The Written Word (Part II)

There are two questions which I get asked a lot as soon as people hear that I love reading, the first is when do I get the time to read and the second , what types of books do I read (I think the second question is asked to whosoever says that they love reading ).

When do I get the time to read is simple to answer, I read even if I get five minutes free, like waiting for my children’s bus and if I start reading around my bedtime then I usually say good bye to my sleep.

What type of books I read is more complex to answer as there is no particular genre or author that I stick too. I am not a literary snob and do try and read different things( though I doubt I will be reading a  Chetan Bhagat or Ravinder Singh soon). I find sticking to a particular genre very restrictive, though there is usually a pattern in what I pick up to read.  I have been fond of reading from a very young age and this fondness has not diminished over time, though the favorite genres and author keep changing (I am hoping with my maturity level).

There are however a few authors and genres who are evergreen for me and I can read and re-read them umpteen number of times (in fact have done so too). I have made a combined list with both the authors and genres as there a few authors who stand alone like Olympus and even if they write/wrote in any other genres I would still read the book. (Plus to keep the list to a manageable length!)

So here goes my list of my favorite authors/genres. This list in no particular order though Jane Austen will have the top rank in any list made by me.

  • Jane Austen: I think she would be on the list of any convent educated girl from India. There is something about Jane Austen books that are still so relevant today about two hundred years after she wrote them. Maybe it is the simplicity or the universal theme of love in her books. All her books are my favorites (indeed a cherished gift was when I received the hard bound set of all six of her books). Pride and Prejudice has been read so many times that I have actually lost count , although I do remember that the first time I read it, I was in seventh grade.( and yes Colin Firth  is the incarnation of Mr.Darcy ).


  • Chitra Banerjee: The first book written by her that I read was “Mistress of Spices” and I can credit her for introducing me to the wonderful world of Indian authors. Up until that point I was more into thrillers and romances, and only after reading her I realized how deep, rich and vibrant Indian writing is. Her “Palace of Illusions” is a stand out book as it forays into the mythological fiction realm but is also strongly feminist.


  • Nora Roberts: There was a time when I would devour three to four books written by her in a week! Though they are inherently romance books, her books have humor, magic, family, a full masala book in Bollywood parlance.


  • Indian mythological fiction/thriller: This is a genre which has become quite popular recently specially after author Amish burst on the scene with his “Immortals of Meluha”. These books are familiar as their characters are the god and goddesses whom we have grown up revering and suddenly they are much accessible and relocatable in a book. Amish Tripathi and Ashwin Sanghi stand out from the crowd, many of whom who just seem to be riding the wave.


  • Devdutt Pattanaik/Sanjeev Sanyal: These two authors actually write two very different genres. Devdutt writes about mythology, predominantly Indian, and his interpretation of it (by putting such a disclaimer he also keeps himself safe from the Hindu hardliners!) . He tries to simplify the complex Hindu religious thought so that a layman can understand. Sanjeev Sanyal is an amateur historian who has somehow managed to capture my  imagination. There is an interesting mix of history, geography and humor ( yes its there) in his books. The reason why I clubbed them together is that if I see a book written by either of them I will buy it without hesitation .


  • Biographies: Now usually I do not read non-fiction as I find it too dry but have recently started reading biographies. These are usually not the biographies of very well known people, in fact when I start reading about them I usually never finish it (I was never able to finish reading the biography of Jinnah or Benazir Bhutto). I like reading about those people who may not be very well known but have still left their mark on the world. My favorite books in this genre include Fatima Bhutto’s Song of Blood and Sword ( a Biography of her father Mir Murtaza)   , and Ismat Chugtai’s Life in Words.


  • Authors from Indian sub-continent: This is a very interesting group as this includes authors from Pakistan ,Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Again, I was unaware that the writing from the sub-continent could be so rich and diverse without following the stereotypes. Somehow the stature of Indian authors hides the gems from the rest of the region. My favorites in this include Kamila Shamsi and Hanif Qureshi.


  • Historical fiction: I love history, that was my favorite subject in school and even now anything to do with history is immediately attractive to me. It is not limited to India’s history only, but of the whole wide world. The logic behind including this genre is same as with Mythological fiction, the familiar characters are suddenly more accessible.


  • Elif Shafak : A brilliant , brilliant authoress. Even though “Forty Rules of Love” is her most famous book, my personal favorite is “Honor”. There is a Middle Eastern flavor in her writings along with a streak of feminism which strikes a chord.


  • Regency Romances: Ah well, don’t we all women secretly love the regency romances. There is something about the description of a waltz that makes you swoon! Georgette Heyer leads the genre with her gentle tongue in cheek humor (remember the devil’s cub?) And Julia Quinn’s Lady Whistledown is an unforgettable character.


I had promised myself I would write only ten on the list so had to pick and choose, there are of course many, many more who actually should be on the list like P.G.Woodehouse( stiff upper lip humor), James Herriot ( the travails of a poor country vet), Ruskin Bond ( I am from the hills, he HAS to be on my list) , Ken Follet (story teller extraordinaire) , Anuja Chauhan (goddess of desi chick-lit) ,  Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry. I would however need another list to include all of them!


If you have any favorites among these or would like to add some more from your side then please do comment.

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