Doorstoppers for your indoor life
From literary fiction to tomes on finance, classics to new releases, here are 12 hefty must-read tomes to make the quarantine days worth your while
THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT
By Hilary Mantel (HarperCollins India)
In the first three days of its release last month, this concluding volume of Mantel’s glorious trilogy sold over 95,000 copies in the UK alone. It was not all hype—considering this is serious historical fiction we are talking about, not fantasy. It’s best to start Mantel’s revisiting of Tudor history with Wolf Hall, the first in the series, published in 2009, then follow it up with Bring Up The Bodies (2012), before you get to this one. Grisly murders and conspiracies will keep you hooked more than most streaming TV shows.
GUNS, GERMS & STEEL
By Jared Diamond (Random House)
Subtitled A Short History Of Everybody For The Last 13,000 Years, this is big history packed with big ideas and was deservedly awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1998. Tackling the question of why certain societies advance and grow while others tend to get left behind, Diamond offers several fascinating hypotheses. He proposes, for instance, that the technological and immunological superiority of some communities may define the metrics of progress. This idea, among many others, should intrigue and interest us in these turbulent times.
By Donna Tartt (Little, Brown)
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize, this novel of staggering ambition was recently adapted into a movie by John Crowley. An obscure Dutch painting is at the heart of this mystery, narrated by Theo Decker, whose life turned upside down as a 13-year-old. During a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with his mother, a tragedy strikes them—changing the course of Theo’s life forever. In case you are sceptical about a story that combines an unlikely romance with a daring art heist, Tartt’s gripping plot is bound to prove you wrong.
THE GENE: AN INTIMATE HISTORY
By Siddhartha Mukherjee (Penguin Random House)
Why are some people susceptible to certain illnesses while others aren’t? What makes the building blocks of each human being distinct? How does humanity’s past throw light on its future predicaments? These and other fundamental questions are at the core of this renowned physician-writer’s study of the history of genetics. Read it not only for a lucid introduction to the complex subject of genetics but also for the sheer appeal of Mukherjee’s storytelling, which draws on his own family’s history as well as anecdotes from other sources.
CHILDREN, WOMEN, MEN
By Sundara Ramaswamy, translated by Lakshmi Holmström (Penguin)
An acclaimed classic by one of the greatest stylists of modern Tamil literature, this is an immersive story set in the turbulent 1930s. Characters come and go in this sprawling history of a family’s journey from rural to urban Kerala, and the turmoil caused by their migration. Sundara Ramaswamy’s keen focus on his characters’ inner lives, along with his interest in uncomfortable social realities (widow remarriage, for instance), is rendered beautifully into English by the late Lakshmi Holmström.
THE HOBBIT AND THE LORD OF THE RINGS BOX SET
By J.R.R. Tolkien (HarperCollins India)
Can the adventures of Bilbo Baggins ever get old? Never for Tolkien fans and they are likely to enthral those coming to him for the first time too. Bilbo the hobbit, who was quite content to live in his hole, is forced to embark on a journey across Middle Earth thanks to the machinations of the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey. What follows is a riveting story of rebellion and resistance that keeps you hooked till the last page—and evolves into a myriadof directions in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Without Tolkien’s magical universe, George R.R. Martin’s The Game Of Thrones may not have happened—and that’s saying everything.
A LITTLE LIFE
By Hanya Yanagihara (Picador)
Facing anxiety head-on may be cathartic, especially at one remove, through the distancing lens of fiction. Hanya Yanagihara’s much acclaimed and much criticized second novel provides an ideal opportunity to work your way through trying circumstances as you follow this meandering story of four friends living in New York, each immensely successful but also troubled in some way. If gritty truths and abject miseries are your thing, do give this epic novel a chance. Perhaps the endless marathon of tragedy will end up lifting you out of a funk.
By Krishna Sobti, translated by Neer Kanwal Mani with Moyna Mazumdar (HarperCollins India)
The late Krishna Sobti’s magnum opus is a modern classic of Hindi fiction set in undivided Punjab, when people of different faiths coexisted harmoniously in India. Training her eye on Shahpur, a small village, Sobti captures the dynamics of rural society, especially local politics and economy, through finely etched characters. As the Ghadar mutiny of 1915 to oust the British gathers steam, its ripples reach the sleepy hamlet and the rhythm of life changes forever.
FAR FROM THE TREE: A DOZEN KINDS OF LOVE
By Andrew Solomon (Penguin Random House)
This iconic study of family life confronts hard-hitting truths about parents and children—especially those born in extraordinary circumstances. Solomon, a cultural journalist and teacher of psychology, interviews hundreds of people to understand their mechanisms to cope with children born with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome and other debilitating conditions. He also turns his attention to those who are prodigies, were conceived in rape, identify as transgender or have chosen the path of criminality. It’s hard to think of many contemporary books that push our empathy and humanity in the way this one does.
By Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel (Penguin Random House)
Dystopic times call for dystopic fiction and who better than the Japanese master of surreal stories to deliver it? Set in the fictionalized year 1Q84, this mammoth novel bristles with Orwellian energy. There are murders and parallel universes, a love story and complicated time frames, plus everything you can (and cannot) imagine thrown into the mix. Dive into this heady cocktail to experience fiction at its weirdest best.
CAPITAL AND IDEOLOGY
By Thomas Piketty (Harvard University Press)
If you are looking for a real googly, download the e-book version of the French economist’s forthcoming book. At over 1,100 pages, it is bound to keep you busy for weeks. The successor of Capital, Piketty’s earlier best-selling tome, this one takes forward the conversation about global markets, the governing forces of our lives. At a time when the world is staring at a major recession with no definite end date, this may be a compelling book to understand the future of economies across the globe.
By Barry Lopez (Penguin Random House)
The prospect of travelling in the foreseeable future may not appear like a feasible idea, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the marvels of the natural world vicariously, from the comfort of your home. In this outstanding book, one of the finest travel writers of our times takes us from pole to pole—from West Oregon in the US to the ice shelves of Antarctica, the hub of global megacities to the deep stillness of wilderness—to stitch together a narrative of hope and resilience. Prophetic and comforting in turns, it feels like a book for these broken times.
If there’s one word that resonates with all bibliophiles, it is the Japanese term tsundoku: the habit of accumulating books without reading them. It is common for book lovers (or book gatherers, if you will) to stare longingly at books gathering dust on their shelves, make bucket (reading) lists, and plan to reread some titles in an imagined future of boundless leisure. Then there are others who never have the time to sit down for a spot of quiet reading. Whatever your excuse for not reading at all (or not enough), now is your chance to change that. These 12 books, each one a gripping “doorstopper", will keep you away from the distraction of electronic screens in these days of self-isolation.
FIRST PUBLISHED03.04.2020 | 04:08 PM IST
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