I will refrain from putting Pride and Prejudice here, though that and every take-off on it, in print and on film, remains my all-time favourite.
1. Anything at all by Nora Ephron:
Everything is copy, her mother told her.
And indeed. From the lines on her neck to the contents of her purse, Nora Ephron managed to inject humour in everything.
She taught us how to laugh at ourselves, to carry on regardless, and to combat all kinds of stupidity with withering wit. She was the Dorothy Parker of our generation and managed to give us a maxim for almost every moment in our lives.
Be the heroine of your life, not the victim. From descriptions of her husband’s mistress (a giant but a clever giant) to the therapeutic effects of a good haircut, she empowered women to air their views without embarrassment.
Oh yes, and she wrote some pretty darn good romantic movies too. When Harry Met Sally, anyone?
2. The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion
Joan Didion is another favourite.
This is, perhaps, an odd book to bring joy because whenever I read it I cry. But grief is such an inextricable part of life and Didion teaches you how to bear it.
There is no happiness that is not tinged with sadness, and no joy that is not shadowed by some trauma. The Year of Magical Thinking reminds me why every moment matters.
Read this: “Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.”
3. Incarnations in Fifty Lives, by Sunil Khilnani
It has to be one of the finest and easiest book of mini-biographies I have read. It is on my bedside and every time I read a new chapter I find something inspiring.
You think you know the greats who built our nation, and then you find out so much more about them. That Ashoka was the step-grandson of a Greek and “short, fat, and famously afflicted by bad skin – a bit of a lens-breaker as they say in Bollywood”.
The Mahatma in South Africa was a racist “who never made common cause with Africans, who were subject to far worse discrimination than any Indian was…” That Buddha was an anti-feminist — opposed to the inclusion of women as monks. There’s a lot of good stuff too, bound to make you sound intelligent.
4. Indira: The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi, by Katharine Frank
Indira Gandhi is a personal heroine and this is probably her most definitive biography.
It gives a deep insight into a complex character who was a great leader as much as she was a troubled woman.
From her friendships with a powerful network of women to her anxieties about her marriage; from her mishandling of her younger, aggressive son to her relationship with her mother, the books doesn’t leave much out.
5. The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde
“To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”
Or “I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.”
These are just some of the zingers from this Oscar Wilde play. The spiky Lady Bracknell, the impoverished Algernon and the born-in-a handbag Jack are characters who give great joy whenever you listen to their dialogue leap off the pages.
And to think Wilde had such a traumatic life merely because he loved the wrong person.