Category Archives: Top10s

Top 10 All-Time Favourite Books of Sorabh Pant

I wanted to do something new with the blog. Something different. So I thought of what I wanted to know about authors. I wanted to know what authors read and what are their favourite reads more than that. I had read The Wednesday Soul by Sorabh Pant and loved it, so could not think of anyone else to start this series with than him.

Here you go…The Top 10 All-Time Favourite Reads of Sorabh Pant straight from his mouth or his keyboard:

The Ten Best Book In My Pants

(Comedian & Author of The Wednesday Soul, Sorabh Pant’s list of the best words he’s read in book form.)

Most people are surprised when they learn that I read. I don’t fit the profile of an educated human, occasionally I even defy the ‘human’ prototype; but, enough about my sex life.

I love books. I especially love to read them. Though, the anticipation of a good book showing me its cover through the glass on my book shelf is sexier than busty women in Amsterdam displaying their wares through similar glass windows. If you love books – you know that feeling of lust.

I’ve read over 10 books in my life and these are the 10 books that I would read if I could only read ten books. They are in ascending order and I’ve ranked them like songs on a Billboard chart, so please play the appropriate peppy music as we run down them: Bach (if you like classical music), Bhangra (if you’re unstable) or silence (if you don’t have an iPod). Here goes:

10. The World According to Garp By John Irving

A story about a writer writing a book about another story; John Irving’s super classic is the Inception for readers everywhere. It also achieves one of those rare things: much like Nelson Mandela it united different genres of people who read nothing alike. My sister, wife, mother and uneducated friends (comedians) alike devoured Garp. There’s really nothing like it. In one scene, Garp’s publisher tells him the simplest thing about what makes a great selling book: “The reader wants to know what happens next.”

In Garp, you never do; which is what makes it exceptional.

9. Speaker for the Dead By Orson Scott Card

While 45% of America voted for Mitt Romney, I vote for my favorite Mormon, Orson Scott Card. I picked up Speaker for The Dead because I’m suicidal and wanted to know what the hell a Speaker for The Dead was, that’s it! Turns out it’s a person who speaks about the dead but, unabashedly with all the faults and low points and high points. Oh, also – the Speaker travels across galaxies and times. AND, the Speaker is Ender – a legend in the sci-fi world.

Speaker for the Dead is easily my favorite sci-fi novel, because the human (and alien) element prevails over the scientific mumbo jumbo as is the wont for many sci-fi writers. I would love to hire Ender Wiggins to speak at my funeral, though if there’s cyrogenic freezing possible – then cancel that engagement.

8. Life of Pi By Yann Martel

I took three shots at reading Life of Pi. I never got it until the third. And, when I did – boy, my brain exploded into 3.14 pieces. Aside from being a magnetic tale of a boy lost out at sea with a tiger and briefly with other myriad creatures you could not even imagine – it is the book that has made me guffaw more than any other. Some of the comic scenes in this novel are so unexpectedly delicious, you can’t help it. I snorted at an airport while reading one scene and I’m pretty sure that airport security thought I was doing cocaine. But, who needs coke when you have this book. And, the denouement! Good God – I could kiss Yann Martel’s keyboard.

7. Old Man and the Sea By Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway’s great classic is barely 150 pages long and is considered a novella but, Old Man and The Sea manages to make every single word matter. Every word is released like a precious drop from a dam. The language is succinct, yet poignant. And, what is the story about? An old dude trying to catch a fish. I mean for heaven’s sake! Is the fish an alien? Is the man the President of China? Is the sea full of Pirates? No!- to all of those things. It’s the simple magnitude of the prose that makes you feel so deeply about an old man’s Piscean hopes!

Also, since it’s short – you can pretend you’re all classy and literate very quickly.

6. P.G. Wodehouse’s Galahad at Blandings AND Enid Blyton

Now, I know that Enid Blyton is not a book. I’m aware of the difference between a book and an author, mainly because I read loads of Wodehouse & Blyton. Both the authors were my introduction into the literary world. I read everything Blyton wrote including her novels for young girls – St. Claire, Naughtiest Girl, St. Mallory – which explains why I was scared when I didn’t get my periods till I was 14. I wished I had pigtails and treacle pudding. Seriously.

