Usually at year’s end you would find a story about the books that I’ve finished reading this year, or those that I look forward to reading. But the turning of one year into another is seldom a new beginning. More often it is a mark on a long journey. To commemorate that, let me list books which I didn’t manage to finish reading in 403 ME, but which I will continue to read in 404 ME.
Tomb of Sand, by Geetanjali Shree is at the top of the list. If you haven’t read it, or don’t have it on your reading list, then you might remember it as the winner of the first International Booker prize. The small cast of characters, mainly one family, gives rise to a sprawling narrative which I found extremely engrossing. I’d finished about a quarter of the book in a few days in August, and I was so into it that I didn’t want to read a page a day when a lot of work suddenly descended on me. I want to finish it at a stretch and I estimate I can do it if I get about ten days.
Silverview, John le Carre’s final book, buzzes round my head every now and then. After the end of the cold war he’d seemed to lose his touch, and I’d slowly forgotten about his books. Then in early 2018 I picked up his final book set in the George Smiley cycle, and I was hooked again. I went back to the books I’d read, and the ones from the 90s and later which I’d missed and I enjoyed them all. I don’t know anything about the story, other than that it is set in le Carre’s usual world. I must say I’m conflicted about cracking it open. Once I’m through I will never have another new book by le Carre to look forward to. Still, it is there, beckoning me, every time I look for something to read. Should I, should I not?
The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch has been on my list much longer than Shree’s book, and for much the same reason. Once I enter the world of this book, I don’t want to leave it. And the density of the writing is such that you can’t pick it up to read just a page or two every day until you finish it. In that kind of reading I will lose all pleasure that I could get out of it (I’m so sorry I read Hilary Mantel that way; I must go back and read her again properly). I’ve started it three times in the last decade, most recently last year. Perhaps I will get to it only after I retire. But I will get to it certainly, unless life plays an unkind trick.
India in the Persianate Age by Richard M. Eaton has been highly praised by people who do not believe the colonial lie that Indian culture stagnated in the second millenium CE. I read three chapters in a couple of days, holding the threads of Eaton’s arguments in my mind. But when I put it down for a week I found that the threads I’d teased out had become a dense tangle. I’ll have to start again, and bookmark it and jot down marginal notes so that I do not have to read it in one go. It’s not that kind of a book.
I think of Alberuni’s India by Edward C. Sachau as a companion book. Alberuni is both interesting and exasperating, so I can never read a lot at one go. But since my copy of it is bristling with post-it notes with scribbled directions and marginalia, it is easy to pick it up and continue. Reading it has been a continuing work that I haven’t finished yet. Even though I’m sure I’ll pick it up several times this year, it is quite possible that it will remain on my list of unfinished books at the end of the coming year.
While going through the unfinished pile I came across A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar. I’d forgotten that I hadn’t finished it, because very little of it remains. Of the many alternate histories imagined about Hitler and his time, I think this stands out for the detective-noir twist. But that is only a half story. The most interesting part of the book is the anti-twist. It’s the book that I think I’ll start on first, and maybe not just to finish the last few pages, but to reread.
I guess that’s a good enough list to start the next year with.