Last week, I turned 33. For some years now, I have generally been travelling on my birthday, by choice that is. But this year, it turned out to be a surprisingly nice, relaxed birthday at home with quite a bit of self-pampering thrown in. As I thought to what my birthday post could be in the tradition of what I have done for 2 in 3 years, considering the release of Second Serve, the answer could only be this.
So, celebrating my birthday Elementum Money style, albeit slightly belated, here goes my list of 33 memorable books (or series) for 33 years. These books span about 28-29 of those years for I remember being a reader since kindergarten. In the initial few years, this habit was fed through two libraries – one at school and one public library which let us borrow two books for a fortnight. I used to read them in about 3-4 days and then re-read them multiple times. There have been times when my mother has had to impose limits on my non-study reading time. Apparently, once a teacher in Grade 3 told them that during the lunch break I used to be time efficient with my food and then could be found on a staircase engrossed in a book.
So, yes me and books go a long way. Hence, the list shows a mix of kiddie books, fiction and non-fiction. As much as possible, I have tried to make it chronological which in a way ends up showing some evolution of my reading style as well. I have not included any books from 2018 onwards as they have anyway been listed in detail with my year in books 2018 and year in books 2019. As usual, all book titles are clickable and lead to it’s Goodreads page.
The Noddy series of books by Enid Blyton are the first in my conscious memory that I recall having read. I still remember the character with his distinctive red shirt and the blue belled cap along with all the silly antics he used to get up to. The ensemble characters like Bumpy Dog, Tessie Bear and the policeman Mr. Plod were also endearing in themselves.
When it comes to fantasy lands, this series is my hands down favourite. Yes, Harry Potter probably rules when it comes to more complex worlds. But, if you are looking for a simple one with all possible things that a child could want, there is nothing better than The Faraway Tree series. So much so, that on a past India trip of my nephew, I ensured I bought a FT omnibus for him. He was too young initially to get it but now I live that series through his imagination as he figures out a character matching each of our family members – be it Moon Face, Silky or the adorable Saucepan Man.
This was the very first book I owned when my sister spent her pocket money to gift it to me on my ninth birthday. While Roald Dahl is mostly associated with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I suspect the idea of flowing chocolate rivers may have had a lot to do with it), I think The BFG or The Big Friendly Giant is one of his highly underrated works. The relationship between the title character and his abductee Sophie is endearing to say the least.
There is enough ink used to write about this series and I will not venture forth to mention any more. But, all I remember is when I was thirteen and there was a flutter in the public library that I was a member of. The books were always out in circulation but finally the only one I got my hands on was part 4, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Initially, it was a bit of a struggle to get the hang of the new world I found myself immersed in. Then, by the time Harry is pushed into the first task, I was well and truly hooked.
If someone ever asked my father what his favourite book is, this one remains his consistent answer. In fact, in school I was to do a book review. Being the very convincing man that he is, he made sure that I chose this. Of course, I am glad that I did because the intended lesson is now deeply entrenched in me. Whatever your profession, always ensure you keep reading and updating yourself because things are forever dynamic
So many memorable aspects to this book. My sister used to be a Jane Austen fan which made me pick this one up. The epic starting line “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” remains relatable in today’s times even though the word acknowledged may as well be replaced by assumed. But, I think my favourite part was the idea of a strong female lead in a Victorian classic. Lizzy had backbone and the temerity to reject suitors which gave me great hope that I could do so if the future so warranted.
This was a school library read (with it’s beautiful distinctive red hard binding) as a teenager. I had been reading Sidney Sheldons as well although Jeffrey Archer didn’t hold that much of a charm. The Firm, though was my first legal read. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect and the surprising end was such a thriller. After that I indulged in a mini binge of John Grisham works.
This was a read inspired by a close friend who wanted to be an architect and was also obsessed with this book. Like seriously obsessed. I remember reading the book and not being very moved by it. But, it taught me that some classics speak to a segment and may not speak the same way to everyone.
This was one of those unique stories that leaves an indelible imprint on the mind. Just the thought of being stuck on a boat with a tiger in the middle of nowhere was gripping enough for me to remember this book. Although the movie adaptation is interesting enough, like in a lot of instances I really think it falls short of the book.
