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Turn The Page: Take the #BrunchBookChallenge

...change the plot. Break free of the bestsellers, look beyond the classics and make your own book discoveries. Certifiably book-crazy celebs from across India are here to help

brunch Updated: Jul 19, 2015 12:30 IST
aditi mittal,manu chandra,david abraham

By now, you should be about halfway into our massive #BrunchBookChallenge. Some of you have already reached, and passed that magic number (whoa!).

Several of you are making fantastic progress (despite exams, shifting homes and everyday distractions). And to all those who've just begun: Welcome!

So, what have you been reading? Something picked randomly off the bestseller list? That hyped-up award winner?

The new publishing phenomenon everyone's talking about? Part 3 of a trilogy you feel obliged to complete? The same-old classics you've been hearing about for decades?


There's so much more to great reading - undiscovered gems from a different era, surprisingly good reads from a genre you've never tried, stories from lesser-known writers just waiting to captivate you.

So we got book lovers from varied walks of life to recommend what you should read next - no self-help titles, no populist fiction, no well-known classics, no big new releases.

It didn't go quite as planned. Some people just couldn't commit to a single book; they bombarded us with three, sometimes four, picks.

Others called us back, days later, to gleefully change their choice to something better. One greedily wanted to know which books had been mentioned so she could start reading them. (We didn't tell her!) But everyone we spoke to spent time picking the unusual books they'd read, loved and remembered well.

Uncommon Wisdom by Fritjof Capra

Uncommon Wisdom: Conversations with Remarkable People challenges our limits and understanding of the many ideas that we think are fundamental to our existence.

The writer talks to physicists, philosophers, economists and politicians and offers us deep insights.

His conversation with Werner Heisenberg, Alan Watts and J Krishnamurti in [the chapters] "Howling with the Wolves" and with Gregory Bateson in "The Pattern Which Connects" are my favourite parts of the book.

BONUS: You should also read The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

I am reading it for the tenth time probably, and I just can't stop myself from picking it up again.

The effortlessness of the master writer to dwell on the extremes of tragedy and comedy in this extraordinary work is amazing. If you have not already tried it, then I say it's a must-read.

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

I was going to recommend

Franny and Zooey

by JD Salinger but I think I'll go with something even more unusual -

Myra Breckinridge

by Gore Vidal.

It's the most inappropriate book - an irreverent, semi-pornographic journal about the fictitious Myra Breckinridge.

It was released in 1968 but is an incredible book to read today, in a world where Bruce Jenner has transformed publicly to Caitlyn, because it forces you to examine gender identities, how gender itself is a social construct and is interchangeable.

It was super controversial when it came out - but became a bestseller and was then turned into a movie that was panned by everyone including the author. Gore Vidal said it was a piece of s**t, basically, so the film is not at all what I recommend.

But the book is absolutely worth it. I read it about 15 years ago and I'm looking forward to re-reading it again in today's

world after so much has changed and so much has stayed

the same.

Given that we live in a post-Kardashian reality, it's important to understand the impact of someone's identity, frivolity, popularity and the psychology of society today. And Gore Vidal did it back in the '60s.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

First you need to understand that Neil Gaiman is the most talented fantasy writer on the planet today! He mines myths beautifully.

He's the guy who knows the gods and goddesses, whispers, urban legends and folklore of every major culture that has probably ever existed, and presents them in highly fictionalised, very contemporary stories.

American Gods is about a battle between the old gods

and the new, but set in contemporary America.

So Norse gods like Loki and Odin versus new gods created by television and the Internet, which appear larger than life today.

His premise is that a god is simply that which enough

people believe in - a god is only as powerful as the

number of his followers.

So the new "gods" are now usurping the old. I read it

three years ago and it blew my mind, pretty much. I've

read it twice overall. It's a cracker of an epic story!
The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins and The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair by Joël Dicker

I've just finished reading them both. My most favourite genre at the moment is the whodunit and these two books were absolute page-turners.

