Which books does a writer read? PushCrew’s resident writer answers the question for us.

August 4, 2016

A couple weeks back, we wrote about the books that our CEO read in the first half of 2016. After publishing the post, it wasn’t hard to figure that our readers not only loved that collection, they came forward and asked us to showcase more reading list recommendations from other #booknerds at Wingify. 

So I turned to our resident writer, Sairam Krishnan, to enquire about the books he read in the first half of 2016. Sairam is currently writing a book on the history of Pondicherry, his hometown and heads marketing initiatives at PushCrew. As I got talking to Sairam, he mentioned how a writer has to manage time between reading and producing his own work. Reading, for a writer, is not an undertaking purely for pleasure, it is often, the very fuel for his craft. 

So, here it is. Books that he has read and liked in 2016 (so far).

1. Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

I’m coming to Vonnegut late, and I didn’t know what to expect at all. But I think I’ll have to read more of him to figure out how he executes the simplicity of prose he achieved here. This is a powerful story, rich in sidesteps and about-turns, and its effectiveness lies in the way it’s told, sharpened for maximum impact. You read a sentence, and before you understand the bigness of its idea, it’s already in your head. This is extraordinary writing.

2. Everybody’s Friend – Raghu Karnad

The Bodley Head Prize runner up that became the author’s first book, Farthest Field, this is a superb curtain-raiser to the book.

3. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King

This is an essential addition to any writer’s table, and should be read in full at least twice a year, so we never forget why we chose to put pen to paper in the first place. And the hows in it don’t hurt either.

4. A Wish A Day for a Week – Amartya Sen 

 A perfect bite-sized introduction to the respected economist’s beliefs and ideas for India’s future path, this little Kindle single is a must read.

5. The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine – Michael Lewis
This, ultimately is the soul of Michael Lewis’ book. A group of smart, brave people can at times screw a corrupt system, and come out on top. But in the long run, remember, it’s a casino. The house is rigged in its own favour. 

The house always wins.

6. The Believer – Michael McCants

A brief essay that narrates the intriguing rise to power of the ‘caliph’ of the Islamic State, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and an important addition to the reading material about ISIS and its ideology.

5. The Unhurried City: Writings on Madras – CS Lakshmi (Editor)

The poems (though some of them have been translated without soul) were beautiful, representative, and immensely enjoyable. So too the stories. The only gripe I have about that section is that it ended too soon. Surely a few more stories translated from the Tamil masters would have given this book more weight.

In all, still an important addition to an Indian reader’s bookshelf, but I can’t help but feel that this could’ve been so much better.

6. Lake Wobegon Days – Garrison Keillor

A blurb at the back of my edition says that the book is “..really good company.” I agree; there are few better compliments for a book.

7. Where the Rain is Born: Writings about Kerala – Anita Nair (Editor)

It’s only about 300 or so pages, this anthology, but it feels like a lot more, and by the time you’re done, you’ve been to a world and back. That’s what any literature of place aims to do, and that’s what this book achieves gloriously. Next time you are going to Kerala, take this book with you.

8. Murder in Melur – Stuart Blackburn

A novel of this quality should be read and enjoyed more, and I hope that, with time, it gets the larger readership it deserves. Very highly recommended.

9. Teresa’s Man, and Other Stories from Goa – Damodar Mauzo

In all, a rather good read. A shout-out to the cover design, though. I sought out Archana Sreenivasan after, and followed her on Instagram. Will be watching her work in the future.

10. A Little Learning: The First Volume of an Autobiography – Evelyn Waugh

11. The Smile of Murugan: A South Indian Journey – Michael Wood

This book deserves to be read more, and can even act as an introduction to modern, cut-off-from-their-roots Tamils to their own culture. I’ll certainly do my share of evangelising it.

12. An Atlas of Impossible Longing – Anuradha Roy

I have been a fan of Roy’s for some time, having read her in bits and pieces on Tumblr, Facebook and so on, and I suppose that part of me was satisfied. She is undeniably gifted, with a knack of the gasp-inducing moment, and an enviable eye for metaphor. The title, when it appears in the novel, is one such moment: The words evoke more than a scene. Fiction starts to mean something.

