Last year Hunter S. Thompson hosted a literary New Year party for all the authors whose books I had read in 2009. Since I didn’t read any of Hunter’s books this year, there was no one to organize the event. But when I came back from my Islamabad Trip (where I was at New Year’s) I found a crumpled note on my book shelf.
“If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn't matter a damn how you write”.
It was signed by Somerset Maugham.
His note made me think of all the stories I had read, the characters I met and the incidents both in and around the books I read in 2010. And if anyone, the authors should know how I felt about their books and whom I liked most in 2010.
Thank you for giving me so much reading pleasure in 2010. Not all of you fall in the pleasure category, I’m afraid, but most of you did delight, surprise, and in some cases, inspire me.
The one person who brought a smile to my face, always, is P.G.Wodehouse. Yes, Plum (I know that the P in your name stands for Pelham which was contracted to Plum) you don’t need to act surprised on reading (or hearing this. I hope Thompson is not reading this letter out loud) this. I was so inspired by your writings that I’ve decided to try writing comedy though I doubt I can match the hilarity of Damsel in Distress and Carry on Jeeves. And since the day I picked up the Jeeves series, I am on a perpetual look out for a butler like him!
It was not just Wodehouse who brought a smile on my face; Dostoyevsky also managed to do that. I’m afraid I wasn’t able to read any of your works except The Village of Stepenchikovo and it was a bundle of surprise. There were certain points in the book when Opiskin’s antics irritated me so much I wanted to re-write the story and make Uncle Rostanev a little thick skinned and Sergey Aleksandrovich a little bold so as to give Opiskin (or Foma Fomich) a taste of his own medicine. But this absurd tale with its myriad of confused characters and comical situations made for a very refreshing read. But it wasn’t on the same level as The Brother Karamazov, which was my favourite last year. I have planned to read two of your books this year. In fact, I am reading The House of the Dead currently (and enjoying it immensely!).
But not all the books I read were of a comic nature. I read Margaret Atwood’s, The Blind Assassin, which was far from being comic. It was an amazing read; the suspense was so subtle that when I reached the end, I was genuinely surprised. Another book which surprised me, not by the plot, but by the style of writing was Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road. I’m sure you scribbled a lot on secret notebooks, Jack, because your book also read like one big diary (I’ve started scribbling too!).
Jack’s book might have a diary feel to it (somewhat) but it was far from being autobiographical. I did read two autobiographies of the one author whose writings I admire immensely. Boy and Going Solo were very inspiring and they revealed the man (and the boy) behind Roald Dahl. That you could write both George’s Marvellous Medicine (GMM) and Switch Bitch is mind boggling and very, very inspiring! Mr. Dahl, you won’t believe it but I tried my hand at translating GMM in Urdu. I got really stuck when it came to translating this:
So give me a bug and a jumping flea,
Give me two snails and lizards three,
And a slimy squiggler from the sea,
And the poisonous sting of a bumble bee,
And the juice from the fruit of the ju-jube tree,
And the powdered bone of a wombat's knee.
2010 was about discovering new books and new authors. Some of you became a part of my life and my book shelf in 2010. Ian McEwan, Nick Hornby and Hanif Kureishi are three such authors. On Chesil Beach, Juliet, Naked and Gabriel’s Gift have become one of my very favourite reads of last year.
A short novel, On Chesil Beach, was concise yet very beautiful. It was a painful read, all the more so because my honeymoon was the complete opposite. Juliet, Naked was a very fun, contemporary read. So was Gabriel’s Gift. In fact, among my first books of 2011 is Kureishi’s, The Black Album.
I wonder if any of you is in suspense to know which book was my most favourite in 2010. Of course there is no competition, each one of you is a literary giant but still a human being!
I found E.M.Forster’s, A Passage to India, to be a close contender to being my favourite book. What a book! It is no small feat, Mr. Forster, to write a book which depicts the thoughts and feelings of Indians (both Muslims and Hindus) in pre-partition India towards the British. I felt small and insignificant as a writer after finishing the book. I have yet to watch the movie and hopefully, relive the book through it.
But the one book which swept me off my feet totally was Brideshead Revisited. And this book is my favourite read of 2010. I love everything about the book; be it the cover, the blurb, the plot, the story, the characters, the beginning, the middle, the end – everything! Thank you, Evelyn Waugh for offering the book to (and I quote) ‘.. a younger generation of readers as a souvenir of the Second War rather than of the twenties or of the thirties, with which it ostensibly deals’ (unquote).
Though belated, this letter is to celebrate the New Year. I have made a booklist and am looking forward to discovering and re-discovering some great literary works.
And Mr. Maugham, I am going to work harder at your advice.”
I folded the letter neatly and left it next to the crumpled note.