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Monday, January 02, 2006



By Deepika Shetty

My lament at the end of each year. So much to read, so little time.

February 2005, saw the launch of our book segment 'Off The Shelf' and that's taken me on an even more rewarding journey into the fascinating world of books.

With more books being turned into movies, books rights being snapped even before works went to press, and this year saw more books flying off the shelves.

2005, like most other years, turned out to be yet another exciting year for book lovers everywhere.

One which culminated in a slew of exceptional books - both fiction and non-fiction.

Some of which, you as a reader, are bound to love more than the others. I read a lot of brilliant work, right from first-time authors to the established ones.

While it's impossible to mention all of them, here's what made it to the list of my memorable list for 2005:

'Two Lives' by Vikram Seth

With this book, he can be truly dubbed the master of suspense. Just when I thought there would be something along the lines of 'A Suitable Boy' or 'An Equal Music', Seth sprung a mega surprise with this touching memoir about his great-uncle and his German wife. There are letters that speak for themselves. The prose is vintage Seth and as I have been telling everyone I know, this is one book that you must have on your book shelf.

'Kafka on the Shore' by Haruki Murakami

This one clearly wasn't lost in translation. And it led me to a journey into all literature Japanese. What an amazing journey that turned out to be. This one is a real page-turner in addition to being a metaphysical mind-bender. It's 436 pages long, not always an easy read, has a man who has problems communicating with humans but can talk to cats. The journey of the 15-year old boy running from home may seem arduous at times, but this is one book that is definitely worth the trouble.
'Snow' by Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk is a literary genius, a phenomenon, actually. His books have won several awards. His sixth novel "My Name is Red" walked away with the 2003 Impac Dublin Literary Award, his latest book 'Snow' walked away with the prestigious French Foreign Literature Prize - the Prix Medicis this year. That happens to be yet another useful addition to a long, long list of richly deserved awards. In fact, the New York Times picked it as their 'Best Book of the Year.' It's a pity I discovered Pamuk's work so late. But I couldn't have hoped for a better starting point than 'Snow'. This work of fiction, that more often than not, reads like fact turns on the conflict between the forces of 'Westernisation' and 'Tradition'. On the one-hand it seems like the story of Ka - the poet and at a deeper level it deals with all the troubling issues confronting our times. You can't afford to miss out on 'Snow' which has been dubbed "essential reading" by none other than the celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

'Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince' by J K Rowling

In the early hours of July 16th, something changed. The world awoke to the hype of yet another Harry Potter book. Deserted bookshops opened at midnight catering to the crowds screaming for the sixth book of the 'Harry Potter' series. The television footage spoke for itself. And even though some British critics dismissed it as 'mediocre in the extreme', one of the fastest selling books this year clearly proved the critics wrong. Even if you are not a Potter fan, you must read this - at least to figure out what the hype is all about.

'The World is Flat' by Thomas Friedman

When the New York Times columnist, Friedman talks, the world listens. And then they either love his work or hate it. I clearly fall into the first category. I entirely agree that "while we were sleeping, something happened." Just take a look at the amazing stories right from Bangalore in India to the various cities in China. As the economic growth, spurred in part by the IT industry, the call centers, continues at a rate never seen before, it would be hard to disagree with this Pulitzer Prize winning author. So if you ignore this timely report on globalisation at work, it would have to be at your own risk.

'Beyond the Age of Innocence' by Kishore Mahbubani

The reservoirs of goodwill towards America are gone - that's an argument we've heard before. But what makes Mahbubani, who's also been called 'Asia's Toynbee' argument compelling is that he points to a structural problem that has evolved due to the size and scale of American power. His book is a message of love not fear and that's part of the reason why its appealed to readers beyond foreign policy specialists and analysts. Part of that appeal for me lies in the way personal experiences unravel to provide a broader take on American Foreign Policy. As Fareed Zakaria, the Editor of Newsweek International points out 'America needs more friends like him and the world needs more minds like him'.

'The Argumentative Indian' by Amartya Sen

This book by the Nobel Prize winning economist is full of provocative ideas, dry wit and fresh insights into ancient Indian texts. The author tracks the long history of the argumentative Indian and tells us why it's relevant and essential for the growth of democracy. An engaging read, though not always an easy one.

'Not Quite the Diplomat: Home Truths About World Affairs' by Chris Patten

This frank and vivid memoir takes you through Patten's rich personal experience of British, European, American and Asian politics. It is a learned account of some of the key lessons of a life in politics. One can't ask for more than that in a book.

'Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything' by Steven D Levitt & Stephen J Dubner

Steven D. Levitt, a teacher of economics at the University of Chicago, is a data detective. And he digs up startling yet simple data on many things that we take for granted. His far-reaching vision illuminates this highly entertaining, infectiously readable, and ultimately profound book. This book is an absolute delight - one that educates and entertains at the same time.
Amidst all these great books, four engaging debuts cannot be missed.
Marina Lewycka's 'A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian' hilariously records the fall-out when an elderly Ukrainian widower, long resident in Britain falls for a flamboyant Russian gold-digger in search of a passport to prosperity. The book was short-listed for the Orange Prize and won the SAGA Award for Wit.q
Suketu Mehta's appropriately sprawling evocation of 'Bombay, Maximum City' starts with a search for the author's home as he had known it. Almost as overpopulated as the great Indian megalopolis itself, the book has a broad range of themes, characters and issues that are bound to leave you breathless for more. This one bagged the prestigious Kiriyama Prize.
'Sightseeing' by Rattawut Lapcharoensap is an accomplished debut of short stories. All of them will touch you and unlike many other short story collections they won't leave you with that sense of incompleteness. This is definitely an author you want to watch out for in 2006.
Tash Aw made it to many literary short-lists including the Booker and the Whitbread with his sensitive 'Harmony Silk Factory'. Aw takes the reader to Malaysia - a relatively unexplored terrain when it comes to writing in English and makes the most of the stunning settings. The prose is in one word 'beautiful', ok let's make that two - and 'intelligent' too. This one's bound to keep appearing on the award lists