Monthly Archives: December 2012

My Top 50 Reads of 2012

It has been a great year of reading. So much has been read. A little way too much actually. I have managed to read 180 books in all and the feeling is beyond what words can explain. Everything seems surreal and wonderful. Books as always proved to be there throughout the year. Some I left midway and some I completed and most of them I loved. So to decide which books were my best reads out of 180 reads has not been easy, and yet I have to write this post as the end of the year is close and right round the corner. After all, a great new year of reading will soon begin.

So here are my favourite reads of 2012. I have tried to keep in to 50 books. It might move to more. Also, it is not necessary that the books I have read and enjoyed were all published in 2012. Some have been old reads, which I either discovered or rediscovered so to say.

1. You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik: Paris. An English teacher. His sly and students with cruel intentions. An affair gone wrong and it all comes falling down.

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2. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil: Bombay and its underbelly. A eunuch and the city in all its glory and muck. A great read. I was disappointed when it did not win the Booker Prize.

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3. The Selected Stories of Merce Rodoreda: A lesser known writer and a collection of short stories which are weird, funny and full of heartache and loss. I had never even heard of the writer before picking up this book, but now I will have to hunt for more works.

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4. We the Animals by Justin Torres: A family. A grouping of stories. Demented lives, and fractured tales and yet something soothing and hopeful at the end of it all.

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5. Unpacking My Library: Writers and their Books: Edited by Leah Price: Writers and their bookshelves. Selected writers choose their favourite books (all-time). A joy to read with pictures of their libraries. Stunning in most cases.

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6. Smut: Stories by Alan Bennett: Two unlikely stories by the master story-teller. A little out of place in today’s time and yet where the writing is concerned, no one can surpass him. Hence, this book made it to my list.

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7. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo: If a book manages to tell you more about your city and give you a totally different perspective, then maybe the book has impacted you a lot. This one did it for me. It spoke to me about Mumbai and its dark corners and life that survives. Brilliant writing!

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8. Coltrane by Paolo Parisi: This book made me aware of John Coltrane and its music. It is a graphic novel which is so different and refreshing. A must read for Jazz fans.

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9. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson: Safety nets no longer exist. Life is not predictable. Nothing remains the same. Everything changes. Jeanette Winterson’s memoir/autobiography was one that was the closest to me this year. I could identify with her on so many levels. The awareness of sexual identity and its repercussions are empathetically portrayed in this one.

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10. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka: Japanese Women. Illegal immigrants. Different lives and the same story at the core. Trying to adjust to a new country – the US of A. Alienation, loneliness and oddity at the heart of the book.

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11. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan: Nothing like a book that defines love in such a beautiful manner, making a story that could be anyone’s story. The Lover’s Dictionary is an ode to love – a subtle love letter to love and its nature.

Buy The Lover

12. A Life in Words: Memoirs by Ismat Chughtai: Feisty. Not giving up in the face of any adversity. A writer and her memoirs. Her life and how she got to where she did.

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13. Please Look after Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin: A mother. Her kids. Her absent husband. Her life as lived before she disappeared. A book full of love and loss and vulnerability. Something that no avid reader should miss.

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14. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: The past and the present merge beautifully in this novel of Hollywood and simple lives. It is something unique and unlike what you would have had read. At least for me it was.

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15. Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan: Jazz is the main character of this book. Three African-American men. Germany. A jazz group. Friendships broken and some formed. Misunderstandings. Love. Losses.

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16. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: Need I have to say anything about why this was one of my top reads this year? I don’t think so either.

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17. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck: A classic sometimes moves you like no other genre of literature can. This one sure had that effect on me. Two friends. One wanting it all. The other satisfied in what he can get. Life has its own plans.

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18. The Arrival by Shaun Tan: The immigrant experience couldn’t have been put better than how this book portrays it. I am so glad I got a chance to experience this book and so must you.

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19. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel: How can one not love reading about the incidents that led to the execution of Anne Boleyn? I love the Tudor Era and how this book said it all through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.

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20. The Submission by Amy Waldman: Two years have passed since the 9/11 attacks. A contest to build a memorial. A clear winner. Mohammed Khan, an architect who is as much a citizen of US of A as anyone else. But of course there are problems and issues. A great romp of a read.

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21. Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto: This book shines in so many ways that it was just impossible not to have it included in my list. A family dealing with a mother’s state of mind and coping through with hope and uncanny way of loving.

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22. Lovers by Daniel Arsand: 18th Century Love. Love between two men. Forbidden. Consequences. Poetry of the language. Arsand deserves a standing ovation for this one.

