59 was this year’s number - slightly above my average of a book a week.
Poetry was a theme. It was probably that kind of a year, where you needed the consolations of verse
to deal with the world. And I actually bought physical books of poetry this year, having decided poems
need the tactility of paper and pen. Mary Oliver was, of course, high up there, as a means of dealing with
the world - American Pastoral, her Pulitzer winner, and her New and Selected Poems, Vol 1,
the best kind of self-help book there is. There was also AK Ramanujan’s classic translations of ancient
Sangam poetry The Interior Landscape - gorgeous, lush love poems; and his translation of medieval
Kannada Bhakti poetry, Speaking of Siva - mystical, obscure sometimes, beautiful always.
Some of my favourite reads this year were non-fiction. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me
was powerful beyond measure. Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time was a very long read; but
it was a heart-breaking one about the collapse of the Soviet Union and its impact on the soul of its
people. Krakauer’s Into Thin Air combined adventure and tragedy into an engrossing tale.
Harari’s Sapiens challenged some fundamental concepts we take for granted, as it took us through
70,000 years of human history. Olivia Laing’s The Trip to Echo Spring explored the intimate connection
between alcoholism and literature, through the lives of Hemnigway, Scott Fitzgerald, Cheever, Carver
and Tennessee Williams. And this year, I finally got to Thoreau’s Walden (long-winded and boring
in parts) and Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (greatly inspirational).
After all that glorious non-fiction, the fiction was a bit of a let down, really. There were the regulars -
Rushdie and Murakami, Le Carre and Strout., Mahfouz and Patchett. - all of whom were wonderful.
But if I had to pick a few that I thoroughly enjoyed, I would start with the long awaited The Ministry of
Utmost Happiness - as dizzyingly dazzling as only Arundhati Roy can make it. Lucia Berlin’s short
stories were a revelation. She writes uncompromisingly about life in the margins, a kind of rawness
that is quite unforgettable. And Tana French was such a discovery - her Dublin Murder Squad mysteries
are marvelous. And to think I have only read three of them and there are so many more out there!
So that, folks, was my 2017 in books. And it’s such a comfort to know that whatever 2018 may throw
at us, there will always be a little corner where we can retreat into, where we can sit engrossed in
some story that some writer is telling us. That magic is never going to go away. Isn’t that something
to be grateful for?