JOY OF READING- THE LOCKDOWN EDIT
An occasional lazy Sunday morning in bed with the sun streaming through my window and a book in my hands – that’s my idea of paradise on earth! A vacation in the mountainside, a road trip to the countryside, a day out by the beach, a rainy afternoon in the balcony…I’m always the girl with a book. I am not a nerd, but as much as I enjoy other activities, these silent companions have never left my side.
Let me begin by saying, this isn’t a “books-you-must-read-before-you-die” blog or even a “books-to-read-during-the-lockdown” list. This is simply a recollection of some of the best books I’ve read and think might help you keep your mind off things during these trying times!! Time and again they’ve satiated my hunger for words wrapped in those fine printed pages I’ve been craving since childhood!
Before you dive any further, I owe you an advance apology for judging a book’s cover (not necessarily every book by its cover) because it contributes a great deal to the first impression it makes on me when I am about to pick it up at a bookstore or purchase it online. Then of course I softly caress its pages, smell them when no one’s looking and finally proceed to reading its gist and reviews on the back. Based on the overall lingering feeling it leaves me with, I indulge. These are not necessarily in order of my liking.
1. Forty Rules of Love: A novel within a novel, The Forty Rules of Love tells two parallel stories that mirror each other across two very different cultures and seven intervening centuries. In this lyrical, exuberant follow-up to her novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, acclaimed Turkish author Elif Shafak unfolds two tantalizing parallel narratives—one contemporary and the other set in the thirteenth century, when Rumi encountered his spiritual mentor, the whirling dervish known as Shams of Tabriz—that together incarnate the poet's timeless message of love. And love is all you shall feel as you flip through its pages until the very last that endures a huge gap in the timelines of the two stories! It may not be your conventional form of love that conveniently follows the rules and brings pure joy and joy alone but the kind that feels divine even when a silent teardrop rolls down your cheek as you close the book and clasp it with both your hands.
2. The Bastard of Istanbul: By now you know I am in love with this outstanding and outspoken writer so I traced back a few steps to the prequel to Forty Rules of Love (never the one to follow rules you see!) Populated with vibrant characters, it is the story of two families – one Turkish and one Armenian American – and their struggle to forge their unique identities against the backdrop of Turkey’s violent history. Engulfed by her beautiful words, priceless humor, numerous questions, it sets every reader on her own quest for truth, knowing that there’s both beauty and poison inside all of us…what matters is what we choose to use. It was the cover that snared me, reminded me of those stunning mosaics and arches and mosques and so much more Istanbul has to offer. You’re in for a treat to your mind and eyes!
3. Anna Karenina: True love exists! There I said it. But this literary classic novel is not only about love. It is a tragedy and not an easy read I must warn you. A woman risks everything she has, including her own life, in pursuit of true love, and the pursuit is ultimately fatal. But there is a good deal of happiness amid the traumatic happenings of this book. Acclaimed by many as the world's greatest novel, Anna Karenina provides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in all of literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfil her passionate nature - with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author's own views and convictions. But here is the best part - throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. So, can you be a spectator without the judgment?
4. A Suitable Boy: I remember the day this thick book of 1349 pages enveloped in an illustrated cover arrived, because that was the only good vibe I felt that day. Little did I know that the brilliantly portrayed characters, the eloquently written storyline and the graphic conversations would engross me for not only during the time I was reading it but for a long, long time since. The melding of personal lives seen amidst great national events of the post-independence and post-partition politics will leave you bewitched! To those of you who’ve watched and liked the Netflix series and those who haven’t – gather enough courage to pick up this book and allow Vikram Seth to do his magic and his words shape the characters in your mind afresh, no dialogues being skipped, no scenarios left undescribed! You won’t regret it even if you hated the series. Seth looks at the lives of four families intertwined by marriage and friendship. And all the detail—and it is indeed loving detail—is very necessary to immerse you in the India of the 1950s, and what it felt like to be alive then. We get details of village life, life in the city, life of the different castes, business life, religious life, modern life, traditional life. It’s all in there. And it works in tandem with several great stories of love and passion, and what these mean, both at the level of family, romance, and nation. Word has it that Seth is working on a follow up (not sure if it’s a sequel as such) to be called “A Suitable Girl”. I, for one, can’t wait!
5. A Man Called Ove: Fredrik Backman teaches you to handle the book with gentle care as though anything else might actually bruise its pages and hurt the grumpy yet loveable man called Ove who finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door. Behind the unamusing, cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness that has great humor and greater heart! This tale will make you appreciate life!
6. Shantaram: It is an epic, mesmerizing novel set in the underworld of contemporary Bombay. I’ll admit persevering through 900 pages is not easy, unless you give yourself completely to the author’s world. And it’ll change the way you look at your own world. Burning slums and five-star hotels, romantic love and prison agonies, criminal wars and Bollywood films, spiritual gurus and mujaheddin guerrillas—this huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart.
