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What the Lounge team has been reading

Fiction that moved, exhilarated, soothed and animated the Lounge team in 2021 

‘The Book Reading’ by Badri Narayan; colour pencil and watercolour on paper; 29.2×40cm.
‘The Book Reading’ by Badri Narayan; colour pencil and watercolour on paper; 29.2×40cm. (Gallery Kolkata)

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In the year that is almost over, it was fiction that exhilarated, soothed and animated the Lounge team. As we step into 2022, we share the books that moved us profoundly. It’s also a great ‘must-read’ list for the year ahead.

A suitable lockdown read

A Suitable Boy 
A Suitable Boy 

A book that really got me through the strangeness of time between March 2020 to now has been Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. It was a book I had purposefully avoided for years due to its sheer volume—until a friend presented it for my birthday, barely two months into the first lockdown. The 1,500-odd pages of Seth’s newly independent India, with families and stories that feel forever familiar, helped me a second time around too, in the summer of 2021, when the world felt beyond scary, and my will and desire to read or write had completely dried up. It slowed me down, allowed me to get out of my head, and nourished me with its own words—and world—when mine were locked away from me. —Vangmayi Parakala

Isolation Oblivion

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
My Year of Rest and Relaxation

I discovered Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year Of Rest And Relaxation in April, around the time the second wave of the pandemic was building up, and somehow—despite the bleakness of the text or perhaps even because of it—it struck a chord. My life at that point—as with most other people—had shrunk to the four walls of my home, the only link to the outside world was the terrible news and the Dunzo delivery men. So the inherent metaphor of Moshfegh’s novel, the idea that privilege-induced oblivion can keep the wolf from the door, felt prophetic at that point in time. And, yes, I loved her stark, precise prose.—Preeti Zachariah

Self-orienting 

Orienting by Pallavi Aiyar
Orienting by Pallavi Aiyar

2021 was a slow year for me when it came to reading fiction. I stuck to The End Of October by Lawrence Wright, released a year earlier. But this time away from fiction gave me the chance to read more about sleep science in Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep and the power of small changes in your habits in James Clear’s Atomic Habits—self-care all the way. I also satiated my fondness for Japan by starting to read journalist Pallavi Aiyar’s Orienting.—Nitin Sreedhar

A newfound strength

Song of Draupadi
Song of Draupadi

In May, after a nightmarish encounter with covid-19, I was looking to distract myself from the lingering bone-crushing fatigue, brain fog and other post-virus effects. That’s when I came across an online course on the 18 parvans (parts) of the critical edition of the Mahabharata by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, Maharashtra. As I was attending the sessions, Ira Mukhoty’s new book, Song Of Draupadi, hit the shelves. I have always been interested in interpretations of the epic, particularly from a woman’s point of view, and was curious about what Mukhoty had to say. Mukhoty painted a very personal and intimate portrait of the female characters. In the scene of the humiliation of Draupadi in the gambling hall, Mukhoty was able to show that Draupadi was the sole guardian of her own dignity, saving herself through her presence of mind, intelligence and bravery. To me, the book will always be synonymous with a period of recovery and rejuvenation.—Avantika Bhuyan

Circling Back 

South of the Border, West of the Sun
South of the Border, West of the Sun

“The sad truth is that some things can’t go backwards. Once they start going forward, no matter what you do, they can’t go back to the way they were. If even one little thing goes awry, then that’s how it will stay forever,” Hajime tells Shimamoto in Haruki Murakami’s South Of The Border, West Of The Sun. These are two star-crossed lovers in Murakami’s world but the quote somehow sums up the past two years—in 2020, our conversations would often circle back to our pre-pandemic life, as if we would run into it round the corner. In 2021, these references started fading—like Murakami’s characters we are adrift, waiting for that future that will anchor us, still the restlessness and anxiety within. Maybe, hope, like Shimamoto in Hajime’s bar, with jazz music playing in the background, will arrive unnoticed on a quiet, rainy evening.—Nipa Charagi

Sea of Stories 

At The Mouth Of The River of Bees
At The Mouth Of The River of Bees

I rediscovered mind-bending and emotionally moving science fiction in 2021. The voluptuously titled At The Mouth Of The River Of Bees by Kij Johnson has a surreal story, Names Of Water, that stays with me. Spoilers ahead. It starts with a college girl, Hala, who is running late for class. She gets a phone call, and instead of a voice, there’s a hiss that sounds like the ebb and flow of waves. In response, she starts taking the names of oceans, rivers and lakes, but there is no answer. Then she starts to name feelings that take on the metaphor of being endless like the sea—love, longing, hope. There is no answer. She hangs up. But she longs for it to “mean something”, so she calls back and says her name. This time, there’s an answer from a distant future from a caller who is neither human nor alien. It’s the sound of an ocean from a planet 50 light-years away, discovered due to a program she wrote. The ocean is named Hala.—Jahnabee Borah

