A most satisfying year, reading-wise. For the first time ever, I was able to complete 100 books!
(OK, there was some cheating – some are online stories, some are cartoon collections, and I did not finish two – but in a count of one hundred, some leeway is allowed, no?)
I have rated the books (on Goodreads) as follows:
5 stars – 7
4 stars – 39
3 stars – 34
2 stars – 9
1 star – 11
An average of 3.22 – below my normal 3.47 average. But this does not mean I had a bad year – there were many books I read knowing fully well were awful – Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back and The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature – just to have the satisfaction of trashing them (mean SOB, aren’t I?). And some, like Love Letter to America and Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are political diatribes which I read only for the sake of education.
Coming to the top-ranked seven, I would recommend A Tale of Love and Darkness to anybody – this is a magical book, a memoir of growing up in Israel, in equal parts exhilarating, terrifying and depressing. I still have not been able to formulate a review for this terrific reading experience. Amos Oz is a genius.
Maus, I: A Survivor’s Tale: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, II: And Here My Troubles Began are awesome reads; it shows how the medium of comics can be used to tell a serious story in a very effective way.
Everybody Loves a Good Drought, even though excellent, may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I would recommend it to people who think economic liberalisation is the ultimate aim of a free democracy, just to understand the ruins we stand on as we reach upwards. An eye-opening read about poverty in India, though not very edifying.
The other three five-star books are fun reads – What Pooh Might Have Said to Dante and Other Futile Speculations, WTF, Evolution?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design and What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions.
Category-wise, my list looks like this:
Graphic Novels: 3
Good balance between fiction and non-fiction there.
Also, I have read three novels by Japanese authors and eight books in Malayalam. I am happy to see that I am branching out into non-English literature, but I need to read more Malayalam books.
I read three remarkable short story collections this year: Among the Missing by Dan Chaon, Willful Creatures by Aimee Bender and Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser. All three had refreshing approaches to the medium of the short story, which, IMO, is one of the most difficult forms of literature to write.
I also had the opportunity to read a number of good short stories online. There is a goldmine of such stories scattered around the internet. Some sources:
On the non-fiction front, I discovered the Very Short Introduction series. These extremely thin books open a window on to a wide variety of subjects: encapsulated knowledge for a generation with very little time on its hands. These books are excellent, even though the quality varies from one to another somewhat.
Looking back, I also see that I have managed to read four of Shirley Jackson’s novels finally. I have become an ardent fan and intends to read all of her novels.
One terrific genre read was Alice, Christina Henry‘s extremely dark interpretation of the much-loved children’s book. This one is not for those with queasy stomachs – rape, torture and mutilation abound in its pages.
Apart from the one by Amos Oz I mentioned above, there were two excellent memoirs I perused – Maya Angelou‘s famous I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog. Both can be called “subaltern” narratives, stories from a lesser-privileged section of the society – and by women. This in turn lead me to reading Maya’s lovely poetry.
I read two extremely funny books – Dogbert’s Top Secret Management Handbook by the inimitable Scott Adams and Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free by Charles P. Pierce. These books demonstrate what an effective weapon humour is – against which you have no defence other than laughter. Verily, it is true that “one horse laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms”!
On the subject of humour, I pondered a moral question at length: is it permissible to laugh at Hitler? This dialogue was prompted by the book Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes. I was attacked for my opinion that laughter is permissible in any situation, for my callous disregard for holocaust victims. This in turn lead me to reading Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany, an excellent book about gallows humour during the Third Reich- and restored my faith in humanity’s ability to laugh in any situation.
Reading about the Holocaust guided me to another book: Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil by Ron Rosenbaum. This is a book filled with extensive research on a particular era of our history when a considerable section of the world fell under the spell of a deranged madman. What made him tick, and what was the source of his apparent hold over the populace? These are fascinating questions, especially in a world more prone to racial hatred at any other time than any other time in recent history.
Another exhaustive study on an equally unpalatable topic – rape – is by Susan Brownmiller. In Against Our Will Men, Women And Rape, the author explores various forms of this particular crime in extensive detail and with merciless objectivity. Though tough to get through, I think this is a must-read book.
I must also mention two thrillers written by women authors which seems to have taken the reading world by storm: Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train. Even though hyped, I found both these books underwhelming, with some huge plot holes – some as big as craters. The Shadow of the Wind is another hugely praised book which I felt, did not live up to its hype.
And last but not least, I read The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, with all its violence and sex – a project which has been long pending.