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.