Books · Higher Things

Book List – 2011


Once again, like the year before last, I have been inspired by Emily Horne (of asofterworld.com) to list the books I read last year along with mini-reviews of each of them.

In general, 2011 has been the Year of the Non-fiction. Like anyone sane, brought up on a diet of Rowling, C.S. Lewis, Tolkien and Roald Dahl, I have a deep love for fiction, especially of the escapist, fantasy variety, and a irrational dislike for reality-inducing non-fiction, that has lasted even into my twenties. However, this year has not only been different in the sense that I read a lot more non-fiction than usual, but also in the sense that I have started enjoying reading non-fiction, whereas before any book that was closer to the real world than Mars would put me off entirely. Credit goes to the authors, particularly Tariq Ali and Harford and Gawande (and previously Gladwell), who made me change my childhood views.

I also managed to reach my target of 50 books this year, in fact I went a bit over, which made me happy ^_^

Anyway, I hope you guys like this, and if you have any suggestions for my list for this year, drop me a comment, I’d love to know 🙂 see you guys soon!

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Book List 2011

1If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler – Italo Calvino – My first “postmodernist” novel and I hated it. Was boring and I really didn’t like the confusing nature of it all. I like a novel to be straightforward. It also took forever to finish.

2The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood – Atwood is a favourite author of mine and the Robber Bride was characteristically sardonic and brilliant. A swift plot with just the right amount of dramaticness and mystery and real, raw human emotion.

3Five Point Someone – Chetan Bhagat – the movie Three Idiots is based on this book, although I could find only the barest connections between the two.  I liked the movie more, it was succinct and put the message across effectively. The book was nothing special literarywise.

4A Room with a View – E. M. Forster – completely lacking the seriousness of A Passage to India, limited to the feelings and thoughts and passions of a young English girl. Hence not impressive, yet not bad either.

5The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath – I’d been meaning to read this for years, ever since I fell in love with Plath’s poetry. The book was odd and haunting…Some of the quotes and passages from it are gorgeous and the book itself reflects the way life can be fucked up and weird too.

6The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson – classic horror, and a good example of how horror does not have to be gory. It’s unclear if the haunting in this story is psychological or supernatural, the only definite is that it’s frightening.

7Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut – I have never read Vonnegut before. This book was…good, in a way, but also confusing and depressing. Good book for depicting the long-term damage war inflicts on soldiers.

8The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman – I love Gaiman. I just love him. This book is another example of his brilliance in making fantasy appeal to older readers. An enchanting, fantastic storyline and lovely illustrations too. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

9Life of Pi – Yann Martel – An excellent, wonderful book, so realistically written that one completely believes every word of it, despite how unreal the story seems. In fact I found myself unwilling to accept the alternate ending at the end. Anyhow, I loved it.

10The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford – Ah, non-fiction.  I know pop econ books don’t do anything to one’s knowledge base, but I still like reading this kind of stuff because it a) helps even just a tiny bit in understanding the world and b) they make me feel smart. This book did both.

11The Penguin Book of Australian Short Stories – As I’ve said before, the mark of a good short story is that it occurs to you later on, at random moments. This collection had several good ones, odd stories that stuck in my head.

12The Fall – Albert Camus – I don’t clearly remember this book, even on reperusal, only that it was typical Camus, gloomy and confusing. So that’s all I’ll say.

13Smiley’s People – John Le Carré – my first spy novel. It was like a thriller, but with a stateliness and an old-world, james-bond feel at the same time too. Carre is good, I intend to read more of him

14Cannery Row – John Steinbeck – like Steinbeck’s other stories, cute and well-written.  You tend to get very sucked in to the everyday lives of a bunch of people in a fictional backwater far away from anything you’ve ever known yourself. In fact sometimes I think stories like these are more escapist than genres like fantasy or sci-fi.

15Ham on Rye – Charles Bukowski – this was a fairly boring book, describing the adventures of a young American man, a bit of a delinquent, during the Depression. On the whole, not a very charming read, though descriptively written.

16I’m a Stranger Here Myself – Bill Bryson – a set of articles Bryson wrote when he moved back to America after 20 years in Britain. They gave me a good glimpse at how newspaper columns can be both personal narrative and also informative; about how to incorporate statistics into chatty prose, make a point without debating.

