A list of 15 memorable books

Jina Joan DCruz with the sizzling mind and fiery brain cells recently tagged me on a favorite subject, reading books - Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you! Now this put me into a quandary. There is always a top list in everybody’s mind, the top favorites. But what if the list is well over 15 and you cannot decide? So as I was thinking and thinking about it, I decided instead to just make a list of 15 ‘relatively good and memorable reads’ and not the usual all time greats. Some of these books are rather unique and are listed as they caught my fancy. Many of these have been covered in detailed blogs by me previously so I will summarize and link up to them, as for the others provide a short set of comments. Hope those who enjoy reading give at least some of these a try, they may turn out to be equally interesting to them. Readers may note something strange here – many of the books seem to be accounts of young guys in bewildering situations. Now I wonder after making the list, how come I selected these? Reliving my childhood memories perhaps? I don’t know – probably..

Shadow of the Wind - Zafon
One of the most fascinating books I have read in recent times. It actually is about a boy named Daniel in Barcelona during the 1950’s who discovers a rare book by the same name. The book is a mysterious one at that, so is the author of the book in the book, who goes by the name Carax, The blurb says it all - Hidden in the heart of the old city of Barcelona is the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, a labyrinthine library of obscure titles that have long gone out of print. To this library, one cold morning in 1945, a man brings his 10-year-old son Daniel. Daniel is allowed to choose one book from the shelves and pulls out The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. Captivated by the novel from its very first page, Daniel reads the book in one sitting. But he is not the only one interested in Carax. As he grows up in a Barcelona still suffering the aftershocks of civil war, Daniel is haunted by the story of the author, a man who seems to have disappeared without a trace after a duel in Père Lachaise cemetery. What begins as a case of literary curiosity turns into a race to find out the truth behind the life and death of Julián Carax, and to save those he left behind.

Nalukettu – MT Vasudevan Nair
I must admit that I would be one of those rare Malayalees who had not read it until recently, for most know of it, talk of it, dream of it and again talk and talk about it. But well, I purchased it recently and read it with gusto. Even though every scene plays out like it is from your own house, it was captivating. The characters, the prose, the simplicity of the textual flow are to be experienced. It is something that anybody who can read Malayalam should read. I am not sure about the English translation by Gita Krishnamurthy, but go for the original if you can. Naalukettu ( 1958) is the story of a young boy Appunni, set in a joint family (tharavad) of the Nair caste in the author's native village, Kudallur(Palghat), Growing up without a father and away from the prestige and protection of the matrilineal home in which he belongs, Appuni spends his childhood in extreme social misery. Fascinated by accounts of the grand 'naalukettu tharavad' of which he should have been a part, Appuni visits the house only to be rejected by the head of the household. With vengeance boiling in his heart and the pain of disappointed love a lingering ache, Appuni claws his way up in life to reach his goal which is ……I will leave it here for the reader to find out.

Life of Pi – Yan Martel
There are reams of articles and critiques on this very special book. It is very different indeed from the normal fare. This book is a fantasy adventure. In the story, the protagonist Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry, survives 227 days after a shipwreck, while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean together with a Bengal tiger. Interestingly it is a product of hard work for the Canadian author spent days interviewing the director of the Trivandrum Zoo amongst others and explored the urban settings of South India, taking voluminous notes before he started the work. Greer a reviewer puts it succinctly - Yann Martel keeps the story of Pi's long voyage moving at an interesting pace. You know from the beginning that Pi will survive, but at times you wonder how he will overcome each challenge he faces. Martel doesn't allow Richard Parker to be anything more than a dangerous Bengal tiger and Pi never to be more than a desperate boy lost at sea. As Pi's long days at sea take a toll on his health and mind, the story begins to strain credulity. Martel then challenges the reader at the end to disbelieve it all. In the end, it becomes a matter of faith.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time – Mark Haddon
I watch a pretty decent tele-serial these days; it is called ‘Aap ki Antra’ – the story of a little girl afflicted by Autism. I enjoy most of the episodes, but this is not about Antra, but an Autistic (actually Aspergerism – a cousin of Autism) boy called Christopher. A simply fascinating account of a boy, who sees a murdered dog and decides to find out the story behind it, and even more, to write about it. So, well, that is the complex route you take with Chris once you get the book in your hands. Sometimes you even wonder, Is Aspergers a boon? Anyway as he progresses, he is drawn into the complex non-Asperger world…and this bewildered boy’s, orderly and mathematically assisted quest becomes the engrossing tale! Read my old blog about this book for more details

