Sunday, October 9, 2011

17 Books that impacted my life....

I wrote this for the 17th Anniversary issue of Bombay Times, because Deepali asked me to. Not sure too many people read it.... the profile of the B.T. consumer being somewhat different! But I so enjoyed writing it. The list made me reconnect with my formative years ... a time when young people actually read BOOKS, and not just text messages.
Now here's the tricky part - some work for my Blogdosts. How about your list? It doesn't have to feature 17 books. I'll settle for 5 ! Go for it, guys....
And if you really, really want to know more about what my Paris trip was all about... encourage me! Just a few short words will do... ha ha. But for now - no more champagne or foie gras!! Oooooffff... all those lethal calories!

I really thought this was going to be one of the toughest writing assignments ever. Picking 17 books out of the hundreds that have been devoured, absorbed, internalized, digested and cherished!But… guess what? It turned out to be not just an easy piece to write, but a hugely pleasurable one! And the list presented itself on a platter – the choices were that obvious. It was during the writing process that the real fun kicked in… revisiting favourites from my formative years, and realizing just what a powerful effect those continue to have over my imagination even now. There have been several memorable books since then, but none with such a seminal influence over my head and heart. Not so surprisingly, a lot of them were written by women – from Simone de Beauvoir to Germaine Greer. Francoise Sagan to Amy Tan. Throw in Anais Nin, plus Linda Goodman and we have six outstanding books right there.
Here goes. And this is a list that does not recognize order, hierarchies, genres. It’s just a list that is personal and passionate.
1) ‘War and Peace’ . Published in 1869. Written with majestic sweep by Leo Tolstoy. I fell in love with Pierre Bezuhov while reading the book. And imagined I was Natasha Rostov. Rarely does a movie match the book. But in this case, it was as brilliant. Audrey Hepburn as Natasha!
2) ‘Anna Karenina’. Perhaps this was my ‘Russian writers’ phase. Vladimir Nabokov called Leo Tolstoy’s classic “ One of the greatest love stories in world literature.” Great love stories have to be tragic. Read this one… and weep for days.
3) ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover.’ Irresistible! It was one of the earliest ‘banned’ book. So, of course , it had to be read! D.H.Lawrence created one of the most erotically charged illicit relationships between a titled woman and Mellors, her energetic game keeper. This book is much , much more than a ‘sexual romp’. But try telling that to the philistines??
4) ‘Tender is the Night’. F.Scott Fitzgerald’s perfectly poised, elegantly written gem ( before he wrote ‘The Great Gatsby’) has one of the most evocative opening lines ever about ‘a large, rose- coloured hotel’ on the French Riviera.
5) ‘Le Petit Prince’. Written in 1943 by Antoine de Saint Exupery, an aristocrat-aviator, it’s book one passes on to grandchildren and reads all over again for the 25th time, just for lines like, “One sees clearly only with the heart.”
6) ‘Delta of Venus’. Author, Anais Nin. Described as exploring ‘The language of the Senses’, this is sublime female erotica, or as critics described it , ‘the essence of female sexuality.’
7) ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ .Written by the then 18 year-old Francoise Sagan (1954). The precocious Cecile in the book begs the question – child or adult? Of course, it is Francoise herself!
8) ‘ The Fountainhead’. Show me one young woman who has read this book and not spent the rest of her life looking for Howard Roark!Futile, my dear.Utterly futile.Men like Roark exist in fiction alone.
9) ‘The Kitchen God’s Wife’. Amy Tan. Clever, sharply observed, heart breakingly accurate in its sensitive depiction of the immigrant experience.
10) ‘Sun Signs’. Sounds crazy. But Linda Goodman’s astro book changed my life. It has changed countless other lives! To call it scarily accurate is an understatement! Find yourself in this hefty, definitive tome.
11) ‘The Female Eunuch’. This book will always remain special. I met the legendary intellectual, Germaine Greer and was totally blown away by her dazzling thinking. Written in 1970, it soon became a feminist bible.
12) ‘The Second Sex’. Simone de Beauvoir. Glad I didn’t meet her! Superb writer. Sad woman. She famously wrote, “One is not born, but becomes a woman.” Do we have a choice?
13) ‘Gone With the Wind’. Margaret Mitchell. How dare anybody attempt a sequel? To that?? Sheer audacity!They don’t make men like Rhett Butler any more. Nor women like Scarlet O’Hara.
14) ‘The Golden Gate’.Vikram Seth’s 307- page poem, a love story, no less.Only a genius can pull off such a literary feat .Seth is a genius.
15) ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ William Shakespeare’s vivid and delightful ‘comedy of errors’. If only our lives could be as easily sorted out by elves and fairies.
16) ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles.’ Thomas Hardy’s exquisite prose! Compulsory reading for all aspiring writers. But such a depressing read! How did Hardy know that ALL women are sad?Perenially and essentially sad?
17) ‘Wuthering Heights’. Emily Bronte’s only novel, published in 1847.A brutal love story that destroys several lives.Come on. Admit it. Ideally,every woman should have known a Heathcliff once in her life. Even if, all too briefly.


