My Books This April

26 Mar

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.

My Country My Life – L.K. Advani’s autobiography. This one is a no-brainer for me. I just hope it lives up to the hype. Here’s what Vir Sanghvi says:

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.


Posted by on March 26, 2008 in Books, Entertainment


10 responses to “My Books This April

  1. archikins

    March 26, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    If you are into philosophy/contemplation, check this one out – A New Earth Awakening to Your Lifes Purpose Book by Eckhart Tolle I was initially somehow averse to it since it was picked as an Oprah book club book – dont know why…i thought it would be superficial and shallow….but turns out that this book is pretty intense – atleast the first couple chapters i read. My mom totally loves this book – so there, may be a good gift idea too

    p.s. hope i got the link right this time…pls delete the other two comments.

  2. sidekick

    March 27, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Amrita, thanks for the list. You worry abt running out of books to read? I’m envious coz I’m always disparately fighting a losing battle to catch up with my readng list 😦

    John Adams seems to be getting raves on HBO and the book is still on the NYT bestseller list. Defi the one that intrigues me the most.

  3. Amrita

    March 27, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Archikins – want to hear something funny? I left that book off this list for precisely that reason 😀 But if you say it’s good then I’ll put it back on the list. Thanks for the reco!

    Sidekick – it’s a long story but basically I’m addicted and I’m a really fast reader so I go through stuff like crazy. Thank god for libraries and used books coz otherwise i’d be dead broke.

    I have to do a John Adams review soon. The series I mean although the book could probably do with one too.

  4. Aspi

    March 27, 2008 at 10:35 am

    This spike in published material in India always makes me suspicious. People tend to read a lot of religion/mythology which is fine, but there is difference between becoming more spiritually educated and more worldly.

    In any case the publishing industry in the US disappoints me as well. Its become way too turgid. Its not the quality of writing that I’m whining about (God knows I have no right :)) but the quality of ideas.

    Which is why, IMO, the finest reading available today: The Economist. Their monetarily driven analysis works really well for me because I can map my humanity on it without interference.

  5. M

    March 27, 2008 at 11:34 am


    Thanks for he list – am always looking for new books to try.

    Waiting for the LK Advani one as well…have asked family in India to buy it ASAP.


  6. Rada

    March 28, 2008 at 11:16 am

    Advani’s book, Amrita?

    Why do I feel vaguely disappointed? 😦

    And remember, it is close to a thousand pages!

    Anyway, each unto their own, I guess! 🙂

  7. Amrita

    March 28, 2008 at 1:01 pm

    Aspi – as long as they’re not counting self published books, I’m ok. And while I’m naturally suspicious of everything, the indian growth makes sense to me coz it’s only in the past ten years that the indian publishing business has grown. I don’t know about the quality of ideas though. Mohsin Hamid thinks there havent been any exciting new Indian writers in the past 20 years or so and sadly, I’m beginning to wonder if he has a point. At least in English, which is what he was talking about. I think there are some very interesting books being written in other languages that arent getting translated.
    Also, agree with the Economist choice. It entertains me even while I disagree with it. 😀

    M – any time 🙂 I dont know what kind of books you like to read but I always have recommendations handy if you want any. I read pretty much everything i can find.

    Rada – lol! No, it’s not an indication of my political beliefs if thats what you’re thinking. I just want to know what the man at the forefront of the single largest political movement to have developed in India over the past fifty years has to say. If he’s as interesting a person as everyone says then it might be a good book. I dearly hope it isnt like the prosy bores that party brothers Jaswant and Yashwant put out.

  8. Gagan

    March 30, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    Actually not read the excerpts of this when I made that last comment about Naipaul. Was a big fan but not so much now. When I first read him I was a little naive, didn’t understand the broader implications of what he would say. He was just so technically brilliant that reading his journalism was like the best kind of travel writing, evocative and an attempt at the bigger picture. Agree with what Dalrymple says about him, how the brilliance of he prose disguises a jaundiced world view, and frankly one where he does not seem to read that much. think that’s his gift and curse. as a novelist he can conjure up these alternate worlds but they’re of his own making and his many limitations. It’s like in his ambition to come up with a unique ” world view” he has surrendered to some of the worst aspects of the imperial world, that the colonials have no larger reference points than what foreigners ascribe to them. It’s so condescending. His ” world view” as I understand it now is that the first world makes nice stuff and the third world is jelous coz they don’t- actually said this on a charlie rose interview- Now h eis all for India cos its rising but its like he will not criticize the status quo as it veers far too the right and kind of leaves people by the wayside, when that is what everyone is kind of waking up to. Like Hari Kunzru said about him, ” he’s a silly old man at the fag end of his career” does not get that as you get development you get concern about civil rights, feminist ideas- but the fucker shouts people down at writing conferences, like he’s from victorian england.I skimmed the theroux book about him cos it interested me including the sexual hypocrisies cos i think it says something about the persona he has created. I read an article i liked in india by a journalist there. really summed him up. He brought up Naipaul’s name background etc, caste group, and Naipaul would not listen, then took him to a tomb of martyrs. While there he played up to Naipaul’s angle, faking whispered outrage to see if it would appear in his written account. Then some little conflict arose, something that sounded minor. Naipaul closed himself off and left, no allowances for the moment. the journalist read the account, remarked at the brilliance and how he forgot none of the fine details, including as the high point the outrage. It just summed up the man and his method to me… seeing what he wants to see.But at the same time as a writer, technically he is peerless or was at one time. I think i object most to the way in which he thinks he can say things about India and Indians that are really echoes of a different presumptive time and he has been given reign becos he is brown. Who knows it may have been marketing during his era….sorry for rambling could go on ..but will stop

  9. Amrita

    April 1, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Gagan – I could talk about this all day so I get you 🙂 Actually thought of turning this into a post but will comment instead.

    I think there are two Naipauls: one is the Naipaul of his imagination who lives in his prose and then there is the Naipaul of the world we live in. And in a sense both are constructs of the actual Naipaul, whom we never get to see except in brief glimpses.

    The Naipaul of fiction is far more sympathetic because his sense of disconnect is so apparent and readily reachable. The emotional landscape is complex and engaging. On the other hand, the Naipaul of the travelogues reminds me of the fussy 19th century English traveller who finds himself in the middle of the most extraordinary events and places but can’t concentrate on anything other than the inferior quality of his pillow at the local hotel. It’s like he doesnt know what to do once people step out of his imagination and follow their own minds.

    And then there is the Naipaul behind these two, the one who hides in plain sight. He publishes his devastatingly frank letters, never bothers with a polite lie when a controversial frankness will do better, and is the most gentle and humorous man in TV interviews. And then he does things that are decidedly ungentle and ill humored.

    These are the reasons why I would like to read his biography. Because I’d like to see what French has been able to do with his all access card.

  10. Gagan

    April 5, 2008 at 9:23 pm

    you put it far more gracefully than my roid rage there. There is more to him than technique, much more. I just get repulsed by the intellectual bully in him. He is a vulnerable little thing so I can understand how he can be shrill at times. Yeah, and the controversy probably a marketing ploy before they admitted such things. Theroux mentioned he would time the statements to coincide with the release date of a new book. Some of them are funny and antiquated. He went on about Charles DIckens being bunk or something to that effect one time. It was hilarious cos it was such a dated reference. The other was that Indians are all about technology and little about real thought so much- his take on blogging and new media. Think he thought that everyone spends hours coding with little writing. Sure someone would have corrected him if he were ready to listen. the French book does look good. Like u say a must read. No matter what u can’t just reject him. the work is at times astonishing. I read bend in the river and i can just see how much work went into producing that, amazing book.

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