With the opening of a new year, I’d hastily scrawled a list of resolutions for 2021, into a journal that I’d promised myself I’d continue to write in (I did no such thing). I was determined to keep them vague, doable, to be kinder to myself and not commit to something as brittle as a number on a scale or a published book by the end of the year, and this resolve resulted in things like ‘be mindful of what you eat’, ‘find an exercise you like to do’, ‘consume more art’, which are all well and good but also flimsy enough to forget. One of my resolutions, however, I’ve strictly adhered to, the one resolution that was, in fact, numerical: Read 100 books in 2021.
I’ve long bemoaned the fact that I no longer read like I used to. I’d discussed it with people I went to middle school with – ‘do you remember when we could just pick up a book and finish it in a few hours? And we’d be so excited to talk about it in school the next day!’, I’d looked at my bookshelves, at the books spilling off them and collected the ones I was yet to read, I’d subscribed to literary magazines, saying that if I didn’t still have the discipline to sit and read a novel, at least I could read a short story. I had hours of free time looming in front of me, and yet, could not find it in myself to read.
This month, I finished ten books. I’m incredibly proud of myself, though it may not seem to be a huge accomplishment. I finished ten books, and am not yet tired of reading, or of finding new things to read, or of finding the time to read them in. This past month was filled with various discourses on politics, essays on the self, with heart-wrenching fiction and cold, hard facts – a diverse spread of books that I would have put off reading had I not resolved to finish at least a hundred books.
When my dad realised what I was doing, when he noticed me every morning, curled up in the living room with some book or another, he told me that I need to document what I was doing; otherwise, I’d forget about the things I’d read, the novels I’d enjoyed so much. At the end of the first month of the new year, here I am with the first ten books of 2021. I hope you find some inspiration in this list, something new to pick up and read, and I hope to get recommendations from my readers for more books to accompany me through this year.
Books 1 to 5:
The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate by Arundhati Roy
The Doctor and the Saint was my introduction to Ambedkar, barring afternoons in ICSE Civics classes, which branded him ‘freedom fighter’ and ‘contributor to the constitution’, and spoke nothing about his opinions on caste annihilation or the philosophies he’d advocated most of his life. It also brought Gandhi down from the pedestal he’s been placed on throughout contemporary India’s existence. It humanised his ideas, thoughts and opinions, pointing out that many of them were flawed and biased in their own way. Roy does a thorough job of bringing to light caste brutality in India today. She consistently backs up her opinions with research, references and real incidents, narrating the horrific death of Surekha Bhotmange in her opening chapter.
In order to detach caste from the political economy, from conditions of enslavement in which most dalits lived and worked, in order to slide the questions of entitlement, land reforms and the redistribution of wealth, Hindu reformers cleverly narrowed the question of caste to the issue of untouchability. They framed it as an erroneous religious and cultural practice that needed to be reformed
The Doctor and the Saint is a well-researched, detailed account of her thoughts on both Ambedkar and Gandhi, and is something that I think everything should read. It gives a voice to Ambedkar’s beliefs and the causes he was advocating for and provides a voice to a side of his history that has been previously systemically silenced. It was a wonderful introduction to Ambedkar.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
Hunger was one of the books I’d had lying on my bookshelf for years, before finally picking up early this January and immersing myself in Roxane Gay’s writing. I was glad that I’d waited to read it. I didn’t know if 19-year-old Deeksha would be nuanced enough to appreciate the vastness of Gay’s work, or introspective enough to evaluate what importance I gave body image to my own self-worth. Hunger is a stripping down of Gay’s defences. She speaks with brutal honesty about sexual assault and its consequential effects on the body. She speaks of navigating as a fat woman through a world that is not designed for her, of attempting to fit societal moulds and then feeling disgusted at herself, of the boundaries of her body that people feel allowed to cross. She speaks of yearning and fear, and helplessness and hunger.
I have been accused of being full of self-loathing and being fat-phobic. There is truth to the former accusation and I reject the latter. I do, however, live in a world where the open hatred of fat people is vigorously tolerated and encouraged. I am a product of my environment.
Hunger is an important book to read. A memoir of suffering and survival, it reframes the conversation around body positivity. Defying what has always been told to young girls – that to have worth, they must shrink, they must be small – Gay is unafraid to take the space she deserves. This book is an account of the journey, the thoughts, the contemplations that led her to have the sense of self to claim it.