Similarly with Wodehouse, who taught me how to laugh when no one liked you, which happened till I was 17 (no periods yet). Though my favorite book of his has to be Galahad at Blandings – a love which I was amazed that comedian Craig Ferguson shares. Galahad is not old Woody’s most famous novel but, it’s hilarious, well plotted and has Galahad who like the original Galahad is chivalrous, helpful and, ‘will wake up at five thirty in the a.m. to collect post for his friends.’ Oh, and he’s hilarious. For much of my school life I wanted to be Galahad – the helpful bachelor. My wife ruined my dreams.

5. The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy’s Gate By Jonathan Stroud

My favorite character/narrator of any fantasy ever has got to be Bartimaeus, the self-interested genie. He thinks humans are idiots and yet he has to serve them. His conflict with them is the stuff of legend. The trilogy of Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus trilogy are hilarious and riveting in parts. And, they also saved me from jumping into the Goa sea when I went there alone because no one accompanied me back when I was 16. Wow, I see that as a recurring theme with books! Thanks, Bartimaeus. For me you’re sexier than most topless Russian women.

4. Autobiography Of a Yogi By Parmahansa Yogananda

I was fresh out of happy time in college, so I was depressed and unhappy with humanity (You see a trend here?). I was just on the verge of doing something dire: like getting a job when I picked up Parmahansa Yogananda’s spiritual classic. I spent fifteen days reading, re-reading and then marking passages and behaving like an utter lunatic with this book. AOAY answered a lot of questions I had about Hinduism and Monotheistic religions, as well as explained the science behind our cultures; while telling a really hypnotic story of an enlightened man.

Critics consider a lot of the book to be the work of fantasy, I don’t particularly care – since, if you believe in the truth of any fantasy, it’s true in some way. Right? Eventually, it’s a book about a really wonderful and tolerant man and his self-discovery into the world of religion. It could apply to anyone. Side-note: I got a job immediately after reading this book and pretty soon discovered that jobs are worse than reading nice books.

3. His Dark Materials Trilogy By Philip Pullman

MY GOD! Really. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy is a children’s book about things you don’t see in children’s books: religion and atheism, Paradise Lost, the occult, particle physics; all packaged within the best magic rules ever. Pulman has a habit of writing children’s books that speak about a lot more for e.g. Sally Lockhart’s Tiger In The Well that speaks about a single mother dealing with misogyny in 1880’s London and communism. For heaven’s sake, Phillip – stick to your damn genre, you effing genius.

This is one of those books that makes you wish you had a Time Machine, just so you could go back in time to read it again. It starts off slow but, by the time the second and third books roll around – you really wish you had dæmons of your own. Also, Lyra – the protagonist inspired my own Nyra as well as similar named protagonists in numerous fantasy books. The Dark Materials is the brightest children’s book ever.

2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell By Susanna Clarke

OK. Let’s all take a pause. Seriously. Everyone just be cool. This book is the most complete, complex and outstanding work of not only fantasy but, of general writing that I’ve read. Susanna Clarke has poured every pore of her being into this magnificent tome.

Neil Gaiman called it, “The finest novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years.” I couldn’t agree more and would like to add an Apple pie to the writer – on the house!

Susanna Clarke spent a decade writing this book and boy, does it ever show. The book tells of a real historic war interspersed with fantastical magic written in19th century British English along with footnotes about all of the above. If you want to immerse yourself entirely into a book – this one is it. The footnotes itself cover an entire mythology in themself. The story is complex but, I will try and summarize it: two magicians land up on either side of a real war i.e. the battle of Waterloo. But, that barely does it justice.

Jonathan Strange is not a book for everyone but, if you enjoy fantasy and want to immerse yourself in something wonderful, macabre and strange – then grab it now!

1. Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy By Douglas Adams

I am a Hitchhiker. I know very few funny people who are not. Ask any comedian or any person who enjoys a good joke and they’ll be Hitchhikers too. I’ve read the books, heard the radio plays, read the radio plays, read the companion books and repeated all this once over again. Every time I am at a book store, I secretly wish to see a Douglas Adams tome on any shelf. Maybe he traveled in time or his ghost wrote some words or he rose from the dead – I’ll settle for anything!

HGTTG is hilarious, ridiculous and just mad, good fun. If life had been like Hitchhiker’s Guide – we’d all go to the grave laughing, which is how I always imagine Douglas Adams doing.

