Art & Culture

Books I want to read in 2016

Tabish Khair
Tabish KhairJan 04, 2016 | 15:57

Books I want to read in 2016

I have no wish to predict "bestsellers" for 2016: there is an entire army of publishers, reviewers, agents, TV hosts, and (horror of horrors!) marketing people doing that, mostly at the expense of good books. Alas, not all good books come to one's notice before they are published, but some do, and I have seen a few books listed in literary lists that I am looking forward to reading in 2016.


Penguin Random House has announced the forthcoming publication of Amitav Ghosh's The Great Derangement, a memoir-study that extends the renowned author's engagement with the politics and history of global warming. I am particularly interested in this book because Ghosh has not published a non-fiction book for years, much to the regret of those who, like me, still swear by his genre-bending In an Antique Land (1992).

Penguin Random House also has a new collection of essays by Ramachandra Guha slotted for 2016. Titled Democrats and Dissenters, each essay in the book "takes up an important topic, or an influential intellectual, as a window to explore major political and cultural debates in India and the world."

An intriguing memoir listed by Penguin Random House is Taslima Nasreen's Exile, in which she writes about "her traumatic days in India." I am not a great fan of Nasreen's fiction, which I find rather meagre (at least in translation), and I often feel that her political views are too hastily articulated. But there is no doubt that she is a feisty person who has tried to live an independent life under trying circumstances. If her memoir honestly reflects and examines that endeavour, it would be of greater interest to me than her fiction has been in the past.


Also of interest is Devdutt Pattanaik's Olympus (Penguin), which discusses Greek and Roman myths and their relationship to Indian mythology, and Arundhati Roy's The End of Imagination (Haymarket), which seems to be mysteriously underdescribed in the lists.

Oxford University Press seems to have a great list of non-fiction planned. The ones that I will reach out for are the four volume collection of Romila Thapar's work as a historian of early India, The Historian and her Craft, and Nalini Natarajan's The Unsafe Sex. Both are likely to provoke debates in India. Thapar has been attacked in certain circles where history is lazily confused with stories, and Natarajan's The Unsafe Sex is basically an examination of "public violence" against women in the light of the dominant binarism of the Indian woman being "a source of dignity at home" and the possibility of shame outside it. Also of interest, and probably leading to needless controversy, is an edited collection of essays by OUP, The Secret Writings of Hoshang Merchant. Merchant, now in his 70s and every bit a Biblical patriarch in the way he looks, started writing - unlike Biblical patriarchs - on gay literature and culture in India more than three decades ago.


I first read Merchant as a poet, and it is a pity that my list here does not include a single poetry collection - too few are being published to create a real poetry scene in India, and even the good ones are hardly promoted by publishers.

Proof: I am not aware of any poetry collection planned for 2016. But that is not the case with fiction: Readers have a lot of interesting fiction to look forward to in 2016.

To start with younger and upcoming authors, I look forward to Mridula Koshy's Bicycle Dreaming (Speaking Tiger), which promises to be a fascinating story about 13-year-old Noor, a girl from a working-class family whose dream of riding a cycle gets entangled with the riven realities of cash and caste in urban India. My friend, the French bilingual writer Sebastien Doubinsky's apocalyptic political novel, Absinth, scheduled for publication by Dalkey Archives in November, is obviously on my list. As is the Booker short-listed Neel Mukherjee's A Life Apart (Norton): the restrained beauty of Mukherjee's realist prose deserves attention on its own. Another story of a girl growing up the hard way, though in Rome, is narrated in the great South American writer Roberto Bolano's A Little Lumpen Novelita (Norton).

Like many lodes of gold, Bolano was left in the darkness by the literary world for most of his career, but has been overmined after his death. One dreads being handed another posthumous, unfinished manuscript by him, cobbled together by ambitious publishers. And yet, even if that is the case, Bolano is still Bolano, and worth reading.

I hate to plug sure-fire bestsellers, as it is a job best left to louder voices, such as Amazon and Goodreads. But it would be pretentious to refrain from mentioning that Stephen King's Finders Keepers will be released in March. Despite the fact that he has been on bestselling lists too often to bother to remember the tally, King is a highly intelligent and accomplished writer; it would be fascinating to see what he does in this new thriller about a "vengeful reader."

Last but not least (to me), my own new novel, Jihadi Jane, also a thriller of sorts, should be out in the summer - or earlier, if I can resist writing articles and return to revising my manuscript for the 11th time.

(Courtesy of Mail Today.)

Last updated: January 04, 2016 | 16:18
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