Azadi by Arundhati Roy
The second and last book by Arundhati Roy on this list (I’d received several of her books as a Christmas present), Azadi is characteristic of Roy’s writing. Loud, imploring and assertive, Roy writes about the issue of Kashmir’s longstanding, violent military occupation, Hindu fundamentalism and the impact of Covid-19 on India’s poor.
What India has done in Kashmir over the last 30 years is unforgivable. An estimated 70,000 people – civilians, militants and security forces – have been killed in the conflict. Thousands have been ‘disappeared’, and tens of thousands have passed through torture chambers that dot the valley like a network of small-scale Abu Ghraibs.
Azadi consists of nine essays, written between 2018 and 2020, and originally delivered as lectures or prints. Roy writes about the hegemony of Hindu fundamentalism in India, the growing popularity of Hindutva and the strategies of warmongering and scapegoating in India’s current political climate. Azadi‘s essays tend to overlap each other, but the repetition asserts Roy’s passion rather than diminishes them. Reminiscent of her fiction writing, the language in Azadi is powerful, poetic and fluid, but is accompanied with a reflective maturity, as Roy speaks about her activism and its implications on her life and safety.
Azadi does, however, offer an incomplete critique of the current Indian government, and provides little depth and context. The limitations of the speech format are evident in this book, with the texts being aimed at informing foreign audiences with hard-hitting, lyrical statements and less with accounting for the circumstances of how things have gotten this way.
Azadi is an impactful, earnest and loud piece of writing, that should by no means act as a complete understanding of India’s current political landscape. Instead, it serves as a beautiful and instigating starting point to political Indian reading. Leaving the reader with questions and a yearning desire for more information on the issues Roy has outlined, it is a well written and easily read introduction to contemporary Indian activism.
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi
Young Adam was a book I’d gotten from Blossoms with the last Rs 100 in my purse and had left unread since 2017. Needing a short break from the long reads, after the last three books, Young Adam was the perfect one-day novel, captivating, thought-provoking and most important, requiring no mental energy from the reader.
Young Adam is Alexander Trocchi’s first novel and provides a conversation on morality and action. The book was initially published under the pseudonym Frances Lengel as a ‘dirty book’. Trocchi edited it, removing a number of erotic passages, and published it as Young Adam.
Trocchi’s protagonist, Joe, is not a conventional hero. He is unlikeable, self-centred and detached from any emotional indulgence. Joe is not meant to be liked or believed, so when it is revealed that his ex-lover, Cathie, is found dead, floating in the canal, his claims that her death was an accident are taken to be untrue. His unreliability through the novel leaves the reader sceptical and uneasy, waiting to see what the gaps in his story will eventually reveal.
It was an odd thing that I, who saw Cathie topple into the river, should have been the one to find her body the following morning at one mile’s distance from where she fell in. I felt at the time that it was ludicrous, so incredible that if Leslie had not happened to come up on deck at that time I should most certainly have refused to accept such an improbable event and tried to thrust her away again with the boat hook.
Trocchi engages with questions of morality and conscience. His writing is sharp and deliberately awkward. Joe flits between thoughts rapidly, leaving the reader no time to ponder on the true nature of events. Trocchi writes deftly and cleverly and Young Adam provides the best introduction to his work.
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race was one of the books that I’d bought in Exeter last year, when the United States (and the world) had exploded into Black Lives Matter protests. I shared in the anger, in the indignation, in the hurt, but found that when it came to understanding structural racism, I knew very little.
Reni Eddo-Lodge explores racism that still exists in Britain, stating unapologetically that she is writing primarily for black people. In a series of seven essays, she points out the ‘white privilege’ that exists in day-to-day workings and that is largely ignored. Unequivocally, she states that ‘racism is a white problem’.
White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.
Addressing issues such as the UK’s racial history, the racial marginalisation of black people in the depiction of working class, and the exclusion of black women from British feminism, Eddo-Lodge urges the reader to re-examine their experiences with racial inequalities. She announces, loudly, that we talk about race by not talking about it.
Eddo-Lodge starts a much-needed conversation with Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. She supplements her writing with facts and contextual evidence of racism through contemporary Britain’s history, creating a comprehensive account on racism. Eddo-Lodge’s openness and introspection makes her book extremely readable. It is an essential book, in my opinion, to understand how systemic racism manifests itself in today’s political climate.
(Refer to the next post for books 6 to 10)