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Hyderabad's Sunday bookmarket: Books at Rs 10 apiece
I consider myself a connoisseur of fine literature. Reading has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. If I could see into the Mirror of Erised I would see myself sitting in a comfortable armchair in a room full of books.
I've read thousands of books in my lifetime, from Enid Blyton to JK Rowling, from Tolstoy to Dickens, from Kiran Desai to Arundhati Roy. My most prized material possession is a cupboard filled with 500+ books at home. And no, I don't like to lend my books to anyone.
One fine day I decided to compile a list of the top 10 authors I love. This is a purely personal list. Feel free to disagree. Also, given that this is the top 10 and not top 100, I had to leave out some really great authors, which I did after a lot of soul-searching. So this list is by no means complete.
10. Enid Blyton: This may come as a surprise, because literary skills are very high up on my agenda when it comes to evaluating an author. Enid Blyton possessed mediocre literary skills at best. But for the sheer number of joyous hours that any author has given me, she muscles her way into the list.
Blyton's writing has other redeeming qualities too. She writes with a joy that is infectious to the reader. As for people who complain of subtle racism, sexism et all in her writing, give the lady a break. She just wrote with the attitudes prevalent in her era. Weaving tales of adventure, mystery, fantasy and joy she delights immensely. Go read good old Enid Blyton to savour those childhood memories again.
My favourites: Five Find Outers, the Mystery series, the Adventure series, Malory Towers and St Clare's, The Faraway Tree and the Wishing Chair Series.
PS: I like JK Rowling too, but in my personal opinion she pales in comparison with Blyton.
9. Rohinton Mistry: The only Indian author I have consistently liked enough to figure in my top 10 list. He never won the coveted but overrated Booker Prize though he figured in the shortlist three times. His writing skill lies in creating an ordinary world but he still keeps you rooted in his story.
Mistry's only negative is the overwhelming use of tragedy in the plot (like most Indian writers). Another Indian writer who made it to the shortlist is Amitav Ghosh. I loved his The Hungry Tide but I thought that his Sea of Poppies was a little too ponderous.
As for the Booker prize-winning trio of Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga, I found Roy's writing too dark, Desai's too pretentious and Adiga's too poor.
My Mistry favourites: A Fine Balance and Family Matters.
8. William [Images] Somerset Maugham: I confess that I have read only one of this British novelist's books -- Of Human Bondage. Supposed to be strongly autobiographical in nature, it tackles philosophy, obsession and character in equal degrees. I love the way Maugham creates his world. Brooding but fun, hopeless yet full of desire -- it is a study in contradictions. I am waiting to read more of his work.
My favourite: Of Human Bondage.
7. Ayn Rand: One of the most read, adored and controversial authors ever. This Russian-American wrote many novels -- most popularly The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. She also developed the philosophical system called objectivism which propounds rational self-interest as moralism. She was as hated by critics and philosophers worldwide as she was adored by millions of adoring fans.
Introduced as a young teenager to Rand, I was hooked. Roark (protagonist of Fountainhead) became my hero -- my ideal of how man strives to be but can't. While I am older and wiser now and realise some of the fallacies in Rand's writings and philosophy, I still think she should be given enormous credit for her cult popularity and inspiring writing. Like her or hate her, you cannot ignore her.
My favourites: The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, We The Living.
6. George Orwell: This British author's writings are marked by a strong dislike of totalitarianism. His famous Animal Farm, an allegory which reflects events leading up to WW2, was his first success. This book is as humorous as it is insightful.
Another cult classic is Orwell's 1984.This dystopian novel made the term 'Big Brother' extremely popular. His writings are compulsive and stay with you long after you have put the book down.
My favourites: 1984 and Animal Farm.
5. Isaac Asimov: I was just recently introduced to this master science fiction writer. Science fiction is not a genre that I read too much of. Another Russian genius, Asimov was one of the most popular and prolific writers ever.
I have just started reading the Foundation series which is his most popular to date. His strengths are amazing visualisations and creativity and a knack for making the most unbelievable things seem commonplace and somehow inevitable. I've lined up his Galactic Empire and Robot series to move onto next.
My favourite: The Foundation series.
4. Leo Tolstoy: The Russians keep coming, don't they? Tolstoy was universally regarded as one of the greatest writers ever. His two great masterpieces have overwhelmed me to a degree where I deliberately slowed down my frenetic pace of reading for fear of coming to the end and in order to savour every word and expression .He writes what is popularly termed 'realist fiction', depicting 19th century Russian life with a skill difficult to describe.
When I first read Anna Karenina I was spellbound that writing could be so skillful. Tolstoy's epic War and Peace is not a novel in the strict sense of the term. His writings and sense of grandeur are impeccable nonetheless. Tolstoy stands fourth on my list but would deservedly top the chart for many others.
My favourites: Anna Karenina, War and Peace.
3. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This Nobel Prize-winning Columbian author popularised a style of writing called magical realism, which uses magical elements in otherwise realistic settings. One of the most gifted storytellers I've ever come across, Marquez uses innovative storytelling like a paintbrush to literally bring the story to life in front of you.
I've read three books and fallen in love with his writings. The first is the immensely popular One Hundred Years of Solitude, set in the fictional town of Macondo. This had me hooked. I next read the novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Although this not magical realism, this was one of the first books I read set in non-linear chronology. Finally Love in the Time of Cholera may be viewed as Marquez's tribute to true love. One smashing writer!
My favourites: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera.
2. Charles Dickens: Dickens was one of the greatest writers to come out of England [Images]. His characters -- Ebenezer Scrooge, Fagin, Charles Darnay, Oliver Twist, Micawber, Samuel Pickwick, Miss Havisham and Wackford Squeers, among others -- were so popular that people thought they were real.
Vivid characterisations, a proper sense of the macabre and wry humour are hallmarks of Dickens' writing. I love so many of his novels, including The Pickwick Papers, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Bleak House, A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.
This man's output was as prolific as it was great.
My favourites: David Copperfield, Great Expectations, The Pickwick Papers
1. Fyodor Dostoevsky: It is fitting that the list is topped by a Russian. Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was a great novelist, essayist and philosopher who wrote some of the greatest works ever written by man. He is considered one of the greatest and most influential writers ever and I love his writing to distraction .His two masterpieces -- Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov are so beautiful that I cannot do justice describing them. So find out for yourself.
My favourites: Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov
Who are your favourite authors and which books have you patricularly enjoyed reading? Post your comments on the message board below.
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