Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Books of the Year: Fiction

 The number of bad books I've read this year are few, the number of mediocre/disappointing books I've read this year are more, but I had the fortune to read several excellent books. Some stood out for their writing style, the subject they dealt with, the impact they made on me, the originality or uniqueness of the tale etc. This is a year-end collection of the top books I've read. These are books I'd recommend vigorously, lend or even hand-sell. And then I shall badger you to post a review or I'll end up interviewing you on everything about the book and how you liked it. 

Without further ado, here are my top fiction books of 2010:

Zama is the Indian Alexander McCall Smith. His writing is simple, beautiful and when telling a story that is as heartwarming and vivid as this one, very effective. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is the tale of retired Mr.Ali who starts a 'marriage bureau', and the many people he meets as he tries to find the 'right match' for the right person. The social commentary is subtly, but gorgeously done and Zama conjures the image of that Indian neighbourhood, with all its quirky, annoying yet loving neighbours, that all of us remember with nostalgia. The Marriage Bureau for Rich People is a feel-good book that is a rich treat for the reader. I'm looking forward to reading its sequel The Many Conditions of Love and will watch out for Zama's forthcoming books.

4. Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
I'm usually not a fan of short stories, because it takes a gripping novel to engage me. But Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer Prize winning Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth captivated me, mostly due to Lahiri's prodigous writing talent. Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of stories that deal with the overseas experience, its cultural repercussions etc. Unaccustomed Earth is a more mature, darker take on the immigrant phenomenon and its challenges. These are stories that are emotional, tragic, entertaining and overall, memorable. The hype surrounding Lahiri is entirely justified, for her eye for detail and engaging writing transforms short stories into unforgettable experiences.

This is one of those books that I never would have read if not for the blogger world and the many positive reviews and recommendations that I saw for the book. I had many reservations, especially because the primary theme of the book deals with Math and numbers and I, well, I'm the last person you'd catch reading books related to Math. But I'm glad I picked this book because The Housekeeper and the Professor is a unique, engrossing tale of the relationship between a genius Maths Professor who has only 80 minutes of short-term memory and his Housekeeper and her son. The characters involve you into the book and though it is a short book, its effect is definitely long-term. Don't be put off by the Math-related theme of the book.  Math here is used as a beautiful tool to understand people, their emotions and life itself. Really.

2. Rich Like Us by Nayantara Sahgal
I'm an unabashed fan of Nayantara Sahgal and I'm proud to be. Sahgal is one of the not-so-popular Indian authors, something which is a loss for the reading community in general. Because Nayantara Sahgal is one of the more intellectually slanted writers who bring to life the politics and history of the times with her wonderful writing. Rich Like Us is a tale of India from before independence to Emergency, through the stories of two women - one a cockney memsahib married to an Indian and the other a forward-thinking Indian woman. Sahgal writes skilfully and her talent of interweaving the lessons and stories of the past with the ideals of the present, is remarkable. Rich Like Us won the Sinclair Prize and the Sahitya Akademi Prize for Best Novel and it is easy to see why.  Evocative, gripping and unforgettable, Rich Like Us is a book that I cannot recommend enough.

Picking the Book of the Year: Fiction was incredibly tough because there are so many equally brilliant books from different genres, and therefore are incomparable. Therefore, as an indecisive Libran, I cannot select between the following two and I'm presenting to you my Top Fiction Book(s) of the Year:

1. The Group by Mary McCarthy
The Group is an incredible masterpiece that tells the tale of eight Vassar graduates, women whose stories, experiences and opinions stay with the reader and linger in our minds. Set in the Great Depression, The Group drives home the status of women and the struggles and problems that they face as a consequence of their choices. McCarthy writes with such exquisite ease and brutal honesty about complex, depressing, even embarrassing but important issues. The Group is an important feminist voice that may shock you, startle you, make you uneasy, but will remain with you for a long time.

1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
If I was asked to pick a book to reread from the list of books I've read in 2010, I would not think twice. If I was asked to pick the book that I would most like to gift a friend, I know exactly which book I would choose. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is to fiction what The Sound of Music is to musicals - unforgettable, charming, emotional and heart-warming. This is an epistolary novel about an author getting to know about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and the stories of its members and how they formed the society during the German occupation of Guernsey. A treat to every bookworm, this book is a wonderful mix of witty writing, fascinating characters and memorable scenes. If you haven't read this book already, well, what are you waiting for? In my opinion, this is a book worth buying and seeking refuge in, whenever in need of a comforting, relaxing and beautiful story.

What are your favourite fiction books from this year?

Note: These aren't books published in 2010, but books I read in 2010

P.S I'm looking forward to posting my final end-of-year list, that is the Top Non-Fiction books of the year. Many of the most memorable books I've ever read, find a place in the list :)


Kim said...

Fascinating list! The Guernsey LPPPS was a favorite of mine, too.

Veens said...

Are you sure you will sell these books? I am ready to buy them :P)
But I will pay in installments, ;). As I am sure it will be first come first serve basis. I am glad I am the 1st to request lol!


Veens said...

I am wondering why you did not do review of Inception? We have been thinking of watching it :)

Anonymous said...

Lovely list! I have read both of Lahiri's books and the Guernsey one from your list. And I loved all of them. :)

I'm adding a few books from your blog to my TBR List. which, of course, is ever growing. :)

JoAnn said...

Excellent choices! I loved Gurenesy, The Group, and both of Lahiri's books... so I should probably add your other selections to my wish list :-)

Kals said...

Kim - Thank you! GLPPS is worth all the hype isn't it! :)

Veens - LOL, your enthusiasm is excellent :D I'll let you know when the sale begins :P

I didn't review Inception because I thought I wasn't really good at reviewing sci-fi films and so much has already been said about the movie. But here's a one word review: INCREDIBLE. You should definitely watch Inception. It's a one-of-a-kind movie. I think you'll love it :)

Priya - Thanks :) Lahiri, in the span of two books, became one of my most favourite Indian authors. I hope you'll enjoy the other ones too :)

JoAnn - Thanks so much! :) I think you'll really enjoy The Marriage Bureau for Rich People and Rich Like Us. Do let me know what you think when you read them :)

Mama Everyday said...

Ha lovely list of books.. I want to read so many books.. Especially Unaccustomed earth! :)

Kals said...

Thanks so much :) You'll love Unaccustomed Earth since you liked Interpreter of Maladies. Much more emotional, much more dark and mature.

Vaishnavi said...

Nice list! For me too, the book of 2010 was The Guernsey book. I so wanted to put up my own list but got extremely tied up with a lot of things towards the new year....maybe I still will!


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