Monday, September 24, 2007

Book Tag

Book tag by way of Alok.

Total number of books owned: No idea. Have a whole roomful in Delhi not all of which are mine of course. Many of them belong to my parents…some have been handed down. Plus there are quite a few of the earliest books I ever owned still around, including Red Riding Hood and Snow White (which my mom used to read out to me!), collections of Amar Chitra Katha, Hans Christian Anderson, the abridged version of classics like Count of Monte Cristo, Oliver Twist etc. (The unabridged versions are there too). And there are also books bought during the teenage years that I am quite ashamed about now – Jeffrey Archer, Michael Chrichton, even a couple by Sidney Sheldon and the like. No Mills & Boon or the sort – never read those. Don’t have many in my room now, only a couple of shelves, mostly because I use the library rather than buy books these days.

Last book bought: Heh. Orhan Pamuk. Other Colours.

Last book read: Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun and Other Palestinian Stories. I can not recommend this book highly enough. It is simply one of those books that everyone should read. Please do. It is a slender volume – only about 100 pages – and would probably take only a couple of hours to read. The short story, The Land of Sad Oranges is one of the most poignant, moving (these words seem so hollow but what else can I use to get my point across?) I have read in a very long time, leaving me feeling as if I was stuck in a vacuous, pointless, senseless space with just no way out.
More on Kanafani here.

Currently reading: Other Colours, of course. Apart from that Ramchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. I lugged it (literally – it’s a ridiculously unwieldy book) back from Delhi because it was just lying at home and I was contemplating buying it anyway. Because of its size, reading it on the train is not feasible so I have been reading it at night before going to bed and it’s been slower progress than I would have liked. (I usually fall asleep while reading table lamp on et al and wake up with a start only when my alarm goes off the next morning…sigh. This work thing is not fun; I have eye bags that could rival a raccoon.) Anyway, have been reading Guha for the last two weeks (discount weekends) and am about 60% through, and so far it has been quite good, detailed and engrossing. That is saying quite a bit given the scope and scale of the book in which it definitely transcends usual one volume introductory texts on India.

Books plan on reading next: On my bookshelf Elias Khoury’s Gate of the Sun; Sunil Khilnani’s The Idea of India (which I have heard only good things about); Maria Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Script writer (I still haven’t read Llosa – utterly shameful, I know, but this shall be rectified soon). Suggestions on which to read first?

Five books that mean a lot to me: Jeez…I really had to think hard about this.

The Black Book – Orhan Pamuk
I struggled between My Name is Red and The Black Book…and really I should have copped out and chosen both. Perhaps Kara Kitap is still fresh in my mind because I read it recently and because when I think of the stories that populate its pages – of the Istanbul mannequin maker who had no buyers when mannequins became all the fashion because his were too “Turkish”, of the back streets of Cihangir, the dark kahve shops, of dear Aladin’s shop where you could find anything under the sun – they all remind me of the city where I spent probably the happiest two weeks I can remember.
But this also made me feel that perhaps a reread of Benim Adim Kirmizi is in order. For I truly fell in love with Pamuk (I always liked him a lot but My Name is Red blew like out of proportion) while reading that book. And because it contains probably my two favourite lines in a Pamuk book:
“To God belongs the East and the West. May He protect us from the will of the pure and unadulterated.”

L’Étranger – Albert Camus
While I love Camus’ essays – The Myth of Sisyphus and The Rebel in particular - L’Étranger is probably my favourite book by him. Cold, indifferent Meursault who cannot even cry at his mother’s funeral…who in the end seems to us to be the internally rational and logical person. For the world, in the end, is only as sensible as we make it.
Side note: Camus over Sartre – Yes?

Discovery of India – Jawaharlal Nehru
Nehru is so often portrayed as a romantic… a dream in his eyes, rose in his button hole and the sort. (It is an apt description I guess - when he made his “Tryst with Destiny” speech he was wearing a rose the button hole of his silk kurta, and no doubt he had a dream). Some of this comes across in his writings as well. He could ramble on with metaphor after metaphor but more often than not his prose was elegant and his writings hugely expansive ion scope. This is most obvious in Discovery of India, where he seems to be almost narrating a common national heritage into being.

Why I Am Not a Christian: And Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects – Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell is one of the most egotistical people I have ever read. And also the most brilliant. He had an opinion on everything and he usually put down his point for view, which is why he must be one of the most prolific writers ever. In all his books his prose is simple, logical, to the point and extremely witty. And it’s probably at its best in Why I Am Not a Christian. I also love his Marriage and Morals and History of Western Philosophy (which while biased, is still a really good read) among others.

Ramayana – Valmiki
The version I read was a ridiculously fat tome with the original Sanskrit, supplemented by Hindi, supplemented by English. It’s a great story, beautifully written and I think it’s important to read a lot of texts in their original form just to realize the grotesque misrepresentation of them by the religious fundamental asshats. Plus reading the Valmiki Ramayana is a good base to read the other versions as well – the Ramacharitamanasa (just so beautifully lyrical), the Kamban Ramayana, C.Rajagopalachari’s English version (which is probably still the best English version of the epic, and miles ahead of his English version of the Mahabharata) or even watching the TV serial (I still do when I’m in India!).
I usually avoid the Uttara Kanda because it seems like nothing more than a tacked on epilogue. It is offensive of course, but so are other parts of the Ramayana… and Rama is different from the idealized version of him we are usually fed. But he is still a most fascinating character, hugely human and very charismatic. And simple. In this he is miles apart from Krishna, who in all honesty is way beyond my comprehension. I wonder if I would ever be able to read the entire Mahabharata in a remotely original form, that text is so long, meandering and plain confusing, just the thought of it overwhelms.

Ok…this took me longer to finish than I would’ve thought possible. Needless to say I have rambled on aimlessly. I tag Falstaff, Veena, TR and Elizabeth. (It’s a nice tag – so please do do it!)

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Reached here from Falstaff's. Haven't read through yet, but lovely pics!

~N.

Falstaff said...

Did this a while back:

http://2x3x7.blogspot.com/2006/02/tagging-along.html

So many comments -

1) I know exactly what you mean about lugging India After Gandhi - I did the same thing when I was back in India last (discovered it lying around at home and brought it back with me to Philly). I still haven't finished it, though I probably got about 90% of the way through. I have to say that I think close to the end Guha gets even less objective than he is in the beginning, though this may be more because I know enough about the period to have my own perspective. Still, as you say, it was pretty fascinating stuff.

2) Read the Llosa. I haven't read Gate of the Sun, but it would have to be a pretty incredible book to be better than Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter.

3) Camus over Sartre: Yes. Although there's little point comparing, is there? (PS: You have read The Plague, right? And The Fall?)

4) Ah, Russell. I have to say I'm rather unimpressed by Russell now, but I do remember reading Why I am not a Christian when I was 15 and being terribly impressed by it then. It was probably the first book of "Philosophy" that I ever read.

Alok said...

Aunt Julia is very good. Very funny and entertaining. Llosa himself ran away with a distant aunt so some of his real life experience went into that book :) Also pay close attention to the scriptwriter's stories while reading because otherwise you will lose lot of fun towards the end.

My favourite book by Llosa is The War of the End of the World. It is very long though. It is based on a real historical event - a millenarian revolt by a group of rag tag religious fanatics against the Brazilian state in the late nineteenth century. He tells the story from the point of view of rebels, it makes the story really interesting. It also made me realize how close the rhetoric of present days Islamic fanatics are to the medieval christian millenarian movements. I think Islam also has a eschatological tradition parallel to christianity.

to Falstaff: How about updating the list with your recent reads. You must surely have read some great list-worthy books too in the last one year or so.

Falstaff said...

Alok: I don't know. I can't say I've read anything in the last 18 months that I would want to place in a top 5 list. Plus I'm weary of including stuff that I've read recently and am deeply enthusiastic about, simply because it's hard to tell whether it's just a passing fancy or something I'm going to treasure for a long, long time.

Alok said...

Also regardind the existentialists have you read Kierkegaard? e is the original master... His Either/Or is one of my most favourite books ever. One famous paragraph from it:

What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is like that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris's bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant's ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: "Sing again soon"-that is, "May new sufferings torment your soul byt your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful" And the critics come forward and say: "That's the way, that's how the rules of aesthetics say it should be done"

Veena said...

Me too did this a while back:

http://onayahuasca.blogspot.com/2006/02/tagged.html

Camus over Sartre: Any day. But The Plague over L'Etranger please!

The one on India that I picked up recently: Keay's India, A History. Super cool!

Szerelem said...

