The coronavirus lockdown was announced in India on 24 March to slow the spread of COVID-19, asking Indians to stay at home for 21 days. During this time, many of us would be bingeing on movies and web series on Netflix and Amazon Prime, or trying our hands at Quarantine cooking. But with more than the usual time at hand, this is also the best time to catch up on reading. Remember those books lying on your shelf that you bought but didn’t read. This is the best time to pick them up and get engrossed in delighting reads, either curled up in bed, or in the lawn lounging in the sunshine (but making sure to maintain social distancing). And if you are looking for some book reccos, who better than authors to take book recommendations from?
With the 21-day lockdown completing one week, Chirdeep Malhotra connected with many authors to know which books they have read, are currently reading, and are intending to read during the lockdown. With their reading lists including many exciting books from diverse genres, readers can pick up any e-book out of the lot that interests them. For in these tough times, when we should remain isolated but not alone, books are the best companions to spend time with.
Narayani Basu, author and historian
“I’m reading these books during the lockdown:
- The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel: Historical fiction based on hard fact is a tough line to walk, but Mantel’s humanisation of Cromwell is raw and real. It’s not exactly light reading at nearly 900 pages, but Cromwell reaches out from the pages and grabs your attention from the first page – and he doesn’t let go.
- Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century by George Packer: This is a cracking biography if you’re interested in diplomacy, and in the games that great powers play. Packer presents a great diplomat with all his flaws and lets the reader be the judge.”
Rajat Ubhaykar, author and journalist
“I’m getting through the lockdown by reading Ponniyin Selvan by Kalki Krishnamurthy (translated by Pavithra Srinivasan), a five-volume classic of Tamil literature written in the 1950s. It’s a fast-paced historical fiction set in 10th century Tamil Nadu that tells the story of its Chola kings in a gripping manner. Packed with adventure, romance, intrigue, and interspersed with nuggets of historical insights, it is doing an admirable task of transporting me from these bleak times to a more glorious era. In fact, not since Harry Potter have I ‘binge-read’ a book like this. I highly recommend it to all Indian history enthusiasts.”
Tanya Abraham, author and Art curator
- The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard
- The Power of Creativity by Bryan Collins
- Ways of Seeing by John Berger
- Ways of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist
- More than Real by David Shulman
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, as I spend time meditating and working on myself.
- Textiles of India by John Gillis and Nicholas Barnard, for research on a new project for my curatorial work.
Kulpreet Yadav, author and Motivational speaker
“I’m currently reading India’s China War by Neville Maxwell. It was first published in India in 1970, and is based on the 1962 Sino-India war. At the time when it was published, the book was banned by the Congress party as its contents highlighted the names of the people who were responsible for India’s humiliating defeat. The length of the book is 500+ pages and it draws from references that seem to exceed 1000, as evidenced from its exhaustive endnotes. This book also leans heavily on the findings of the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat report that investigated the reasons for India’s defeat, a report which hasn’t been declassified by the Indian government till now. The writer, Neville Maxwell, published a part of this report on his blog in 2014 though.
Neville Maxwell died in London in September 2019, aged 94. He was the South Asian correspondent of The Times from 1959-1967, based in New Delhi. This book is a must-read for all Indians. Even though India’s China War is not easily available in Indian book stores, I could get a copy from a library and readers who are interested, therefore, can try their luck in their local libraries too.”
Rajinder Prabhakar, author and Corporate professional
“I am a history buff, so I am catching up on history and connecting the past with the present. I’m currently reading these books:
- The Exile by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy. It is a riveting inside account of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the years post 9/11. This book is written in a thriller format with stunning inside details.
- Smash & Grab: Annexation of Sikkim by Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, which was cleverly made unavailable until recently. It is a real account of personally witnessed events and documents not seen by others, that led to Sikkim becoming the twenty second state of India.”
Shunali Khullar Shroff, author and columnist
“I am currently reading French journalist Annick Cojean’s book, Gaddafi’s Harem which is all about his sexual exploits and his insatiable desire for power not only over Libya but also over young women who were brutally abused by the dictator. The book includes the story of a girl named Soraya, who said she was locked up for five years and violently raped and beaten almost on a daily basis.
I am also reading The Last Queen of Kashmir by Rakesh Kaul. Set in 1339, this captivating book is based on the life of Kota Rani of the Hindu Lohara dysnasty of Kashmir. She was the last ruler of Kashmir before Shah Mir, the first Muslim ruler of Kashmir, deposed her. The brave and beautiful Kota played a critical role at a historic inflection point in Kashmir’s turbulent history. Circumstances lead to her coronation and she reigned with a firm hand, defying all notions of the role of women in society at the time. The writing is transportive and the nuanced plot is full of intrigues and cultural references. I am thoroughly enjoying reading this book, slowly.”
