These are the books that I pick up most often from the racks.—Last edited September 1999
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The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkein
These are actually a set of four books – The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, put together in a nice package by the folks at HarperCollins. The stories recreate a spellbinding fantasy in each read. The Hobbit is a fairy-tale-sort-of account of the adventures of one Bilbo Baggins who is quite unwillingly taken off on a search for gold and jewels. Unforgettable characters in this book are Smaug, the diamond armoured dragon and Smeagol, who loses his Precious to Bilbo. This forms the basis for the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings.
The Lord of the Rings is somewhat heavier than The Hobbit – taking us through the fight of good against the evil. Bilbo’s adopted son, Frodo sets out with a responsiblity, supported by a staunch fellowship of eight others to squelch the plans of the evil Sauron of Mordor. Lost kings, elves, dwarves, generals, wizards – you find them all here. A thoroughly great way to relax.
A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller
This is an amazing book about the gradual decay of mankind as seen by a small group of monks. It presses people to learn from history and assume responsibilities. If we relinquish this, governance will fall into the hands of people who want all powerful responsibilities, and with it, decay will set in. Philosophy, reality – a great set of ideas.
The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gornick
What a book!! The first volume starts at the Big Bang and stretches upto Alexander’s campaign to conquer the world. The second volume leads you through the great civilisations of India and China, then back to Greece, Rome and to the beginning of the Dark Ages. This is one book you should read.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
True to my devotion to comics, I picked this up by chance at a bookstore. Hve no cause to regret it. Provides a wealth of information on comics as a medium of information.
Asterix the Gaul Series by Goscinny and Uderzo
I grew up reading lots of comic strips at school – perennially available were the Phantoms, Supermans, Batmans, Mandrakes, Flash Gordons, and the Indian comics like Tinkle and Amar Chitra Katha. But none achieved the hilarious heights that reading an Asterix produced. Superb sketches accenuated by a quirky character bestowed on each and every character, just added to the fun. Read them for plain, unadulterated fun.
The Adventures of Tintin by Georges Remy
Though not as loosely hilarious as the Asterix series, this is another favourite. Though the characterisation of Tintin is eminently forgettable, those of Captain Haddock, The Thomson Twins, Professor Calculus, Rastapapoulous and of course, Snowy are pretty bright in my mind.
Doonesbury by G B Trudeau
Doonesbury is one strip that confused me like hell in the beginning, because I could not always get to the root of the sarcasm that it highlighted. Anyway, with time it got better – the potshots, and an occasional serious thought thrown in, make this a good read, anytime.
Westerns by Louis L’Amour & Zane Grey
Love to read one of these books anyday. Where else do you get such romantic stories of the cowpuncher, Rangers, Indians, desperado, The Panhandle, and The Wild Wild West?
The World of Pooh by A A Milne
Easy read for children. Christopher Robin and the Hundred Acre forest provide the backdrop for this set of stories, each with a moral right at the end. Good read.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
George and Lennie are ranch hands, and they keep losing jobs very often. Lennie is retarded. Superb characterisation and probably the base for later novels and movies which so successfully exploited the partnership of a smart guy with a dumb. Must read.
Tortilla Flat & Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
Tortilla Flat runs you around with Danny, who inherits two houses and then…
Cannery Row is probably the most mature of Steinbeck’s works. Set again in Monterey, it tells the tale of the underworld and the noble spirit in the residents of Palace Flophouse and Grill in helping a friend, Doc.
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
This book would certainly figure in my top-ten list. It is a pretty strange novel in the beginning, when the narrator is Benjy, who is considered an “idiot”. Only when Benjy’s saner brothers narrate the story that you get the full blast of what has happened. Disturbing, powerful. One of the best books written.
Sartoris by William Faulkner
This is a pretty big story, covering in a wide swath the histories of Narcissa Benbow and Bayard Sartoris. The time scale in this novel oscillates between the World War and the Civil War between the North and South.
After you’ve read Sartoris, you could also try Faulkner’s other Snopes and Sartoris novels.
The Hitchhiker Radio Scripts by Douglas Adams
This is the original Hitchhiker recording for the radio series. Though I got it long after reading the pentology, this is an amazing collection, you can almost feel the sounds of the destruction of the earth, Marvin, Zaphod, Ford, the mice and of course, the crashing whale.
Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Hitchhiker’s Guide has no competition in being called the craziest, brilliantest, nonsensicalest science fiction this side of the the Universe. The Ultimate Hitchhiker packages all the books in the pentology in a relatively cheap paperback.
Arthur Dent and Ford, from Betelgeuse fend for themselves in the belly of a ship belonging to the “most disgusting race this side of the ravenous bugblatter beast of Traal”. They are later rescued by Zaphod and Trillian and then go on a round of craziness so mad that it is unimaginable.
Dress casual, check your mind at the door.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
A lot has been written about this book, and it has been eulogised in the Cold War era as a critique on Communism. However, I disagree with the latter view. I doubt the author was looking beyond his own political leaders. It rather blasts anyone who wants to keep people down for “their own good”. Must read.