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23. I am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran: An unusual collection of love stories. A Bengal Tiger in Love. Loved that story and it still stays with me. The rest of them are also very good.

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24. The Free World by David Bezmozgis: 1978. The migrant experience of a Russian family in Rome, on their way to the US. Everything eventually falls apart. Outstanding read of the year.

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25. The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger: A Bengali woman from Bangladesh. An American man. An unusual marriage. A different perspective.

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26. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt: A fourteen-year old who loses her uncle to AIDS and strikes a friendship with his partner, getting to know more about her uncle and the family secrets.

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27. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson: North Korea. The son of an orphan master. A spy. A love story that jumps unexpectedly out of the pages. Different narratives. A little difficult to read at times, but definitely worth it.

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28. Winter Journal by Paul Auster: A writer’s life. His journey almost. His writing. The anguish most of the time. An introspective re-telling.

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29. The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya: Afghanistan. War-time. A girl waiting to claim her brother’s body so she can give him a decent burial. Antigone in a different form. A great read.

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30. Mrs. Bridge by Evan S. Connell: Nothing happens in this book and yet so much does. A suburban housewife. Angst, ennui and loneliness told through a hundred chapters.

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31. Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie: A writer in exile. His thoughts. His times when he wasn’t allowed to live the way he wanted to. One of Rushdie’s best according to me.

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32. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: Literature, love and life. Trying to balance and make sense of all of it. Almost a dedication to Austen. A must-read for all literature lovers.

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33. Silent House by Orhan Pamuk: A family and its reunion in troubled times of Istanbul. Different perspectives. Different thoughts. A well-told tale of views and clashing of emotions.

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34. The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph: One of the best Indian reads for me this year. Striking and full of sadness, this novel explores relationships between fathers and sons and what happens when there is no communication.

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35. Aerogrammes and Other Stories by Tania James: These stories are illuminating. On the nature of love, longing and desire. They are soulful and should not be missed. I had a great time losing myself as I was immersed reading this one.

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36. The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy: Cats, cats and more cats. Cats that speak. Adorable cats. Ferocious cats. Naughty cats. Cats. The Wildings was according to me a fantastic debut this year.

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37. Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan: A spy. A mission and love which always occurs unexpectedly. This book was not something which I thought McEwan would ever write and there he surprised me. What a book!

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38. Dear Life: Stories by Alice Munro: Alice Munro’s stories sparkle with life and break your heart just as easy. She is a mistress of words and no one can take that away from her. She is the short-story form personified.

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39. Between Clay and Dust by Musharraf Ali Farooqi: An ageing wrestler. A courtesan whose trade is no longer what it used to be. Two dying arts. One story that captures it beautifully. A book not to be missed.

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40. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy: A booker shortlisted book. A book of madness and the family-vacation silence broken by a stranger. A book that will grip you from the first sentence and not let go.

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41. The Elephant Keepers Children by Peter Hoeg: Two children on the search for their parents, who are criminals. The story revolves around the children’s perspectives and how the narrative falls together is the crux of the book.

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42. Grimm Tales: For Young and Old by Philip Pullman: A retelling of the Grimm’s fairy tales, this version by Philip Pullman is class apart. With footnotes and detailing of every tale, this sure will be a reread for me.

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43. Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard: Lazarus was resurrected. The story in the Bible. The way the story has been retold from Lazarus’ perspective and the changes and the interpretations and some more points of view from various books and movies. A definitive read.

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44. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett: The Queen develops a new passion: Books and Reading. This novella is probably one of the best I’ve read this year. Touching and so sweet without getting sentimental.

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45. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe: A mother who has been diagnosed with cancer. A son. Their love for books and reading. A book club. A heart-warming tale. A book not to be missed.


46. One for the Books by Joe Queenan: “One for the Books” is truly a love song, a poem, a recollection of reading, and most importantly a reader’s tribute to books and reading.

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47. My Ideal Bookshelf: Edited by Thessaly La Force and Art by Jane Mount: Different people. Different walks of life. Their favourite books are painted in ink and color by Jane Mount. A great mini-coffee-table book.

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48. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: Two teenagers. Diagnosed for cancer. They fall in love and that’s when the book begins. To live, to love and to be.

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49. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers: A book about war and its impact on soldiers and their families. On both the sides. On how easy it is to declare war and how difficult to face the aftermath.

