Friday, June 03, 2005

Book tag

Here, as promised, is my Book-Tag meme (thanks, Yazad):

Total Number of Books I Own
Could be anywhere upwards of 3,000 (though if I’m allowed to include every individual Amar Chitra Katha comic it’ll probably be over 5,000!).

Last Book I Bought
A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami

Last Book I Read
The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Globalized World in the 21st Century by Thomas Friedman

Five Books that Mean a Lot to Me
Five books? Pointless exercise, as any book-lover would know. But it’s great fun too, so we’re all doing it. In
his meme, Amit Varma says his list might be different next year. Well, mine would probably be different tomorrow, or an hour after I’ve posted this blog. (Except for the Faraway Tree books, which will stay forever.)

Here’s the list:

The Enchanted Wood/Faraway Tree books by Enid Blyton
Blyton doesn’t seem to be much in favour these days, and besides there are so many clever children’s writers around now, but she’s given me some of my earliest, most precious reading memories. Even today, every few months I need to go back to the three Faraway Tree books. And every time, without fail, as I near the end of the last book I find myself wishing that a previously unread chapter would magically materialize. And then another, and another. And that the stories of the magical lands atop the tree would never run out.

The Mahabharata - Various authors
Am I allowed to include this? I’ve read around 10-12 versions by different authors and my favourite single-volume version is the Kamala Subramaniam one, which is over-sentimental at times (though mind you, I didn’t think so when I first read it at the age of 10!) but also superbly captures the pathos of the story – the interior lives, motivations and emotions not just of the obviously sympathetic characters like Bheeshma and Karna but also of the likes of Duryodhana (who was turned into a leering Hindi-film villain by B R Chopra in that gaudy TV epic we were all so addicted to 15 years ago). Just to clarify though, I’m talking here about the epic in general, not any one author’s version.

Cult Movies 3 by Danny Peary
Some of my crucial reading years were spent on film books and while I relished a lot of the academic stuff, one of my personal favourites is the simple, conversational – but very, very intelligently written - Cult Movies 3, which I happened to stumble upon at a sale in CP and picked up only because one of the movies discussed was Hitchcock’s Psycho. The great thing about Peary’s writing is that he has that first, most important quality of any true movie-lover: unconditional open-mindedness about what he’s willing to watch. He writes with equal passion and insight about such B-films as Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and the 1970s “thinking person’s porn film” Café Flesh as he does about “respectable” classics like Dr Strangelove. Without his example, I don’t think I would ever have been able to discuss movies like Star Wars and Deewaar with any confidence.

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
I’ve blogged about The Unconsoled
at length before, but well, here it is again. Reading it at a time when I had started getting terribly weighed down by the difficulties of time management, I was enormously affected by Ishiguro’s great novel about a man who seems constantly to be treading a pre-determined path others have laid out for him, never gaining control over his own life, always losing sight of the things that really matter. The book’s circular, surrealistic narrative is seriously disconcerting; offhand I can’t think of another novel that provides such a vivid sense of a nightmare world from which there’s no waking (among films David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive comes close). At least, I thought it was a nightmare world until I went on a couple of high-activity, high-tension junkets and realized that Ishiguro’s book was an only slightly exaggerated version of our real lives.

And…that’s it. I’m leaving the fifth slot blank, as a reminder of how futile this exercise is. But just off the cuff, here are some honorary mentions, all of which would (probably) make it to my Top 500 (!):

Moby Dick - Herman Melville
A Cinema of Loneliness - Robert Kolker
Fiction into Film - Joy Gould Boyum
50 Great Innings - Peter Roebuck
Portnoy’s Complaint - Philip Roth
Shame - Salman Rushdie
Red Dragon - Thomas Harris
The Silmarillion - J R R Tolkien
The Ragman’s Son - Kirk Douglas
The Blandings Castle books - P G Wodehouse

Tag five people and have them do this on their blogs: Unfortunately everyone already seems to have been tagged. Clearly, I need to increase my blog circle!


