Norwegian writer Per Patterson’s Out Stealing Horses that won many accolades a couple of years back provided a scintillating view of the snow covered country and its life. All stories, as they say, have been written and the only innovation is the manner in which they are told. This is very true about this novel, and I would highly recommend for anyone to read this very humane and humanizing story.
Apart from this short list of two works of fiction, the only other one I read related to fiction was How Proust can change your life by Alain Bottonde. The initial few chapters were quite gripping as Bottonde interleaves the personal story of Marcel Proust with episodes and quotes from Proust’s novels. My unfamiliarity with much of Proust’s writings perhaps led me to abandon it midway.
Another masterpiece, the East German Fred Wander’s 1971 novel, The Seventh Well remained unread and has moved into my 2010’s to read list.
Two books in an unusual series, a series of biographies of Books that Changed the World, made for an absorbing read. One of them was on Das Capital, by Francis Wheen, whose biography of Karl Marx was the first one to be published in the West after the collapse of Soviet style ‘socialism’, the other being that of Charles Darwin’s equally world changing work, Origin of Species. On a related note, I re- read parts of John Foster’s masterpiece, Marx’s Ecology.
PC Joshi’s welcome biography was an accidental read, given to me by my friend and comrade PPC Joshi who was named after PC Joshi himself and whose father achieved a heroic martyrdom during the Telengana peasant uprising of 1948. It’s review appeared on this blog some time back. PPC Joshi is also an independent publisher and published my friend Rahul Banerjee’s book Recovering the Lost Tongue: A Saga of Environmental Struggles earlier last year.
This year, I changed my opinion about e-readers, and in that spirit, I need to mention three works that I managed to read in their pdf formats (don’t have an ereader as yet!). One of them is Hymn to the Buddha written by the 3rd century poet Matrceta. The book played a big role in popularizing Buddhism during its time and undoubtedly remains timeless. Cloud and Water, a collection of poems by the Chinese Buddhist poet Hsing Yun was also a pleasant reading.
Another ebook, Causality and Emptiness: The Wisdom of Nagarjuna by Dr. Peter Della Santina proved a very good introduction to the Buddhist philosopher. Nagarjuna’s key concept of shunyata is eerily reminiscent of the existentialist school of philosophy that includes Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Nagarjuna concerned himself with questions that the Buddha had brushed aside, concerned as the latter was with questions of living and conduct. A key reason for the popularity of Mahayana Buddhism was the segregation of truth into two by Nagarjuna- the absolute and the instrumental, the latter being much easier for the layman to follow. Nagarjuna wrote what in today’s language can be called ‘Buddhism for Dummies’. It explains the fundamental concepts of the religion in just a few pages. Online version of Dr. Santina’s books is available here (pdf).
Two books, however, need a special mention. One of them is Ajoy Bose’s biography of Mayawati- Behenji on which I have based a previous post defending the construction of statues of Kanshi Ram and herself, along with Dr Ambedkar’s in Uttar Pradesh. It is a sympathetic, yet objective, though hurriedly prepared work. It brings to the English reading public the life story of a person who in many ways is more representative of an India than many among them may know about.
The last work, and one that rises head and shoulders above all the rest is The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar, that made me aware of the most important writings of Dr. Ambedkar. I have based an earlier post on some of the articles contained in this book. However, the import of this book is far more. When I look back at the last ten years, this is one of those few books that have changed my ideas not only fundamentally, but have made me make a U- turn on some pertinent issues that I have thought about and to some extent involved myself with.
This incidentally is the fifth consecutive year of writing an annual post on my readings. The links to previous years end of year posts appear below.