Sunday, September 14, 2014

There are no bad books…

...only books that teach you how not to write. At least that’s what I tell myself whenever I feel like I am wasting precious time on finishing a novel that makes me cringe, roll my eyes, laugh out loud (in a nasty way - at it rather than with it) and/or insanely hopeful that if such tripe got published, I definitely have a chance too with my own book (which I will complete one day. I will, I will.)
Why do I bother to finish a book when it is almost too painful an experience to even reach the end of a page? Well, because I keep thinking maybe it’s just about to get better. And there is always something to learn from everything, right?
The majority of the books I read though leave me feeling slightly lonely and longing at the end, like I’ve said goodbye to a close friend. And not all such books are of “literary” value – a lot of the stuff I like is brutally trashed by critics and people who prefer “intelligent” reads. The most recent example of this is the Gossip Girl series, which I’ve just completed after a whirlwind sleepless few weeks. These “teen” novels have been widely criticized for their supposedly inappropriate content and lack of literary merit, but they kept me awake late into the night, rapidly swiping my Kindle as I flew through all twelve novels, anxious to know what outrageous event would unfold next in the luxurious lives of the Upper East Siders – a bunch of high society kids living it up in New York City. The characters had me so enthralled I can’t help missing them now. It’s really amazing the power that good stories can wield upon us.
I was recently tagged on Facebook to list my ten favorite books of all times and I fell into such deep thought about this that I decided it’s better to make a blog post out of it rather than just a Facebook status. So here’s my list, in reverse chronological order from most recently discovered to earliest treasures:

1.     Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This book is so full of amazing quotes that a separate book could be compiled solely out of them. It has a little bit of everything – action, adventure, crime, love, passion, friendship, drama, tragedy, all interwoven so eloquently that it’s hard to believe it’s based on real-life events. All I can say is, I look forward to seeing the film if it ever comes out, even though I know it won’t match the book’s awesomeness.
2.     The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series by Ann Brashares
This story about friendship bridging distances and surviving no matter what, always makes me teary. The characters remind me of myself and old friends that I have grown apart from but still cherish. I particularly love the final book – Sisterhood Everlasting -  for the bittersweet nostalgia it evokes and for lending the reassurance that some friendships can indeed last forever. You just have to nurture them well and work on them.
3.     Brida by Paulo Coelho
This is my favorite book by my favorite author. I can’t really describe what I love about it because I haven’t re-read it for a long time. So I’m going to do just that and rediscover all the wisdom that Brida gains on her quest for knowledge.
4.     A girl like me by Swati Kaushal
This is a story about an Indian-American teenager who relocates to India after her father passes away. I bought this when I had just relocated to India too and naturally, I indentified with the protagonist quite a bit. But over the years, I have kept revisiting this story simply because of the vivid descriptions and beautiful prose.
5.     The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
This was the first story I ever read about Indian immigrant life abroad and it really struck a chord. I read it after I’d watched the movie and loved it.
6.     A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
I love all of Khaled Hosseini’s novels and I prize this one the most because it is so poignant yet inspiring at the same time.
7.     The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
This was a birthday gift from my dad and sort of my first foray into the beautiful magical world of Paulo Coelho. I’d read his famous The Alchemist before but I guess I’d been too young to appreciate it at the time. The Zahir came at the right time and after that, I couldn’t stop reading Coelho. His words are so simple yet so deep and belief-altering (in a good way).
8.     Desert Flower by Waris Dirie
I read this around the time I first learned about the practice of female genital mutilation and I was moved by what Waris Dirie suffered and overcame to become a successful model, actress and social activist. It was a peak into a world so far removed from the one I inhabit that it has stayed etched in my memory even a decade after reading the book.
9.     Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte 
I first read this in the eighth grade (I think) in English class. It was on the syllabus and while I suspect most people hated doing the required reading, I was one of the few who finished the book before time, then read it over again. Initially, it was difficult to keep track of all the million characters (with similar names!) in this book but my English teacher eventually made it really easy by helping us sketch a family tree and refer to it in order to keep track of who’s who. I love all the convoluted relationships and drama that the author so effortlessly brings out in eloquent old English prose. The spooky suspense and weird romance is hard to resist.
10. Malory Towers by Enid Blyton
I received the first three books of this series as a prize for doing well in fourth grade and I couldn’t stop reading it even though it was a big, heavy, scary-looking hardback compilation. It made me long for the exotic world of English boarding school and left me quite lonesome when I completed the entire series after borrowing the remaining three books from the school library. Unfortunately, my hardbound volume got lost sometime over the years, but I still remember the crispness of the pages, their delicious musty scent, and the reassuring air of seriousness that only hardbound books seem to lend. Like I read somewhere: “Books have to be heavy because the whole world’s inside them.”

That concludes my list of ten most-loved books, though I can’t end this post without mentioning the Harry Potter series which is of course at par with all those mentioned above. The only reason I didn’t include it in the list is that I would feel compelled to give it seven out of the ten spots, one for each book in the series. So I’ll simply say that Harry Potter is in a league of its (his?) own and the stuff of a separate blog post.

Until next time, remember…

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