Jaipur Literature Festival Inspired Book List

I came back from my first trip to the Jaipur Literature Festival with a buzzing brain, happy memories, a notepad full of new books to add to my to-read list, and a stomach bug that I acquired by completely ignoring what my sense of smell was specifically evolved to avoid and eating railway station kachori that smelled a bit funky. To the shock of everyone around me, my self-imposed book ban was implemented successfully thanks in part to surprisingly strong willpower and mostly due to JLF’s decision to bring in Amazon as their bookstore partner.

I didn’t get to make it for any sessions on the first day because it clashed with a conference we had signed up for (the best part of which was the gorgeous palace location where peacocks and peahens just casually strolled through the grounds). But the sessions I did attend made up for it by being incredibly stimulating, expanding my knowledge about matters I was ignorant of and introducing me to some great new authors and books.

NON-FICTION


A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel

a history of readingThe author casually informed the audience that he and his partner bought a medieval presbytery in southern France, renovated it, moved in and currently share space with his library of over 30,000 books. He was fascinating on stage, dissed Amazon and Paulo Coelho (the latter on multiple occassions), and has a library of 30,000 books in southern France! Of course I want to read what he has to say. You can read more about his bookworm habits here. Now if anybody asks me where I put all the books I buy, instead of saying, “In the pots and pans in the kitchen,” I’m going to reply, “In my future library in southern France.”

empress dowagerI didn’t manage to attend this session but the title by itself sounded fascinating. At the age of sixteen, in a nationwide selection for royal consorts, Cixi was chosen as one of the emperor’s numerous concubines. When he died in 1861, their five-year-old son succeeded to the throne. Cixi at once launched a palace coup against the regents appointed by her husband and made herself the real ruler of China—behind the throne, literally, with a silk screen separating her from her officials who were all male.”
My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
my salinger yearI have minimal interest in J. D. Salinger so even though I’d heard about this book, it hadn’t really interested me. But the author was delightful, and listening to her talk about her book made me want to give it a shot. When she was 23, the author worked in a literary agency where one of her jobs involved replying to fanmail addressed to J. D. Salinger. If the book is anything like the author, it’s sure to be interesting and have a brilliant sense of humour.
how to ruin a queenAnother session I didn’t attend but wanted to thanks to its original title: How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette, the Stolen Diamonds and the Scandal that Shook the French Throne. In 1785, a sensational trial began in Paris that would divide the country and captivate Europe. A leading Catholic cardinal and scion of one of the most distinguished families in France stood accused of forging the queen’s signature to obtain the most expensive piece of jewelry in Europe: a 2,800-carat diamond necklace. Where were the diamonds? Was the cardinal innocent? Was, for that matter, the queen? The revelations from the trial would bedevil the French monarchy as the country descended into a bloody revolution.
sophia An interesting title is half the battle won. I didn’t even have to attend the session to know I wanted to know more about this lesser known figures of 19th century India. In 1876 Sophia Duleep Singh was born into Indian royalty. Sophia transcended her heritage to devote herself to battling injustice and inequality, a far cry from the life to which she was born. Her causes were the struggle for Indian Independence, the fate of the lascars, the welfare of Indian soldiers in the First World War – and, above all, the fight for female suffrage. She was bold and fearless, attacking politicians, putting herself in the front line and swapping her silks for a nurse’s uniform to tend wounded soldiers evacuated from the battlefields.
hemlock cup This was an utterly fantastic discussion and I’m so glad it was my last full session at the festival. Next time I’m going to make sure I leave the day after JLF ends, but this time, unfortunately, I had an afternoon train to catch. Even though the author spoke of Socrates and his philosophy (something I am nearly clueless about), it wasn’t scholarly, but accessible and enjoyable. In fact, now I’m desperate to learn more about Socrates and his life and times. One of the things she spoke about (through the example of a genius ape) was how sharing knowledge is what makes humans more capable than animals because this is what allows different ideas to come together and consequently leads to progress. Something the festival did a great job of too.
granta indiaThis was the last session I stayed for, and could only sit for half of it, thanks to my 2pm train. But I usually love Granta, so I’m sure I’ll love an India-focused one edition even more. For a long time – too long – the mirror that India held to its face was made elsewhere. ‘What writer about the country would you recommend I read?’ first-time travellers to India would ask, and in the later twentieth century the answer was still Forster or Naipaul or even the long-dead Kipling. In fiction, that changed with Rushdie. Now it has changed in all kinds of non-fiction. Narrative history, reportage, memoir, biography, the travel account: all have their gifted exponents in a country perfecting its own frank gaze.
TRAVELOGUES