N: I of course know you from Falstaff’s blog! Welcome and thank you :)

Falstaff: Had a feeling that you must have done it.
I guess you are right about Guha. So far what has been really interesting is the details about so many aspects of Indian political history I didn’t know much (or anything) about. I would guess people who don’t like Nehru would think he is too soft on him… (I guess he is but I think he mentions something about Nehru being his boyhood hero – perhaps I read that somewhere else – so that puts things in perspective).
Yes, have read The Plague and The Fall. No point comparing Camus and Sartre – true. Just that as I was writing the post was thinking Camus’ political writings have stood the test of time much better as well.
Oh I know what you mean about Russell. I like him just for his range and for the fact that his rants are superbly entertaining and Why I Am Not a Christian is a good example of that.

Alok: Shall keep those in mind when reading Llosa. I actually really want to read “Feast of the Goat” as well. And yes there are strong parallels between Islamic fanatics and medieval Christianity. Kierkegaard – that passage is really nice. Sigh, so much to read.

Veena: Book in a similar genre as Keay I was eyeing was Abraham Eraly’s Gem in the Lostus. I really, really liked his Mughal Throne so was curious to read this one. Also on history list is Dalrymple’s Last Mughal.

That Armchair Philosopher said...

Hehe, roomful of books in Delhi - sometimes I wish I could transport them around with me! I so miss having a large bunch of books to randomly pick and choose..

I've recently finished the first half of Kara Kitap - although I must say the translator for this version (has Freely done one too?) probably hasn't done justice to Pamuk..

Been contemplating Russell as well - I love Camus though - The Plauge just begs to be read.

Oh and back from Espana - and will blog regularly now. Missed penning thoughts to paper too much :))

Alok said...

Feast of the Goat is also good. Contains some gruesome scenes of torture and rape though, so just beware...

This is a nice essay on the latin american "dictator novel" and review of feast as well.. that's a genre in itself, the dictator novel.

Szerelem said...

TAP: Oh no....you should read the Freely translation. It's definitely much much better. And yay for more blogging :)

Alok: remember a post on your blog on the dictator novel (think you had linked to the article there?)...in any case, as usual your blog is source of much knowledge :)

chandni said...

i love bertrand russell's writing and "why i am niot a cristian" is an all time fav!

Have3 of orhan Pamuk's books but can u beleiev, haven't read a single one yet! must start....

Szerelem said...

ZOMG! read Pamuk NOW!!!
:D
start with My Name is Red if you can...

bint battuta said...

Noooo! I love Sartre, and have to defend him! But I love Camus too... You should have joined in the discussion we had about 'L'etranger' a while back on my blog - it's not too late...

Nice post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! :)

~N.

Ali Riza ARICAN said...

Hi,
"Other colors" (named after "my name is red", "black book" and "white castle") is not a book of essays but a book of notes. I loved it once I read it but then nothing much remained in my mind. Maybe because he does not keep on one topic but jumps around... It is more aphorismic than organized writing... Right now I am reading "Sex Slaves, Human Trafficking in Asia" by Louis Brown and the next book is "Death of Vishnu" written by a math professor. I don't know why but if a math guy writes fiction, I want to read no matter what it is about... So sad that Russell or Carnap did not write fiction! But I read "Collected essays of Russell" a few years ago and he is really smart and funny superstitution. For the questio: Sartre or Camus... My answer is definitely Camus. Sartre is too complicated to be real, to high for an average person and too scholastic... Anyway, enjoy reading Pamuk...
Cheers,
Ali

Szerelem said...

bb: Thanks :) And I read (and really enjoyed) the post on L'etranger! I just didn't think I could contribute to the discussion...I felt slightly out of depth!

Ali: Other Colours in English is slightly different from Oteki Renkler....quite a few additions and some omissions.
"Sex Slaves, Human Trafficking in Asia" - that immediately reminded me of Cambodia for some reason.
And your blog is all in Turkish now!! I can hardly understand :(

Beth said...

Hi - what a great post! Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting, and I'm really happy to have found yours (thanks, Elizabeth). I'm glad we share this assessment of Pamuk, and also that you haven't read Llosa yet either! It's one of those big holes and omissions in my reading list.

Szerelem said...

Beth - Hi! Welcome and thank you :)

Llosa - I am about 100 pages through Aunt Julia and it's truly excellent. Highly recommended!