Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Books Read in 2016 and Blah Book Awards 2016

2016 Top 3: Fiction 
1) Pedro Paramo 
2) IQ84
3) A God in Ruins 
Honourable mentions: Redeployment, Poems to Make Grown Men Cry, Disgrace, My Brilliant Friend 

2016 Top 3: Non Fiction 
1) My Gita 
2) The Fight 
3) A Feast of Vultures
Honourable mentions: What Are You Looking At? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye, Zero Zero Zero, Barbarian days 

Books read in 2016

1) Capital in the Twenty First Century - Thomas Piketty. Magisterial. The most important book about economics in this century 

2) Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling- Bret Hart. This was a great way to relive childhood memories...I just wish it wasn't so caricature like in its deeply exaggerated descriptions

3) Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 - Max Hastings. Not quite the definitive military analysis of World War 2 I was hoping for, this is still a good follow up to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich 

4) From Hell - Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. A surreal, gothic triumph of a book. A dark, twisted graphic novel retelling of the Jack The Ripper saga. 

5) Pedro Paramo - Juan Ruflo . It's hard to explain this book. There is no plot as such. There is no real narrative structure. It is narrated by people dead and alive, ghosts and peasants. It's time structure slips back and forth while diving deeper into concentric circles. It's barely longer than a short story. But in its slim pages it transforms your conception of what a novel can be. It is beautiful and poetic and artistic and powerful. And like very few books (Wuthering Heights, One Thousand Years of Solitude, 2666) it transforms our conception of literature 

6) The Fight - Norman Mailer. There is just too little long form literary journalism around. This was a beautiful reminder of how fantastic journalism can be when free of word limits, when a great writer chooses to describe and capture in words events and incidents that he understands and feels passionately about. A fitting way to remember the legend that was Muhammad Ali 

7) Killing and Dying - Adrian Tomine. The freshest new voice I've read in the graphic novel format since Maus

8) Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights - Salman Rushdie. More Haroun than Midnight's Children, Rushdie's allegorical fantasy speaks out against fundamentalism with a child like imagination and a real sense of fun. 

9) All The Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr. Not at all what I expected. Page turning and entertaining without being stupid. Last year's Goldfinch 

10) Brando : Songs My Mother Taught Me - Marlon Brando and Robert Lindsey. Vain and cocky and arrogant, but also remarkably self aware and filled with extraordinary insight into acting. 

11) 1Q84 - Haruki Murakami. When you finish a 1300 page book in 10 days you know that it gripped your imagination completely. I'm convinced and a convert and will read every Murakami book there is. It didn't have the originality of Wind Up Bird Chronicle but it's a superlative fantasy/love story/thriller. 

12) Still Alice - Lisa Genova. One of the few cases where the movie is better than the book (thanks largely to Julianne Moore's extraordinary performance). But in the context of my father's illness this book was profoundly affecting for me 

13) Redeployment - Phil Klay. Gritty, hard-hitting and original. The best war fiction since the Iraq war 

14) The Rivals of Dracula: Stories From the Golden Age of Gothic Horror - Edited by Nick Rennison. Not as scary as I would have liked except for a few stories.

15) Zero Zero Zero - Roberto Saviano. No one does crime like Roberto Saviano. Deeply disturbing book that documents the violence and scale of the global cocaine industry. It's a miracle how despite being under 24 hour protection Saviano managed to go deeper into the cocaine underworld than anyone ever has.

16) My Gita - Devdutt Patnaik. I was completely blown away by the wisdom and compassion in this book. It's absolutely astonishing that thousands of years ago, our ancestors has a deeper and more empathetic understanding of life and what it is to be human and what it is to be a Hindu than the people and religious leaders around us today 

17) Poems to Make Grown Men Cry - Edited by Anthony Holden and Ben Holden. An very moving anthology of over a hundred poems that move you to tears chosen by successful men across the world of art, entertainment, media and literature. So so many poems where you need to stop and compose yourself after reading them, wipe a tear from your eyes and remember that poetry touches the soul like few other things can 

18) This Is How You Lose Her - Junot Diaz. Short stories about love, loss, infidelity and the immigrant experience. Junot Diaz is the Dominican Jhumpa Lahiri

19) Rainbow Warrior - Francois Pienaar. A glimpse into what it takes to achieve victory in transformative times and how little it takes to lose it all 

20) A God In Ruins - Kate Atkinson. It's strange after how how much I struggled for the first 30 pages of Life After Life, how much I've fallen in love with Kate Atkinson's writing. In many ways this companion piece/follow up is much more moving. While it also flips back and forth in time, it's a far simpler narrative structure than Life After Life's spectacular but gimmicky resets and loops. This only sharpens the focus on the story itself, an elegiac contemplative book that addresses big issues like how war affects the individual and changes in societal and family structures in the 20th century while remaining deeply personal and human and essentially what it means to be a good man in a changing world. This is almost Ishiguro like in tone.