17The Red Tent – Anita Diament – I’ve quoted this book on my blog and talked about it too – suffice it to say that I thought it was pretty amazing.

18The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner –  a powerful classic about an old South American land-owning family heading towards poverty.  It has a sense of deep tragedy and melodrama pervading it, masked by and mingled in the shifting narrative, like the bitter taste of dark chocolate lurking in a marble cake.

19The Doorbell Rang – Rex Stout – One-day-reading classic detective fiction. Long live Nero Wolfe! May his abilities, like his huge girth, never diminish.

20The God Delusion – Richard Dawkins – My views on things had pretty much cemented before reading this book, so I didn’t find it too impressive – his arguments are good, yes, and he writes as splendidly as always, but I personally think he`s better off explaining biology. All in all, I read it cos I had to, but it was nothing special.

21Life, The Universe and Everything – Douglas Adams – The third in the Hitch-hiker’s guide series. Not as good as the first (of course) but still pretty cool. I liked the storyline and of course, it was funny.

22Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston I read quite a bit of fiction regarding black people (Alice Walker being a favourite)…but I found this focused more on the love and suffering  of the woman central to the plot rather than hardships faced as a result of the colour divide. A moving book nonetheless.

23So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish – Douglas Adams – More Douglas Adams! As wacky and crazy as the other books. I liked this especially for its ending, which was, to use an old term, gobsmacking and hilarious.

24Right to Die – Rex Stout – I’ve said this before and will say it again – Nero Wolfe, like Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, is one of the greatest fictional detectives ever to exist.

2550 Voices of Disbelief – edited by Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk – more atheist non-fiction. Most of the authors reiterated philosophical and other arguments against a divine creator, but some of them gave personal stories of their journey to unbelief, and those I liked more. An interesting read, anyhow.

26A House for Mr Biswas – V.S. Naipaul – This book is probably the main reason why I haven’t crossed 60 books this year. It took so long to finish! I mean one average lower-middle-class man in the West Indies and his everyday tribulations do not make for very fascinating reading. Despite the accurate depiction of life for the near-poor it was still effing boring and I did not like it much.

27Selected Short Stories – Anton Chekov – Chekov’s stories are often abruptly short, and don’t always have a moral or a preachy tone, unlike Tolstoy’s. Like all Russian fiction they are excellent. He’s also written a bazillion of them, but this selection had only a dozen or so.

28The Roving Mind – Isaac Asimov – Asimov is epic. His fiction is definitely awesome, but the nonfiction essays in this were also very impressive. What killed me was that a lot of the stuff he wrote, like about population explosion and the English language and creationists, still applies in today’s world. Though Asimov died like two decades ago. We’re just a sad species yaar, log cheezein keh keh kay marjatay hain, hum un ki eik nahin suntay.

28Girl With A Pearl Earring – Tony Chevalier – Historical fiction, which I normally don’t like much, but this was very good. I bought it randomly from a second hand book stall and now I’m glad I did.

29I Am Legend – Richard Matheson – I have not seen the movie yet, and don’t intend to. The book was good enough for me, especially the unexpected ending. I enjoyed it immensely.

30Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne du Maurier – No one does romance like du Maurier, no one can make a genre I have fallen out of love with still so appealing, add mystery to passion in just the right balance and top it off with tragedy in such a way as to keep the reader satisfied and not sickened.  This was a simply gorgeous read.

31Death of a Dude – Rex Stout – another particularly satisfying mystery. Nero Wolfe, you have my salaam.

32Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky – I’d read BK, The Idiot before I touched this, and frankly I didn’t like this as much as his other works.  It was too hectic, too feverish, like his main character – it made a point but took such a damnably long time to do so. Perhaps it is the anxiety of the main character transmitting to me, but I was in a constant state of uneasiness or uljhan throughout the book, and that ruined it for me.

33The Eyes of the Dragon – Stephen King – An Early-SK book (before the 90s), one of the few I hadn’t read yet. Very enjoyable read, proving Stephen Kind can be as good writing fantasy as his usual genre, horror.

34The Colour of Magic – Terry Pratchett – from one fantasy book to another. My first Pratchett novel! From here begins my relationship with this acclaimed sci fi author. I loved the idea of the discworld and found the book quite amusing and enjoyable to read. I fully intend to go through the entire series, one book at a time.