TheBluntBlogger said...

Wuthering Heights and Fountain Head is on my list too, but I struggle with fiction. I like reading psychology papers, astrology, palmistry and behavioral patterns. Though, I loved Eric Segal's Love Story because it was a short novel and I loved it to the core. I liked Khushwant Singh's The Train to Pakistan as well.

Sigh, am not much of a reader :(

And ,I look forward to the Paris details, please do share <3

The Blunt Blog

Sonal B said...

War & Peace + Gone with the winds are my listings too...I think this is going to be my next blog topic. My Personal favorites.'s a very tough assignment indeed to cut short the list to 5 :) I just fall in love with the paper backs always. Wonder iPads and Kindles replacing the scent of those fresh new pages. I just love it !!!

Must say, you have done a great job naming the 17 top favorites.

Paris - Just pour your words down.

NAT said...


Have read four of the books in your list of 17.
Apart from Gone with the wind the classic, Fountainhead with Charleston Heston was one of his best movies produced in the 60s.

Paris..Just let it come...

चंद्रमौलेश्वर प्रसाद said...

Oh! No Rushdie, No Naipaul, No Nirad Choudhry... :(

unni said...

Good picks, Have read 7 of 17. knew about and wanted to read some of the other books. shall go for it now. But no A J cronin, P G woodhouse ?

ragini mohite said...

with you on the Fountainhead, lady chatterley and most others. though i'd have included Aldous Huxley's Doors of Perception and Albert Camus' The Outsider as well.

Trisha said...

Surviving Men by Shobhaa De. It's the latest book I've read, just completed it a week ago. Spoke directly to my soul, sometimes you hear/read something that sticks with you through life, this book has many such ideas and thoughts that will change the way one thinks and operates with the opposite gender. Thank you for being so brutally open and honest about life, love and all things in between. The power of writing is that you can bring change, peace and influence to countless unseen, unheard souls like myself. I "get" Shobhaa De - the writer, and everyone in that boat is addicted - for good!

Jogeshwar said...

I have liked Khushwant Singh's Train to Pakistan; The Motorcyle Diaries by Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, loved watching the film too ; Thirty seconds over Tokyo by Capt. Ted W.Lawson, story of the Doolittle raid.

Anonymous said...