  1. hi,
    a wonderful list of books. I picked up Yazad's invitation "All are welcome" he said and so I posted mine here: Tagging books.
    Great to see that you mentioned "The Enchanted Wood" and "The Faraway Tree." While I was composing my list, I debated quite a bit with myself on whether i should include "The Faraway Tree" in my list -- it being the first "book" that I read and is therefore special to me. And isn't it amazing how Enid Blyton is such a wonderful read even now when you are grown up and all? I remember a few months back one of my colleagues in office got this set of Secret seven, five find-outers and Famous Five -- and had a huge queue of people waiting to borrow the books.
    Keep posting, needless to say -- I love your posts.

  2. Ah, Kamala Subramanium's story telling of the Mahabharata will always hold a special place in my heart. I read it around when I was 10, as well. It was a 'summer vacation book', and I would read it every year! Fantastic stuff, draws you in, and aptly called 'sentimental'.

    And I will some how always rate LOTR over The Silmarillion as well-maybe partly owing again to sentimentality, but also because I think Silmarillion derives a lot of its first-read pleasure from the discoveries of the truth behind allusions made in the Lord of the Rings and its appendices. The Silmarillion brings home how truly breathtaking is the scope of his creation, but as a story I do believe LOTR surpasses it.

  3. Hi Mandar,
    Thanks, and yes, isn't it good to see the Faraway Tree on other lists - here's another one btw:

    Vague: You have a point there about Silmarillion getting its first-read pleasure from the LOTR allusions. Don’t think I could have enjoyed it the same way as a self-contained story.
    Do read some Tolkien biographies,if you haven’t already. It gives one fascinating insights into how in one sense The Silmarillion was really his life’s work - the Beren and Luthien story was the first major thing he wrote, during WWI, and he continued revising his notes right up to the time he died - nearly 60 years!

  4. Cult Movies 3! Damn. I've been searching for Vols 2 and 3 for quite a while now. Vol 1 (which I own) was quite an eye opener.

    The Unconsoled is another favourite of mine. I starting reading it because I had enjoyed The Remains of the Day. This turned out to be amazingly different.

    Nice post, by the way.

  5. Egad! The last book you read was Pompous Friedman's new one? Quickly read something else...
    Nice blog, btw

  6. I had no idea who was this Friedman, until I read this hilarious, scathing review on his "World is Flat" by Matt Taibbi (another great find). And boye, what a review it is...I am now sure as Hell, I am not going to read that book.

  7. Chaakyar: WOW! Can't tell you how far and wide I've searched for volumes 1 and 2. Can't believe I've actually come across someone who has one of them.
    Where do you live? And is your house adequately protected against break-ins?

    Papamali, thanks. But Suhail, dude, you really SHOULD read it, it's hilarious. In particular, I loved this bit near the end:

    "The flattening of the world...has presented us with new opportunities, new challenges...particularly as Americans. It is imperative that we be the best global citizens that we can be - because in a flat world, if you don't visit a bad neighborhood, it might visit you."

    Priceless, as good as any Bushism I've ever read.

  8. Whaa !!... bachaaooo... get my earthship Hobbes. I want to *en-rectangle* the perimeter of this flat FLAT world.

    I can't believe, this guy is a celebrated Op-Ed columnist for NYT on foreign affairs.

  9. "I can't believe, this guy is a celebrated Op-Ed columnist for NYT on foreign affairs."

    Suhail, why's that so hard to believe? I mean, look at the BUmbling SHmuck who's President of the US of A!

  10. I love Enid Blyton's The Wishing Chair series too.

  11. Books You Couldn't Finish Reading/Most Unreadable Thing You've Read:
    Uma of Indianwriting suggested "the one book you couldn't finish reading?/the most unreadable thing you've read?" She had tagged Anand of Locana who added it to his meme.
    Here are mine.

  12. The Faraway Tree series was my favourite Enid Blyton series too. Not on my list, though.

  13. I've read Carpenter's Tokien biography, but no other...? Also, The Letters of Tokien, too, make very interesting reading.

