This appeared in today's Sunday Guardian.
What a year it's been for not reading. From translated novels to Indian debuts to American bestsellers to British award-winners, they skulk on my Kindle and lurk on my shelves, each one a priceless memory of time spent doing anything other than reading. Few pleasures come close. Here, then, are my favourite unread books of the year, in no particular order of merit.
To begin with, there were the big novels -- big in terms of size, big in terms of accolades. The sheer heft of these volumes, containing intricate interactions between characters spread all over the globe, was so impressive that I had to spend a whole morning squeezing out space on the shelves to accommodate them. This is why, alas, I only had time to read the just the first few pages of one of them before being pulled away to save the brave explorer in a new version of Temple Run. (Priorities, people, priorities. Not to mention marauding monkeys.)
Then, there were the works of non-fiction that spoke of the rise of India, the decline of the West, the resurgence of China and the diversity of Bora-Bora. What insights, what analyses, what weaving together of personal anecdotes and public observations! I put one of them down for a minute to ponder over the writer’s interpretations, only to find a little later that as I had lightly dozed off, I was unable to pick it up again. I will soon, of course.
From Europe came the novellas, little existential depth charges that spoke of mankind’s helplessness in the face of a malign universe as well as in the plate of stale croissants for breakfast. These were beautifully translated and packaged; I could look at the cover art for hours. In fact, that’s exactly what I’ve done so far. Each one is etched into my brain.
Next, the novel from America that everyone was talking about, the one that was ecstatically seized upon by the cognoscenti, the one that you simply had to have an opinion on if you were to be Among Those Who Count, the one that spoke of high philosophical ideas in the guise of an unvarnished tale about the pleasures of obtaining fresh croissants for breakfast. Immediately after purchasing this, I came across so many perceptive Facebook posts touting its charms that I felt I knew it intimately without having to read a word of it.
History and biography, too, played a large role in my year of not reading. After all, who wouldn’t want to enrich one’s knowledge of the present by learning about the long shadow of past events and the deeds of men who define our age? I do need a few uninterrupted hours to really get into these books, however: I wouldn’t want to do the authors’ labours a disservice by simply skimming. Until I find such time, though, I’ll just have to make do with checking out the Wikipedia entries on their subjects. They’re quite informative, too.
As always, Indian writers didn’t disappoint this year. In particular, there was the much-heralded debut about love in a small town that was called “lyrical”, “incisive” and even “luminous” by the reviewers. I must confess that I read so many of the reviews that all the details of plot and characters were revealed to me. I spent time sending congratulatory tweets to all the critics instead, and am now eagerly awaiting the author’s follow-up.
Books aside, there was also the joy of collecting the year-end issues of magazines, with their lyrical, incisive and luminous articles on the highlights of the year gone by, not to mention the lists of the year’s favourites. I have a shiny stack of them next to my bed, which I’m going to turn to as soon as I clear the backlog of other such issues. Right now, I’ve reached 1977, and Saturday Night Fever is sweeping the nation. I can’t wait to find out whether they made a sequel.