From Shashi Tharoor to Anita Nair, our favourite authors share their top book recommendations
What India’s bestselling authors read for inspiration and a few laughs
“I will read more,” said every ‘too-busy-to-read’ bookworm when the lockdown started. After battling the initial lockdown blues and coming to terms with the anxiety that living through a pandemic brings, life finally seemed to fall into a routine. Work life wasn’t bleeding into family time, and meal planning didn’t seem as arduous. So, you finally decided to go back to the one activity that would take up most of your days during school summer vacations – finding a novel to bury your nose in, based on trusted book recommendations.
But who knew that it wasn’t making the time, but actually choosing the ideal book to help you get back to reading that would pose the biggest challenge. So, you asked around, but no response felt convincing enough – romantic Radha only likes mush, Dad is all about history, and websites just seem to feature bestsellers.
So we found a foolproof source for you to seek book recommendations from – your favourite authors Shashi Tharoor, Avni Doshi, Anita Nair and Amish Tripathi. If you love what they write, you’re sure to love what they read.
Book recommendations from your favourite authors
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“I think my simple answer to anyone asking for book recommendations would be to just pick up any book by an Indian writer and see what’s on their minds these days,” says Tharoor. But after a little prodding, he shared with us some of the titles he returns to for comfort.
Mahabharata by C. Rajagopalachari
If you’re looking for something that really will keep you busy for a long time, pick up as full a translation as you can of the Mahabharata, suggests Tharoor. “There’s nothing like it. It’s full of stories, ideas, anecdotes, philosophies, digressions of various sorts, and at the same time, a really interesting plot to keep you going. I am a huge fan of the Mahabharata,” he adds.
Tharoor’s fondness towards the Indian epic is evident from his satirical reinvention of the Mahabharata in his book The Great Indian Novel.
Leave it to Psmith by P. G. Wodehouse
Tharoor moves swiftly from something all consuming to a read that isn’t very demanding. “P.G. Wodehouse is my favourite writer from my childhood. Unfortunately, I finished all his 95 books by the time I was 19 years old, so I’m very deprived now. But I’ve become a Wodehouse proselytiser,” confesses Tharoor.
The second of Wodehouse’s Blandings series and last of the Psmith series, this one will leave you squealing with laughter.
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
The book’s amusing title sets the tone for what is to follow as you find yourself being dragged along on an adventurous journey – Allan Karlsson, after turning a whopping 100 years old, decides to escape from his nursing home and gets involved in a series of absurd and unexpected events (which include briefcases full of drug money and dead bodies).
“I found it hilarious and I’ve been recommending it all over the place since I read it a few years ago,” says Tharoor.
The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru
“As somebody who cares very much about India, and what’s becoming of it, I would like to recommend Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India. It’s now written more than 75 years ago, but, the thing about that book is that it gives one a humane view of what has made India and what it’s all about – culturally, historically, and politically. It gives you a great sense of not only Nehru’s mind, but of the heritage that he wanted to pass on to all of us,” says Tharoor.
The book was written by the former Prime Minister of India during his four-year confinement at Ahmednagar fort during the Quit India Movement.
“I’m not that particular about the books that I look at, it’s more about the authors. I go to particular authors for certain things.” says debutante Avni Doshi as she shares with us her book recommendations.
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Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
“It is a very short, slim volume, but it’s just remarkable how much she can do in very little space. And I, personally am very drawn to very spare, sparse, prose. So, I look for simple prose as much as I can,” says Doshi.
Poet Joe Jacobs and his wife head to a summer villa in France – Swimming Home – tucked away in the hills. Here, the troubled couple is interrupted by Kitty Finch – a botanist and fanatical reader. What follows is a series of unnerving revelations. This unconventional take on love will make you laugh and squirm in equal measure.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
Sheila Heti is another one of Doshi’s favourite authors – “I really admire her approach to the subject. She came to the topic of motherhood as someone who wasn’t a mother. She came with this intense curiosity and desire to look at the subject from every single angle that she could and that really shows in the work. There’s a tremendous energy running throughout the book that makes it very difficult to put down.”
The protagonist of the novel is shown dabbling with a question most women find themselves faced with at some point in life – do I want to be a mother?
In search of the answer, the narrator finds herself questioning all aspects of life that have brought her to this crossroads – her family, her companion, and at some point, the very meaning of life.
A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk
A Life’s Work is a brutally honest account of early motherhood, from breastfeeding to bad advice, as candidly and truthful as one can be.
“I am amazed by how intelligently she writes. Just the way her sentences are formed or the way she can follow a character’s train of thought, and make them extremely complex and layered is really remarkable,” says Doshi.
Nair, like most of us, struggles when trying to distill her long list of favourites into specific book recommendations. “They keep shifting now and then depending on what I’ve just read or something that just comes back into my mind,” she says.
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Here is a list what she revisits when in need of some inspiration.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is the book responsible for sparking Nair’s love affair with words.
Published in 1955, this is the story of a controversial romance between a middle-aged man, who falls madly in love with a 12-year-old, who he lovingly calls Lolita. This classic will make you sit at the edge of your seat as you find yourself putting aside the rose-tinted glasses that are almost always used to view love.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
“I have read it several times, but I first started reading it when I was 12 years old, and to this day I can still read it and derive great pleasure and joy out of it,” says Nair.
This classic tells us the quintessential rags to riches story of Wang Lung, a Chinese peasant farmer and how he goes on to become a wealthy and respectable member of society. The twists and turns in the plot put into perspective the fact that happiness might be waiting for you at the most unexpected of places.
The Odyssey by Homer
“Another book that has hugely influenced me is Homer’s The Odyssey. That’s a prose poem, which has always stayed with me because it has everything – grandeur, lyricism, action, adventure, and beautiful characters. It’s a brilliant book,” says Nair with palpable fondness.
The Odyssey is a great work of ancient Greek literature, it walks us through the ten-year-long adventures of Odysseus that he embarks upon after the fall of Troy. Expect nymphs, cannibals, monsters and more on this journey of a lifetime.
The Persian Boy by Mary Renault
A lot has been written and said about Alexander the great, but The Persian Boy is an account unlike any other. The book gives us a peephole into the last few years of Alexander’s life, through his lover’s lens. His companion Bagoas is in fact the Persian boy, who stood by Alexander as he fought and overcame obstacles in his final years. The Persian boy’s perspective is a novel take on Alexander’s ambitions, and one that is cloaked in love.
“Mary Renault’s ‘The Persian Boy‘ is one of the finest books I’ve ever read in my life”, gushes Doshi.
“I always say that if you have just a few favourite writers, then actually, you haven’t read enough. My list would be so long that we’d have to conduct this interview for the next two hours,” laughs Tripathi when asked to share his book recommendations with us.
Upon coaxing, he shared a few favourites from the recent past.
The Vault of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi
“I think it’s a wonderful book, lovely research and presented in such an engaging and wonderful story format. I normally don’t read fiction, but I always read Ashwin’s books,” says Tripathi.
This book threads together the lives of a Pallava prince, a buddhist monk, A Neolithic tribe, a reclusive scientist, and an enthusiastic investigator, which results in a fascinating coming together of history, science, and myth.
The Greatest Ode to Lord Ram by Pavan Varma
This book is an exploration of Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, a text written in the 16th century.
“What Pavan Varma has done is, taken various couplets from the Ramcharitmanas and translated them, and given commentary on it to help you get an idea of what that couplet means, and to better understand the context behind it. So it’s like a wonderful introduction to the Ramcharitmanas,” says Tripathi.