Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Favorite 10 - Books (Fiction)

This one wasn’t easy either. It began with 54, came down to 17, and finally, it got stuck at 11. Similarity of the subject in two titles made things easy for me. ‘Brave New World’ lost to ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ (my apologies to Mr. Huxley).

*The parameters remain the same as mentioned in the previous list. a) Its impact on me & b) Longevity
**The list is in no particular order and it.
*** It can change in 10 years time.

1. The Old Man and the Sea: Ernest Hemmingway, 1952
This eternal tale of human being’s undying spirit is short and hard-hitting. The plot is simple. An old fisherman wants to catch the largest marlin ever, one last time.

I have visited the old man Santiago’s life on three occasions and while writing this, I feel like making the fourth visit.

2. The Roads To Freedom Trilogy: Jean Paul Sartre, 1945 – 49
The plot revolves around Mathieu, a Socialist teacher of Philosophy and his set of friends. The time-span is between the Bohemian Paris of 30s to the end of World War II in Europe.

The first part of the trilogy, ‘The Age of Reason’ which talks about Sartre’s idea of freedom as the ultimate aim of human existence, remains a personal favorite. It’s one of those books which have affected me deeply and shaped my thinking in many ways.

3. The Outsider (The Stranger): Albert Camus, 1942
Yet another one from ‘Existentialism’ stable though Mr Camus himself always denied it. Yet another short and hard-hitting one.

And it begins with one of the best possible beginnings. A beginning that sums up the character and the book in just a few sentences, but still makes you want to read more. Consider this:

"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: `Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy.' Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."

This debut from Camus is worth many visits. He was just 29 when he wrote it.

4. Nineteen Eighty -Four: George Orwell, 1949
Set in the futuristic (1984) London, this classic dystopian novel depicts a totalitarian regime, which the central character, Winston Smith wants to rebel against. It gave the world many terms and concepts which are commonly used in English. Big Brother, Doublethink, Thoughtcrime and Newspeak have all come from here.

Closer to my profession, it inspired the famous 1984 commercial for Apple Macintosh.

5. Crime & Punishment: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1866
I picked up this one from a book-fair at the age of 14 because I had heard about it from the General Knowledge book. The title intrigued my teenage mind and the Russian book fair helped. It kept lying with me unread for years as I could never go beyond a couple of pages.

I got into it again at the age of 24 and this time the pages just kept flipping. It stunned my system with its depiction of mental anguish and moral dilemmas of the central character, Raskolnikov. He murders a hated and unscrupulous pawn-broker for money and also argues that by doing this, he is getting rid of an evil and useless person from this world.

I felt that Dosteyevsky analyzed human mind and heart like no other!

6. The Heart of the Matter: Graham Greene, 1948
This was the first Graham Greene book I read. It encouraged me to read other titles by him only to find out that this one is very different from his other works. Decoding differences between complex human emotions like pity, love, pity misunderstood as love, and pride, it’s a far cry from his usual political espionage novels.

The story revolves around a police officer, Scobie, his relationship with his wife and with a young widow. This Scobie has a feeling of pity for everyone and everything. In Greene’s own words, ' The character of Scobie was intended to show that pity can be the expression of an almost monstrous pride."

*I had a tough time selecting this over another Greene gem, ‘A Burnt Out Case’.

7. Tropic Of Capricorn: Henry Miller, 1938
It’s a raw, seamless, unbridled, flow of emotions and experiences. This semi-autobiographical sequel to the 1934, Tropic Of Cancer was banned in US until 1961. The absolutely no holds barred passages of sexual experiences were too obscene for those times.

However, there are some lovely general (read non-sexual) passages which turn the book into a masterpiece. For example, this memory from his childhood:

"What amazes me, when I look back on it, is how well we penetrated to the essential character of each and every one, young or old...The learning we received only tended to obscure our vision. From the day we went to school we learned nothing; on the contrary, we were made obtuse, we were wrapped in a fog of words and abstractions...What I am thinking of, with a certain amount of regret and longing, is that this thoroughly restricted life of early boyhood seems like a limitless universe and the life which followed upon it, the life of an adult, a constantly diminishing realm...The taste goes out of the bread as it goes out of life. Getting the bread becomes more important than the eating of it. Everything is calculated and everything has a price upon it."