1. Henry James: The Spoils of Poynton and all others
2. Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory and many others
3. William Trevor: Short Stories and all others
4. Elizabeth Taylor: Angel and all others
4. Margaret Laurence: Short Stories and all others
5. Jane Austen: All
6. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day
7. Ruth Prawer Jhabvala: All
8. Sharon Butala: Short stories
9. Anne Tyler: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and many others
10. Brian Moore: All
11. Doris Lessing: Ben in the World and many others
12. Jean Rhys: Short Stories
13. Anita Desai: In Custody
14. John Wain: Strike the Father Dead
15. Rosamond Lehmann: The Weather in the Streets
16. Alice Hoffman: Many
17. Margaret Drabble: The Garrick Year
18. Ruth Rendell: The Crocodile Bird
19. R. K. Narayan: Many
20. Chitra Divakaruni Bannerjee: Sister of My Heart

Anonymous said...

Regarding "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand, do take the time to read Nathaniel Branden's essay "The Benefits and Hazards of the Philosophy of Ayn Rand". The website address for this is

Anonymous said...

21. Edith Wharton: Short stories and
some others.

Do let me know what you think of some
of the 21 writers I listed.

kakaka said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kakaka said...

Try reading We the Living by Ayn Rand. The book is very different from her other books.
Lolita by Vladamir Nabokov.
Gone with the wind is on my list too.
Play it as it lays by Joan Didion
God of small things.
Albert Camus-the stranger
Maximum city.
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.
I still love all Sidney sheldon Boooks and his heroines.
THE GLASS CASTLE - Jeannette Walls
i have more female writers on my list than men. I am sure V.S.Naipaul does not acknowlege half of them.
and yeah when i was young i was addicted to Harry Potter- by J.K.Rowling.

Ambika said...

Here's my list
1) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott - my favourite childhood story
2) Diary of Anne Frank
3) The Reader
4) Atlas Shrugged
5) Fountainhead
6) Kharemaster by Vibhavari Shirurkar, Marathi feminist writer
7) Shala by Milind Bokil. Must read
8) Shashi Deshpande's Collected Volume of short stories
9) What Katy Did - again a favourite childhood story
10) Heidi
11) Gulzar's Raavipaar
12) Speedpost
13) The Avalanche Express
14) Sardar by Vijay Tendulkar
15) Kamla by Vijay Tendulkar
16) Mario Miranda's Illustrated works
17) Ahe Manohar Tari by Sunita Deshpande
18) Tamas by Bhishma Sahani
19) Just As Long As We Are Together
20) Diary of Social Butterfly

goodluck said...

There are hundreds of books. One just cant limit ti 17.

goodluck said...

There are hundreds of books. One just cant limit to 17.

Pooja Rathore said...

I loved the post.
what i really liked is my guru Linda Goodman Book featured in your 17 favourites.Iam a numerologist and most of my numerology knowledge and astro facts i know is thanks to Linda Goodman.U know one of the reason i liked you is your knowledge about sun signs i still remember reading on net about your piscean and leo daughter- my Higherself told me this lady(u) is wise -(many people disregard astrolgy at their own peril) "Astrological influences combined with human understanding lead to deeper and more fertile relationships"(A T Mann - Mandala tarot).
As for my favourites All Linda goodman books and cards( i have all of them except Gooberz i am praying hard to my higherself to get me this one too).
Your books(spouse,speed post,superstar India,surviving men,selective memory,shobhaa at sixty) i have loved all these books for the wisdom they carry and i can connect with you( in terms of values and principles...capricorn rules wisdom were my HigherSelf choice ..HS is never wrong...i was introduced to you by your book "Spouse" since then my relationship with you(through books and blog has strenghtened...sometimes you just meet right people i am glad i know you and proud of my choice).
i really loved speed post most second selective memory rest are also my favourites but these are my favourites.
Astro books by Grant lewi,sydney ommar,Evangeline Adams i have learnt some very important aspects of astrology from them which i will remember till i breathe.
A big"yes" about paris!
lots of love

pankaj02 said...

ohh sorry mam but being a medical student,where my books drain me out so much that i hardly have any energy for others...but still i have read yours Spouse-the truth about marriage,speedpost,sandhya's secret...whichb i really enjoyed apart from that i like chetan bhagats books like 2 states,one night @ call center...,sherlock holmes , harry poter series,etc,etc...And yes do get rid of those extra calories..would like to hear about your paris trip

Latha said...