Books by Brigid Keenan who was hilarious, and frustratingly didn’t mention the title of the book she read her sidesplitting excerpt from. So I’m just going to have to track them all down!
a strangeSam Miller investigates how the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, Arabs, Africans, Europeans and Americans – everyone really, except for Indians themselves – came to imagine India. His account of the engagement between foreigners and India spans the centuries from Alexander the Great to Slumdog Millionaire. It features, among many others, Thomas the Apostle, the Chinese monk Xuanzang, Marco Polo, Ibn Battuta, Vasco da Gama, Babur, Clive of India, several Victorian pornographers, Mark Twain, EM Forster, Allen Ginsberg, the Beatles and Steve Jobs. Interspersed between these tales is the story of Sam Miller’s own 25-year-long love affair with India. The result is a spellbinding, 2500-year-long journey through Indian history, culture and society, in the company of an author who informs, educates and entertains in equal measure, as he travels in the footsteps of foreign chroniclers, exposes some of their fabulous fantasies and overturns longheld stereotypes about race, identity and migration. A tour de force that is at once scholarly and thought-provoking, delightfully eccentric and laugh-out-loud funny, this book is destined to become a much-loved classic.
holy mountainIn 587 A.D., two monks set off on an extraordinary journey that would take them in an arc across the entire Byzantine world, from the shores of the Bosphorus to the sand dunes of Egypt. On the way John Moschos and his pupil Sophronius the Sophist stayed in caves, monasteries, and remote hermitages, collecting the wisdom of the stylites and the desert fathers before their fragile world finally shattered under the great eruption of Islam. More than a thousand years later, using Moschos’s writings as his guide, William Dalrymple sets off to retrace their footsteps and composes “an evensong for a dying civilization”
this divided island In the summer of 2009, the leader of the dreaded Tamil Tiger guerrillas was killed, bringing to a bloody end the stubborn and complicated civil war in Sri Lanka. What happens to the texture of life in a country that endures such bitter conflict? What happens to the country’s soul? Samanth Subramanian gives us an extraordinary account of the Sri Lankan war and the lives it changed. Taking us to the ghosts of summers past and to other battles from other times, he draws out the story of Sri Lanka today-an exhausted, disturbed society, still hot from the embers of the war. Through travels and conversations, he examines how people reconcile themselves to violence, how religion and state conspire, how the powerful become cruel and how victory can be put to the task of reshaping memory and burying histories.
tribes with glass While other authors on the Travel Writers panel spoke about their difficulties with a new country’s language, customs or people, Charles Glass had his experience of being kidnapped to talk about. So it’s a good thing he was saved until the end. Tribes With Flags is a chronicle of Glass’ journey from the southern Turkish coast to Lebanon, and includes the 62 days he was held captive by pro-Iranian terrorists in Beirut.
the first firangisIn the centuries before the British Raj, when the Mughals were the preeminent power in the subcontinent, a wide array of migrants known as firangis made India their home. In this book, Jonathan Gil Harris, a twenty-first-century firangi, tells their stories. These gripping accounts are of healers, soldiers, artists, ascetics, thieves, pirates and courtesans who were not powerful or privileged. Often they were escaping poverty or religious persecution; many were brought here as slaves; others simply followed their spirit of adventure. Some of these migrants were absorbed into the military. Others fell in with religious communities the Catholics of Rachol, the underground Jews of Goa, the fakirs of Ajmer, the Sufis of Delhi. Healers from Portugal and Italy adapted their medical practice in accordance with local traditions. Gifted artisans from Europe joined Akbar’s and Jahangir’s royal ateliers, and helped create enduring works of art. And though almost invisible within the archival record, some migrant women such as the Armenian Bibi Juliana and the Portuguese Juliana Dias da Costa found a home in royal Mughal harems.
a history of the worldThe book explores a dozen of history’s most influential maps, from stone tablet to vibrant computer screen. As Brotton shows, the long road to our present geographical reality was rife with controversy, manipulation, and special interests trumping science. Through the centuries maps have been wielded to promote any number of imperial, religious, and economic agendas, and have represented the idiosyncratic and uneasy fusion of science and subjectivity. Brotton also conjures the worlds that produced these notable works of cartography and tells the stories of those who created, used, and misused them for their own ends.

HISTORICAL FICTION


 

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

the luminariesThe author made the process of researching for historical fiction seem particularly inviting. It is 1866, and young Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men who have met in secret to discuss a series of unexplained events: A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely ornate as the night sky. Richly evoking a mid-nineteenth-century world of shipping, banking, and gold rush boom and bust, the book is a brilliantly constructed, fiendishly clever ghost story and a gripping page-turner.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

fingersmith

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home. One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum. With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS: MIDDLE GRADE


 

Wild Magic by Cat Weatherill

wild magicMari and her brother Jakob have followed enchanted music and are now trapped in a world of wild magic. A world as cruel as it is beautiful. And all the time, they are being stalked by a fearsome beast, who needs one of the children to break a centuries-old curse.

What Enid Blyton Ate: Mr. Galliano’s Circus

I’ve been devouring Enid Blyton books since I was six years old.

Reading her books always made me hungry, even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea what most of the food she described actually was (ginger beer and potted meat and humbugs – say WHAT). But her books still made me dream of picnics and adventures, midnight feasts and boarding school pranks, magical creatures and enchanted lands.