A catch-22 situation

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Over the years, catch-22 had become just another idiom. Till, that is, a friend recently gifted Joseph Heller’s book to me—for reasons that remain a mystery. This time around, though, it took me to a setting very far removed from its own as I soaked in the memories of lounging in a lawn on a sunny winter day with this book. Delhi was a gentler place then, life was slower and during vacations we would spend all day in that lawn at home, reading, eating, snoozing, soaking in the sun. Innocently oblivious that one day in the future, a pandemic would sweep us all indoors, and away.—Chandrika Mago

Home, Alone 

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

During a period of social isolation, I read Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. “The beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite,” says Piranesi, the titular character, about his dwelling: a mystical place of rising and ebbing tides and endless halls full of intricate statuary, where he, one of the kindest, sweetest and gentlest characters I have ever encountered in fiction, lives all by himself. Piranesi is a study in isolation, but it is also a study in self-sufficiency, in finding interest and beauty in the ordinary, and grace in unexpected places. It was a moving, transforming read at a time when we most needed to seek that grace.—Shrabonti Bagchi

Beyond the comfort zone 

The Graveyard Book
The Graveyard Book

What better way to feel comforted than reading a children’s book, where you know the ending will certainly be happy. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book hooks you from the start with a murder scene. We then find ourselves getting acquainted with long dead residents of a cemetery, who end up raising a living baby, protecting him from a sinister organisation that is out to get him. Eventually, our protagonist Nobody Owens aka Bod takes the bold step of exploring the world beyond the cemetery. It was heartening to see Bod’s gradual realisation and acceptance of his unique situation, and courage in stepping out of his comfort zone.—Rashmi Menon

A lucky turn to fiction 

Four Strokes of Luck by Perumal Murugan
Four Strokes of Luck by Perumal Murugan

For years, reading meant work, work meant non-fiction, and novels gathered dust on my bookshelves, waiting for the “some day” I’d have time to get lost in their pages. Until I bought Perumal Murugan’s Four Strokes Of Luck, translated from Tamil by Nandini Krishnan, while browsing in Bengaluru’s Blossom Book House. As with most of Murugan’s writing, each story, set in rural Tamil Nadu, seems absolutely ordinary until a minor transgression or quirk reveals the truth of people, the depth of prejudice, the malice of society. His tightly crafted stories led me to make time for a little bit of fiction every day.— Shalini Umachandran

Going underground to read 

The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad

Since my reading time is often dependent on how much time I can steal away from movie-watching, I have tried to find creative ways to blend the two. In the months leading up to Barry Jenkins’ miniseries adaptation of The Underground Railroad, I decided to read the Colson Whitehead novel as preparation for a piece (I used the same excuse for Little Women, Normal People and Serious Men). Whitehead’s book is an astonishing work, intimate and expansive, transforming the allegory of a railroad that transports slaves from the American south to freedom into a physical railroad. I would recommend the book, Kathryn Schulz’s thoughtful piece on it in The New Yorker, and Jenkins’ searing small-screen adaptation.— Uday Bhatia

Everyday Magic 

Broken by Jenny Lawson 
Broken by Jenny Lawson 

There’s magic in the everyday. Finding your long-lost friend in a post office queue, seeing your dog smile after it gobbles its first beef jerky, getting flowers as a gift just when you are about to step out to buy some. It’s this belief in everyday magic that I found in the comfort of Jenny Lawson’s Broken (In The Best Possible Way). This witty memoir of depression reminds us that we can always get back on our feet no matter how bad the fall. Caution: Social introverts may feel seen.— Pooja Singh

Beloved Murderbot

Part 1 of The Murderbot Diaries
Part 1 of The Murderbot Diaries

I kept the real-life horrors of the pandemic at bay by reading a lot of horror. But my favourite by far was a series of science fiction novellas called The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I speed-read the six books of the series over 2021, and I am still in thrall to the amazing stories. Told from the point of view of a humanoid robot that’s primed to kill (it’s a Security Unit or a SecUnit), the fun begins when it hacks its software and turns into a sentient, sardonic and bemused supersoldier; one that only wants to watch streaming movies and TV series. Witty, sarcastic and filled with some brilliant action, I can’t wait for the further adventures of my beloved Murderbot.—Bibek Bhattacharya

Also read: The Lounge Fiction Special original short stories 

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