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50. Object Lessons: The Paris Review Presents the Art of the Short Story: Edited by Lori Stein and Sadi Stein: 20 short stories selected by 20 contemporary authors, almost their favourites and a sure shot success of a book at hand.

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So these are the top 50 favourite reads of mine for this year. Here’s to 2013 and another year of some more fascinating reads. The target is to finish reading 200 books in 2013 and that is quite possible. I will so achieve it.

Book Review: My Ideal Bookshelf : Edited by Thessaly La Force and Art by Jane Mount

My Ideal Bookshelf Title: My Ideal Bookshelf
Authors: Edited by Thessaly La Force and Art by Jane Mount
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316200905
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Nothing gives me more pleasure than reading a book about books. The bibliophile in me is overjoyed at the sight of such reads and what makes it even better is when these books come with pictures or art. For this year, the book on books has to be, “My Ideal Bookshelf”, edited by Thessaly La Force and illustrated beautifully by Jane Mount.

This book is an experiment of sorts. The editor of the book asked over 100 people from various fields – architects, writers, chefs, painters, and the rest to compile their list of favourite books and write something about them. The spines of the titles selected were then beautifully illustrated by Jane Mount, resembling a book shelf, with watercolors and ink. This then is the book that I read and cherished.

I guess what connected me to the book was the titles I recognized on most shelves which also happened to be my favourites. The connection that a reader has with other readers is the one that no one can take away. Thessaly and Jane have created something beautiful here for the book lover, something he can go back and refer to again and again. I for one intend to choose books for my next purchase from here. There is so much I haven’t read and so much that I have discovered while reading this book.

The illustrations are something which I still thought of way after I had finished reading the book. In fact so much so that I wanted my very own illustration from Ms. Mount, however that would not be possible. However, there is a space for the readers at the end of the book to create their own “ideal bookshelf”, which I already have and loved the experience.

I love the almost close to perfection of the spines drawn by Ms. Mount – it is a different experience to go through every bookshelf. With some bookshelves, the personal artifacts of the person are also drawn, which gets you closer as a reader to the collection.

I love reading about books that feature in books. The collection or the books closest to someone’s heart are always something that I want to know, because I honestly believe that you are what you read. “My Ideal Bookshelf” is a fantastic book for someone like me and also for you, if knowing what stands on someone’s bookshelf interests you. I would say pick up the book, even if others’ bookshelves do not interest you, because after reading and going through this book, they sure will.

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Book Review: Luminous Airplanes by Paul LaFarge

Luminous Airplanes by Paul LaFarge Title: Luminous Airplanes
Author: Paul LaFarge
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-1250013828
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

“Luminous Airplanes” by Paul LaFarge has to be one of the strangest books I have read this year and yet it was a fulfilling and deeply satisfying read. I guess it was that maybe because of its oddness, which yet managed to find a place in my heart and mind. It is a coming of age story (or so it seemed like that to me) and doesn’t feel like it. There is a lot more to it, which obviously I will not reveal in my review. This was the first time I was reading a Paul LaFarge and I can only say that there are some reading finds that you are thankful for every year and this is one of mine.

Luminous Airplanes follows the life of a San Franciscan computer programmer, fond of iconic T-Shirts, as he travels back to his grandparents’ house in upstate New York to dismantle and organize it after the death of his grandfather. There he meets his “boyhood” friends – a brother and a sister, who have not only become distant but also weird. He then chances upon family secrets and that is where the book begins. That in short, is the plot of the book.

The book is very-well written and yet it had me confused at times. I had to go to the website, , which deconstructs the book chapter by chapter and is also a hyperlinked novel, another brilliant experience. Paul LaFarge has created something strange and it worked just fine for me. I found the writing sparse at times and at times a little too detailed, but whatever my emotions were at the time of reading the book, at the end of it all, I felt so satisfied. The two cities, San Francisco and New York are brilliantly described, as though they are the secondary characters in it. The novel is written in the style of a memoir and it works best considering the setting and plot of the book.

The tone of “Luminous Airplanes” is mellow and tastes like hot chocolate. The words go on and on sometimes, so much so that I had to go back to the pages read before to make sense of them. “Luminous Airplanes” could be very confusing at times, but if you read through it and connect with it, then maybe it is the read for you, as it was for me. Well, it was one of the reads for me this year for sure.

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Book Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

Title: The Fault in our Stars
Author: John Green
ISBN: 978-0-525-47881-2
Publisher: Dutton Books, Penguin Books
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 313
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If there is one book I would recommend everyone to read, it would have to be, “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green. It is unlike your typical young adult novel. In fact, it is not a young adult novel, even though the characters are teenagers. It is nothing like I have read this year and most certainly this has become one of my best reads of this year and I cannot thank John Green enough for writing this brilliant book.