Image courtesy here

Image courtesy here

What Enid Blyton Ate will be a new feature on my blog that celebrates food in her book by listing all the scrumptiousness a particular book describes.

Let’s begin with Mr. Galliano’s Circus, a book I first read and loved in primary school, and subsequently rediscovered in a bookstore in Bangalore last year.

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  • They all had their dinner sitting outside the caravan. The sausages were lovely and so were the potatoes cooked in their jackets and eaten with butter and salt. Jimmy thought he had never had such a lovely dinner in his life. Afterwards there were oranges and chocolate to eat.
  • Breakfast was on the table! There was porridge, bread and marmalade, and hot cocoa. It looked good to Jimmy.
  • “Now, Lotta, if you like to go and make yourself really clean and tidy, you can come and have a meal with us. I’ve got some sardines and a new ginger cake.”
  • Jimmy thought that herrings had never tasted so nice before! It was getting dark now and the fire they were sitting around glowed red and yellow. There were two herrings for everyone, and hot cocoa and bread and butter.
  • Jimmy put on his things and scampered down to the brook. Oooh! The water was cold! He ran back to the caravan as hungry as a hunter, brushed his hair, and squatted down on the grass to eat a piece of bacon and a brown sausage.
  • Mrs. Galliano bought tins of fruit-salad for everyone and the biggest jug of cream that Jimmy had ever seen. It was fun eating fruit-salad and cream in the field for dinner next day. You never knew what was going to happen in a circus!
  • Jimmy ran off. His mother gave him a basket and put into it some sandwiches and a piece of chocolate cake, for Jimmy had not had any breakfast.
  • Sammy (Ed: who was a chimpanzee) was frightened of their shouts. He did not go after them, but he ran up to their bags. He smelt something good inside – the men’s dinner! It was ham sandwiches, buns, and apples. Sammy picked up the food, ran to the hedge and crouched there. He ate everything in the bags, and most of all he liked the apples.
  • “I suppose you’ll soon be getting too grand to play with me any more, Jimmy,” Lotta said one day, as they sat together on the steps of her caravan, eating buttered buns.
  • Mrs. Galliano opened the caravan door and Jimmy went in. It really was a lovely caravan, roomy and comfortable – much, much better than Jimmy’s own. Mr Galliano was sitting at the table eating a plum-pie with cream. He cut Jimmy a big slice, poured cream over it, and pushed it towards the surprised boy. “Eat,” he said.

Can we talk about The Blood of Olympus?

Also known as: the effect of graduation goggles.

I finished reading The Blood of Olympus, the last installment of The Heroes of Olympus series, over the weekend. The series is a spin-off of the original Percy Jackson and The Olympians books. While the first one focused on Greek mythology, this one tackles the gods’ and goddesses’ Roman avatars. It stars some of the same crew from the first series (like Percy and Annabeth), but focuses largely on new characters.

the blood of olympusNow I’ve been reading and loving the Percy Jackson books for a long time; I began when the first three books were out, and haven’t stopped since. I think Rick Riordan is great at making ancient myths popular with kids through his accessible style. I enjoy his writing, even though his books sometimes have jokes that are so juvenile that they make my eyebrows furrow furiously and my eyes roll violently. I loved The House of Hades, the penultimate book in The Heroes of Olympus series. I’ve been looking forward to reading The Blood of Olympus since nearly a year. The only reason I didn’t read it as soon as it came out in October 2014 is because I had a big trip coming up in November, and I wanted to first reread not only this series but the Percy Jackson books too. Needless to say, expectations were running high.

So let’s get this out of the way. It wasn’t perfect. It definitely had some weak moments. And I’m left with the feeling that fifty more pages wouldn’t have hurt, if only to make the climax not feel quite so rushed. I also think that things tied up a little too neatly, some things were a little too convenient, and some people emerged a little too superhero-ish. I found the ending of The House of Hades more satisfying than this book’s ending.

But you know what I’ve realised? It doesn’t matter. I’ve stuck with Percy Jackson for several years and this conclusion to not one, but two series is making me feel more emotional than rational.

I vaguely liked Reyna before this book, but now she’s a certified badass. As for Nico, I discovered I enjoyed him – warts and all – in The Last Olympian but the amount of love I discovered for him in The House of Hades has solidified into official fangirldom in this book. And I never realised I was a shipper until a badly-disguised Will Solace appeared behind Nico near Thalia’s pine tree, but now I’m already wondering what combination of their names sounds best. And I found his confession to Percy about his previously-held feelings heartbreaking and hilarious in equal parts.

There were many, many moments in the book that made me grin like an idiot or emit excited squeals. And even though the ending left me with a bunch of unanswered questions, I’d like to imagine a happy life for all the characters, with an extra happy ending for both Nico and Reyna.

I unashamedly admit that the 5 star rating I gave it on Goodreads is a result of graduation goggles. I can still point out the parts of the book that could have been a whole lot better. I’ve read better series conclusions. But, like I said, it doesn’t matter. I crossed into official fangirl territory with The House of Hades and that is where I will stay.