Anuja Chauhan's reading list throws you into dystopia, but helps you escape too
Five books and a masterclass
Let’s play a game of Two Truths and a Lie ft. author Anuja Chauhan.
- Chauhan has been writing in advertising for 14 years
- She considers herself a chick-lit writer
- She has finished writing a novel during lockdown
As tempted as you maybe to deny the third statement assuming everybody is feeling that lockdown-induced productivity slump, Chauhan has managed to turn three years of slow processing — “I usually write a book every two years” — into a lockdown sprint.
During episode 3 of our workshop, Tweak Storyteller, Chauhan introduced us to her varied taste in literature. For her favourites, she picks “Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries, I read all 10 of them. Similarly, in a very different style, I love A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I had this whole sense of the worlds he is talking about and I thought I could try to write like this,” she says.
Since we believe there’s always room for a new book on the shelf, we egged her on for more.
Surprisingly enough, Chauhan’s recommendations are a far cry from her upbeat writing, where happy endings are more or less, assured. The author’s lockdown reading list is grim and dark, with a fantastical escape plan.
Anuja Chauhan shares her favourite books to read right now
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King
Chauhan is a self-confessed Stephen King fangirl. And the next best thing to a live masterclass session with King ought to be this memoir, which is partly a handbook on ‘How to write’ for young writers.
King packs in morsels of truth about writing, the process and what it does to your soul. The book is filled with quotable quotes like “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”
Now that’s sach ka saamna ft. King.
“His earlier novels like The Shining and Christine are fantastic. But On Writing is my personal favourite; he is so generous unlike the aunties whom you ask for some recipe, and they will make it a point to not share one major ingredient. King doesn’t do that. He gives you everything and doesn’t hold back. I just wish he wouldn’t write so much horror,” says Chauhan.
Catch 22, Joesph Heller
Joseph Heller’s novel, set during the peak of WWII, throws us into the madness of the fictional 256th fighter squadron on the island of Pianosa (coast of Italy). At the epicentre of all the action is Captain John Yossarian of the US Army and his compatriots.
This non-linear book is an absurd examination of the war that shook the world with too many fights and flights that leaves you wondering how insane the idea of a war can be.
“I can read it at any time, any day. The coming together of so many characters, all so varied and crackpot in their own unique ways, is what makes it such a brilliant novel. Besides, there’s the whole arbitrariness of being in a state of war,” says Anuja Chauhan.
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Set during The Great Depression, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath, scrutinises the great divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots. The story is told through the eyes of the Joads, a farm family from Oklahoma, who are forced to move to the “promised land” of California.
The book presents a scathing family portrait drawn by the lawmakers and the government organisations despite the catastrophic human cost involved. Picking up the title now will make you ask, “Times, have they really changed?”
“Considering the dark times we are living in, and with the current state of migrant workers in our country, this seems like a befitting read. It’s almost like a repeat of the Great Depression,” says the writer.
The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia), CS Lewis
Secret chambers, doorways, time capsules and magic windows: the emergency exits we wish we had access to. Sigh.
Fortunately, CS Lewis’s Narnia series will help you and your young ones escape through the wardrobe door into a winter wonderland with all its wonderful creatures.
Join Lucy and her siblings, Peter and Susan, on this magical trip to Narnia where Lion Aslan informs them that they are chosen to free Narnia from a witch’s spell.
“We had a big, old cupboard at home. My kids and I sat inside that and read the book with torchlight. The whole experience of reading together inside a wardrobe created such a crazy atmosphere. It’s great to start kids on a series because when they finish the book, there’s an anticipation and curiosity to know what happens next. It helps build the habit of reading,” she says.
Animal Farm, George Orwell
George Orwell’s love letter, or rather hate letter to Stalin’s mercurial rise to power in Russia, still resonates among readers decades since it was first published. Despite the fact that communism is almost reduced to a political footnote in the global picture.
Let the title not deceive you, Orwell’s short novel is not really about the four-legged beasts, but we, the social animals. In the farm featured here—Mr Jones’s Manor Farm — exhausted, exploited and overworked animals take the rein and plan to rewrite the laws of the jungle and establish sanity.
“Keeping up with the weird and dystopian times we are witnessing, there’s no better book than Orwell’s Animal Farm to connect with,” says Chauhan.
At the end of our five-week workshop, we’re inviting budding writers to share their stories with us, and our favourites will be published on TweakIndia.com. You can email your entries to [email protected] with the subject line: Tweak Storyteller entry