But when parts of a novel makes a reader like me, who really wanted to love it, bored enough to want to jump forward, maybe there’s just a little bit wrong with it.

Nevertheless, it is still a rather beautiful novel, and a pleasure to read for the most part.

13. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

The only comment I have to make here, for a writer whose work doesn’t really need reviewing, is that his genius is on the level of the sentence. This isn’t something I have been blown away only in this book; I first saw it in American Gods. You start a sentence, read it thinking you know what’s coming, because you’ve read dozens of books. You’ve read Stephen King, you’ve read Terry Brooks. You know, right? Wrong. With Gaiman, you don’t. The sentence tells you something so outrageous, so unexpected, that you wait a second, read it again, think, and are stunned. And then you smile. It is this quality to his art, this performance in miniature, that I envy most. And as everyone well knows, he has a lot many qualities to envy.

14. Red River, Blue Hills – Ankush Saikia

I’ve tried hard to touch upon all the things that made an impression on me in this book, without spoiling the story or the plot for anyone reading. I enjoyed it tremendously, as I said, and I hope it gets the wider readership it deserves. In an age of shitty romance novels and extraordinarily bad writing, that India has writers of the calibre and ambition of Saikia is something to be celebrated.

15. The Startup of You – Reid Hoffman

16. Falling off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World – Pico Iyer

A lovely collection of Pico Iyer’s travel pieces for various magazines, brought together under a theme that is intriguing, and immensely relatable. Pico Iyer’s introductory essay to the book is extraordinary writing, and I will come back to it again and again.

17. Fatherland – Robert Harris

Berlin, 1964. What if Hitler had won?

As far as questions go, there are few more spine-tingling than the above. And though we can all try to theorise, how much can we really see of the world that would have resulted in? We are novices, we don’t know enough. But what can a scholar do with that question, a scholar who knows this world well, has studied it, has written about it, and understands well what a German victory would have meant? Wouldn’t his answer possibly produce something extraordinary, a peek into a state that was born from pure evil?

18. A House in Pondicherry – Lee Langley

19. Lisey’s Story – Stephen King

I can see why it’s regarded as one of King’s best. Some of the things in here are pure genius. Just that it didn’t work for me. Which is sad for me, and not at all for the book.

20. The Song of Achilles – Madeleine Miller

At its heart, though, The Song of Achilles is a love story. And like the greatest love stories, it is destined for heartbreak and doom. Miller’s book may do many things, but what it does not do is trivialise feeling. The climax is heart-wrenchingly, breathtakingly beautiful: The image of a stricken Achilles saying Patroclus’s name over and over as he cradles the dead body in his arms stays with you.

21. Roumeli: Travels in Northern Greece – Patrick Leigh Fermor

I’m filing this away to come back to, perhaps after a primer of Greek history and geography, and maybe even after Fermor’s earlier books, so I can read this with even more comprehension and delight.

22. Sleeping on Jupiter – Anuradha Roy

Didn’t work for me, and I can’t really explain why. Maybe the characters, and the events/coincidences that take the narrative along, lacked the depth necessary to tell a story of such emotional weight. This is a personal take, though. The novel is critically acclaimed, and is loved by many. Perhaps you will too.

23. The Ghosts of Meenambakkam – Aahokamitran

As my father nears retirement, he maintains a voluminous collection of stories/essays/travelogues cut out from the extraordinary number of Tamil magazines he buys. There is a whole folder dedicated to Ashokamitran, and its lovingly annotated pages indicated to me the stature of this writer I have only come to discover in English. This, then, is the only gripe I have – a personal sense of shame that I can only read the great masters of my own language in English. I intend to change that soon, but in the meantime, I’m thankful for these translations.

Very highly recommended.

24. A Bend in the River – VS Naipaul (currently reading)

Do you see a pattern in Sai’s reading? What kind of books do you like to read? Let us know if you’d like us to share your reading list too. 

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