  14. Jai, poor old Auntie Enid is oft-betrayed. We are weaned on her work, starting from the Noddy series and ending with the Five Find-Outers, and then we sneer at her when we're Grown-Up. Kudos to you and Ani the Gamesmaster for paying tribute.

    But HOW COULD YOU PREFER THE TURGID SILMARILLION TO THE HOBBIT? Sorry for shouting, but the latter is craft. The S is self-indulgent. Wasn't it published posthumously because JRRT didn't want to publish it himslef?


  15. Hail to thee noble JAP!
    Partly it's because I tend to have a fondness for the 'underdog books' - hence Silmarillion over Hobbit and LOTR, Shame over Midnight's Children etc. But also, I'm endlessly fascinated by the insights the Silmarillion provides into Tolkien's long, often tortured writing career: how, even while writing The Hobbit and LOTR as independent works, he managed to locate them in the same world as the mythical stories he had written decades earlier - which Christopher Tolkien would later collate and publish as The Silmarilion.

    In a sense, I think of "The Silmarillion" not as the published work by that name but as the sum of Tolkien's mythical world - everything he ever wrote and imagined.

  16. Your list is superb and quite classic. Am yet to make one and seems like quite a daunting task. Have always hated picking favourites... :)

    Enid blyton is a favourite of mine and even carolyn keen (tho don't know if i should admit this on a public space:))

    Btw don't know how much of a music fan are you but have tagged you for a similar exercise on songs/music.

  17. O JAPji
    I am most happy for someone to appreciate the Hobbit enough to say that the Silmarillion is nothing in front of it, but turgid? turgid?

    The only thing excessive about the book is the grandeur of his creation. Which is why even if it cannot be considered a great story (for it is not one actually, but a collection of many), it is still part of a vast mythic creation that I, for one, cannot help but be in awe of.

    Of course, I suppose, I can see how someone mught be bored (oh, my word!) by it-if not sufficiently sucked in by the allusions in the other books, notably LOTR- but I am afraid my loyalties still push me to arch my eyebrows in consternation when it is described as...(shudder shudder) turgid.

    Yours, etc...

  18. and (with the danger that this might be self defeating), JRRT did not publish the Silmarillion because he could not sell it as an idea, especially once The Hobbit, and LOTR's first part, were out there.
    Secondly, peerfectionist that he was when it came to linguistics and the accuracy of his creations, he was never fully satisfied with the consistency (or lack thereof) in what was eventually to be his Silmarillion content.

  19. do I tag someone ? Just post a link on my post and expect the person to read ? mail ? comment on their site ?

  20. "Chaakyar: WOW! Can't tell you how far and wide I've searched for volumes 1 and 2. Can't believe I've actually come across someone who has one of them."

    umm...and then there's me who has easy access to ALL three Peary volumes. :))

    was going through his "Alternate Oscars" recently and can you believe it - he has chosen E.T. (yes, that..that.. spielberg movie) over Gandhi for the best picture of 1982 *i had to drink 3 glasses of water to digest THIS*.

    some of his other choices get my full approval. (Michael Caine in Educating Rita, Isabelle Adjani in The story of Adele.H, Chinatown over Godfather II, to name a few).

    *sigh* so many movies that need to re-watched.

  21. I love P.G. Wodehouse and I bought 7 of them for Rs 350 at Most of them currently not available at big bookshops . I guess I finished of the lot at this site .. but they keep adding more copies.. Yum!!

  22. Are you mad , how can a sensible man like you like Salman Rushdie's Shame , which to me was pathetic and miles away from Midnight's Children.

  23. Shwet: just curious, do you refer to everyone you have a difference of opinion with as "mad"? Can't be many sane people left in your world then...

  24. Sorry Jai,

    Sincere apologies for the use of that word written quickly while working in office as I came across your post.Please do not take it personally ,just a difference of opinion since I am not one of those admirers of "Shame". I can understand your shock and please take it as an apology from my side.