Friday, August 13, 2004

forgettable books

This morning I awoke to find the library littered with books. Shailaja had gone on a midnight purge fest that was long in the making. Our bookshelves were full, and we don't have room for any more shelves, so it was get rid of some books or stop buying more.

Here's what we're getting rid of -- for the benefit of the "On My Shelf" stream...

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen - too similar to Richard Russo's book, whatever it was called, without being as funny
Trotter-Nama by Allan Sealy - Dunno
Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible - tried her recipe for Garam Masala and it tasted like ground cardamom seeds... If I want paan, or something equally vile, I'll go to the paan shop
Half a Life by VS Naipaul - I used to love VS until I moved to India and found out about his new love of fascism. Oh for another House for Mr. Biswas
Journalism Since September 11 - No, it doesn't have any of the crucial tidbits, such as, add Osama to every South Asia headline to ensure publication, as in, "Looking for Osama in Kathmandu" or "No Love for Osama in Colombo."
Selected Fiction by O.V. Vijayan
Memories of Madness - an anthology about Partition
Myths & Legends of India - already in the On My Shelf file... We never read it
Empire by Niall Ferguson - ditto. I challenge anyone to say honestly he waded through this entire book before weighing in with a review. Same challenge to anyone who claims to have read it who is not a professional book reviewer.
The Rotters Club by Jonathan Coe - Not bad. Funny stuff about English boarding schools as I recall, but no William Boyd
The Last Jet Engine Laugh by Ruchir Joshi - Think I might put this one back on the shelf. Been meaning to read it.
The Narmada Damned - I'm sympathetic
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri - I dunno... Maybe I just can't stomach all that adulation. And the guy's named after Gogol, for god sake! As a friend wrote, Isn't that pretentious and precious at the same time?
1996 Expatriate Guide to Beijing - The amusement about the pace of change has warn off
Cities of India - Filling up space, and little more
River at the Center of the World by Simon Winchester - How can such an interesting writer come up with such a boring book? Stumped.
The Sari Shop - More desi fiction... Can't stomach the stuff if I'm not getting paid to read it.
Mandala of Sherlock Holmes - Confession: I never got into the original, so why would I read the homage?
Kashmir, the Untold Story by Humra Qureishi - I think the title overstates the case
Socrates: Poisoned Again After Centuries - Was Rajneesh aka Osho like Socrates? This would be an interesting book if it presented convincing evidence that Osho was offed by the CIA or something, but it mostly presents the case that he was like Socrates in being dull and impenetrable or simply tautological.
The CIA's Secret War in Tibet - Did I say a book about the CIA would be interesting?
Contemporary India by Satish Deshpande - Again, the kind of book I get paid to read
Breaking the Big Story - Shailaja has vowed never to teach journalism again apparently
If You Are Afraid of Heights by Raj Kumar Jha - the best thing about this guy is his hair
Delhi: City Improbable - Neat little collection, but not worth saving
Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan - I went to great lengths to pick up this book in the US after reading a review that was, frankly, a load of shite. Apparently, the author's innovative use of different colored inks blinded the reviewer to his numbing boredom.
Eats, Shoots & Leaves - A book about commas. Soon everyone will recognize this fact, won't they?
Timeline by Michael Crichton - Ashamed to have liked this one, especially after seeing the movie, after which I know that nobody will believe me about the book. Gotta expunge this one from the record.
Mr. Naipaul's Round Trip & Other Essays - Suspect title. Have I mentioned my plans for a blog devoted entirely to unconvential reviews - e.g. based on book jacket, the movie based on the book, the people you observe reading the book, etc. This is a brilliant scheme, I can say with complete modesty.
The Origins and Development of the Tablighi-Jama'at - I couldn't even finish the title
Competing Nationalisms in South India - zzzzzzzzzzz
The Beauty Game - Has potential. India's Naomi Wolf.... Wait, India's Naomi Wolf?
Take a Girl Like You by Kingsley Amis - I've given up trying to discover if Kingsley was ever funny before or after Lucky Jim. Maybe he was, but the wasn'ts are too dispiriting.
The Liar by Stephen Fry - An actor who writes novels. Even if this part-timer's book is moderately good, which I'm told it is (no Ethan Hawke, here), that would be tooooo depressing.
All Those Philip Pullman Books - Good, fun reads. OK, I said it, the number one enemy of Harry Potter. I, an adult, have recently read a kid's book.
Flavours of Delhi by Charmaine O'Brien - (1) Delhi's flavours are pretty disappointing (2) This book should be called "Guide to Delhi's Five-Star Hotels and their In-House Restaurants (3) How does one get one of these Lonely Planet Publishing contracts to write a useless book?