“The Fault in our Stars” starts very unconventionally. It starts at a Support Group for Teen Cancer Patients. Hazel Grace Lancaster spies Augustus (Gus) Waters checking her out across the room. Sparks fly like they never did. He is a gorgeous, confident, intelligent amputee who always loses video games because he wants to save everyone. He is also only seventeen. She is all of sixteen, and living with lung cancer. It is terminal in nature and she is surviving on a drug called Phalanxifor. She is unsure as to when the research and drug will stop affecting her. She is a recluse while Gus isn’t.

Gus falls in love with her at first sight. Hazel is reluctant. Hazel and Gus get close despite all her reservations. They get close over a book called, “An Imperial Affliction” written by Paul Van Houten. They visit him to Amsterdam as the book is incomplete and they want answers. Their life changes when they meet each other and the essence of the book is not in loss or pain, but in the gains and the moments lived.

I lived their life with Gus and Hazel for the time I was reading this book. I could not put it down and yet I did not want it to end soon at all. I prolonged the joy of reading this book. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot and there were in-between melancholic moments as well, which took me by surprise. The Fault in our Stars is not sympathetic. It doesn’t go overboard with emotions. John Green knows how to add that much needed touch of humour needed for a book like this.

John Green writes with grace. He knows his style and sticks to that throughout the book. The plot is well researched. The emotions are subtle and sublime. I love the interaction between Gus and Hazel and how their lives turn out from a support group therapy session to being lovers to travelling to Amsterdam to meet Paul Van Houten. The secondary characters – Gus’s best friend Isaac, who is blinded because of Cancer, Gus’s parents and Hazel’s parents add the much needed perspectives to the book. Cancer does not play any role in the book, except that it is there as the much-needed backdrop. I loved that – the fact that it did not take over the story.

For me, The Fault in our Stars was a ride of a read. Hazel and Augustus will stay with me long after I have finished reading the book. I will in all probability re-read it. The Fault in Our Stars broke my heart and fixed it with its big heartedness.

Here are some quotes from the book to give you an idea of it:

“I wanted to know that he would be okay if I died. I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.”

“Come over here so I can examine your face with my hands and see deeper into your soul than a sighted person ever could.”

“People will say it’s sad that she leaves a lesser scar that fewer remember her, that she was loved deeply but not widely. But it’s not sad. It’s triumphant. It’s heroic. Isn’t that the real heroism?

The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”

Here is a book trailer as well:

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Book Review: Life Form by Amélie Nothomb

Life Form Title: Life Form
Author: Amélie Nothomb
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1-60945-088-5
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 125
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I had heard of Amélie Nothomb but had never gotten around to reading anything by her. Till I picked up her latest novella, “Life Form” and was blown away by its sheer magnificence and the author’s story-telling capacity. “Life Form” is one of those books which has it all – the surreal manner, the delicate balance of sensitivity and emotional quotient, the plot, the space given to the words to breathe and a landscape that is as vast as a story deserves.

“Life Form” is a fictional work. I had to say it because of what is going to come. It is a book about correspondence – between an American soldier, Melvin Mapple, who is a fan of Nothomb’s works and the author. This is however not where the plot ends. This is where I would think the plot begins. The letters get exchanged and the author gets to know more about Melvin’s life. Of how he was recruited in the army, how he got posted for the Iraq war and how he can barely fit into his XXXXL clothes. At the same time, she also begins to understand how he has named his fat self, “Scheherazade”, just so his flesh can keep the loneliness at war at bay. This is also where the plot does not end. There is more to come.

While getting to know Melvin, the author talks to him about her life, her creative writing process, her hopes and fears and they both get to know each other. During the course of getting to know one another, Nothomb discovers something bizarre about Melvin, which is not believable and this is where it actually begins.

After reading, “Life Form” I was wondering why I hadn’t read anything by Nothomb earlier. The writing takes you by surprise when you least expect it to and at the same you are left wanting more. The twists and turns are not so many and at the same the writing is terrific. Nothomb creates an atmosphere of war and its effects brilliantly and at the same time manages to bring out the author’s side, which according to me not many people have managed that well.

Nothomb blends fact (only the life of an author) and fiction with such ease, that the book reads how it is meant to – like a fictional work with great characters and voices. The book is taut and leaves no scope for the reader to get bored. “Life Form” is short, to the point and thrilling at the same time. A must read.

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