Here we go...
1.Gone with the wind - Margaret Mitchell. I never even bothered to read the sequel though Prannoy Roy showed a loooong queue waiting to buy it in "The world this week". Reading a book is like listening to the author. When the hand that writes changes, how does one relate to the story ?
2.Inside the kingdom - Carmen bin laden. A compelling unputdownable book about the woman who fell in love & married the brother of none other than the dreaded Osama bin laden, had 2 daughters when they decided to visit the kingdom where his people lived........ If you want a similar story, you should have seen Karishma Kapoor in 'Shakti - the power'. A performance worth the national award
3.The Kennedy curse - Edward Klein. I'm fascinated with the Kennedy family. Now I want to read all Edward's books.
4.The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank - David Plotz
5.Sister of my heart - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. Oh, how I wish I could write like her !
6.Yes Minister - Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. How can one forget Sir Humphrey Appleby, Bernard Woolley & the minister in the BBC serial ? Classic humour. No wonder our parliament functions the way it doesr being modelled after the British Parliament.
7.Yes Prime Minister - Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn. Same goes for this as well.
8.The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon. The book won several prizes. But the impact the innocence of the character it leaves with the reader is long lasting. An unforgettable book. Shah Rukh Khan did full justice to the character in a different story in "My name is Khan".
9.Digital Fortress - Dan Brown. A delight for gizmo freaks. Really.
10.Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" starts the book. It is about the jealousy of a faithful servant of the 1st wife over the second wife of her mistress's husband & how she wields her power to wreck havoc in her young victim's life. Conspiracy, venom, have it. She reminded me of Manthara, the servant of Kaikeyi & Shakuni of Mahabharat. We have all those characters in our great epics.
11.The Millionairess (George Bernard Shaw) - Another British intelligent comedy.
12.The Devil's Disciple (G B Shaw) - We had that as a 2nd English book in convent & I enjoyed it.
13.The Godfather - Mario Puzo. The danger is that you would wanna be a member of that mafia family !
14.My feudal lord - Tehmina Durrani, wife of Malik Ghulam Mustafa Khar who is a prominent politician in Pakistan dares to write about the male dominated Pak society & its politics, women's position, her own sins & punishments.....If you skip the political elaborations, an interesting read.
15.Rage of the Angels - Sydney Sheldon. Ah, mafia & its heart again. I enjoyed the malayalam film starring Ambika & Mohanlal based on this novel.
16.I went crazy over James Hadly chase till I became pregnant. I didn't want to read thrillers till delivery. But after that I lost interest & haven't touched a Hadly book till date. It is a period in ones life, I guess. Then the tastebuds refuse to take anymore of that once you become a mother.
17.Speedpost - Shobhaa de. I enjoyed reading the tidbits. I think every mother should have such exchanges with her children.
18.The scarlet pimpernel - Baroness Emmuska Orczy. Played over 2000 times, traslated in 16 languages, this only work earned her & her husband an estate in Kent, a bustling London home and an opulent villa in Monte Carlo ! She dedicates this huge success to God, believing this work & opulence it earned her to be the "Will of God".
19.Wise & otherwise - Sudha Murthy. Very realistic & practical. It touches every chord.
20.My story - Kamala Das. O my ! She dares.
I am not able to stop. There is much more.....
I am interested in photos. Dazzling Paris ! I know you'll have some. Waiting....

Shailee said...

Well you asked 5, so I will stick to 5 :)

5. Unaccustomed earth- Jhumpa Lahiri

4. Fountainhead- Ayn Rand- I love Roark, though I don't necessarily agree on everything Ayn Rand says in the book

3. Interpreter of Maladies- Jhumpa Lahiri

2. Great Expectations- Charles Dickens

1. Each and every Harry Potter book (I am still a kid at heart and the amazing language that JK Rowling uses is so addictive, it makes you want to be one of those countless wizards at Hogwarts!)