Which Hitchhiker’s Guide? Which from the five of a ‘trilogy’? All of them! Though, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish is a bit more special to me than the rest because poor Arthur Dent finally finds his love and learns to fly. My wife refuses to let me teach her how to. My own book, The Wednesday Soul was me trying to write a HGTTG version of a brown guy’s visit to the afterlife. Sorry, Douglas – I tried!

These are all books I loved and that meant something to me. I’d love to know your top 10, tweet to me @hankypanty.

Special Mentions

Just some other superb books that I have loved and enjoyed: Slaughterhouse Five, The English Patient, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Murder of Roger Akroyd, The Death Instinct, The Historian and Sorabh Pant’s The Wednesday Soul . (www.thewednesdaysoul.com)

ALSO: Just want to mention that Vivek is awesome and great and wonderful. Though, if you’re reading this, you probably already know this .

Thanks a lot for this Sorabh! This is an awesome list of books. Thanks again.

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Top 5 Graphic Memoirs

Comic books have become the brand new vehicle for autobiographies to be written. Readers also find it very easy to connect with them in the form of pictures and words, than just words. I have read them over the past couple of years and enjoyed this method of communication. Autobiographies can be quite heavy to read, so I guess this format works best, when you also want to lighten things and the writing.

So here are my top 5 comic autobiographies, so to say:

Maus by Art Spiegelman: Maus is the biography of Art’s father, Vladek and an autobiography of Art’s relationship with him. It is a book about his father’s account as a prisoner in Auschwitz during WWII. The book is beautifully designed and the graphics are brilliantly portrayed with the Nazis depicted as Cats and the Jews as Mice. Hence the title, Maus. Maus is a chilling and thought-provoking read. Something that will not leave you days after you have finished the book.

Maus is a two-part book. The complete edition can be purchased from HomeShop18 here

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi: We have all watched the movie (most of us) and the so-called graphic novel is to die for. You should not go through life without reading this graphic memoir of identity, race, and one’s roots. The first volume of her autobiography is about when the Shah of Iran was deposed and the revolution was delivered, liberation at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, with severe implications for the normal folk. The second volume is of her return and the country from her point of view. Brilliantly told in sparse and simple black and white drawings, this one will sure get a lump in your throat.

You can purchase The Complete Persepolis on HomeShop18 here

Palestine by Joe Sacco: I remember reading Palestine for the first time and being blown by it in so many ways – this was probably the first one of its kind book. Journalism and reporting had found a new voice – Graphic Representation. Joe Sacco has managed to portray the lives of the Palestinians in the most amazing way with graphics, through interviews and laced with facts. The sense of place and feeling is surreally portrayed throughout the book. A book that you must not miss out on.

You can buy Palestine on HomeShop18 here

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: This is everything a biography could be in the form of a Graphic Novel. A daughter getting to know her gay father better after his death. At the same time, she is trying to deal with her sexuality issues and all of this is taking place in rural Pennsylvania. The book is about her fraught relationship with her father, as she discovers herself in the process. A read that maybe is not for all, but a great one nonetheless.

You can buy the book from HomeShop18 here

Stitches by David Small: Stitches is bold, brazen, and heartbreaking. It is about Small’s growing up years where his household was ever tense and people spoke in another language: that of breaking stuff and banging doors. It also tells the story of David, who wakes up one morning from a supposedly harmless operation to find out that he, is virtually mute. His parents did not inform him about his vocal cord being removed and the implications – emotional and artistic on his growing-up years. This book stayed with me for a very long time. I could not forget the stark and raw visuals. Read it if you can stomach the truth.

Stitches by David Small can be bought from HomeShop18 here

So these are my top 5 graphic memoirs. A brilliant place sometimes to start reading graphic novels.

Top 10 Love Stories

I am back with the Top 10′s. The first one was on My Top 10 Villains in Fiction and now I present to you My Top 10 Love Stories – oh yes the ones that make you laugh and cry at the same time – the ones that leave that warm longing feeling in your heart and the ones that make you wish that the characters hadn’t fallen in love at all. So shall we let the love stories in motion?

1. Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami – At the top of my list, only after 2001 when I first read it and gave it my all. Since then I have read this book 17 times and no I am not kidding. I almost know all the quotes and scenes. Sumire and her story with K and Miu took my breath away. Read it and know for yourself.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – Yes Yes Yes we are all aware of Katharine and Heathcliff already – give us a break, you might say, but how can you forget their love amidst the moors of England, the dark brooding weather and love gained and lost and regained in death. Bronte was right in writing only this one. She couldn’t have survived the popularity.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – Viewed by many as an illicit love affair between Anna and Vronsky and yet remains to be one of the most beautiful unrequited love stories of all time. If only Tolstoy hadn’t killed Anna under the wheels of a train.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

4. Love Story by Erich Segal – “Love means never having to say you are sorry”. Sigh. How many of us have cried while reading this one? I have. Over and over again. Erich Segal knew what he was doing, the magic that was being created.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

5. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje – Haunting and beautiful, Ondaatje’s award-winning novel tells the story of four war-damaged souls living in an Italian monastery at the end of WWII, and the love story between two of them, the exhausted nurse Hana, and the severely burned unnamed English patient. Unforgettably unique.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

6. Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt – Possession restores sex to the Victorians and romance to the 20th century — and shows that while the language of love might change, love remains the same.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

7. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote – Though some may not agree to this being a romantic book, I would say to them that you do not know any better. I mean how can we forget the sheer and unfailing chemistry between Fred and Holly – the visit to Tiffany’s, the stealing of masks, the cat who has no name and “an attack of the mean reds” which can only be assuaged by jumping in a cab and going to Tiffany’s. Mr. Capote, why don’t they write like you anymore?

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

8. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene – War Struck Europe and two people meet. Their fates are sealed. Cut to 1946 and Maurice is all set to find out why Sarah ended their relationship so abruptly – what could have been the reason? One of Graham Greene’s best works.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

9. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – Who can forget Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara pelting their love out in a horse carriage? Or for that matter the hopeful end of the book, when Scarlett knows that tomorrow is another day to win back her love? A classic read.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

10. By Grand Central Station, I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart – The world might have been at war, but no less cataclysmic is the individual anguish of the broken-hearted, so claims Elizabeth Smart’s prose poem. While the unnamed lovers’ romance is painfully brief, the book was based on Canadian writer Smart’s affair with the English poet George Barker, which lasted 18 years and produced four children. A howl of tortured love and the agony of betrayal, it should be avoided by emotional cynics and literary ascetics at all costs.

You can buy it from HomeShop18 here

That’s it then. Top 10 Love Stories according to me and which I have loved reading over and over again.

An Interview with Priscila Uppal

So I had just finished posting my review of “To Whom it May Concern” a couple of days ago and voila! Here’s an interview with the writer Priscila Uppal. I also requested her to let us know her Top 10 favourite books and she did. So here goes…

When do poetry and prose truly merge in writing? Do they ever? “To Whom it May Concern” has a vast range of poetic imagery. Was it intentional?

I am a poet and a fiction writer (as well as an essayist and non-fiction writer), and since both genres utilize language, I think it’s only natural that my prose frequently displays conventionally poetic stylistics and my poetry displays conventionally prosaic stylistics. I think is metaphors, and to me that means that I am frequently trying to make viable and provocative connections between disparate elements, objects, ideas, worlds. Metaphors help ground the abstract, complex connections.

 What is your idea of family and its eccentricities?

Family is an essential construct, but it can be duplicated easily involving people who are not your blood relatives. When a family construct is beneficial, it offers support, resources, stability, and the freedom to experiment and to express. When it is destructive, it is suffocating, limiting, and cruel.

Your Heroes in fiction are…

Don Quixote, Pip from Great Expectations, King Lear, Aurora Leigh, Christa Wolf’s Medea.

Priscila the writer….likes to write on trains and airplanes, read poetry in translation, obsessively underline books.

Priscila the person…likes to nap with her cats, lounge on Barbados beaches, and drink champagne cocktails.

 Displacement is a common theme running through the book at a subtle level. Where did that come from?

I think that many people feel displaced in their communities when people are not recognized for who they are, in all their complexity. Empathy comes from understanding, and understanding comes from the imagination, which is why the novel also highlights the creative aspects of the imagination as a solution to displacement, alienation, and despair.

 The need of Hardev to keep the family together is intense. What role does family play in your life?

As stated, for me family is a construct meant to cultivate support and freedom and help people realize their dreams. I consider my friends, my colleagues, my students, as part of my family.

Your favourite prose authors…

Miguel de Cervantes. Charles Dickens. Laurence Sterne. Christa Wolf. Virginia Woolf.

Your favourite poets…

John Donne. Gwendolyn MacEwen. Leonard Cohen. Yehuda Amichai. Anna Swir. Christian Bök. Christopher Doda.