I didn't know what was going to happen till the end!

The thrill of not knowing and the pressure of keeping your ego intact by guessing the murderer well in time, is exactly what I love about mystery novels.

I devour books by the dozen and only take a couple of days to finish one.

So by the time your article goes to print, my answer will be long obsolete!

Narcissus And Goldmund by Hermann Hesse

Spending more than 250 days in a year on the road can allow for a lot of time to read. A lot of my work is in remote areas where there is poor or expensive mobile network service or there is not enough power to recharge one's gadgets.

I work on my own; there is no conversation partner. So, after any photo or film project, a book helps me wind down. I don't like to read on a flight. Planes are for the flicks I missed watching.

One of my all-time favourites is

Narcissus and Goldmund

by Hermann Hesse. The book was given to me in my somewhat lost years by my ex-partner.

It talks about the struggle of creativity versus the temptations of life (including the material comforts that always conflict with the larger journey).

It was an epiphany about my own process-orientation or a goal-driven end. As an artist, reading this book put me into

a space where I questioned a lot of what I did as I went forward.


: I also recommend

It's a Long Story: My Life

, by Willie Nelson. It is time we read about this American icon, an old-school liberal in music. I was never a big fan of country music but Willie's political stand is not about Left or Right, it is issue-based.

This is inspiring, considering that today music is more about packaging and less about writing. Sample the romance in the lyrics of Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain: In the twilight glow I see them/ Blue eyes cryin' in the rain/ When we kissed goodbye and parted/ I knew we'd never meet again…

These days, I am reading Jenny Nordberg's

The Underground Girls of Kabul

. It has given me the opportunity to reflect on issues relating to the girl child today. Apart from being interestingly written, it also reflects on gender issues in conflict areas and further marginalisation of the female of the species.

The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

I came across Kahlil Gibran's

The Prophet

at an airport five years ago and I was surprised by how much it resonated with me.

The story touched on everything, from love, marriage, children, giving and eating to law, freedom, money and death.

Shortly after I read the book, someone close to me died

and the book gave me great comfort to think of them in

the afterlife.

Today, we pretend death or major illnesses will never happen to us and we're surprised when it does. We try to avoid it with anti-ageing products, surgery and the pursuit of everlasting life.

We need to re-learn to accept all that life has to offer - the joy and the suffering. A message from the book is still

with me: 'You are far, far greater than you know - and

all is well'!

Holy Cow by Sarah Macdonald

Reading helps me relax and keeps me updated on several levels. Today, if I have to excel in my field, I need to keep abreast of a lot of things.

So I pick up cookbooks from various regions and countries and books that talk about culture of a specific region.

I do scan bestseller lists but the books I end up buying are usually the ones recommended by my family and friends.

I loved Holy Cow. I bought this book at Amsterdam airport some years ago and enjoyed it thoroughly. I could easily relate to it because like the author, almost every foreigner who comes to India does so with a preconceived notion about the country, the people and the food.

They feel that there is no concept of fine dining here and Indian food is only about spices and chicken tikka masala.

It's only when they spend some time here or experience the real India that they realise how wrong they were.

BONUS: The Flavour Thesaurus by Niki Segnit works well for anyone interested in food. It covers the art of combining flavours - how to pair your food and wine or

even think of using unconventional flavours together.

It works wonders for me, as I'm always experimenting with food, but it will interest just about anyone curious about the subject of how we eat.
The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith

It's true. I am recommending a book about economics. The Wealth of Nations is so insightful. Economics is the queen of the sciences for a reason - it is the study of incentives, and incentives are fuelled by humans.

So economic behaviour is basically human behaviour - it involves psychology, history, politics, geography and other social sciences.

As a middle-class child, money is a pretty foreign concept

to me. I just don't get how people create wealth or talk about one crore-two crores.

And you can read it for pleasure! I first read it at 19, when

I was studying economics, then I read it all over again for

the joy of it.