Elsewhere - An anthology of Indian travel writing. Interesting idea. But Indian editors should wield a fiercer pen.
Yaraana - Yaaaawwwn... Ahhh
China of the Lam - Guy walks from Hong Kong to Harbin, sleeps in rain, talks to peasants.
Translating Caste - Good counterpoint to the endless procession of books about how tough it was to go to boarding school in the UK with brown skin, then take up daddy's failing business when you really wanted to be a writer, or about how tough it was to leave the verdant fragrance of Kerala-Goa-Mangalore behind for the cuthroat world of US academe.... Which was that one, The Blue Scent of Transient Emotions? The Perplexing Fragrance of the Brown Sahib? I can't recall. Here, though, you get a story where the characters watch the assholes of a herd of buffalo so they can sing out "Mine" when one of the beasts lays a turd. Black gold.
Translating Desire - See above.
Children of Light by Robert Stone - One of the Intrepid Traveler's lesser works, but worth a read. After trying to convince a lot of people to read Outerbridge Reach and getting lukewarm responses, I'm beginning to think I'm the only self-consciously macho, tightass, emotionally impaired intellectual guy out there these days. What the hell is going on?
Zen Poetry - I never read anything with Zen in the title.
Hindoo Holiday by J.R. Ackerley - A classic, written between the lines, about a Raja and a British public school toff bonding over the availability of young brown boys. Great embarrassing bits about falling in love with servants.
Hindu Gods and Goddesses - I'm putting this one back on the shelf. It's a silly little chapbook, but come on, I can't remember all those gods. I'm used to one, or three, or whatever.
One Last Look by Susanna Moore - I reviewed this book for Asia Times, but they never printed my brilliant thoughts. I realize after seeing In the Cut that my hype for Moore as the author of that novel probably did me no great service.
The Long Recessional - A biography of Rudyard Kipling by David Gilmour. Good stuff. Gilmour has decided to make himself known as a biographer of lesser subjects, I guess, with Kipling, Curzon, et al. One can only wonder why.
Manual of Zen Buddhism - See above
Song of the Turtle: American Indian Literature - Dunno
Voice of the Turtle - What is this obsession with reptiles, and who is The Turtle?
The Rachel Papers - What? What? How can we be selling this to the idiots at Saket Community Center? This has to go to a good home. I cannot stress this enough. Shailaja will receive stern words, believe me. We're holding onto Are You Experienced because it's funny and we're selling Martin Amis' best book? (Yes, I'll go that far)....
The Gin Drinkers by Sagarika Ghose - Shailaja says its good, but based on the tone in her voice I've decided to take her word. I can't be bothered.
White Mughals by William Dalrymple - Everybody loves Willie, but this one is too heavy to lift, let alone read
Children of Kali by Kevin Rushby - Veerappan, Thugs, Dacoits....
Somanatha by Romila Thapur - I'm tempted to slog through this because of the hate Thapur inspires from the far right, but then I read a few pages....
Flappers 2 Rappers - a book about 20th century slang, given away by the Corner Bookshop
Babur-Nama: Memoirs of Akbar - We have another copy, lighter and less unwieldy than this one
The Buddha and the Sahibs by Charles Allen - Credits plucky Brits for the rediscovery of Buddhism - I say old boy, have you noticed the wogs over the hill are worshiping a right chubby little bloke without an elephant's trunk?
Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan - Review book. Shailaja found it a saccharine memoir, laced with apologies for India's pernicious caste system, as in "It's just our way of life." Yuck.

1 comment:

Hurree said...

You really shouldn't post lists like this where people like me start reading them unsuspectingly: laughed so hard I now have coffee up my nose.
Agreed with most of your discards, but if I might make a few dissenting noises?
Mandala of Sherlock Holmes is pretty brilliant, though if you haven't read the original it does lose half its enjoyment...on the other hand, it might drive you into the arms of Conan Doyle, and can that really be so bad?
Ruchir Joshi's worth a second look: Last Jet Engine Laugh's sprawling, difficult but also great fun (I'm biased, though).
Hindoo Holiday's really hard to find these days; please, please don't give your copy to the raddiwala. You're breaking my heart.
Said a silent 'Amen' to Half a Life and The Namesake. All I could think of when I read the latter was: "Six hours of my life have gone and are never coming back, and for...this???"

Anyway, thanks. Loved your list, and sympathised with the need to purge the shelves.

P.S. Voice of the Turtle--I think this is a Biblical reference from the Song of Solomon if I remember rightly, something to do with winter ending and "the time of the singing birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard across [in??] our land". The turtle in question wasn't reptilian at all: it's a shortened version of turtle dove. Your American Indian turtle on the other hand is probably the genuine article.