Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

Book Closing For 2011

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 22, 2011

 2011 has been a satisfying year for my book reading pursuits. The gratifying development is that I edged forward on maturity, taste and consequently my choice of books to read. There is an amorphous but growing clarity on what literature should mean to me. In general, I am able to recognize what on an overall basis is good writing and differentiate it from not so good writing. My approach is increasingly aligning with what Oscar Wilde had to say about books and writing, which is that as a rule there are no good books or bad books; it is that books are well written or badly written. This distinction allows me to assay the material I read on ever refining, self-defined criteria of evaluation.  More importantly, I have begun to develop an independent view and courage to say boldly what of I read is to my liking and what is not. This has had a liberating impact in selecting books of my choice and reading them with a prior conviction and purpose which I am realizing is an often ignored but important prerequisite for any serious reading. I have just one life, so I have decided to take my chances and 2011 will go down as the year of acquiring this awareness

Wallace Stegner, Andrea Barret, Annie Proulx, Thornton Wilder, William Maxwell, William Styron, Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, Willa Cather, Susan Sontag, Bernard Malamud, Ray Bradbury are some of the new writers that I have read in 2011. Looking back this was also a year of scratching the surface of modern American fiction. To focus on this genre of fiction was a conscious choice. In non-fiction, Siddhartha Mukherjee‘s Pulitzer Prize winner “Emperor of All Maladies” has been a delightful read. Mukherjee writes this biography of cancer with an uncanny finesse of a historian despite being a medical man. This is an exhilarating book written with a narrative flourish that is rare, passionate and an endearing sense of compassion. Equally impressive was Sontag‘s “Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and its Metaphors“. Sontag writes with a clarity and passion that is breathtaking. I enjoyed this particular book immensely although at places the message tends to get repetitive

Somewhere during my engineering days I lost interest in science and kept away from reading anything that had to do with science. However, E.O.Wilson’s “The Creation” was a great read which reawakened my hunger for reading in science. I followed this up with five fantastic lectures of Prof. Vilayanur Ramachandran on the complexity and workings of human brain. Hopefully, 2012 will see more of this

Throughout the year my hunger for a well written word remained sustained and on some blessed days it almost bordered on a craving. Unless I read something intellectually and aesthetically stimulating, the restlessness remained unquenched. On such days I kept feeling like, Tony Castello, the out of work, odd jobs, hang-around-the-town alcoholic from John O Hara’s classic short story “We’ll Have Fun” who at one point declares poignantly  ” I’ve the rams”. I did too, but in my case the rams were strictly literary!

Newyorker, Paris Review, Guardian, NYBooks remained my favourite hunting grounds for literary material covering essays, short stories, book reviews and blogs. Truman Capote’s article on Marlan BrandoThe Duke in his Domain”, Kazuo Ishiguro’s A Village After Dark” were two pleasurable reads that I will remember prominently

The two literary prizes I followed closely this year were The Man Booker and The Hindu Literary Prize. From the shortlist of Booker, I found time to read Julian Barnes’sThe Sense Of An Ending”, A.D.Miller’sSnowdrops”, Carol Birch’s “Jamrach’s Menagerie and Patrick Dewitt’s “Brother Sisters”. Of these “The Sense of an Ending” was by far the most moving, ruminative and thoroughly enjoyable read. The Hindu literary prize went to Rahul Bhattacharya for his book “The Sly Company Of People Who Care”. I especially liked the fanfare around this prize for it will go a long way in developing a platform which will encourage a lot more people in India to read and also write. There is some fantastic talent that is flowering here. I have no doubt in my mind that a decade from now there will be a rich crop of talented writers and a substantial body of writing coming out of India.

Supply, it is said, creates its own demand and this was true for books in 2011. Despite grumbles and complaints for lack of space to store books, I continued to buy books. My shelves have begun to creak and groan. I bought in excess of 40 books this year, thanks to http://www.flipkart.com which has grown in leaps and bounds in its ability to provide the books of my choice. May it remain profitable, healthy and continue on its path of progress!! . Books, I am coming to realize will be my amulet against the twin blights of ignorance and boredom

I resurrected the long paused work on my novella. Among other things, I realized that writing can be hugely cathartic. While I am near certain that it will join the ranks of the countless, nameless, mute, exhausted and defeated millions of mid-way abandoned attempts, the work I’ve done in stringing sentences together to make them coherent and meaningful has magnified my respect for the written word of others. There is a visceral realisation that creation and criticism reside on either end of the difficulty continuum and that a tablespoon of original creativity is far more valuable than a ton of erudite criticism

Noted with sadness the death of Christopher Hitchens. The few essays of his that I read and the numerous YouTube videos of his I have seen confirmed the exceptional mind and eclectic knowledge this man carried with him. Combative, sharp and ready for an informed debate he was a treat to watch. Hope to read more of his writings in 2012

It is said that there is a place and time for everything. Reading is no exception to that logic. Looking back, I realize I have wasted tremendous amount of time in my younger days which I could have gainfully employed in reading. I realize that I have not read many of the well-known classics and am determined to make the needed amends. For sure, I will read some works of Dickens, Hardy, Dumas, Stevenson, Melville and Bronte Sisters. The unread books and wasted time add to the suffocating burden of guilt

To reiterate, 2011, by and large was a satisfactory year for reading. However, there have been a few disappointments too and the notable two were: I wanted to start a book club but was not able to do so. I think, there are a lot of closet book lovers and I wanted to find a way to draw a handful of them out and get going. I have offset this disappointment by joining an online book club at Guardian (can’t fight? then float). As part of that group I read Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” which I enjoyed immensely. As an extension, I also read a collection of his short stories viz. ‘The Illustrated Man” which was brilliant to say the least and also his “Zen in the art of writing” – a collection of essays on the craft of writing which I must say was a stunner. The other big disappointment was not being able to read any of Shakespeare’s plays which I was keen on doing in 2011. Hopefully, I will cover some ground beginning 2012

What do I look for in 2012? Barring a few chosen classics which I will cover without fail, in general, I would like to remain wayward and uncontrolled in my reading. In the world of reading that is the surest approach to remain steady, heady and ready to tread a gainful path

Welcome……  2012!!

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