Adam Smith was writing in 1776 but he makes you a part

of it. I didn't feel alienated. I remember going over his Broken Window theory like a hundred times because it

was so fascinating.

Two boys on the street hurl a stone at the baker's window, setting off an economic chain reaction: The baker has to contact the glazier, who has to contact the pane maker, who has to find the man who makes the glue for the pane, thereby

creating an economy in a way you didn't expect. It was one of the most entertaining things I read in college.

BONUS: More people should read The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. As middle-class Indians we inhabit a world of certain privilege. We don't scrounge for food and shelter every day. But when you place mankind in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic situation, you end up boiling things down to the basics.

You are reduced to your most primitive function: survive and procreate and that's what happens to the women in the book. My hair stands on end recalling some scenes.

Another super book is Robert A Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land about a person (his parents perished on a space station), who is rescued by a new mission years later.

This guy is human in form but knows nothing of life and society, and questions, naïvely, everything you do. He's alien to his own culture and it makes you re-examine your own reality.

Can I add one more? - this is so awkward! - The Fran Lebowitz Reader. She's one of my favourite comediennes of all time.

Oh and everyone should read Desmond Morris's books - The Naked Ape, The Human Zoo and so on. It's pop evolutionary biology. I add pop because it was very easy to read, I couldn't stop turning the pages.

And it's full of great mysteries: Why do we have eyebrows? How and why does your body store fat? Great stuff! I want to say that I've avoided the Game of Thrones books because only the cool kids are doing it!

The Kenneth Anderson Omnibus

At the moment, I'm embarrassed to say that my reading habits have atrophied. I usually read just before bedtime.

And it has to be a hardcopy book and not something on a Kindle. I stare at screens all day, whether it's a laptop or a phone. So I don't want to do that while reading. I am a fan of flicking the pages and taking in the smell of a book.

I am not a big fan of depressing tales where everybody is suffering. I recommend the Kenneth Anderson


. Anderson was a British hunter who was born and lived in India, and wrote about his adventures in the jungles of

South India in the '50s and '60s.

On one hand, the book depicts the end of the Raj in India, on the other, its narrative and the clarity with which he describes the jungle is very poetic and engaging.

You sort of get a glimpse of the forest through his words

and descriptions. And especially for a wildlife enthusiast like me, who goes on a lot of safaris and photographs tigers.

It is incredibly charming.

Strange Weather In Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

This is a beautiful love story between a teacher and his former student.

It's one of those books that draws you in slowly, and you love all the characters and want to be in their company even if they are doing something mundane like picking mushrooms.

The book follows the story of Tsukiko, in her late 30s, living alone, when she meets a former teacher, 'Sensei', in a bar.

He is at least 30 years older, retired and, she presumes, a widower.

The pair continue to meet, share food and drink sake, and as the seasons pass, Tsukiko and Sensei develop a hesitant intimacy which tilts awkwardly and poignantly into love.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

This Indian-born surgeon and researcher in America writes about medicine, but they're unlike the usual health books.

They look at medicine's relation to morality, solutions and the reality of how they work, and the human element in the world of medicine, which is so interesting.

If you haven't read him before, I suggest you start with his first book,


, which is a series of essays about the limits and well, complications, in a surgeon's life.

But I've been reading his latest book,

Being Mortal

, which looks at whether medicine is geared to cope with the final days of our life.

It's written so well - I love how he questions what we take as absolutes and adds a new perspective to that. He's easy to read, it's never technical. But his writing may be seen differently by readers who are quite old, for obvious reasons!

What I know for sure by Oprah Winfrey

I read books on various subjects but in recent times I've had trouble concentrating, so I often read two or three books at once.

I recently finished What I Know For Sure on a Canada-Delhi flight. It was so simple - not your typical preachy Oprah book, which is good because I've never been drawn to that Oprah philosophy, and anything too spiritual or too deep drives me cuckoo! This one had a voice you could relate to, and is so relevant to modern life.