35One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey – I wish I`d read the book while in psych, the heartwarming and tragic plot centred on a mental ward and its patient…it was one of the BEST books I`ve read this year, kept me hooked to the last page. An absolutely engaging book, and a must read.

36The Godfather – Mario Puzo – At this point in the year it felt as though I was devouring one excellent book after another. This of course was also incredible, I loved the dark underworld it describes along with Sicilian customs and the Don and other characters. Very fast-paced, well-written, thrilling to the core.

37Issues in Feminism – Sheila Ruth – core textbook for women’s studies. It was one of the most influencing nonfics I read this year. This book gave me a grounding in feminist theory and helped me get on track of the various movements that occurred esp in America, and of general objectives and ideas in feminism in general. I finished the book with my eyes opened and a determination to do something about the poor state of women in my country.

38Conversations on Consciousness – Susan Blackmore – I enjoyed this because unlike usual books which present only the author’s perspective on the issue of consciousness, this had interviews from all sorts of scientists and psychologists and stuff and so it presented very diverse and hugely informative views on the topic.

39Posssessing the Secret of Joy – Alice Walker – Alice Walker is <3. This book is meant to deal with FGM primarily, but like all her books is a storyline about african people and their strengths and weaknesses, their loves and lives.  A warming, poignant story that had me in tears at many points.

40A Case of Exploding Mangoes – Muhammed Hanif – OMG WHY DIDN’T I READ THIS EARLIER? This was such an EPIC novel. Satire has orgasms when it reads Muhammad Hanif. This book not only had me both giggling and sobbing at different points, it had one of the most amazingly convoluted yet brilliant storylines ever INVENTED. I don’t know why this book didn’t win the damn booker or whatever. I want to bow down to Muhammad Hanif and fawn over him. I can’t believe I’m in the same city as this amazing author. This was just so fucking awesome.

41The Light Fantastic – Terry Pratchett – haye, Pratchett. You know, I love the little funny things he comes up with in his stories, like Hydrophobes that run boats, and other things – it makes reading so enjoyable, and he has about a bazillion of these little creative fantastic ideas in each book.

42The Clash of Fundamentalisms – Tariq Ali – Another one of the extremely influencing books I read this year. While IWF  started my feminism and gender equality crusade, Tariq Ali got me hooked onto politics and world history.  I’ve never been interested in history before, but after his book I found myself eating book after book to do with history and reading political articles. I love him for that. The book is great too, a bit old (pub. 2003) so less applicable, but still an interesting analysis.

43The Princess Bride – William Goldman – hehe, this was a hilarious book, and cute too. A fairytale, but definitely not your typical storyline. Had great fun reading it.

44An Abundance of Katherines – John Green – I’m a mild fan of the Vlogbrothers, so when I saw this book I had to have it.  It was a cute read too, very first-world young-teenager-with-problems type of book, but cool nonetheless.

45Our Lady of Alice Bhatti – Muhammed Hanif  – Not as good as Mangoes, definitely. If you’re looking for an unusual, crazy storyline as well as a sarcastic, glaringly sharp picture of public hospitals and the dirt and muck of Pakistani society – then the book’s a good read. But if you`re looking for Mangoes v2.0, you`ll be disappointed.

46The Bride – Bapsi Sidhwa – A harrowing tale by a Pakistani author about the evils faced by tribal women – it was published in the 80s, so I don’t know how much relevance it still has, but it still depressed me and gave me goosebumps.

47The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios – Yann Martel – these stories are good reads, nothing as quirky and wonderful as the life of Pi, but nonetheless fine stories.

48The Chatham School Affair – Thomas H. Cook – I’ve only read one other book by Cook, several years ago. Like that book, this was also a dark, depressing crime novel with an excellent, detailed storyline – the general tragedy of the story made as important as the central crime. Of modern fiction, Cook is definitely an excellent writer.

49Hi I’m A Social Disease – Horror Stories – Andersen Prunty – my first taste of Bizarro fiction – the stories were so weird! A trippy mix of sci-fi, horror, fantasy…I didn’t know what to make of half of them. I intend to experience the genre more.

50Full Dark, No Stars – Stephen King – like Four Past Midnight, this has longer stories, more like short novellas, and they focus more on the darkness in people than supernatural horror. Good reads, typical King.

