Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Book World

Now that Yosso marked me to write about books, I have been trying to round up quite a bit of my dishevelled and disordered memory of books, having read and wanting to read. The result is the following jumble of thoughts and I own up the good and bad books and time gained and wasted. After all it is still the chaotic me and the books.

Books have always brought a host of allusions and images for me, foremost of them would probably be Journeys. other times, it would be a bygone moment with the personal coordinates of my life or juvenile discoveries in the attic or faces in close up or even a byline of a dead writer among other news...and yet other times they were the monikers of those days of rendezvous among friends who burnt down words, ideas and dreams together and now to be seen trudging the labyrinths of time, among strangers.

Yeah, Books were about the journeys. I used to wait beside my mother until midnight for my father's arrival after his short trips from lesser duties of a part-time politician. I was looking forward to the color and characters of Amar Chithra Katha he brought then. That was my first memory of anticipation and reading any book. It invariably related to homecoming. A decade later, I would go to Aunt's house for a long summer vacation, who after her husband retired from Labour department in the city retreated to this sultry hilly expanse. He died the year I went to stay with them. In those old oak furniture, I found the books he collected for a lifetime and I found that the original collecter was his younger brother who died an untimely death. Some of the books were already ravaged by termites. The hardcover of Greek tales had pale yellow pages and I remember illustrations of Pandora, Helen, Eurydice, Persephone, Hera and countless other goddesses. I found uncle's unfinished poems, bad and decent tries in one of the chests, beside Treasure Island and other assorted poetry of shelley, Byron and Browning. I also found a lot of children's books in malayalam.

For the next few years I travelled every summer vacations with a bag full of books and its amazing to think that every year the sets of books were getting radicalized and reflected more of external validations and less of the exhileration of discoveries. I read Maxim Gorky's Mother and I let Pavel Vlasov to put the entire world around me on trial. I read The Germinal of Emile Zola and I didn't know it was supposed to be naturalism. I tried to read George Elliot's Silas Marner, hardly follwed the dialects and slangs thrown all over the book, valiantly trod the winding passages of Tolstoy's War and Peace and Pasternack's Dr. Zhivago. I remember those walks in the country roads after reading passages in Zhivago ruminating over the torments of Lara and then the monstrosity of revolution consuming its own children in The Tale of Two Cities. I imagined and suffered hardships of David Copperfield and every simple human beings in Chekhov's short stories.

My Mother's house was another favourite destination which overlooked an estuary and the billowing Arabian Sea behind. I read about Santiago in Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea and I could see his seemingly resigned but determined countenance on the those fishermen, or may be I just placed them in the backdrop of my imagination. Another journey I associate with reading a book was Doestoyevsky's Crime and Punishment when I travelled by train to Bangalore. I was unemployed and felt an inexplicable helplessness and seething anger inside me: I shared it with Raskolnikov although I smiled when I had seen a pawn shop on my way to K.R. Market.

My major source for books for a long time had been malayalam weekly Mathrubhumi and Hindu Sunday supplement. Once in a while Times Literary Review, Granta and Illustrated weekly at Ernakulam public library. That basically unfolded an entire world infront of me, constantly contradicted the best and the right and I learned the politically incorrect and use of media to celeberate and destroy icons and sycophants of power and ideology. My readings turned political, even of it was shakespeare's sonnet. But then I read a lot of malayalam writers: O.V.Viajayan (the Guru), V.K.N (the grandiloquent jester), Vaikom Muhammad Bhashir(the modern fabler) led the riot. I still keep going back to all of their books. There were a few poets who caught my attention like Balachandran Chullikkad, Idasseri Govindan Nair and Vailoppilli to name a few.

College introduced me to Albert Camus, Sartre, Herman Hesse and T.S.Eliot. I graduated from Camus to Samuel Becket and a whole lot of absurdists including Luigi Pirandello and Edward Albee. T.S.Eliot was a stand out and the images from his book Waste Land and other Poems still a bench mark of a swansong for me. I found Nietzche from Will Durant's Story of Philosophy and the fascination lingered ever since. The library of my College had a decent collection of plays by Bertolt Brecht, Henrik Ibsen and Eugene Oneil. Notably, Oneil's long day's Journey into night held the spirit of mankind among the ruins of dysfunctional families for me. Besides the juvenile fascination for Robert Pirsig (I thought Lila was a better existential american novel) and Somerset Maugham, friends amongst us found Fritjof Capra and his books The Tao of Physics, The Turning Point and Uncommon Wisdom. He seemed to offer a middle path and a reason to think that everything in the universe and the traditional wisdom of human race after all but a spark in the path of the blinding light. But then, what do you expect from a fidgety science student?

I have an old cupboard at home In India, filled with books I bought with the pocket money I've got. I am hoping to bring them from India sometime. Here is a list, hope you won't find it too overbearing: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (almost all major works), Milan Kundera (Immortality and Life is else where), Octavia Paz (Sunstone and Collected poems), Elias Canetti (Auto DaFe), Italo Calvino(Invisible Cities, If On a winter's night a traveller, Castle of Crossed destinies), George Perec(Life, a user's manual), Primo Levi (The Wrench, The periodic table), Borges (Short Stories), Franz Kafka (The Trial, Metamorphosis, Amerika), Mario Varga Llosa, Nikos Kazantzakis (Last Temptation of Christ, Zorba the Greek), James Joyce(Portrait of an artist as a young man), Kawabata, Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon), Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrel(Alexandria Quartet)....