Srishti Chaudhary, author
“Nothing like a good fantasy to take away your mind from the turmoil outside. I’m reading The Wise Man’s Fear, which is the second part of Patrick Rothfuss’ brilliant Kingkiller Chronicles. It’s also a great time for some comfort reading so I am re-reading the entire Harry Potter series, and even have a Facebook group with a bunch of potterheads who are all reading the series together and we discuss the books on the group!”
Dharini Bhaskar, author
“There isn’t a spare second when one is home with a toddler, but when I get to pause (if at all), I find succour in poetry. Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems remains one of my most treasured books, with fragments for every moment. For the times we find ourselves in: ‘I lie in the dark / wondering if this quiet in me now / is a beginning or an end.’”
Ziya Us Salam, author and journalist
“Quarantine is Quran time for me. I am trying to understand the Quran through lectures of Nouman Ali Khan and Dr Israr Ahmed.
At another level, whenever I get an opportunity I lay my hands on The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This book that I bought some 30 years ago is now all yellow with pages that need to be turned with care, but its appeal remains the same. Occasionally, I read essays by Arundhati Roy too. She is matchless.”
Lavanya Lakshminarayan, author and Game designer
“There’s no better time to immerse yourself in a fantasy or science fiction series. I’m revisiting one of my favourites — The Earthsea Cycle by Ursula K. Le Guin, but also laughing out loud with a fairly new one — The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. The former is a sweeping, richly-layered fantasy classic that was so ahead of its time that it remains socially relevant today, while the latter is the story of a murderous robot with a dark sense of humour, on a quest for the meaning of life.”
Pankaj Dubey, author and screenwriter
“There are two fearless women authors whom I want to read during the lockdown period. I have started with The Bastard of Istanbul by Turkey’s most acclaimed and outspoken author Elif Shafak. Shafak confronts her country’s violent past in this vivid and colourful tale set in both Turkey and the United States. The next read on my list is Swing Time by the British writer Zadie Smith. The story takes place in London, New York and West Africa, and focuses on two girls who can tap dance. The writings of both these illustrious novelists have a distinct aroma of cultural milieu in their works.”
Rashmi Joshi, author and Music artist
“I am reading the book HMS Ulysses by Alister McLean, a World War II story about the extraordinary courage and endurance of the British naval forces under attack by the enemy. I have always been fascinated with war movies, probably because I am an army officer’s daughter.
And even as a writer, I feel intrigued by the ability of a human being to display super human power/qualities in times of catastrophic circumstances. How do people conquer their fears, what goes through their minds in battle, how does an inanimate concept such as patriotism motivate them to put their lives on the line, and how do they deal with the after-war trauma? These themes fascinate me.”
Harini Srinivasan, author
“I just got done with Seema Sonik Alikchand’s biography of Rajendra Kumar (the movie actor from the 1960s). Titled Jubilee Kumar: The Life and Times of a Superstar, the book brings forward several unknown aspects of his life. Old Hindi cinema is a subject that I am interested in. I do make it a point to read books on movies/ film personalities from that era (say the 1940s -1970s). I am also currently re-reading Archana Garodia Gupta’s informative book The Women who Ruled India, and Jeannine Auboyer’s Daily Life in Ancient India. However these two fall under essential background reading for my next book.
The books on my immediate reading list include Death in Kashmir by M.M. Kaye (I only recently discovered that she has also written murder mysteries), The Alchemy of Secrets by Priya Balasubramanian and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Oh yes, Parikshit Sahni’s biography of his illustrious father, Balraj Sahni titled The Non-Conformist is also one of the books I intend to read in the coming weeks.”
Ipshita Nath, author and Academic
“I finished reading Anees Salim’s Vanity Bagh a few days ago. Before that I was reading Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie, which took a little longer than usual to finish. I have now decided to read a classic, The Ladybird, by D.H Lawrence. I find myself going back to classics in times of trouble. Somehow, only prose that feels like poetry can provide some respite. And Lawrence’s prose has always provided me great escapes: ‘…She had been wounded in her bewitched state by the contact with the every-day human being in him…’. His narrative style is delicious and enticing.
I plan to read F. Scott Fitzgerald after this. He is another one of my favourite writers. I have been saving The Beautiful and the Damned for my old age, but I suppose if I read it now, I won’t remember it a few decades later. It would be like reading it for the first time.”
Rajat Chaudhuri, author and book critic
Have finished reading:
- Jwala Kumar and the Gift of Fire by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar
- Murder in the City by Supratim Sarkar (Translated by Swati Sengupta)
- Jarda Basanta (Bengali poems) by Agni Roy
Will read next:
- The Hundred year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Translated by Roy Bradbury)
- Fragment by Craig Russell
- On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae-Lee
“This is more or less of my reading list. Now let’s hope the lockdown doesn’t continue for long and that we all come out of this safe.”