Londonstani – Gautam Malkani

Another book that caught my eye and bowled me over. It is again the story of a boy and his friends in today’s London desi crowd. Set close to the Heathrow feed roads of Hounslow, Malkani shows us the lives of a gang of four young men: Hardjit the ring leader, a violent Sikh, Ravi, determinedly tactless, a sheep following the herd; Amit, whose brother Arun is struggling to win the approval of his mother for the Hindu girl he has chosen to marry; and Jas, who tells us of his journey with these three, desperate to win their approval, desperate too for Samira, a Muslim girl, which in this story can only have bad consequences. Together they cruise the streets in Amit’s enhanced Beemer, making a little money changing the electronic fingerprints on stolen mobile phones, a scam that leads them into more dangerous waters. Read my blog about this book for more details

The Lost German Slave Girl – John Bailey
This one is about a slave girl, not a boy. But probably one of the best reads of recent times. What a superb book this is. It tells you the strange story of a slave girl who lived around New Orleans, the real story of a young Sally Miller who left Germany with her parents bound for better luck in America, during the black days of the second decade of the 19th century. Read my blog about this book for more detailsl

Chowringhee – Sankar
When I met an old pal of mine with similar reading tastes, recently, he recommended that I read Chowringhee, a book about Calcutta, for he had been fascinated by it. Well, I finally found a lone copy after a tedious search in Gangaram’s on MG road Bangalore and have since then finished reading this glorious book. What lucid writing it is, and more than that, what a fabulous translation work from the original Bengali. It was simply impossible to put down the book. You enjoy the story telling, meeting and getting to know each character in the book, be it Sankar himself, or Bose or Sutherland or Connie or Rosie….Read my blog about this book for more details

A Town like Alice – Nevil Shute
This book has never left my mind. Even after reading many great books, this simple tale by the master story teller remains in my mind as a perennial favorite. I have never been to Australia and I do intend to go, but when I do, I must try & see the place called Alice Springs. This is an old fashioned but a superbly crafted novel. It tells the story of Jean Paget; as a prisoner of war in Malaysia during World War II and then her return to Malaya after the war where she discovers something that leads her on the search for romance and to a small outback community in Australia where she sets out to turn it into 'a town like Alice'. Some may not find this too interesting, and some people tell me that going to Alice Springs is not like going to Sydney or anything, but it remains in my mind and came up again, just now, for me to jot it in this list.

Kite runner – Khalid Hosseini
I had heard about the book and so I purchased a copy, but that was about when my son kept telling me that I should actually listen to the audio book. He had finished the audio book and insisted that the audio book in this case gave a better feel to the words, place and persona…With great trepidation, I started on this audio book for the first time, complaining all the time that I could listen to the book only when I was in the car, that I could not go back & check things now & then, that I could not feel the pages and all that (or drift away into my own world between words). My son would not let go, he pushed and pushed. It took me two chapters to get into the groove and then I was hooked - to Khaled’s own voice narrating his touching novel ‘Kite Runner’. Thus it was during the many miles back & forth between home & Carlsbad that I got acquainted with Kabul, Freemont, Amir, Hassan & Sohrab. The miles flew by and the story grew in my mind. Gone were the half sleepy & dreary rides back home, as I heard the book, I was looking forward to getting behind the wheel each day and hoped that the drive stretched a few more miles, as I neared the destination. Sometimes I had teary eyes, and the paper seller at the Vista traffic signal who met my eyes on more than one occasion would have found it pretty odd, I think…Read my blog about this book for more details

On the beach – Nevil Shute
What might appear to be a pessimistic tale actually turns out to be a fabulous document about hope and love. The story is set in what was then the near future (1963, approximately a year following World War III). The conflict has devastated the northern hemisphere, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout and killing all animal life. While the nuclear bombs were confined to the northern hemisphere, global air currents are slowly carrying the fallout to the southern hemisphere. The only part of the planet still habitable is the far south of the globe, specifically Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, and the southern parts of South America, although all of these areas are slowly succumbing to radiation poisoning as the fallout continues to circulate southwards. A group of people living their last days, tell the tale of human fallacy…and soon enough the world goes dark for them too. It is one of the finest in the list and one that will remain in your mind for a long long time.

