Saturday, December 26, 2009

New leaves

Well, we’ve hit what Americans call ‘the holiday season’. It’s a time for conviviality and cheer as people bid good riddance to what they almost invariably feel was the worst year of their lives and trustingly welcome what they almost invariably think is going to be a better year. (This is what literary critics call ‘dramatic irony’, but let us not dwell on sorrowful things.)

There are upsides to the holiday season. One of them is that I get to look back at the year and make lists and don’t need to cross anything off any of them, which feels normal and right because it ends up looking just like all the other lists I would make if I were organised enough to make lists.

One of the obvious lists you’d expect from someone who pretends to read books is a list of the books she pretended to have read during the year. But even if I were someone who made lists, mine would be very short, because years of hard relaxing have whittled my attention span down to next to nothing. There was a time when I could spend twelve hours a day reading without superfluous interruptions like eating or breathing; but now, reading a whole book over four months feels like a heroic accomplishment. Just to be perfectly upfront, this is not due to lack of time, but because of aforesaid gnat-like attention span.

By the way, speaking of reading and deficient attention, have you held a Kindle in your hands? I’m not embarrassed to say I’m sorry, I was wrong, the Kindle is a fine invention. Clear screen, easy navigation, beautiful size, and a hell of a lot more wieldy than carrying thousands of books in your knapsack. The fact that you aren’t actually holding a binding with fragrant pages is a small price to pay for the convenience of it.

But just for the hell of it, let me make a list anyway, of books that I have any reason at all to mention. Among the most overlooked books of the year, in my humble opinion, is Amrita Kumar’s Damage, a wonderful portrayal of a pretty twisted mother-daughter relationship. But probably the most overlooked—and I don’t understand why everyone isn’t screaming about it from the rooftops—is Summertime, the third fictionalised autobiography, after Boyhood and Youth, by JM Coetzee (pronounced Kuut-see-uh or Kuut-see, but definitely not Kwetsy). Coetzee has always been one of my favourite writers—bleak as bones and about as sunny as pitch. But Summertime features some of the best writing on love that I’ve ever read, as well as just some of the best writing.

Then there were books that were written by people I know—four such books, which I’m happy to say I loyally read from cover to cover but won’t talk about any more than that, other than to say you should rush out and buy them all.

I loved Solo. I’m not sure how it’s doing, but it deserves to be read and read again. I didn’t like Chai, Chai very much at all. I liked Daniyal Mueenuddin’s In Other Worlds, Other Wonders immensely, and am still dipping into Mridula Koshy’s If it is Sweet.

The longest list is, as ever, made up of those books I haven’t yet gotten around to reading: Leaving India by Minal Hajratwala, Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus, William Dalrymple’s Nine Lives, Aatish Taseer’s Stranger to History.

I’ve got to have something left over to read in the new year before the next crop comes out, after all, and—this is my New Year’s resolution—I intend to catch up on everything pretty soon. Right after I play my turn at Scrabble.

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