“For this is what we do. Put one foot forward and then the other. Lift our eyes to the snarl and smile of the world once more. Think. Act. Feel. Add our little consequence to the tides of good and evil that flood and drain the world. Drag our shadowed crosses into the hope of another night. Push our brave hearts into the promise of a new day. With love: the passionate search for a truth other than our own. With longing: the pure, ineffable yearning to be saved. For so long as fate keeps waiting, we live on. God help us. We live on.” -Gregory David Roberts
7. The Book Thief: Death introduces himself as the narrator of the novel. The first time he saw the book thief, he says, was on a train. The next time he saw her was when he came for a pilot who had crashed his plane. And the third time was after a bombing. He associates a color with each sighting: white, red, and black, the colors of the Nazi flag. Death then begins the story. The biggest question for me was whether or not to start reading a story knowing the end since its beginning. Luckily I made the right choice. Through the books she steals, reads, and writes, she (the book thief) evolves from a powerless character to a powerful character who deeply empathizes with the voiceless.
Some books and their characters imprint on you because of the time in your life when you meet them. This book had been recommended by a friend (a fellow booklover) a long time ago and yet I started reading it only when the time was right for me. And the time since then had never been the same again. I vividly remember on the day I was left with its last few pages I asked my mother in an agonizing voice – “what am I going to do now that this story is almost over?” and she answered in her usual calm demeanor – “why, move on to the next, of course!” So I did.
8. The Century Trilogy:
a) Whether you're a history wonk who knows everything or a novice who knows nothing, ‘Fall of Giants’ by Ken Follett is both a great learning tool and a stunning novel. The fictional characters are unforgettable, mostly lovable (even when you hate them), and historically accurate, giving it the best of both worlds. Forget what you learned in History class. Fall of Giants will teach you more about WWI than school ever did! But don’t let this review fool you into thinking it’s all facts and no fiction, because it’s a great work of fiction too. It’s a story that follows several families through World War 1. But the book is so much more than that. It’s also about forbidden love, social duty, and the effects of war on individuals, families, and cities. If you’re into politics and fascinated by what leads countries and leaders to make the hard choices they do, then you’ve all the more reasons to love it.
b) Ever experienced the feeling of extreme happiness mingled with heartbreaking sadness when you’re about to finish reading a book, realizing your painfully slow pace was only because you never really wanted it to end? I did. Which is why it’s wonderful that Ken Follet decided to write this saga on historical fiction! Winter of the World picks up right where the first book left off, as its five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, Welsh—enter a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the Spanish Civil War and the great dramas of World War II, up to the explosions of the American and Soviet atomic bombs. It is intense, it is complex and it is exhilarating!!
c) Edge of Eternity is the sweeping, passionate conclusion to Ken Follett’s extraordinary historical epic, The Century Trilogy. As always with Follett, the historical background is brilliantly researched and rendered, the action fast-moving, the characters rich in nuance and emotion. With the hand of a master, he brings us into a world we thought we knew but now will never seem the same again. But you must remember that at its core, it is still fiction! Would you dare to take up this challenge?
9. Tintin Boxed Set by Hergé: Every time my brother & I visited a bookstore, we would rush to the familiar aisle where our beloved comic books were invitingly arranged. My brother would keep his nose buried into each of these Tintin books, and my job was to confiscate them only to figure out what’s so special about them. That’s probably when I started building a connection to each of these characters. Now would be the perfect time to reminisce stories of our fearless reporter Tintin, his lovable and loyal dog Snowy, our very own Professor Calculus and my absolute favorite Captain Haddock, who definitely occupied most of our childhood reading time. Even if it didn’t, there is no better time to start. Since there are some book collectors amongst you I highly recommend this deluxe special edition boxed set of 23 Tintin classic graphic novels, collected in seven hardcover volumes plus a bonus book revealing their origins, inspirations, and the source of their enduring fascination. And guess what, it all comes packaged in a handsome slipcase. Need we even discuss this further? Didn’t think so. Go relive your childhood.
10. The Complete Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson: This edition of unquestionably one of the most popular comic strips of all time comes as a boxed set of three hardcover, four-color volumes in a sturdy slipcase, and includes all Calvin and Hobbes cartoons that ever appeared in syndication. This is the treasure that all fans truly seek. But, there is a deeper meaning behind the creation of these cartoons. The two main characters were named after the 16th-century theologian John Calvin and the 17th-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Go on, gift it to your kid when in reality it’s for you because it is only as a grown-up that you can fully understand Calvin, a precocious, mischievous and adventurous six-year-old boy; and Hobbes, his sardonic stuffed tiger.
Reading not only improves our vocabulary and writing skills, it is also said to enhance concentration and analytical thinking, while reducing stress. Reading also develops our imagination power and allows us to dream and think in ways that we would have never been able to before. Being trapped at one place with the mind constantly at fear, books become our greatest medium of escape into places we couldn’t have otherwise visited, people we couldn’t have otherwise met, and stories we couldn’t have otherwise heard. At this moment, don’t you feel we need all of that a tad bit more?