Life is one heck of a rollercoaster ride—the ups and downs keep hitting you constantly. One thing that keeps you anchored on this journey and provides solace is reading. It is a constant fight, in today’s world, to find time to read amidst team projects, office deadlines, Facebook posts, tweets, television and the internet. Sometimes, I thank my stars. Being a full-time writer gives me the privilege of jotting down ‘reading’ as a part of my to-do list.
The year 2016 has been remarkable for my reading progress. For the first time, I started the year with a To-be-read list in hand. While I have been hopping all around places reading many unplanned books instead of those on the list, around 30 percent of the books I read this year have been from that carefully-curated list. I’m so proud of that.
The year started off with two famous classics—If on a winter’s night a Traveller and Lolita—and both left me with a sadly dissatisfied empty feeling. The former tortured me with a series of excellent first chapters that had no ending while the latter had a storyline that disturbed me emotionally. As harbingers of excellent writing and style, they steal the show. I revisited Wuthering Heights, this year for the umpteenth time. Certain phrases, sentences, and characters rekindled fresh feelings in me.
It was around the middle of the year that I started reading Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. Though this is a huge tome of a work on Indian history, if I was the Prime Minister of the country, I would announce this as a compulsory read for every Indian citizen. In a country where history textbooks undergo a change every few years, it is a wonder to find a book that tells it as it is.
Before I go on about other novels, a word about non-fiction. I love reading books on self-help and on writing. This year, I found a gem that was both. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It reaffirmed my beliefs about the writing process and taught me to see many things differently. Now, it holds a place beside my bedside table and I keep referring to certain passages often. The other two books on that table are Stephen King on Writing and The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp—both of which I revisit so many times that I could possibly quote passages from them.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose took me to the book that inspired this one: How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler. Both books humbled me and inspired me to read more and analyse better. Out of the umpteen self-help and writing books that I read (approximately one a week), there are two that stayed with me. One was Deep Work by Cal Newport. Initially, I bought it on my kindle, then I fell in love with it and picked up the paperback too. The book stirred me to give up my android phone and pick up a non-smart one. I monitored the time I spent on social media and learned how to focus my entire attention on my writing. (Demonetisation played havoc and the dependence on Ola and Uber took me back to my smart phone!)
The next one was Story by McKee. I picked it up after attending a Screenwriting Workshop at Whistling Woods International. Many people told me that my debut novel, Birds of Prey, had vivid scenes cinematically presented. I should probably thank the workshop and McKee for that! Though I already had a copy of The Hero with a thousand faces, I read it after attending the workshop and it did make better sense. It is not a book that can be understood on a single reading and I will be rereading it this year.
The four books that I read one after another without any respite were Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh, Tamas by Bhisham Saini, Manto’s Toba Tek Singh Stories and Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom. Each of them clutched my heart and wouldn’t let go. The language, description, storyline, suspense—everything about them made me thankful for the opportunity to read them.
Another book that I had an on-off relationship this year was A Brief History of Seven Killings. The huge array of characters, the complicated lingo and the thick accents put me off many times but halfway through the book, I blended in and felt at home. The ghetto felt close and I was a part of it. Before me start to talk, write so-so way and pick guns, the book mercifully came to an end.
I picked up Patricia Cornwell’s Postmortem because the Reading Club that I host on the Wrimo India page on Facebook had chosen it. This was one read that I didn’t enjoy as I like my thrillers to move fast and this one didn’t. Then came Not a penny more, Not a penny less and The Jury. Both were entertaining reads that kept me glued to the page but there is nothing to write home about.
I had wanted to read at least ten books in Tamil this year. Sadly, it didn’t happen. I read just one: Oru Puliyamarathin Kathai (The Tamarind Story). Apart from that, I did read innumerable Tamil short stories and poetry from multi-varied sources. Thanks to the World Wide Web.
For the first six months of 2016, I read at least one poem or one short story online from Granta every day—thanks to my online subscription to Granta. Later, life took over and I am looking forward to going back to that regimen again.
Apart from this, I did read many books by my author friends. Some were disappointing while many were promising. Since it would be difficult to provide an unbiased view of those books, I am neither going to list them nor analyse their aspects. However, towards the end of the year, I came across a few exceptional Indian writers that could change the literary scene if they do bring out their books. They have promised to do that this 2017 and on that hopeful note, I look forward to the new year.