Did you know that UNESCO keeps an eye on the number and type of books published in every country every year? It counts as an index of a country’s standard of living and education. As per Wikipedia, the United Kingdom led the pack in 2005 with an astonishing 205, 000 books, closely followed by the United States with 172, 000 titles. And this, presumably, not counting self published books, etc. India clocks in a quarter down the list at number 17, between Finland and Sweden, with 11, 903 books published in 1996.
The Publishing Horizon, however, notes that that number jumped to 18, 212 in 2001-2002. So, yay. Especially if you read English, Tamil, Hindi, Bengali or Marathi coz your writers are increasing output.
All this makes me happy because it means I will never run out of reading material. This means a great deal to me because my favorite authors all write excruciatingly slowly or are dead. I try not to blame them for either condition. However, out of the hundreds and thousands of books published this year, we will hear perhaps of ten. Let me contribute to your list – here are the four books that I most look forward to reading in the coming month.
The World is What it is – An authorized biography of controversial writer and Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul by Patrick French. Everybody’s attention seems fixed on the details of his sex life but to me, the real story here is what French calls “at once an act of narcissism and humility”: his amazing feat of building up a fairly repulsive persona in a very gently spoken, completely frank and oddly attractive person. I’ve always felt this push-pull reaction to his work, equal parts repulsion and attraction, which makes it impossible for me to get a firm grip on the man behind the words. From the excerpts, this biography continues my journey with him – he lays himself completely bare and is even more a study of contrasts. My favorite bit from the three excerpts published this week in Outlook (sub might be req’d):
When he visited India for the first time in 1962, V.S. Naipaul had written to a friend: “The injection of religion into politics is the curse of this country, and…will throw India more and more into the hands of the Hindu reaction, as distasteful as any other type of fanaticism.” Thirty years later, when zealots smashed a mosque in Ayodhya built by the Mughal emperor Babur, Vidia felt a surge of excitement…He gave an interview to the Times of India which suggested in guarded terms that he approved of what had happened…The political fragmentation and the hundreds of deaths in the rioting that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid were not his concern: “I didn’t kill them myself.”
I simply cannot wait to read this book.
John Adams – I’d heard about this biography of America’s second President by David McCullough when it was first published back in 2001 and thought vaguely about picking it up. After all, I’d read the biography of his wife, the highly accomplished Abigail Adams. That interest has been reawakened now because I’m watching the HBO series based on this book. As a sidenote: I love HBO and the fact that they spend $100 million on things like biographies and historical dramas.
The Adventures of Amir Hamza – A fat book bursting with promise that I just brought home today, this collection of Urdu fables featuring the Prophet Mohammad’s uncle has garnered favorable reviews from pretty much everybody. Jabberwock has a conversation with the author here.
Anybody who has ever interviewed LK Advani will know that he is an unusual Indian politician in the sense that he does not shy away from discussing issues. He is unusual also in that he is comfortable with ideas and happy to conduct an intellectual argument. If he has faults, they lie in his sensitive nature. He is remarkably thin-skinned for a politician, will often take needless offence and equally, will be easily and tearfully overwhelmed. Plus, he is reluctant to cause hurt. Rarely will he say anything bad about any of his colleagues even when the truth might do him more good than the evasions he sometimes resorts to.
Advani’s strengths and weaknesses are captured in his new book, My Country, My Life, (Rupa). It is a readable, rewarding and often racy account of his political career. Written from the heart, it is part-memoir and part-manifesto. But he pulls his punches. And so, his account of his time at the head of his party is only half-complete. Many of the mysteries of the last ten years are not solved and, frequently, we can only guess at the truth by what is left unsaid.
Hmm. This is why autobiographies work best when published post humously – no need to pull any punches then.