I had a not-so-good reading year in 2016. I read only 18 books. That is not not-so-good. That is bad. I left some of the books half-read. Not because they were not good, but because I was distracted or got into a reading slump. I could finish reading only 18.
That is the bad news. The good news is that I liked most of what I read. Actually loved most of them. That makes me very happy. That means, my list of favourites will contain most of the books I read 🙂 I don’t have to differentiate between them and choose some over others for arbitrary reasons. That is one of the great pleasures of reading less number of books. That makes me very happy.
So, without much further ado, here is the list of my favourite books from 2016, in no particular order.
Short Stories / Short Prose Pieces / Novellas
(1) A Game of Chess and other stories by Stefan Zweig
My first proper book by Stefan Zweig. The title story was exceptional – it had some of the best passages I have read. There was also a beautiful description of the Riviera in another. Loved the whole book. I can’t wait to read another Stefan Zweig book.
(2) The Steppe by Anton Chekhov
Chekhov’s love letter to the Russian Steppe. Also his longest story. My most favourite of his.
(3) A Dreary Story by Anton Chekhov
One of Chekhov’s longer short stories. Loved it.
(4) The Walled City by Zeenat Mahal
One of my favourite discoveries this year was author Zeenat Mahal (the nom de plume of Faiqa Mansab) and her novella The Walled City. It is a love story set in the beautiful city of Lahore and evokes the sights, sounds, smells, people and culture of the city so brilliantly. It also had one of my favourite passages :
“Saqib watched his work with forced detachment. He’d put his dreams to sleep on canvas after canvas, crystallized in a vice of color and form. Some had emerged as twisted nightmares, others as singed vestiges of shattered hopes.
This painting was both.
Like the woman, it had exacted much from him. He could almost feel the weight of the palette knife in his hands again, as he’d mixed and smeared, brushed and stroked in a frenzy of ecstasy or despair, until she’d emerged out of its blankness in the arms of another man, a faceless lover. But her almond shaped eyes that had held him captive for so long, gazed out at him, even now. He wasn’t just the painter; he was voyeur and conspirator, sinner and judge, plunderer and savior. The man in her arms didn’t matter, not to her, not to him.”
If you want to read ‘The Walled City‘ online, you can find it here.
Faiqa Mansab’s new book “This House of Clay and Water” is coming out in May. I can’t wait to read it.
(5) Strange Tales from the Make-Do Studio by Pu Songling
There is a story plot which I have been fascinated by. In this story, a character from a book jumps out into the real world. (Or conversely a real world character jumps into a book or a painting). When I first heard this story, it gave me goosebumps. I discovered that Jasper Fforde has written this. Jodi Picoult has also written this. Then I discovered that Cornelia Funke has written this before them both. I was amazed to discover that Woody Allen wrote a story with this plot in the ’70s. (In his story Madame Bovary jumps out of the book into the real world and falls in love with the reader). Then I further discovered that Raymond Queneau wrote this in his book ‘The Flight of Icarus’. I thought this must be the earliest form of this story. I let it be. Imagine my surprise, when I discovered that Pu Songling had written similar stories. In the late 17th century! He seemed to be saying from the distant past – “Experimental writers from the 20th / 21st century – Take that! All these innovative plots that you think you invented (or copied from others without acknowledgement) – it has all been written and done and dusted.” Songling’s book is made up of ghost stories and stories of the supernatural written for grown-up mature readers. There are probably 500 stories of his. I probably read around 30 in this book. Many stories involve the main character, who is a scholar, who falls in love with a beautiful woman, but who turns out to be a ghost or a fox fairy or flower fairy. In many stories, the beautiful woman loves our scholar back, they get married and have children and live happily everafter 🙂 It is the kind of ghost story that I have never read before. This book deserves a proper review. Highly recommended.
(6) Contemplations by Franz Kafka
I read ‘ The Metamorphosis‘ and many other stories by Kafka this year. My favourite was this one – his first ever published collection containing short one or two page prose pieces. Very beautiful.
(7) A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
A novel about an introverted, shy man whose life story it tells. Very beautiful. It got into many award shortlists. Wish it had won some.
(8) The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
I got this book years back when it first came out. I finally read it. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet set in post Second World War America. The difference though is that our American Hamlet cannot speak and his parents rear dogs. So, while we are expecting Hamletian madness to happen, we get one of the most beautiful dog novels ever written. Almondine is one of my most favourite dog characters ever and Easy is another favourite. There is a black pup (of which animal we never know) which our Hamlet’s dad saves from the flood. It refuses to eat or drink anything and the part of the story where it comes is beautiful and heartbreaking. I really should have written a proper review of this beautiful book.
(9) The Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
This much awaited novel from one of my favourite writers is set in the aftermath of 9/11 and tells the story of ordinary people who show extraordinary courage. Gae Polisner says that the manuscript of her next novel has gone out already. I hope that novel comes out this year. We readers are always greedy!
(10) A True Novel by Minae Mizumura
The longest novel of the year for me (862 pages). The longest novel I have ever read on the Kindle too. It has been called the Japanese Wuthering Heights. It was long and epic and I loved it.
Graphic Novels / Manga
(11) A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (graphic novel – part 1)
I got this because I was planning to watch the TV show. Before long the show took over. But till then, the graphic novel version of the book was good, very good.
(12) Barakamon (part 1) by Satsuki Yoshino
A Manga comic about a young calligrapher who goes and lives in an island and his friendship with the islanders. Very charming! Can’t wait to read the next part!
(13) The Universe in your Hand : A Journey through Space, Time and Beyond by Christophe Galfard
Stephen Hawking’s former student gives his own version of the history of the universe. And I can confidently say that the student has excelled the master here. Galfard’s book is very readable. (Hawking’s book is unreadable after the first chapter – believe me, I tried). He uses storytelling techniques and science-fiction-movie-style narration to bring the most complex concepts alive. Probably the finest book on physics written for the general reader. One of the wonderful things that I learnt from this book was about the things we don’t know and which we will never know. This is a book that I will be reading again.
(14) The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg
Weinberg’s book has been called the finest account of the Big Bang theory ever written. Weinberg being a Nobel Prize winner himself, this book has been well respected. I have wanted to read it for years. Finally got to read it. The initial few chapters are easy to follow. The book then gets more challenging. The thing I loved about the book though was reading Weinberg’s thoughts on physics and why it is important and why we should be doing it. Weinberg’s humility as a person and as a scientist shone through when he talked about the larger issues in science and his confidence as one of the great scientists of the 20th century shone through when he talked about the science we knew and could predict. It made me fall in love with him. I will be reading those parts of the book again.
(15) Mr Tompkins in paperback by George Gamov
One of my friends has recommended this for years. I finally got around to reading it. It has two parts – Mr.Tompkins in Wonderland and Mr.Tompkins Explores the Atom. Beautiful book on relativity, radioactivity, structure of the atom and quantum mechanics. It has one of the finest descriptions of radioactivity that I have ever read. The book also has a foreword by one of my favourite scientists Roger Penrose. That doubled my pleasure! Great book to gift to your young ones at home. I wish I had read this when I was in school.
Have you read any of these? Which are your favourite books from 2016?
Happy New Year! Hope you have a wonderful year filled with great books and beautiful reading moments 🙂