A Painted house – John Grisham
All his books are great, no doubt about that, though the recent crop are not at the usual levels. This one is different, is set in the late summer and early fall of 1952, and its story is told through the eyes of seven-year-old Luke Chandler, the youngest in a family of cotton farmers struggling to harvest their crop and earn enough to settle their debts. The novel portrays the experiences that bring him from a world of innocence into one of harsh reality. An only child, Luke is introduced to two migrant groups, the hill people and the Mexicans. His childhood is turned upside down when they interact with the Chandler family. As usual, suspenseful, and is a record of the times, when the people of America faced different challenges than the ones today.

To Kill a Mocking Bird – Harper Lee
A classic in American literature and one great movie is how I describe it, if you ask me. I am not sure which is better, the movie or the book. But well, go for either, it is upto you. As before, the story narrated by a little girl, the narrator, six-year-old Scout Finch, lives with her older brother Jem and their widowed father Atticus, a middle-aged lawyer. Jem and Scout befriend a boy named Dill who visits Maycomb to stay with his aunt for the summer. Atticus is appointed by the court to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a young white woman. Although many of Maycomb's citizens disapprove, Atticus agrees to defend Tom to the best of his ability. The story takes twists and turns and tells you the travesty of justice meted out to Tom Robinson and how Atticus argues it in court.

River God - Wilbur Smith
Some purists find Wilbur Smith books just not right. I remember discussing this with a colleague of South African descent while living in the UK. When I told her that I enjoyed Smith’s books and the Courtney family’s adventures, she scoffed at me. She said, ‘he writes crap, that is not real Africa’. Maybe she was right, but River God is about the times of the Pharos of Egypt and the tale of a young pharaoh and his eunuch teacher Taita. Pure escapism at its best, it will take you merrily along on a trip up and down the Nile for many weeks. Set some 2000 years before Christ, this book became very popular, but naturally being a fast paced adventure story, and has three sequels, Warlock, Seventh Scroll and Quest.

Drifters – James Michener
A book I read ages ago and still possess. Most of the thrillers or other books have changed hands or been disposed of while traveling across the many continents and living in all kinds of places, but this one, I kept safely. A very interesting tale about a time in the 70’s - hippie’s, drugs and the such. I love most of Michener’s books; they are meaty and will keep you occupied for weeks. This one was an eye opener and pretty interesting. I did not read it again but I think for those who remember the 60’s and 70’s, it could be a great book to peruse. Sinclair, a reviewer summarizes- "At the height of the Vietnam War, young men had to make decisions too complicated for them to know the repercussions of their actions. Should they evade the draft, or take their chances of avoiding the war by becoming professional students? The protagonist makes his decision to make a run for it. His heart's broken, but so is his future if he's drafted into the Army. He travels around the world, and along with six runaway drifters join in an orgy of dreams, drugs, and a dedication to hedonistic pleasures of every kind. "

Suzanne’s diary for Nicholas – James Patterson
Not heralded in such lists ever, many would wonder why I put it up here. Well, try reading it and you may figure out the reasons, it simply caught my fancy, maybe the time was different, the mood was right or whatever, I liked it. Patterson usually writes crime thrillers and is most famous for his ‘Detective Alex Cross’ novels, which are great by themselves, but this one is completely different. Trinkle reviewing the books says - Katie Wilkinson's boyfriend Matt dumps her; not a total cad, he leaves her a gift, a diary kept by Suzanne, his first wife, for their son Nicholas. Though it's not exactly the diamond ring Katie was hoping for, she's unable to make herself destroy the diary--against her better judgment, Katie begins to read. Patterson sustains suspense through clever plotting and by Katie's wondering about the fate of Suzanne and Nicholas; what's finally revealed pushes her, and the novel, to a bittersweet conclusion…

I must admit that I would have liked to list my usual favorites from RK Narayan, Ayn Rand, Leon Uris, Jeffrey Archer, Ken Follett, Bill Bryson, Irving Wallace, Kipling and so on…but this will then become a dreary and long list of the usual suspects, It is now close to midnight and time to see if I can get some sleep. But for the courageous, there is one other book I would recommend, especially to kids who want to go to medical school – the ‘House of God’ by Samuel Shem.

