Monday, February 14, 2011

January 2011: Reading List

After the 7-month slog through the Ramayana (Sanskrit) in 2010, 2011 opened up with a clutch of shorter books on my reading list. The epic was truly enjoyable, but it was time to catch up on some volume reading. These are some of the books I selected and read in January 2011.


Man and Superman (Bernard Shaw)
Witty, sarcastic, funny, philosophical and relentlessly intellectual, this is my favorite Bernard Shaw play yet. In uncomplicated language, Shaw tackles complex subjects with timeless wit: romance, religion, politics. The accompanying The Revolutionist's Handbook is a quotation powerhouse; indeed, the most popular Shavian quotes are from the handbook. Some of the lesser known ones:
"He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches."
"The vilest abortionist is he who attempts to mold a child's character."
"No man is a match for a woman, except with a poker and a pair of hobnailed boots."
Lord Of The Rings (Tolkien)
It's a fantasy classic created by a master linguist and story teller. I first read this trilogy about 12 years back. Since then, I've enjoyed the books and the adapted movie several times. Though the scripts diverge, the books and the movies are both immensely enjoyable and do a great job of transporting you into a fantasy world that's unlikely to stale with the passage of time. Tolkien's Elvish poetry and Hobbit pluck will enthrall generations to come.
"...but the hearts of men are corrupted..."
Silmarillion (Tolkien)
This work is truly epic in the world of characters and tales it throws up. From Gods and creation to the advent of Man, it's a mythological magnum-opus. However, one problem I've had with this book is that it's hard to keep up with so many characters that inevitably end up playing some part in a different tale later in the book. There is a helpful chart, but I think the story could play out a little longer and slower. And that would make Silmarillion an even better epic than The Lord of the Rings.
"From splendour he fell through arrogance to contempt for all things save himself, a spirit wasteful and pitiless."
The Apple Cart (Bernard Shaw)
A political satire that displays Shaw's keen insights into the various political arrangements in vogue at the time - monarchy, democracy, socialism, capitalism etc and their interplay. Delivered in a tone of intellectual cynicism, The Apple Cart is at once funny and insightful.
"...democracy is humbug..."
A Pelican at Blandings (Wodehouse)
Seldom does a month go by for me when I am not tucking into some Wodehouse. His stories are almost always identical in plot, but his genius lies in the way he constructs sentences - humor abounds in every sentence from creative perspectives, according respect and comic worth to any situation or being. If Shaw's sentences are uncomplicated yet meaningful, Wodehouse's are beautifully constructed yet may convey little worldly wisdom. A perennially favorite author. This is a story featuring Galahad Threepwood, who
"in his bohemian youth, had a nightly custom to attend gatherings at the Pelican Club which seldom broke up till the milkman had begun his rounds - a practice to which he always maintained that he owed the superb health he enjoyed in middle age."


The Hobbit (Tolkien)
It's a nice story, and introduces the reader into a fantasy world consistent with the later works of Tolkien. The story-telling is more simplistic here, like a story-teller narrating fables to a child.
"In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit."
Major Barbara (Bernard Shaw)
Shaw cleaves through the extant ideas of republicanism, national exceptionalism and war with this biting satire. Every character starts off representing some impossibly ideal political or religious stance and Shaw brings all of them together into practical wisdom through this story of an estranged family tied to a wealthy weapons manufacturer.
"He knows nothing and he thinks he knows everything. That clearly points to a political career."


Bhagavata Purana (Sanskrit)
After the really wonderful time I had reading the Ramayana, I was looking forward to another, even bigger, epic - this, the story of Krishna. It starts off with a load of ritualistic instruction from old sages like Narada and Suka, but a few dozen pages into it, there was still no entertaining story. I'd had enough by then. Besides, I'd failed to meet the high standards it sets for it's readers:
"Since it is not possible in these times to control the vagaries of the mind, to observe the rules of conduct strictly and to be devoted to a sacred purpose for a long time, this book should be finished in a week"


Bernard Shaw, Chekhov, Ibsen, Laurence Parent, David Sedaris, and um, God.


David Jacobson said...

Excellent summaries. Love Tolkien but, haven't motivated myself to reread those books for a couple of decades. I even have an Atlas of Middle Earth. I should blow the dust off of those old friends.

johnt said...

Man, that is a lot of reading.