldinus was about a home improvement project – the pleasure of Sealy is in the prose and in observing how deep he cuts with it. He is an artist of such a high order that he would undoubtedly be one of the nine jewels in the grandest of courts.
Anita Nair (Eating Wasps)
Of the new releases in 2019, I would like to read Ali Smith’s Spring. I haven’t read Autumn or Winter but with Spring appearing in 2019, I am looking forward to reading it in sequence.
A book I have always meant to read but never gotten around to, and so hope I can at last in 2019, is Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. I have been meaning to read it ever since I first heard Lara’s Theme in a wind-up music box as a child. It was a beautiful piece of music and conjured up a series of images in my mind. However I was afraid that the book wouldn’t match what I had envisaged it to be. Time to find out in 2019.
Anuradha Roy (All The Lives We Never Lived)
What I am most looking forward to next year is A Book of Falsehoods by Jaan Kross. It is the final volume in a trilogy which began with Ropewalker, an epic of a novel set in the sixteenth century in what is now Estonia, chronicling the political rise of a young man in a time of war and intrigue. The writing is dazzling – cinematic, profound, sensuous all at once. Both Ropewalker and A People without a Past, the second book in the trilogy, were beautifully translated from the Estonian by Merike Lepasaar Beecher.
As for older books, I’ve been meaning to re-read Katherine Mansfield’s short stories for a while – I read them so long ago I remember their brilliance but have only a hazy memory of the actual stories. I also want to read Nirmal Verma’s stories, not in translation but in Hindi – that’s another thing I’ve been planning to do for ages.
Benyamin (Jasmine Days)
I want to read Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. His previous book, A Brief History of Seven Killings was an excellent reading experience. So I am eagerly waiting for his new work.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje has been in my bookshelf since long ago. Now that it has won the Golden Booker Prize I feel like I must read it.
Ira Mukhoty (Daughters of the Sun)
I am looking forward to reading William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy in 2019. This book will examine the rise of the East India Company in mid-18th century India after the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II loses the Battle of Buxar. This period in history is fascinating, with the appearance of a number of extremely eccentric, colourful European adventurers within the tapestry of India, as a company of merchants takes over from one of the wealthiest empires in the world. Dalrymple combines an outsider’s eye for clinical insights with an insider’s vested passion and this promises to be a rambunctious and enlightening read.
I have decided I must finally read Ismat Chughtai’s A Life in Words in 2019. Reading books in translation is always fraught for me, shackled as I am by a sense of shame that I cannot read any Indian language with fluency. But translation in India is seeing a real resurgence now and I am determined to read many more translations of Indian language writers. Chughtai, considered one of the most important writers in Urdu for dealing with themes like female sexuality, wrote A Life in Words describing her early struggles to become a writer in a middle-class Muslim family.
Mahesh Rao (Polite Society)
I’ll be reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong next year. I loved Vuong’s poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, which is full of captivating imagery, tender recollections, and potent lines that almost give you whiplash. His debut novel has been described as a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read, which seems to allow for all kinds of possibilities in form and tone. The book also has an irresistible title and I can’t wait to read it.
I bought my copy of Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman, translated by Robert Chandler, almost eight years ago (the receipt is still in the book). Often called the Soviet War and Peace, not only is it widely considered a masterpiece, a few writers I admire have described it as “life-changing”. This heavy burden is probably the reason why it has remained neglected on my shelf. It is also 850 pages long. But in January, I plan to plunge into its great cast of characters, their lives transformed by a seemingly endless war and unbending ideology. I hope I succeed as it is my sole New Year’s resolution.
Parvati Sharma (Jahangir)
I’m excited about Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. It’s a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and due in September 2019. I’m looking forward with a mix of hope and trepidation though, because The Handmaid’s Tale is such a favourite of mine that I’m almost anxious for the sequel to live up to it. Even if it doesn’t, I’d still love to know how Atwood imagines Offred’s new life (and Serena Joy’s reaction to her escape).
There are so many books that I’ve meant to read for so long (Anna Karenina springs immediately to mind) that I might as well admit that it will be serendipity, not determination, that’ll get me around to them. Instead, I’m planning to read a book that I’ve been wanting to for much of 2018: Amitabha Bagchi’s Half the Night Is Gone. I enjoyed Bagchi’s The Householder immensely and, from what I’ve read about it, Half the Night Is Gone is even better.
Ranjit Hoskote (Jonahwhale)
I look forward very much to reading Amitav Ghosh’s Gun Island. I’ve grown up with Amitav’s writing. His earliest novels appeared when I was in my late teens, and I embraced them aged 18 and 19. At the heart of his work is a contemporary sense of the pilgrimage as a voyage into risk and hazard, made through percussive discovery and the prising-up of phantom histories, moving towards a hard-won knowledge that transforms the pilgrim.
In January, I will read Kedarnath Singh’s first poetry collection, Abhi Bilkul Abhi (1960). An extraordinary poet, Kedarnath-ji relayed a complex relationship to history, folklore, contending ideologies, and the textures of everyday postcolonial life into language that was lapidary, luminous, deceptively crafted to seem plain. He was rather like the shape-shifting, kaleidoscopic tiger at the heart of his book-length poem, Baagh. I have been reading Kedarnath-ji backwards, from the later books to the earlier ones.
Snigdha Poonam (Dreamers)
The two books I will certainly read in 2019 happen to be about women and written by women.
Desperately Seeking Shahrukh is World Bank economist Shrayana Bhattacharya’s exploration of the emotional and sexual lives of India’s young working women. It features eight stories of working women she met over 10 years of development research projects. I know from reading an early chapter that the ways in which Shahrukh fandom unites these women, from the drawing rooms of Lodhi Estate to the farms of Latehar, as they cope with masculine worlds at home and work will be delightful and heartbreaking.
Currently researching the life and crimes of a woman who conned various men and killed one, I have been looking for books featuring women criminals who do it just because they can. A few weeks ago, I read an interview with Oyinkan Braithwaite, the writer of the critically acclaimed noir from 2018, My Sister, the Serial Killer. The book is about two sisters: one kills men and the other cleans up after. I was struck by something Braithwaite said about the killer. “There’s this narrative that a woman will only commit a certain act if she’s been beaten into it, or if its a form of survival, or self defence, and I guess I wanted to see – what if it wasn’t like that?”