The books that I began but never finished were Ulysses(James Jayce), Remembrance of things past(Marcel Proust), Man without qualities(Robert Musil) and Sound and Fury(William Faulkner). Swann and Benjy are very much in my mind. Someday I will!

The reading followed metareading on Michel Foucoult, Derrida, Barthes and Wittgenstein: mostly excerpts of their books and articles from magazines. Although I was wallowing in their wordy worlds, I could see the written word being deconstructed to a more discreet set of ideas. Another area of interest has been books on movies and those by movie folks. Andrei Tarkovsky's Sculpting in Time, Bergman's Magic Lantern, Chaplin's My Autobiography were no less than a consummate book on life. I am looking forward to buy Gilles Delueze' Cinema: Time and Movement -Images (1 & 2). He is fast becoming my favourite.

There are atleast a hundred obvious names I either forgot or missed at this point in time and a million I wish to read or in the least feel the dust jacket and read the blurb. They can probably wait and the love affair with the printed word is still on although the youthful abandon and degree of excitement varied a lot when glanced from this far, I am glad that I am still smitten and thankfull for a lifetime of memories and insights.

Now that it is done, let me pass on the malady to Booky, CEC or anyone else who wants to record their retreats to the world of books.


mariasaus said...


Interesting, Eclectic and Impressive list!

Have to admit- that 'blogging' and time restraints have seriously damaged- my avid reading concentration spans!

Once a upon a time, I was indeed among the bookworms (sorry Blogger Bookworm:)

My list of favs is quite long..so here is a short list of the books I sort of liked- during the past few months:

My Life so far- Jane Fonda
The Purpose Driven Life- Rick Warren
Th Five People you meet in Heaven- Mitch Albom
The Twentieth Wife- Indu Sunderesan
Madras on Rainy Days- Samina Ali
"He's Just Not That Into You": The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys - Greg Behrendt, et al
Feeling Good : The New Mood Therapy - David D. Burns
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction

Currently reading:
The Interruption of Everything - Terry McMillan

And some classics- reading again and again;
The Prophet- Kahlil Gibran
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam- translated by Edward Fitzgerald

In Tamil- Thirukkural.


SeaSwallowMe said...

i wouldn’t know where to start with something like this :)

edward albee ?? - cool, i don’t believe i’ve come across that name on DSS before. ionescu, too, perhaps ?? for some reason, the absurdists were favorites among the theater-crowd while in undergrad college in india. i briefly pitched my tent with the lights-crew, and remember working on the “zoo story” production. i still remember the guy who did the crazy-guy-on-the-park-bench role, since he was also someone who could nail the intro chords to “shine on you” !

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Rajesh said...

Maria, Reading these days can be a sheer test of will:)
I couldn't help but notice the contemporariness of your list and the dynamics of the act of reading and selections and the politics of reading :)

You should be blogging rather than getting away with a comment. As always, thanks for dropping by.

SSM, I responded yonder at the playground :)

Anonymous dude, thanks for stopping by, but I am hardly the target audience for the stuff that you peddle up here.

Ubermensch said...

Dear Rajesh,
Such wild journeys can only be stemmed by the delicate passion of a primrose soul;If you pardon the topographies here and there,I can claim such journeys ,may be a bit later through time and perspective.Books are like lover's sweet kiss, they linger after their times ending.Of what greatness a life could be made of , that hasnt ever for once felt its soul in those black two dimensional worlds against the fragnance of white papyrus?
we are just a particle identity in this eternal beacon of conctant truths.
I really loved the way you have converted the meme to a journey.
thanks for sharing.
now more meta reading,
as they say in queen's english,
pinne kanoa

Rajesh said...

don’t we all love to go through that journey of identity and elation in understanding? Its not just the writer , but the readers who read the book before and after you, make wonder about the awareness of being a particle in this eternity.

Thanks to you Yosso, for a worthy narcissistic pleasure.

pinne kananam :)

Prat said...

That is an interesting journey that you have shared with us.
Though I admit I havnet read a lot of what you have listed and my reading list looks different, and I now get a feeling even a bit juvenile, I will look forward to reading people you have mentioned.
I always love it when people recommend books!
Lying right now on my table with bookmarks:
The summing up - Maugham
The life of Pi - Yann Martel
Metamorphosis and other stories ( being re read) - Kafka
The age of reason - Sartre

And am a little desperate for The Hindu's Litereary Review. Pradeep Sebastian's column in particular called Bookends.

Sumita said...


I missed this. (How could I?)

The love of reading has made my life the lovely lovely journey it has been.

Love your list. I have not read as much literature as I would have liked to, but it been close. My love for non fiction these days shadows the time I can devote to literature. There have been a few recent gems though

Mann's "Magic Mountain" is one of them

I think my bent is towards social commenteries in any shape or form.
Not to speak of philosophical discssions
Not to leave out metaphysics
How do I forget child psychology(do the future of our children ever leave my mind)
and religion( what battles ensue, why they do, and what can smooth them over)
Questions of science...

Oh well.. theres a reason am called a bookworm

Great blog.

sisir r said...

Dear Rajesh,

Great list! I hope to read some of them and if you ever complete reading Ulysses, please blog.
I have tried numerous times to read it, never could comprehend what was happening, I know what the critics say, "the greatest novel of the century". although I disagree with that notion, its a hard read.

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