Apart from these books that really helped me during my formative years include Enid Blyton (who doesn't love her!), Sidney Sheldon and those numerous Mills and Boons books I read (wink wink)

Nisha Sanjeev said...

Here's my five fav

1.Whatever happens to me series by Geoff Thompson - seems like my biography already, how could I not like them.

3.Malgudi Days by RK Narayan - wow! you can smell the village in each page.

4.Alchemist and 11 minutes by Paulo Coelho - if one showed where my professional gem is hidden the other showed the red rose within me

5.Fasting, feasting by Anita Desai - pictureseque writing. I love Desai for her descriptions. How can anyone write pages about a couple sitting on a swing!

6.Sun Signs by Linda Goodman - bang on all 12 heads; even after the so-called 13th sign walked in, she is oh-so-damn right.

Another Kiran In NYC said...

So do tell us all about your award and your visit to France.

Your list of books has made me think about many many things. Not just books that have brought me a myriad of strong and lasting emotions, but also the conversations I have had with people that influenced the ongoing changes through my life. So much food for thought. Will share with you when I get my thoughts in order.

Divya Virmani said...

A thousand splendid suns by Khaled Hossini
Night and Anne Frank's Diary: both on Holocaust
Of mice and men: read it in school but definitely one of the best! You get to learn tons of things!
Please do share Paris detials. I was also stuck at the airport for 8 hrs, wish I had gone out and explored the city known particularly for love and love birds... tsk tsk ;)

Anonymous said...

Yet to read any book till end till-date.

politices said...

List your books has made me think about many many things.Much food for thought. In order to share with you when I get my ideas.
i love this post...

<a herf=">love sms</a>

Hurricane C said...

2 of my 5 are from your list.
1. Gone with the wind - read it 200 times at least.
2. Wuthering Heights
3. How green was my valley - the world was contained in that town.
4. Doctors (Eric Segel) - The talk on the day they enter the college "Maybe someone will find a cure for the common cold" strikes a chord even now.
5. The Prophet - Kahlil Gibran

Sudhir Kekre said...

Steve Jobs is an RSS Agent

PK said...

1) Gone with the Wind
2) Angela's Ashes
3) The Thornbirds
4) Anna Karenina
5) Sense and Sensibility
6) Rebecca
7) Hundred years of Solitude
8) Good Earth
9) East of Eden
10)Cry the beloved country
13)The White Tiger
14)Lorna Doone
15)Wuthering Heights
16)The Age of Innocence
17)Madame Bovary

PK said...

18) Lolita
19) Night
Many more..

Anonymous said...

I read Gone with the wind when i was in eleventh grade and fell in love with it right away. it continues to remain my favorite book till date.
Linda Goodman's sun signs, again a favorite :)
i would love to read the innumerable books people have mentioned above. my "to read" list is getting bigger and bigger by the day. :l

jean said...

please please post your pics of ur holiday.. i hope u need no more encouragement :)!!!!

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AbbeyParam said...

My top 5 picks would be:

1) Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

2) Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger

3) To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee

4) Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - R.L. Stevenson

5) Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton.(I could feel the dinosaurs lurking in the room).

I am a big fan of Leo Tolstoy, as a kid two of his short stories left an indelible mark on my mind namely:

i) God sees the truth but waits (there was a episode on this in Katha Sagar directed by Shyam Benegal)

ii) A Spark neglected burns the house.

I like Fyodor Dostoevsky also quite a lot and My Brothers Karmazov was a spiritual experience. Though I would say Crime and Punishment and Notes from the underground also take you to a different world.

Crime thrillers from early British authors are interesting as well particularly Agatha Christie.

And if it comes to plays then G.B. Shaw paints the humour for me.

The list is actually very long and so I'll wrap it up here..........

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