Ayn Rand Anthology by Ayn Rand
Characters like Howard Roark and John Galt are so famous, that chances are, any casual reader will have heard of them. Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a book which walks you through the struggle of the extra-ordinary against the mediocre. Though sometimes veering on an extreme, it does a good job at explaining the importance of individuality and belief. I have seen a lot of architect weenies having this book and they do read it occasionally. I wonder if anyone can create any more individuality than he/she is, least of all by reading books.
Atlas Shrugged is a longer exposition on the same theme as The Fountainhead and maybe, a bit better. Another of Ayn Rand’s books, We, the living is a rather stark story and considered by many as being closest to an biography of Ayn Rand. Not having read it well enough, I’ll not hazard a guess on its merits. All the above three books do share the same Objectivism philosophy, and they have another queer similarity – one Man, in these works is depicted as someone who believed in himself, while there is always another with equal talents, but no spirit. And of course, there is always a woman to walk with Rand’s hero.
You might also consider reading Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and The Romantic Manifesto. The latter is a collection of essays that are a must read. If there is any one book by Ayn Rand that you will buy, it should be the last.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
A somewhat disturbing novel in its times, it is a relate of the way things were in the Ol’ Cotton South. Many people say that it had some influence on the intellectuals in the North, who finally put it across to the South that slavery was to be abolished. Touching in parts.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Set in the American South, the story is related by a small girl. A black is charged with dishonouring a white girl. Even though everyone in the town knows that the black is innocent, they find it convenient to place the blame on one with the hated skin. The narrator’s father, Atticus Finch, takes up cudgels on the side of the right and goes about trying to prove the unthinkable at that time. Things change overnight for the kids, the narrator and her elder brother Jeff. The die is cast. At a later point, Jeff is attacked and defends himself by killing his attacker. The gesture of the sheriff in absolving Jeff of the blame shows how much the people on their own look up to Atticus.
Many touching moments in this book…My favourites are when Atticus grows in the eyes of his children by shooting down a rabid dog. Excellent read. It is amazing, how much these one-book-wonder writers leave behind. Also see the excellent movie based on the book.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn by Mark Twain
The ultimate pre-teen books. Read and enjoy.
The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
I like this book because this has always been my trump card. At college, people used to exchange books and this one was good enough to get 5-6 books by itself. Famous for its introduction of Dr Hannibal Lecter. Try to watch the movie. Sir Anthony Hopkins is brilliant.
Complete Short Stories – O’Henry, Tolstoy, Saki, Chekov, Maupassant, Leacock, Somerset Maugham
All come in different volumes. All the stories are great. If you want to relax, better have one of these. The funniest of the lot is one Ships by O’Henry.
Ulysses by James Joyce
James Joyce always looked like a sophisticated pirate to me. With his immaculate suit, bow-ties, pointed beard and the black eye-patch, he looked just as if a succesful sea dog had stepped into the society of the rich. Imaginations end here, as you read his masterpiece, Ulysses. Deplored soon after its publication by the self-styled moral upholders of society, this book just would’nt stop at anything. The book was recently chosen as the best book of the millenium. Though I do not necessarily support this title, it is still worth a good read.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
A remarkable book, written by Melville in his prime. The quest of the “big white devil” by Captain Ahab’s whaler narrates the Nantucket whaler life on the oceans. The book goes to breathtaking detail about whale hunting. Though on the surface it might show as a whaling journal, it is more a look into the way hatred and loathing prevail over sane men. The characters of Captain Ahab and Queequeg are a study in contrasts.
The Natty Bumppo Series by James Fenimoore Cooper
Cooper’s novels are set in the American Pioneer days, when Kentucky and Illinois were considered as “The West”. Nathaniel Bumppo, otherwise known as Leatherstocking, Deerslayer, Long Rifle, and many other names I do not remember is introduced in The Deerslayer. He is a characterised as a chivalrous fellow and his friendship with the Delaware Chief Chingachgook, or The Sarpent has been collected in a series of books. The most famous of these is probably The Last of the Mohicans, where Chingachgook’s son dies defending those very principles the Indians stood for.
Other books in this series are The Pathfinder, The Pioneers and The Prairie.
Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham
Philip, a clubfooted child comes to live with his pastor uncle after the death of his mother. Growing up with the childless couple, Philip develops strong tastes/distastes, all coloured with his feeling of inferiority because of his deformity. Takes up art in Paris, then comes back and completes his education in medicine through torrrid times of poverty and his love for the hooker, Mildred. Throughout it all, Philip grows and more importantly, learns as he grows. Pain, hatred, love, it is all there. Finally, he lands a good practice as a GP. Philip falls in love with Athelstane’s daughter, Sally, and…..that is where the story ends.
The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach
Bach. Leslie Parrish. Friends. Barriers. Love. I like this one better than Bach’s other writings, the most famous of which is Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
The Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Communism gone red. Read about the punishment and re-doctrination of the disobedient in the former USSR.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I won’t say anything about it, except its recommendation by Neruda - “Perhaps the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote of Cervantes”.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera