A holiday reading list for busy people

“Books must be chosen carefully; in comparison, prospective brides don’t need more than a perfunctory side glance”


Suresh Menon | February 17, 2012

It’s that time of the year again (actually, it is always that time of the year but we don’t notice it). Anyway, the time I am talking about is the one to select books that you are actually going to read rather than (influenced by New Year resolutions) the ones you think you ought to read.

For many years now I have planned to read Anna Karenina. It’s in my ‘To be read soon’ (or alternatively, ‘one of these days...’) bookshelf next to Joyce’s Ulysses and Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. The plan is to read the book on a flight so there are no distractions.

Just before I actually pack the book, however, I get into a panic. What if the passenger beside me thinks I am a big bore whose literary education hasn’t gone beyond 19th century Russia? Can lying on the beach reading Tolstoy do anything for your image? Books must be chosen carefully; in comparison, prospective brides don’t need more than a perfunctory side glance.

Here are the images I don’t want to project – bore, intellectual, frivolous, illiterate, uncaring, sexist – so out go books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Agatha Christie, biographies of movie stars, self-help disasters and books with the picture of the author, usually a woman and often minimally clad on the back cover.

Poetry is always a useful standby. Reading a book of poems (with the word ‘poetry’ somehow included on the cover so it isn’t mistaken for a self-help book) has its advantages. It shows you have a soft side, think strong thoughts in iambic pentameter, and when push comes to shove, you can find a rhyme for ‘love’. On the other hand, it can create a chasm between you and a potential friend whose only reading experience is confined to checking out the sugar content on the fruit juice can.

Occasionally I am asked to suggest a holiday reading list. Here are my picks:

The Final Word: This historical novel, set in the Indus Valley era is the true story of a young dancer and a promising novelist who is frustrated because the typewriter is yet to be invented, and he has a series of short stories he hopes can be put between the covers of a book – when the printing press is invented – and make him a millionaire when the world economy improves well enough to invent paper money. How they fall in love, and how the dancer helps in scaling down the novelist’s ambition so all he wants is to be the first person to say the word ‘The’ is the heart of this magnificent novel.

The Final Word: A fine collection of celebrity anecdotes including the one about Paris Hilton being mistaken for a hotel, told in inimitable prose by one whose prose cannot be imitated. The story of Madonna, the silk dress and the postman alone is worth the price of the book. As for the yarn about Brad Pitt who once dreamt he was Robert de Niro pretending to be Marlon Brando, what can one say, but it is the final word in mistaken identities.

The Final Word: This book of poems by the Poet Laureate of Washington Avenue (Apartment Nos 23 to 29 only) speaks to the soul in the manner made famous by Mr John Keats and Ms. Maya Angelou (they are not related). There is sympathy for the downtrodden, empathy for those suffering from the flu, and a profound understanding of the simple things of life like a packet of shampoo and conditioner combined.

The Final Word: The story of the origin of team games like cricket and golf. It may surprise many to know that golf began as a team game before tennis (and chess) gave it a chip on its shoulder and the great golf teams of the past withered away to re-emerge as individuals. A fascinating account of a sport that is yet to be invented completes the picture, giving the book the feel of an encyclopedia and the texture of a laundry list.

The Final Word: The exciting tale of zymurgy, a branch of chemistry that deals with the fermentation process, but more significantly the final word in my dictionary. For years I thought the final word was spinet (a small harpsichord) till I discovered that the last few pages had been torn away.



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