Lists, yet another of them lists, I have decided I shall record for posterity or till such till blogger/Google run out of server space and delete this blog a list of all my favourites. Kind of being the online bore J, but hey everyone does lists. Come on, it is going to be end of the year, so TOI and India Today will come out with their respective ultra fat editions of top things which happened in the year and the such. Presumably, the top slot will go for either the fight between Munni and Sheila or AbiAsh episode on Koffee with Karan (you shd check the Ranbir Kapoor- Imran Khan episode, I wouldn’t mind confessing to seeing that episode) or something equally inane. But then both these journalistic mastheads are run for the page 3 and glitterati than the man who seeks serious journalism or news distribution. If you seek that, the blogosphere is better – GreatBong’s foreign policy analysis is way better than anything published by the mainstream media, as an example. In any case, I digress, I started this post with the express purpose of posting another list. So this time around, the list is of my favourite authors or authors I love. There may be a surprise here for people who do read the blog – I am known to have very eccentric (I would like to use the word eclectic, but then I am sure quite a few of my friends would object) taste in books. So here we go:
1. Alistair Maclean – now i confess, I love Almacs as I call them. An Almac hero can do all of things that Rajni can do, but without his left hand and with only one leg functioning and a head wound. But then to Rajni’s defence he never gets into the tight spot of losing functioning limbs in the first place. Coming back to Almac, plots are invariably simple, the couple of times he tried to get anything more than a clothesline for all the action, it petered out – a few of books are crap, most are unputdownable, most have logical and logistical issues. But the best of the lot are like watching a good bollywood action – loads of action, hard men, pretty women and the best dialogues this side of anywhere. The dialogues define laconic and well, for all the bluster about the lack of a storyline, the characters are reasonably well developed and there usually aren’t too many of them to start with. Invariably set in places where the hero has to do phenomenally heroic thingies to get to victory – Smith in Where Eagles Dare has to dispose off two men on a wilding swinging cable car, Revson in The Golden Gate has to eliminate a lot of heavily armed men with nothing more than a safety pin, the bosun McKinnon in San Andreas rams a submarine with a hospital ship, First Officer Carter in Golden Rendezvous has to deal with a nearly broken leg and shipful of bloodthirsty pirates, etc etc. What I love about this man’s writing is that it is simple, easy and quick to read and is tons of fun. You should try it out – I choose an Almac everytime i need to have fun when I read.
2. J R R Tolkien – Simply put the man is a legend. The LOTR is the only English language epic, which in itself is an achievement. It of course, doesn’t have anything of the complexity of even Ramayana, forget the Mahabharata. But that a man could imagine such a detailed universe and populate it with well thought out and developed characters, is amazing. Yes, some people call it a front of Catholicism, some call the man bigoted as he has no important women characters nor does he have any black good guys nor does the east mean good, but hey everyone has some negatives. The LOTR is a brilliant book – the Silmarillion is weighty in places, but readable; the Hobbit is fun. And the detailing is amazing and the writing is again easy and simple and beautiful, almost lyrical prose. Love the man’s works.
3. Frederick Forsyth – well, the byword for action novels, though his standards have lately been flagging. His Day of the Jackal probably would have been banned in UK for telling all and sundry how best to get a new UK passport in any name in the 1960s. Detail, detail and more detail is the man’s credo – amazing writing, brilliant setpieces and the storyline is invariably something special – the earlier books were all masterpieces in my opinion – the best of the lot being a tossup between Day of the Jackal (his most well known work) and the Odessa File (for bringing an amazing amount of detail into something not exactly common place). His other old books – Devil’s Alternative, Fourth Protocol, the Shepherd, all great novels. The more recent ones have been a bit lacking – Fist of God was too Tom Clancyish, the Deceiver, the Negotiator and the Icon all lacking a centrepiece of relevance, the last two works – the Afghan and the Cobra – both seriously flawed. The master is losing his touch. But as a collection beats anything that you can get from comparable authors.
4. Henning Mankell – wonder how these Scandanavian countries with their supposedly high incomes, high levels of prosperity and well being produce some of the most conflicted writers – Stieg Larsson of the Millenium series is one, Henning Mankell is another. Best known for his Kurt Wallander novels, Mankell has also written a set of other fairly serious and thought provoking pieces of literature which mainly focus on the increasing complexity and violence in the normal Scandanavian (read Swedish) world. The wallander books are what he is known best for and they are amongst the top three of police procedurals that I have read – only Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse) and Ian Rankin (DI John Rebus) have managed to evoke the day to day nature of the life of a policeman. There are others notably PD James (Adam Dagleish) and others who are readable, but for the day to day boredom of police thwork and the 1% inspiration which cracks the case to shine through it takes these three. Kind of like a CSI in reverse – CSI is all about high points in a case, have you ever come across a CSI episode where every minute is not filled with some CSI or the other finding something about the case. Wallander books focus more on what goes on in Wallander’s life – his complicated married or divorced life, his relationship with his dad, his relationship with his daughter, etc. And each book is a microcosm of what Sweden is – emphasising key issues confronting not just the country but the police force too.
5. Colin Dexter – see above. All of that applies to Inspector Morse and moreover he is an alcoholic and known to be a born philanderer, with a fling with a woman in pretty much every story. But then he is again the archetypical small town policeman, here Oxford, and hence, more high profile than say Wallander is. And the same slowness, allowing the atmosphere build up is there. Morse though focuses more on the day to day functioning of Morse as a detective and less as a human being and hence, there isn’t so much of philosophical rambling as is there in Wallander books. But then the way the crime is solved is again a set of missteps and the classical Holmesian mould, Morse has his sidekick Sergeant Lewis performing the role of a Dr Watson. But Morse is still at best a modern day retelling of Sherlock Holmes.
6. Ian Rankin – John Rebus is definitely the most conflicted of the detectives we are talking about here – Rankin starts out good in the initial few books, but the last few were more soap operas concerned more with Rebus’ fight with the bureaucracy than really solving crimed. DS Siobhan (pronounced I think Sh-ia-awn or something like that) is his faithful sidekick. But Rebus is a mix of Morse and Wallander. I dropped off on this after a while – did read Rankin’s non Rebus book – the Watchmen – though and thought that it was good.
7. Satyajit Ray – a friend called his Feluda mysteries childish – but Ray as opposed to the gloom in his best known Apu Trilogy, shines bright in the Feluda mysteries in the process creating India’s own Sherlock Holmes. More active and agile than Byomkesh Bakshi, portrayed in the movies by the dashing Soumitra Chatterjee, this is the man every kid in Bengal i think aspired to be in the 60s and 70s. Brilliantly and simply written (i have read the translations by Gopa Majumdar,and they evoke Ray’s simple prose the best) – it is indeed the best Indian fiction has to offer.
8. Amitav Ghosh – there are Indian writers and Indian writers and then there is Amitav Ghosh. The man is an institution, atleast to me, every single one of his books has moved me from Calcutta Chromosome to In an Antique Land to Shadow Lines to Glass Palace to Hungry Tide. Simple evocative prose is the name of the game, none of the lumbering big word filled Rushdian prose. None of the puton attitude of Vikram Seth, simple, evocative prose. Very effective and very beautiful – lyrical to the best.
9. Gabriel Garcia Marquez – read the translations. Want to learn Spanish to read the originals – some day some day. I shall do it.. in a hundred years of solitude.
I stop this list at nine – there are others such as Upamanyu Chatterjee, whose English August is a riot, but whose other books leave a bad taste in the mouth; Umberto Eco – name of the rose and the focault’s pendulum are beautiful books, who I like, but these nine are the ones I turn to, when I need to read something good and great.