10. Mills and Boons
Oh well, these books have been a guilty pleasure for years. I have a friend who was a very fun partner in crime. Whenever she would come home, we walked to this book stall where we could buy a used Mills and Boons book for 20 bucks (Indian rupees in this case) and get back half of it on return. At instances when my parents were out for some work and I was getting bored, then too I would simply walk over and replenish my stash. As for the racy covers, I have often covered them with newspaper or read them within a book. More than the quality of writing (which mostly didn’t have much to write home about), it was the quantity I consumed and the adventures had in the endeavour.
The plot was quite typical of a romantic comedy – a feisty young woman and a man who just doesn’t figure what hit him. But, it’s really the story telling which got me here. The most intriguing bit was the alternation of Point of View or narration between the two protagonists. Very few romance novels are really able to manage that balance.
Hey, don’t kill me for this one. Today, it is probably a norm to diss and look down upon C Bags. But, his first book was refreshing in terms of relatable Indian fiction. The first time I saw it was in the cramped school van, whereby one of my teachers was a perpetual read-during-commute persons. I remember borrowing the book from her first to read the blurb at the back and then once she was done. I maintain that it broke the clutter and I can still see why it sold like it did.
I had often heard of Amitav Ghosh and his writing but this was the first book of his that I got my hands on. Gosh, this book was beautiful. The hero of the story is really not any of the characters but the setting of the Sunderban marshes. Just writing about it, I was back staring into the space and imagining myself ticking off the place from my bucket list.
Another book that I was inspired to read by listening to a college class mate. I still remember her thin, lanky figure walking into the classroom with a bag slung on the side and a copy of this thick, red book clutched in her hand. I had heard about the book often enough but finally borrowed it from the college library. Apart from an enlightening historic setting, I realised that having a heroine does not necessitate making her endearing or a goody-two-shoes. Neither do all books have to have a happily ever after, as signalled by Rhett Butler and his signature exit – Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
Another classic that I surprisingly read much later. The world as seen from the innocent eyes of a ten-year-old makes for such a thought-provoking read. It was one of my first few forays into understanding how the same event can be seen from such different angles depending on the lens.
Paulo Coelho is one of those writers that I took some time to adapt to. I first tried reading The Alchemist which I left fairly quickly. Then, a friend gifted this to me on one of my teen birthdays (yeah, I know!). I started and yet again abandoned it mid-way. For some reason, I went ahead and picked up The Zahir by the same author and probably plodded through because the title reminded me of my obsessive crush on Indian cricketer Zaheer Khan (I have my weird moments). I managed to finish it. Having liked what I read, I went back to Eleven Minutes and finally understood the author and his writing much better.
One of those classics that I didn’t particularly rush to read. Prodded by a classmate waxing eloquent about it, I picked it up. I struggled through it but it was quite a read. The lonely, rolling Scottish moors. The dark, brooding Heathcliff and his obsessive love for Catherine Earnshaw. It requires a certain skill to bring such characters alive and make them timeless through the ages.
Most of these books find a place in must-read lists. However, all of them form a part of my abandoned list. In some ways, these books made me accept myself as a reader without judgement. Another fact I took from this was that all books speak differently to various readers.
This was my first foray into fictionalised history. Although I graduated in the subject, most of our recommended books would not win any accolades for engaging readability. With Darlymple, I realised that some books make an effort to bring history alive and accessible to far more people.
Although this one doesn’t entrench itself too deeply into the engaging readability category, for me it makes up for a very important piece of the Indian history puzzle. When we study our country’s history, be it in school or college the buck stops at independence. Even though with Russia and US, we are happy to explore Cold War, post-independence history is a blur for Indians. This book fills up quite a bit of that canvas.
I first visited my sister in the US as a 19-year old when me and my mum stayed with her and my brother-in-law for more than 2 months. Perks of having a summer vacation as a student. In my head, that trip is tagged to Memoirs of a geisha which was a favourite book that I read in that period. It was probably my first vivid entry point into an Oriental culture like the Japanese with the concept of geishas and the delicate tea ceremonies. It’s really true when they say that books can open all kinds of worlds to you.
Another trip, another book although on more familiar terrain. This was one long read which made a road trip across Gujarat much smoother. Reading about Shantaram, his legal and illegal adventures were quite a treat to the senses.
