Thinking about these great words by Nora Ephron (author of, among other things, Heartburn, a book that will make you hungry and make you want to read it all in one go, so read with a snack): “Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, become a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on.” The complaint I hear most often is: “I don’t have the time to read!” Which is not true. I find you can read at any time you have an idle moment — I carry my Kindle about from bedroom to kitchen, reading while a pot boils, reading when I’m stuck in traffic (don’t attempt while you’re driving!), reading standing up between phone calls — and after a little practice, you'll be looking at your novel instead of Facebook when you’re next stuck in a queue. With that in mind, here are three recommendations to inspire you.
Nope, not Arundhati Roy’s Ministry of Utmost Happiness, because, I presume, by now you’ve read enough reviews of that to make up your own mind whether or not you’re going to read it. I’m still on the fence. A quieter buzz last month formed around a surprising fictional memoir, Meena Kandasamy’s When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife. It’s thinly veiled fiction, so thin, in fact, it was only later that I realised it was a novel. Kandasamy is a poet, so her prose sings in places where you’d expect a story like this to sag. The unnamed protagonist of Kandasamy’s book takes a lot of abuse from her communist-leaning husband, he beats her with whatever he has on hand, he rapes her and refuses to let her moan or make any noises at all, but, worst of all, he cuts her off from everyone she knows by forcing her to give up her phone, social media and by replying to all her email himself, signing it with both their names.
I read the entire thing on my phone with one hand over my mouth. It’s gripping, and by the end of it, I was slightly breathless, as though I had escaped this man myself. What is compelling is how you feel the narrator growing more and more isolated, her world is reduced to just her flat and her husband, and this juxtaposed with flashbacks to the life she used to lead, the lovers, and the the travel, makes for a claustrophobic and terrifying read.
Speaking of Roy, remember when Paresh Rawal suggested that she be tied to a jeep so that people could hurl stones at her? He then regretted making that remark (one assumes) and tried to erase everyone’s memory of it by deleting the tweet. More recently, pictures of the Spain-Morocco border passed off as India’s by the home ministry had several people asking questions. The internet has a long memory as far as some things are concerned, and all of the above would know that too if they read British journalist and author Jon Ronson’s book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. From the PR executive who tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” before she got on a flight, only to get off at the other end with her name trending and her job gone, to the charity worker who mimed shouting and a middle finger in front of a sign saying “Silence and Respect” at a war cemetery, these are people who know what it’s like to be on the other side of a baying Twitter mob. Ronson talks to them, and tries to understand what made them say what they said. It’s worth a read, given there’s a different thing to outrage about each day.
And now a story as relevant today as it was when first published in 1982 — Anita Desai’s The Village By The Sea. It is the story of a village in Alibaug, due to get a factory. Besides that, it’s also the story of Hari and Lila, children to a drunk father and a sickly mother. Hari goes off to Bombay to seek his fortune at 12, Lila stays behind, and gets help from a local naturalist who is bemoaning the loss of biodiversity once the factory goes up. But, we’re made to understand that the factory also signifies hope and jobs, and while you’re rooting for Hari and Lila, you also feel a little sad for the world they will lose. Isn’t that always the way?
(This monthly column is a primer for the books you need to know about, as well as the ones you want to)
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, with the sixth, The One Who Swam With The Fishes, out now in bookstores; @reddymadhavan