Absolute free flow!

8. Mrs. Dalloway: Virginia Woolf, 1925
It’s about a single day but flows forward and back in time, in and out of character’s minds and the result is an extraordinary novel. At the core is an existentialist description of a bored and rich housewife’s attempt to throw a party, in a post World War I London. On the fringes are other subjects, one of which is the scariest description of mental illness and depression. Having experienced such a disorder at close quarters, I can completely identify with it.

Much later, Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours (also turned into a brilliant movie by the same name) paid a great tribute to the genius of Ms Woolf.

9. Of Mice and Men: John Steinbeck, 1937
Once again, this was my first exposure to the genius of John Steinbeck and I turned into an immediate fan, reading almost all the other works by him. Perhaps because it’s the first that I read by the author, or because it’s so simple, short and profound, it remains a great favorite.

It’s a tale of two roaming ranch boys and friends, one smart and one not so smart, during the Great Depression in California. The tragic tale narrated in the brilliant Steinbeck style makes it an all time great for me.

*I also enjoyed the Gary Sinise directed movie with the same name.

10. Disgrace: J M Coetzee, 1999
An ageing Professor is broken to pieces before he finds some redemption in his forced acceptance of the realities of life and death. Set in post apartheid South Africa, it has its share of political conflict and situation of the country in the backdrop. But, it’s basically about this guy who has fallen to disgrace, and in the process learns to be a human.

One of the best usages of the language, English I’ve come across. Not a word extra yet conveys a universe!

One spends a lifetime with a book and I relived ten of those while making this list. I hope you like going through it and perhaps share your list.


mr bojangles said...

impressive list - i haven't read Greene. must've been very hard to keep Lawrence out of the list - Son's & Lovers, The Rainbow, Women in love & Lady Chatterley's - he analyzes the mind like Dostoevsky and writes prose like poetry. now it'll be just as interesting to read the comments that come in.

Bhaskar Khaund said...

Tropic of Capricorn ? oh puhleez ! i mean,take "from the day we went to school we learned nothing". Right. So did someone ghost write that for him then ? Banal ! I found the book terribly over-rated. Sorry , by the way ! :-)

mr bojangles said...

oh and i read an interesting one already. i think, now, post the woodstock madness, an apolitical epicurean/hedonistic way of living is nothing new. but way back then, with one war over and another one going on, one had to take a stand and in that regard, i think.. putting a passive & sensually individualistic way of living above everything else was a new thought in itself. Miller does hold a place in that.

bluesin said...

1. Godel Escher Bach: Douglas Hofstadter - the ultimate mind f**k

2. The Blind Watchmaker: Richard Dawkins - the ultimate 'middle finger' to intelligent design. In his new book (The Greatest Show on Earth, that I am half way through) he likens people who pass off evolution as 'just a theory' to 'holocaust deniers' - a brilliant analogy IMO

3. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Douglas Adams - what a hoot!

4. The Tin Drum: Gunter Grass - twisted, dark, scary... reads like psychological thriller... but I don't think was meant to be one.

5. I, Robot: Asimov - This opened my mind to AI... the first time I read it.... years ago.

6. The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox: Stephen Jay Gould - the last shining light for the 'punctuated equilibrium' theory.

7. The Blank Slate: Stephen Pinker - this changes the way one thinks about 'Jungian universal archetypes'. The book questions, deeply, conventional understanding of the brain is hard-wired and what we take for granted - check this out for what the book has in store:

8. Collapse: Jared Diamond - humbling insight into the fallibility of even the most powerful cultures

9. The old man and the Sea - Meraj described it well enough

10. The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint Exupéry. Never tire of reading this little masterpiece.

DISCLAIMER: This list will self-destruct in 730 days

Bhaskar Khaund said...

now i've read another :-). well,the majority of people have always been apolitical Mr. Bo , they go about the business of living- its just that the 'politicals' minority (the intells, etc)pull a disproportinate weight on the info that shapes our idea of an age .did people sacrifice their impulses in the interwar years ? not any more , i suspect,than we don't look beyond hedonistic gratification in our own age ...So i doubt that "passive individualistic and sensual" stand was anything radical in itself inside of people's heads. at least not any more than it wud be now. Sure , outside of people's heads ,it was a brave book .Bold and rare for the times .yes , etc etc. but does that by itself give it literary merit ? That's obviously subjective !
Which is why : apologies if my comment came across as too sharp ,Tangled - it does to me now !
It's just that I didn't get the book at all. And a pet peeve is the hype around some of this un-gettable (to me) stuff from the usual quarters , say , like Ulysses (literary types)or Naked Lunch (counter-culture types)...Hope that explains
So : apologies once again :-)

Bhaskar Khaund said...