51Morning is Dead – Andersen Prunty – my follow up on Bizarro fiction. A good story, very very trippy although it made some sort of sense at the end – still, there was some mystery even at the conclusion. I liked it, it was an interesting book.

52Guns, Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond – more nonfic lol. I tried to read this book in second year but just couldn’t get through it.  Even this more recent attempt almost failed. The book’s central theme about the reason why some civilisations triumph over others is good – its just fucking repetitive! Suicide-inducingly so.

53Complications – Atul Gawande  – this was such a good book! I mean, its by a surgeon who writes well, telling interesting medical stuff and narrating fascinating surgical anecdotes – of course I’d love it! It was splendidly written, candid, eloquent, engrossing, entertaining, informative. It instantly became one of my favourite books for the year.

54Quite Ugly One Morning – Christopher Brookmyre – another one-day street-crime murder-mystery kinda thing, but I liked this cos of all the Scottish slang in it, which made it amusing to read.

55The Girl Who Fell From The Sky – Heidi W. Durrow – this was a random book I picked up, and it turned out to be fairly good reading; an emotiona tale written from shifting perspectives, examining the tension of mixed children and mixed race couples in still-racist America.

56Crime – Ferdinand Von Schirach – bunch of short stories based on the real-life cases of its German lawyer-author. Some of them were distinctly out of the ordinary and odd, hence the book was pretty interesting.

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13 thoughts on “Book List – 2011

  1. wow 56, that’s a huge number, more than a book per week. How do you find time for other thoughts and actions ? Highly admirable, especially the dedication or more aptly the craze.
    I look forward to read “The Godfather” someday, till then I shall continue reading minds and faces.

    1. It Is more like a craze, lol. And I’ve been neglecting ‘thinking’ in favor of drowning in the written thoughts of other people, which is what books are, after all. But one should make time for one’s passions and there are twenty four hours in a day.

      Yes, you should totally read the Godfather, its a Very funky book.

      1. Finished Godfather, it took me more than a month to finish it, I assume you must have finished it in less than a week. Yes, it’s very funky and very enjoyable to read, plus I like mafia wisdom; makes lots of sense in real life, minus the guns of course.

        1. I like mafia wisdom too. It sort of is in effect in a lot of places in pakistan, isn`t it? The whole do-a-favour-in-return-for-allegiance kind of thing.

      2. Yes it is in effect in lots of places in Pakistan, but not in Europe.
        In Pakistan though there is one more implicit seemingly harmless approach; people share their private matters with you first and in return expect you to share your private issues, thus trying to be influential and significant in your life.

        Another good thing about mafia wisdom shows that it is very basic, very fundamental, there are no pretensions in it, pretensions for being seen as good, principled or anything but purposeful. It hits the nerve of the target directly to manipulate it , either by building up and nourishing the ego, or by revealing and unmasking the closet desires and fears.

  2. Read:

    – Anything written by Vladimir Nabokov, Marcel Proust and Milan Kundera.
    – The Diaries of Don Rigoberto by Mario Vargas Llosa.
    – Federico Garcia Lorca’s and Jose Saramago’s poetry.

    ps: I’ll be stalking this place from now on.

    1. I’ve read Lolita and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Nabokov and Kundera respectively, trying to get my hands on their other works. Nothing by Proust yet or the other authors you’ve mentioned, I’ll be sure to give ’em a try though, thanks.

      Um, it’d be nice to have you around? I guess.

  3. First, how do you keep count of all the books you’ve read throughout the year? I’m impressed!

    Second, did you like A Passage to India? I found it a pain-in-the-ass reading. Normally I enjoy sub-continent literature but this was slightly hurting. I’m going to try reading Howard’s End so that I may be able to like Forster as a writer. I don’t want to be the disappointed reader. Tell me if you’ve read it and if I should go for it.

    Third, Exploding mangoes is definitely orgasmic satire! You’re quite spot on about it!

    P.S. You and I need to write more! 🙂

    1. I write them down, adding them to a list as soon as I’ve read them. This year I think I’m going to go above a hundred, so I’m not going to review them all next year. I’ll just do the best ones.

      I haven’t read Howard’s End, so I really can’t say. If you read it, let me know how it is, and I’ll do the same if I read it first 😛

      Hain na? I love Muhammad Hanif, I wish he writes more soon. And yes, both of us should write more too! I have some pieces lined up, will start posting them soon.

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