- Me & My Shelf
Anita Nair's Cherished Reads
Anita Nair is the author of several bestselling and critically acclaimed novels. In 2012, she won the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for her contribution to literature and culture, and in 2013, the Bal Sahitya Puraskar for her contribution to children’s literature.
The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck, Simon & Schuster, ₹250. It was the first adult book I borrowed from a regular library at the age of 11. Until then, I just read what was at home. In many ways, The Good Earth defined the books I would read thereafter. It is a book I read once every year to this day and it fills me with as much wonder as it did when I first read it.
Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym, Hachette, ₹745. This was my first Barbara Pym title borrowed from a British Council library and I fell in love with the world she created of spinsters, bachelors, curates and the tyranny of middle-class respectability in a small community, all written with a delicate sense of irony and great economy of prose.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, Penguin Books, ₹399. I first read Lolita in my 20s and the raw, depraved, passionate intensity that Nabokov imbued into Humbert Humbert was a revelation; that to the writer, no character is good or bad. That there are characters who are driven by their nature and free will and cannot be sanitized for public consumption.
Savithiriyude Aranjanam [Savitiri’s waist-chain], M. Mukundan, DC Books, ₹40 (out of print). This was the first novel I read in Malayalam: the story of a man obsessed by a waist-chain and how this grand obsession was sensuality at its purest. It shook me in a way nothing I had read until then, had.
Nalacharitham [The story of nala], Unnayi Warrier, DC Books, ₹325. This play, written in the 18th century as a Kathakali performance piece in Malayalam, is as much philosophical as romantic, and sweeps the reader into a world of thought and feeling. It revealed to me the power of the cameo and how even minor characters have a definite role to play in storytelling.
The Everest Hotel, I. Allan Sealy, IndiaInk, ₹2,650. While I had read and enjoyed several Indian authors writing in English before I had picked up The Everest Hotel, this was one book that left a lasting impression. It wove in Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara into the structure while, at the same time, not letting it drown in banal detail. As for the character of Immanuel Jed, he leapt out of the pages and grabbed you by your throat.
The Persian Boy, Mary Renault, Vintage, ₹992. While I have always loved historical fiction, it was with Mary Renault that I discovered how much it is possible to bend the genre—characters who breathe, a wealth of details and a style that is hallmarked by lyricism with restraint and great insight into human behaviour.
The Constant Gardener, John le Carré, Hodder and Stoughton, ₹755. I had always resisted reading thrillers or noir until I watched the film adaptation of The Constant Gardener. As expected, the book was even better but, more importantly, it made a huge impact on me. When in 2011 I began work on my first crime novel, I knew that the one thing I would definitely do was bring in social commentary.
Runaway, Alice Munro, Vintage, ₹499. While I had heard a great deal about Munro, I hadn’t read her until I picked up a copy of Runaway someone had left behind in a B & B. I admire how she exquisitely pares down complex thought into sculpted prose without losing anything in the process. Munro is a writer who took the short story and gave it the gravitas of a novel.
Striker, Stopper, Moti Nandi, translated by Arunava Sinha, Hachette, ₹100. As a keen fan of multiple sports, I had always bemoaned the lack of sports fiction. Lionel Shriver’s Double Fault and Abraham Verghese’s memoir The Tennis Partner were wonderful books, but Moti Nandi takes the robust game of football and turns it into a metaphor for the human condition—a feat not so easily achieved.
Complied by Blessy Augustine