Of Writers & Reading

Of_weiters-260_1326546241Some of India’s best writers discuss books that have moved them, in the Sunday Guardian. Amitava Kumar:

When I was younger books were fetish objects. They sat in a small group on a bare shelf or a window sill, depending on whether I was at home or staying in my room at the college hostel. Now, with more money, I'm able to acquire the books more easily, and they have lost their ancient magic as objects. Now, they are treasured as friends. Or, more likely, as guilty reminders of money wasted — because I hardly have the time to read one-tenth of the books I buy. While I'm on the subject, may I also confess to the guilt of seeing the piles of unread magazines growing higher in my study? The New Yorker, Granta, Caravan, The New York Review of Books, Himal, London Review of Books…the piles grow bigger till it is time to take them for recycling. In the case of each of those publications, some of the articles get read but that's only because I have encountered them online. Someone has posted a link on Facebook, or they've been mentioned on a blog, or sparked a controversy on Twitter. This is a new truth of reading: your taste is determined by the conversations on the Net.

It is difficult to narrow down to four or five what I treasure in this room where I'm sitting writing this. Books are like people: you value those who you can turn to in times of need. V.S. Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas is a monumental work, and his Enigma of Arrival is a profound, stylistic achievement, but the book of his that I value most is Finding the Center. In that book I read, as a young student in Delhi, Naipaul's “Prologue to an Autobiography,” and it offered me a way to imagine a writer's life. I've often turned back to it to find the road back to my own beginnings.

I think of each book that I have written as a tribute to the writers who have taught me vital lessons; there are too many list, perhaps, but here are four milestones on the road I have travelled: John Berger's A Seventh Man, Hanif Kureishi's The Buddha of Suburbia, Urvashi Butalia's The Other Side of Silence, and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.