BONUS: I've just started Pico Iyer's The Art of Stillness. I'm not a fan; this is actually my first book by him. But I was drawn to the title when I saw it on my mother-in-law's bedside table. It's short and blissful.

But I'm the biggest Murakami fan. I reread his books and the writing is so freaking fascinating! There's a crazy quote in Norwegian Wood that I fall back on: 'Don't feel sorry for yourself only a**holes do that.' I'm a runner and Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is my bible.

There's a line that says 'Silence, I have discovered, is something you can actually hear'.

His writing is so intense, like a French film! Sure, each of my picks is different, but how will you experience new worlds otherwise?

The Girl Who Saved The King Of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

My first eatery started as a bookstore with a café, but the businesswoman in me realised that ain't gonna work. My secret dream is to open a bookstore and read all the books without buying them!

I need to read every night. But bestsellers make me suspicious, I prefer Goodreads or Shelfari to pick books.

You must read The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden; it's a about a girl born in Soweto, the shanty town in South Africa, who ends up in Sweden and suddenly has the whole world in her hand and has the power to save it.

It's quite ridiculous - there are Mossad agents, diamonds, characters that don't even exist - but it's so entertaining. You get an absurd adventure but also a taste of SA at the time of the apartheid.

I'd discovered Jonasson's previous book, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared, at Zurich airport.

I loved it and knew I wanted more of him. Then this book came out and so-called intellectuals and la-di-da types started talking about him.

It's such fun to discover something before the world does. It's a cheap thrill, you know?

BONUS: Everyone knows Emma Donoghue for Room, but some of her best works are the ones that never hit the bestseller list. Kissing The Witch is a brilliant collection of fairy tales retold for adults.Prince Charming is not so charming, the wicked witch is the heroine, and Snow White is malicious. A great read.

Reading is about a state of mind. I travel a lot and on a flight I'm happy to read the No. 1 crime thriller, don't get me wrong.

But I could never go through The Lord of the Rings - I tried so many times! It's the same with Fifty Shades Of Grey, every middle-aged woman on the flight had a copy when it came out.

I dislike sci-fi too, except The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - there's another recommendation. Hahaha!

Genesis by Sebastião Salgado

If you are at all interested in the visual image and any kind of photography, you've got to have this. Genesis is basically a document of the untouched, unphotographed parts of the planet.

The photographer Sebastião Salgado took eight years to travel to the most remote parts of the world to find his material.

Of course he could afford to do it in his own plane, but what he found is mindboggling: rare species of birds and plants, various tribes and pristine forests. But the landscapes - everything is shot in his usual black-and-white - are the

most fantastic.

Salgado and I are old friends, and for me, seeing another photographer's work always creates a new experience in itself.

An image steals your heartbeat a little bit - when you miss a heartbeat while taking a picture, your heartbeat is in that image. And this book is full of those heartbeats.

The only thing I'd have changed was the cover - the image is too standard for a book that has more superior works inside.

There are several editions of this book, I have the one that costs $70, but there's a huge one, it costs $4,000 and comes

with its own case and stand. That one, ironically, has no image on the cover.

Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann

During Ramzan, I get more time to read, so I end up reading close to five books at one time. I recommend Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex Von Tunzelmann because it is a very good piece of faction: fiction plus fact.

It is beautifully written. It does not feel like an academic work about the freedom struggle or Partition. The language is lucid and the book is littered with colourful anecdotes.

But there are some problems as well - the author has embellished [historical documentation] with exaggerated doses of masala.

She makes us feel that the entire freedom struggle revolved around Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of British India. At its best, it is infotainment: Some information and lots of entertainment.

BONUS: I have two more recommendations. India Wins Freedom, by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Written by

independent India's first education minister, the book may not be as entertaining as Indian Summer, but is the most neutral account of India's freedom struggle and the factors that led to the Partition.

Maulana Azad was one of the protagonists in India's struggle for Independence. Despite that, he has kept a steadfast level of objectivity.