 If not a writer, then?

A social worker.  A nun. A veterinarian. A B & B owner. A lounge singer.

 The book has been compared to King Lear. Was that in mind while writing the book?

I was about half-way through the first draft of the book when it struck me that To Whom was my contemporary version of King Lear. I know that some reviewers are a bit baffled by this assertion, since the plot does not follow the tradition tale of greed and betrayal on the surface of the original; however, in terms of the actual language of Lear and its metaphysical concerns, for me each line of my book is in dialogue with that play. But then again I think all stories originate from earlier stories. We just shift and adapt them to speak to our own historical and cultural place.

 My ten favourite books:

 1. Don Quixote (the ultimate dreamer, the battered and failed dreamer, pulls at my heart)

2. King Lear (old broken men pull at my heart)

3. Seeing Voices (this is my favourite Oliver Sacks book, his study of deaf culture—it’s a fascinating exploration of language)

4. Almost anything by Freud (even though I don’t necessarily agree with all his theories, I think he’s a brilliant prose stylist and one of the most imaginative thinkers in history).

5. Aurora Leigh (I love this long poem portrait of the artist as a young woman)

6. Medea (I think this is one of the best novels of the last 25 years—it encapsulates the horrors of 20th century political systems)

7. Yehuda Amichai poems (one of the great wisdom poets of the 20th century)

8. Czeslaw Milosz (another one of the great wisdom poets of the 20th century)

9. Great Expectations (this book, read for the first time in grade 8, made me want to be a writer; I wrote a play about Miss Havisham as my book report for the novel)

10. George F. Walker plays (he’s my favourite Canadian playwright and frequently pits characters who ascribe to different systems of thought against each other, each trying to establish their own rules of conduct and morality)

Top 10 Reads of 2010

So here is my personal favourite list of Top 10 Reads of 2010.  Here goes:

1. Castle by J.Robert Lennon: I loved this book. I mean, I loved it! The story was taut. It was not all over the place. It maintained the sense of mystery and thrill that a book like this deserves and at the same time did what few writers manage to – get a grip on the landscape and create it into a living and breathing character. I am all for this one and cannot recommend it highly.

2. The Original of Laura by Vladimir Nabokov: Though I found the book to be a little boring in the middle, I have to admit I loved it. There is no way I could not. Here we have Nabokov’s last book (can we call it that?) with his original writing on cards which were well etched into the book. Brilliant design and even better story.

3. Quarantine by Rahul Mehta: Hands down for this collection of queer short stories written by an Indian living abroad. Not because I am gay, but because he did a terrific job of writing such crisp and well-defined stories, though they had absurd ends and yet this one remains to be re-read.

4. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver: Highly accoladed and well-deserved for all the awards it won, Kingsolver did it again. It takes a lot to write a fictional tale and spin with historical characters – to breathe life into them – about what they will say or do given the situation. I bow to The Lacuna. The writing was lucid and emotional in too many parts to be described here.

5. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell: A masterpiece of titanic proportions. A saga (of sorts) set in 18th century Japan. A nation closed to the idea of international trade and confined to its customs and traditions, and who better to write it for us than Mr. Mitchell himself. I was enthralled by it and it held me captive for 3 days and nights at a stretch.

6. The Pleasure Seekers by Tishani Doshi: And from the moment I started reading this book, I could not put it down. The tale of the Patels had me eating out of Ms. Doshi’s hands and I wanted more of it. I just cannot wait for another of her books to come out. An under-rated writer for sure. Please read this one.

7. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: This has to feature on my list for sure. Dysfunctional family. Midwestern American State and all the action that takes place. How could I have not enjoyed this one? I loved it to the core. A Must must read for everyone.

8. The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das: A brilliant meditation on how the Mahabharata still affects us in this modern world. How truth, karma and dharma play their roles in the corporate and personal life. Gurcharan Das has done a brilliant job with this one. And I for sure am a sucker for mythology anyday.

9. Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller: If there is one biography I would urge anyone to read, it would be this one. Most people only assume about Ayn Rand and that is because no one knew her. Anne C Heller does a marvellous job with this iconic biography. Read more to find out more about Ayn Rand.

10. Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman: Last but not the least it had to be this book. With the way it is written to what is being written about, I fell in love with this book from the word “Go”. A book to ponder over for sure.

So this is my Top 10 reads for the year and I know it will only get better in 2011. Bring it on!!