5 Things You Should Read (Joshi)

by a contributor

from Vaiju Joshi, author of Clean Slates:

  1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – If you are serious about your writing and if you want a primer on creating unforgettable characters that stand the test of time, look no further than Miss Havisham in Great Expectations–Dickens brought her wretched and eccentric existence to life nearly 150 years ago but you still sigh over her loss today and look away from her wedding cake. Think of it as ‘Story Writing 101’ – stories should be remembered long after their creator has exited the building. If I were to name one book that everybody should absolutely buy, this would be it.
  2. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss – Tragedy without melodrama is damn hard. Krauss gives the familiar foes of love and longing and loneliness a fine and lyrical makeover with a story within a story and with characters that are entirely likeable, mostly because of their frailties. Plus the title is to die for – what an apt choice of words to convey the vastness and succinctness about everything that is at once tangible and at once far away.
  3. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri – If you do not listen to the words of the migrants that make up your street, your town, your nation, you will only ever understand half the story. I do not like this book just because I identify with the protagonists (and mostly I don’t, I have never been to Calcutta or studied at an Ivy League university) – but rather, even with all the differences, I can find characters to care about. Lahiri writes with understated elegance and a gentle quietude. And hallelujah – she writes about the subcontinent without once jumping into the all-too-familiar quicksand about curries and Bollywood. Seriously, if I want to read about trite butter-chicken memories, I will read the menu for my local Indian takeaway, thank you very much.
  4. The Sea by John Banville – Fluid, elegant prose, pompous and rich, at once a treat and a tease with a languid, well-measured and rich narrative. This is one of those ‘it is about the journey and not about the destination’ books – The Sea is not so much about the story, it is about how we get there through sumptuous and intellectual prose, rife with emotional wisdom and the weight of unsaid yet familiar feelings.

    The past beats inside me like a second heart, Banville says at one stage in the book and then later he says – Being here is just a way of not being anywhere.

    It is not everyone’s cup of tea and you may not even like it at the end of the sensory overload. But there are things one must read and words one must savour even if it is just once because to not read Banville is to walk away from the sensuousness of fine literature no matter how aloof and daunting it appears.

  5. Twenty Love Poems and A Desperate Song by Pablo Neruda – I stumbled across Neruda’s poems as an impressionable 15-year-old, growing up in a sleepy town in India. I saved the newspaper cuttings of his poems and stored them in my diary. I read the words most nights, almost humbled by everything I did not know or understand. His words, I believed, would either become obsolete or lose their enigmatic charm when I grew up, for surely, age would bring with it some explanations for life’s riddles. Here we are, nearly two decades later – the only things that kept their promise were the years adding up and Neruda’s words.

    How many weeks are there in a day!
    How many years in a month!

    There are still these words, yellowed by age and frayed at the edges, smelling of yesterday’s ink, hidden in the folds of a journal from another lifetime, there is still so much I do not know.