I also pick Sher-o-Shayari by Ayodhya Prasad Goyaliya. It is written in Devanagri script and the best book on the history of Urdu poetry that I've read (this includes numerous books in Urdu). I recommend it to those who are interested in the history of Urdu poetry and literature but are not familiar with the Urdu script.

He has explained the role of vazan (emphasis) and metre in reading out a couplet beautifully. So, if you say 'hamari laash ko' in Hindi, you would have to write 'laash' and 'ko' separately. But in Urdu, reading it out like a couplet, you would read 'laashko' together. He has caught the exact metre of Urdu, that too in Hindi.

Which makes me reiterate a feeling what many other scholars and authors have earlier expressed: that Devnagari is the most scientific script.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read as much as I can because I write a lot, but I also spend a lot of time reading scripts, most of which are quite bad! But I remember reading The Idiot exactly twenty years ago, when I was in Goa.

The book clung to me... I just couldn't put it down, so in four or five days I finished the whole thing which was pretty thick!

The characters... they're crazy! I wanted to name my son Myshkin, after the main character. My wife of course would have none of it!

BONUS: Another literary influence is Milan Kundera. His take on human relationships and sexuality is phenomenal.

He looks at history and our existential angst almost through sexuality. Growing up, my world was made up of Hindi books.

I remember being influenced by Sara Akash by Rajendra Yadav. The film that Basu Chatterjee made based on the book was also great.

DV, the autobiography of Diana Vreeland

Diana Vreeland was the fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar and editor-in-chief of Vogue, and her genius for style
inspired the fashion world for almost 50 years.

The book takes us around the globe through the conversations and stories of Vreeland in the company of royalty, actors, artists and designers.

This autobiography celebrates the life of one of fashion's most extraordinary characters.

BONUS: I thought Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others, was particularly good as well.

If you like graphic novels…

Comic Con INDIA founder Jatin Varma picks the ones you cannot miss

"I read two or three books simultaneously. I don't have a set routine. A considerable amount of my reading time is spent on comics and graphic novels, but I read other books as well.

The last one I read was The Book With No Pictures by humourist and actor BJ Novak. Among graphic novels, here are my picks:

1. Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama:

It is set in a dystopian future. People live in walled cities with the

Titans (humanoid creatures) who eat humans. The story draws you in. It is weird,

but good weird. Attack on Titan is unique among manga comics. A live-action film

is out soon.

2. Snowpiercer by Jacques Lob & Jean-Marc Rochette:

After an ice age, the world's only survivors occupy a 1001-car train: Snowpiercer.

Its track runs around the world.

The third class has slaves, in terrible conditions,

first class gets the good life. Then the slaves decide to take over and stop the train. Fantastic!

3. The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb:

It's a literal adaptation of one book of the Hebrew bible. And like a lot of religious texts, Genesis is full of interesting stories and spiteful and selfish gods. Drawn in his signature style, it's an interesting read and a good introduction to his work.

4. Delhi Calm by Vishwajyoti Ghosh:

This work is more contextual because of the 40th anniversary of the Emergency.

His style is witty and darkly humorous and the artwork unlike anybody else's. You can't bracket him. I'd say it's more art than comic book. Everything isn't perfect. It fits in with satire.

5. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud (2015):

McCloud is best known for his book Understanding Comics. His first graphic novel follows David Smith, whom Death gives 200 days to live, in exchange for the power to sculpt anything imaginable. It confirms that McCloud not only talks the talk but walks it.

6. Habibi By Craig Thompson:

Painstakingly put together, this is Thompson's take on slavery. But at the end of

the day it is the love story of Dodola and Zam, two escaped child slaves in a fictional middle-Eastern setting. It has layers within layers. It isn't just beautifully written, the artwork is spectacular too.

So, what are you going to read next? Tell us at or tweet to @HTBrunch using the hashtag #BrunchBookChallenge. And, obviously, keep reading!

From HT Brunch, July 19
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First Published: Jul 18, 2015 20:21 IST