Mr. Bo :carrying on from there : describing an age is a v. useful generalisation but not necessarily a representative one. Case in point : the whole 60's flower power thing. its surprising just how few people it really touched even amongst the western youth at the time - leaving aside their parents and the whole non-western world (i.e. 60-70% of mankind).or more to the point , how little overt political change it actually brought about vs what's commonly definitely impacted society , eg gender rights, but probably more as an catalyst or accelerator rather than as a break point.Heck, within 5-6 years , mosta the guys who attended woodstock had cut their hair and were earning a living off main street , wall street and - yes - madison avenue! So the 60's as we think of it is more an idea than a reality of those times - but a bloody beautiful idea anyway ! i'm in love with it too ! Peace

mr bojangles said...

hey, on the flower power thing - it was not about woodstock - twas about the whole long vietnam war. must've affected a lot more people, don't you think? (now now, lets not hijack this thread)
peace love empathy & music. :-)

blaiq said...

Great list. And you have made me want to dust up my copy of Camus' 'The Outsider' and read it again.

My own top 10 list has a couple of Batman comics and lots of non-fiction to give Camus company.

mr bojangles said...

:-) my list:

1. Thus Spake Zarathustra - Nietzsche
2. No Exit and Three Other Plays (esp The Flies) - Sartre
3. The Plague - Albert Camus
4. Women in Love - Lawrence
5. The Brothers Karamazov - Dostoyevsky
6. The Prophet - Khalil Gibran
7. One hundred years of solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
8. Mrs Dalloway - Woolf
9. The Penal Colony - Kafka
10. The Solitaire Mystery - Jostein Gaarder

(and uncle google's asking me to type the word phing. it is not a thing, it's not a thing - it's a PHING!!)

Masroor Hasan said...

I am thankful to you for having read Crime n Punishment as it's you who got it home and it also happens to be one of my favorites..I finished this book in 4 years not because i am a slow reader but because i found it so interesting that i didnt want to finish it at one go...may be just like a child who doesnt want to finish his favorite candie in one gulp...

Namas said...

i thank u,,for having read The not much into reading fiction but then u motivated me to read it n its the best book that i have ever read..

junk said...

I'm surprised that our lists differ quite a bit, only three in common:
Saul Bellow's Henderson, The Rain King
Solzhenitstyn's Cancer Ward
Camus' Caligula
Camus' Exile and the kingdom
Camus' Fall
Camus' Resistance, Rebellion and Death
Doestoevesky's Crime and Punishment
Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn
Kafka's Collection including Metamorphosis, Meditations, The Hunter Gracchus, The Hunger Artiste etc.
Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men

junk said...

i guess ficton category removes resistance... from my list. in that case i'll also include 1984, which makes it four common in our lists

junk said...

its tough to leave out burnt out case by grtaham greene, primarily becasue it captures the idea of 'nothing's worth it' so remarkably, i have to add it to the list, maybe at the expense of henderson the rain king

meraj said...

mr bo (i like that name) and bhaskar,
completely enjoyed the exchange...could almost see bhaskar's face while making the point.

also, perhaps you should visit Tropic again, Bhaskar...might like it this time.

once again thats avery interesting and eclectic list. The Little Prince figures in my master list. you described it perfectly as the 'little masterpiece'

Batman comics are fun!

mr bo,
most from your list figure in the master list. i havent read 'The Solitaire Mystery'...will pick it up :)

am glad i was of some assistance :) and i love your analogy of the 'child with candy'.

you must read other works of Camus...they equally brilliant

i had a vrey tough time leaving the ones you have mentioned from my top 10. and even i would chose 'a burnt out case' over 'henderson'

thank you all for putting up your lists


meraj said...

ones who didnt make it to top 10 but are top 10 material:

1.Dracula: Bram Stoker
2.56 Short Stories & 4 Novels of Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Conan Doyle
3.Brave New World: Aldous Huxley
4.The Catcher In The Rye: JD Salinger
5.One Night In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
6.Letting Go: Philip Roth
7.A Burnt Out Case: Graham Greene
8.Metamorphosis & Other Stories: Kafka
9.The Great Gatsby: F Scott Fitzgerald
10.Sons & Lovers: D H Lawrence
11.Humbolt’s Gift: Saul Bellow
12.Fathers & Sons: Ivan Turgenev
13.The Moon & Six Pence: Somerset Maughum
14.My Name Is Red: Orhan Pamuk
15.Catch 22: Joseph Heller
16.Slaughterhouse-5: Kurt Vonnegut
17.The Plague: Albert Camus
18.Brothers Karamazov: Fyodor Dostoyevsky
19.100 Years Of Solitude: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
20.The Godfather: Mario Puzo
21.On the Road: Jack Kerouac
22.Animal Farm: George Orwell
23.A Clockwork Orange: Anthony Burgess
24.Lolita: V Nabokov
25.Tropic Of Cancer: Henry Miller
26.An American Dream: Norman Mailer
27.To Kill A Mocking Bird: Harper Lee
28.The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
29.Exile and the Kingdom: Albert Camus
30.Short Stories: Saadat Hasan Manto
31.Indigo and other Stories: Satyajit Ray
32.Fahrenheit 451: Ray Bradbury
33.The Trial: Kafka
34.Caligula & Other Plays: Albert Camus
35.The Dangling Man: Saul Bellow
36.Tarzan of the Apes: ERB
37.Portnoy’s Complaint: Philip Roth
38.Madam Bovary: Gustave Flaubert
39.Side Effects: Woody Allen
40.And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie
41.Heart of Darkness: Joseph Conrad
42.Wilt: Tom Sharpe
43.Intimacy: Sartre
44.No Exit and other Plays: Sartre

junk said...

cant think of any more, quite an exhaustive list, how about a non-fiction/semi-fiction list, i can think of resistance, rebelllion and death, big sur and the oranges..., good a gold, camus' lyrical and critical essays

junk said...

i'm taking a print out of this list and will check out the ones i have not read, i suppose it'd be around 10 max

junk said...

how could i forget the myth of sisyphus in the NF list. also the rebel and doors of perception: heaven and hell

meraj said...

i do intend to make a list non fiction books that i have loved.

junk said...

shukriya, you might like the earlier post i wrote on the same topic

junk said...

and the books from your list i havn't read are exactly 10:
Dracula: Bram Stoker
My Name Is Red: Orhan Pamuk
An American Dream: Norman Mailer
The Little Prince: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Dangling Man: Saul Bellow
Tarzan of the Apes: ERB
Side Effects: Woody Allen
And Then There Were None: Agatha Christie
Heart of Darkness: Joseph Conrad
Wilt: Tom Sharpe

junk said...

also, there were some real surprising absentees from your list,
fall by camus
lord jim by conrad
cancer ward by solzhenitstyn
notes from the underground by dostoevsky

meraj said...

i agree about these conspicuous omissions...a bad slip of mind! thanks for reminding. cheers!

ALIen said...

baba, still waiting for the blog on MICA you promised.

junk said...

I've started reading the ten i hadn't read from your list, make that eight becos i had already read heart of darkness and i did not enjoy the american dream and gave it up midway. From among the eight, i've started reading my name is red, next will be the little prince, which i guess is a children's book, but who knows

lolo said...

the book of laughter and forgetting, by Milan Kundera is also really good.

meraj said...

'my name...' is quite a trip and 'the little prince', an evergreen

i used to like milan kundera a lot at one point in time but not anymore. but, will pick up this the title :)

junk said...

saw your list, not too surprised, as our tastes differ in some movies like 'dch' being cyrus etc. shikhar, i liked bcos it delivered a msg without being preachy and one-dimensional, and devgan was fabulous. only surprise is that you didn't find taxi.. that great, i thot it was thoroughly entertaining. Garam.. is like hungama it grows on u. i found it tough to leave out firaaq, dev devd and johnny. very surprised not to ind oye lucky... recently saw it again, and i'd place it higher on my list in fact