Probably the best love story to a city, this book brought alive the checkered fabric of Bombay like no one else. Be it the rocking of blasts, gangsters meeting at Haji Ali or the Jain monks the research on the city seemed all encompassing. I was still in Delhi and not much of a fan of Bombay from my numbered visits, when I read it. But reading this book seemed to suggest there was an underlying character which I now agree with, having spent 12 years here.
Some books are written beautifully, sensitively and leave you feeling way too much. I was living with my parents when I read this one and staying up beyond a certain hour was a sure shot route to getting shouted at. But, beyond a point this book just had to be finished. I think it was a cold winter night. I remember dunking below a thick quilt with a measly flashlight from the mobile phone to aid in finishing the book. Towards the end, streaming tears were an involuntary accompaniment. And of course, the epic image of Hassan running along shouting back – For you, a million times over, is still imprinted on my mind.
I had a horrid time at my summer internship which seemed very dry and involving only reams and reams of excel sheets. To escape my guide and that monotony, I used to find my way to a book shop across the street during lunch hour. Those few minutes of browsing shelves and mentally adding to my To-Be-Read list seemed to do a far better job of reviving my spirits in Delhi summers than the Glucon-D product I was working on. The Zoya factor had me at the blurb and I giggled along as I bought a relatively expensive book for those times.
Great plot, fantastic story telling and empathy-inducing characters. This series had the perfect ingredients of almost any novel-writing tips article. The best part was that all three parts to the series seemed to follow an arc and the pace never really let up. Pretty much gobbled the three up without even a burp.
You cannot call yourself a Mughal history buff if you haven’t read these books. The couple with the pseudonym Alex Rutherford do a fabulous job of bringing one of the world’s most fascinating dynasties alive! The series comprises of six books, one for the reign of each of the important Mughal emperors from Babur to Aurangzeb. Although I have read it till Part 3 about Akbar (Ruler of the World), as I write this I know the other three will find their way to my Currently-Reading column soon.
Hands down, one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. The vulnerability, the loneliness of the sport and even a passionate hatred for something at which you excel is vividly described. Even if you don’t like sports or tennis, this is one book worth giving a shot to.
I remember I first saw this really impressive book cover with hues of midnight blue and black surrounding a silhouette of Shiva, at an airport book store. Soon enough, I started seeing it almost everywhere around me. Then a colleague raved about it and I knew I had to try it. Unfortunately, I am a bit of a Hindu mythology novice but this book made mythology cool. Although, it lived up to the trilogy stereotype of sequels not living up to the quality of the first big bang entrance.
On the subject of mythology, this book was probably my most astonishing read. They say history is written by winners and mythology bears witness to that. Almost every epic is seen from a male victor point of view. In this book, Divakaruni merely turns the balance to narrate Mahabharata from Draupadi’s point of view. Would it be exactly like this had we got to hear? Probably not. But, atleast we now get to hear her, however flawed.
One day I got a parcel at work and it turned out to be a beautiful box set of the Taj Mahal triology from my husband’s best friend. What non-readers don’t realise is that readers have a community and a language of their own which they express through talking about and gifting these treasured possessions.
Just the title of the book is enough to send chills down my spine. The way the story unravels and the final whoa make it such a quick, almost one-sitting read. In my consciousness, I would say this book gave a whole new definition to the genre or psychological thrillers.
You would be forgiven if you thought that this book is sticking out like a sore thumb in the rest of the list. However, in the last few years I have read quite a bit of self-improvement / Personal Growth books. I used to have a distinct distaste towards those and my nose would turn up of it’s own volition at the mere mention of the genre. But then, I picked up this book from a Kolkata pavement during a work trip. It was a short, thin edition but the first such book I could relate to. Since then, the genre has found quite a place for itself in my reading list as can be gleaned from the books covered in this category of Elementum Money.
In my house, there is a tradition of putting in one extra candle on a birthday cake which is not to be blown out. Following that, here’s the 34th and probably most memorable book for me.
If you have been following my blog, you would know that this is my first novel. It’s yet to find a publisher but for now it’s flying solo. The story mixes elements of tennis and romance in a free-flowing easy breezy manner. So far, the reviews have been encouraging enough for me to sniff around to come to a plot good enough for a second novel.
What have been some of your most memorable reads? Let me know in the comments below.