And finally if you want to remember one for a long time to come, and a testament of our times, the widely aclaimed and powertful 'Flowers for Algernon' - Daniel Keyes

Next week, I am off to Kerala for a couple of weeks, and will be back in Sept. Until then, keep the comments coming and enjoy the summer…I will be back with more tales, soon


Maddy - I've read & liked a few of these too. Enjoy the vacation and come back with several stories.

narendra shenoy said…
Thanks for that lovely summary. My reading is so restricted to maths and science stuff, it's not funny. I have no idea why I read that. Maybe the missus is right. Maybe I AM weird.

I have a few of those books on my shelves. The Curious Incident of the Dog and Kite Runner definitely.

You have a great vacation!
Urs....Jina said…
First of all, thanks for doing the tag.And thats quite a ist.Yes, even I was confused on whether to just do 15 or more. I especially like Chowringhee..That book made me want see Calcutta and Bengal.Some of them, I am yet to read.Will take the cue and get my hands on it.
I am not so keen on audio books..But you have made me intrigued.My hubby now only does audio books when he commutes and he likes it too..Maybe I should take a leaf from your book in that stride.:)
Maddy, I have yet to read the post in detail - a treat in store. I was happy to see some of my favourites here.

Have a great trip.
Coincidence! I just read that 'To Kill A Mockingbird' has been pulled out of the curriculum in a Canadian school for use of a racial epithet. The complaint was made by a parent.
Nanditha Prabhu said…
i know its hard to pick up a few books when there is such a lot of books to choose from ... still from the list you have made here a few them them are my favorites too.. I will try to get hands on the others...
Happy vacation in kerala... I am also in Kerala for the next weekend:)
Anonymous said…

Rada said…
That's a nice, comprehensice list you have there, Maddy!

Nalukettu, certainly! But no "Khasakkinte Ithihasam"? :-(

Have a great holiday!
Happy Kitten said…
Hope you are having a lovely time in Kerala..

Happy Onam in advance..

have read only a few out of those... have to take this list on my next shopping...
Maddy said…
Thanks BPSK..

Hi Narendra - wow! math & science? well, then i will tip you when i do my aryabhata blog that still remains incomplete - u'll enjoy it..

Ur's jina - thanks for starting me up down that route.. I am not really for audio books - except for kite runner, i have not heard any. I tried the next husseini but I did not like the audio book.

Thanks raji.. Some of these parents here are crazy about such things. they have the lowest morals and make a big issue with such silly things - hypocrites..

and thanks again for pointing out the error..

Thanks nandita, HK and Sriram..

Wish you all a happy onam too..

Thanks Rada - Khasakinte ithihasam is great, but I am not too sure that it has the kind of mass appeal, unless you understand the palakkad rowther & the local humor..It is like basheer books which are fascinating..
Vivek said…
I had heard a lot about Nalukettu, but after reading your post immediately ordered the English translation and completed reading it. Two things I repent:
1. Not learning to read Malayalam (made some modest attempts since last week). Then I need not had to settle down for a translation. There is an old Malayalam copy at my home priced at just Rs.11

2. Why did I not read it earlier?
Anil Nair said…

I beg to differ about this post; for 7 out of the 8 i have read. Leave alone Nalukettu - we cannot comment on that. MT in general. For this time, I do not agree with you for the rest.

But lets forget about the difference from this CT grill on a chilly night; cheers for a good reading.

Maddy said…
Hi Anil..

No problema..it is always like that, books, girls, wine and food, one mans choice differs from other for strange or unknown reasons, usually polished off with the word 'taste'.

It is like - When i say Paulo Coelho is a little abstract, most people are astonished.
My father often used to quote P. G. Wodehouse on this. "Tastes differ, said the man who kissed the pig."
kallu said…
Great List Maddy. And you've given a well written synopsis about each too. Nice to have books to watch out for.
Incidentally I read half of a book by Sankar- 'The middleman' recently, vaguely remembering the name from a post of yours. I didnt like it too much but see you have him on your fav list.
Hope you enjoy your holiday