21) Disgrace - J M Coetzee. Away from the tourist brochures and the rainbow nation narratives of a remarkable country, Disgrace examines the more complex nature of South African society. The attempt by a nation to erase the past and create a new identity for itself is far more challenging than the marketers and journalists would have us believe. To erase and redefine identities of race and tribe and colour and history while the nature of how those identities perceive and interact with each other shift rapidly like desert sand is a challenge of unfathomable complexity. All we can do is seek the faintest roots of understanding. Disgrace takes the story of a middle aged man's loss of identity his inability to find the strength to fight for it or create a new one, and uses it to examine the change in South Africa itself. Masterful! 

22) The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare - G K Chesterton. It gets a bit repetitive but it's interesting how a hundred years later this surrealist fable acts as a precursor to modern anarchist stories like V for Vendetta or the trippiness of Neil Gaiman

23) Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life - William Finnegan. This isn't just a surfing book. It's an examination of our obsessive nature, our relationship with the untamed and the untameable and our compelling need to do inexplicably dangerous things for those fleeting moments of exhilaration. 

24) Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad. For half the book I was wondering why I had bothered to try and read this and was certain this would be another Moby Dick like exercise in a reader's version of masochism. Instead it ended up reminding me why Conrad's writing endures as a century later. He wasn't a chronicler of colonialism. That was just the historical reality that served as a backdrop for this great chronicler of man and his quest for escape and identity. 

25) Quiet Leadership: Winning Hearts, Minds and Matches - Carlo Ancelotti with Chris Brady and Mike Forde. If you're a football fan, just read this.Also unmissable for anyone who supports Chelsea, AC Milan or Madrid. 

26) With Hemingway: A Year in Key West and Cuba - Arnold Samuelson. The book that converted me into a gin and tonic man. Must read for all Hemingway devotees 

27) Platform - Michael Houellebecq. The ending was a bit anti climatic but a disturbing, provocative exploration of male sexuality. 

28) My Brilliant Friend - Elena Ferrante. One of the most honest portrayals of adolescence I have ever read.

29) How Not To Be Wrong - Jordan Ellenberg. Lacks any deep or fresh insight. 

30) Black Flags: The Rise of Isis - Joby Warrick. Scary as hell! Makes you wonder if this kind of fanaticism will ever really die 

31) Gandhi Before India - Ramachandra Guha. The master historian examines the roots of the man who became a Mahatma. 

32) Sacred Games - Vikram Chandra. Cinematic but you're still better off reading Maximum City 

33) Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency - James Andrew Miller. Much learning and many cautionary tales.

34) The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships - Neil Strauss. Like every Neil Strauss book that isn't about music, it starts of well, has some great moments but doesn't sustain an entire book.

35) A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India - Josy Joseph. Most important Indian book of the year. A scathing examination of how corruption pervades every aspect of Indian life from the village panchayat to the biggest industrialists.

36) What Are You Looking At? 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye - Will Gompretz. Best introduction to modern art a novice like me could ever hope to read. 

37) Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barrack Obama and the Twilight Struggle Over American Power - Mark Lander. Would have worked much better with some sort of narrative arc. 

38) Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace. The most difficult book I have ever read in my life. Makes some great points about modern consumer society but it really didn't need to be so damn hard to read. 

39) The Vegetarian - Han King. Very very disturbing. A raw, provocative exploration of gender, sexuality, emotional isolation.

40) The Gene: An Intimate History - Siddharth Mukherjee. Not at the level of The Emperor of all Maladies but still great medico-scientific writing. 

40) Dune - Frank Herbert. This is the mother lode. Star Wars, Matrix, all of it. Without Dune there would be no Force, no Jedi, no Neo.

41) Shoe Dog. I'm not as impressed as others. We always knew that entrepreneurship was tough and on the edge and high risk. But what does he really tell us beyond the challenges of capital and cash flow management? Nothing new here for me 

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