2014 best reads

Published Jan 2, 2015, 8:36 am IST
Updated Jan 10, 2016, 8:38 am IST
Our favourite authors talk about the books they got hooked to in 2014
Our favourite authors talk about the books they got hooked to in 2014
 Our favourite authors talk about the books they got hooked to in 2014

Aatish Taseer
author of The Way Things Were

My choice of book for 2014 is a classic in North America, but for some reason it took me 34 years to come around to it. I want to save you any further delay. You must even before you’re done reading this  order it immediately. John Williams’ Stoner is a perfect novel. You know what Oscar Wilde says of his life in De Profundis? That all the while (it had) been a real symphony of sorrow, passing through its rhythmically linked movements to its certain resolution, with that inevitableness that in art characterises the treatment of every great theme?  Stoner is that sentence in the form of a novel. Get it at once!


Advaita Kala
author of Almost Single

This has been the year for non-fiction, there are many books that make it to my best list. But the one I pick  I do for its poignancy and in the hope that this superstar is not ignored, yet again. Yasser Usman’s biography of Rajesh Khanna, is a special book, not only in its writing  which is cinematic and reads like a film script, structuring a narrative out of a life that had many triumphs and disappointments, but also for its affectionate honesty. That Usman admires the actor is evident, but this does not hold him back from telling Rajesh Khanna’s story one of love, betrayals, tempestuous moments and everything else that made this lost superstar human. 

Andrea Barrett
author of Servants of the Map: Stories

The book I was most moved by this year was Phil Klay’s Redeployment. A dazzling collection of stories in the voices of those who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan everyone from foreign service officers to contractors to Lance Corporals and mortuary experts — it’s a book of profound insight and literary power. 

Akash Kapur
author of India Becoming

Three books really stood out for me this year. Kevin Birmingham’s The Most Dangerous Book in the World: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses is a wonderful exploration of the creative process, freedom of expression, and the way the universe so often works against art (and how, just occasionally, art nonetheless slips through). I also really enjoyed Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son, a gripping and often wild novel set in North Korea; it has to be one of the most imaginative novels I’ve ever read. Finally, I greatly admired Sunil Amrith’s Crossing the Bay of Bengal, a rich and layered history of the cultural, economic and environmental forces that have defined the bay over centuries of trade and migration.

Amish Tripathi
author of the Shiva Trilogy

Of the over 50 books I read this year, the one I liked most was an oldie: Pakistan or the Partition of India by B.R. Ambedkar, a book published in 1940, which was seven years before Partition. The sheer quality of analysis and the foresight he displayed on what he thought would happen, is awe inspiring; even though I must say that there are some things in the book which I disagree with. Frankly, India would have been better served if we had listened to Ambedkar earlier. In my mind, it is a sad reflection on our country that we see Ambedkar only as a backward caste leader or the writer of our Constitution, when, in fact, based on his immense intellect, he should be seen as equivalent to our ancient rishis. I have not read too many of Ambedkar’s books. I intend to correct this mistake this year. I would encourage all of you to do so as well.

Pico Iyer
author of The Man Within My Head

Michael Gorra’s Portrait of a Novel was the most subtle, involving, profound and even life-changing book I read this year. It’s an extended account of how Henry James wrote The Portrait of a Lady, and I am a reader who is no fan of Henry James’ and who would gladly never encounter The Portrait of a Lady again. But Professor Gorra’s approach so deeply opens up larger issues, about the cost of art and the price we pay for knowledge, about the limits and possibilities of sacrifice and devotion, that it made me think differently about almost everything in my life.

Sanjaya Baru
author of The Accidental Prime Minister

I truly enjoyed Henry Kissinger’s World Order. Kissinger offers a panoramic and well informed view of the new balance of power in the world today. He has always been well informed about Europe, the US and China, but I was pleasantly surprised to see an informed and realistic assessment of India as well.

Chris Guillebeau
author of The Art of Non Conformity

My Struggle: Book 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard, the first in a long series, is the most elegant and detailed autobiography I’ve ever come across. Knausgaard records every detail of his life, extracting lessons and meaning without ever talking down to the reader.

David Davidar
co-founder of Aleph Book Company

My book of the year is The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert, like David Quammen, is one of the finest writers on natural history (and nature), and in this book she writes brilliantly about the havoc man is wreaking on nature. She writes that there have been five mass extinctions in the world in the course of the past half a billion years, and we are now on the cusp of the sixth. Terrifyingly, it will be one that we will be responsible for. A book for everyone who is concerned about the future of the planet. Best of all, the book reads like a thriller  Kolbert is such a good writer.

Vijay Seshadri
author of 3 Sections: Poems

I liked Mark Strand’s Collected Poems. Strand is one of the greatest American poets of the past 50 years, and to see his work, which I have known since I was a teenager, in its complete form is a revelation. The scope and sweep of Strand’s imagination are extraordinary, and consistent intensity of the vision over time is just as extraordinary.

Sujata Massey
author of City of Palaces

My most surprising discovery of 2014 was of a “sleeper” book that has been recommended to me by many readers since its original publication in 2010: The Hare With The Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal, a noted British potter. It’s the terrific, true story of the French and Austrian branches of a Russian Jewish banking clan. The Ephrussi family, the author’s family, became cultural leaders in Paris and Vienna and were greatly admired art collectors, collecting not just European art but also carved Japanese figures called netsuke, like the aforementioned hare.

It’s a family history that reads like a humorous romantic novel, and is also the most chilling, convincing explanation of how anti-Semitism grew into the unstoppable force of Nazism. I’m happy to say that this suspenseful, sometimes heartbreaking book is not a tragedy. People endure, as does art; and the miracle for me is that the great-nephew who inherited the netsuke collection isn’t a professional writer, yet has written the best book I came across this year.

Romesh Gunesekara
author of Reef

I have just finished The Impossible Exile by George Prochnik. This is the story Stefan Zweig, a prolific writer from Vienna, who was much celebrated in Europe in the 1930s, but little known until recently in the English-speaking world. This is a book about his life as an exile after Hitler’s rise to power, his “plunge from glory to darkness”. A fascinating account of a cosmopolitan writer’s difficult life told with clarity and engagement.

Bina Shah
author of A Season For Martyrs

I read The Dog by Joseph O’Neill and it really had an impact on me because of its setting. It’s the first literary novel set in Dubai, but like any place in the world, people pay prices and strike bargains and make compromises to survive there. O’Neill looks at Dubai in an extremely realistic, if somewhat cynical fashion; he’s a master at extracting what those prices, bargains and compromises are, unearthing the bones of a society that lie beneath all the glitter and glamour.

Esther David
author of The Walled City

Last month, I read Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, as it deals with an unknown area of Parsi life. It is woven around the secret life of a minority community which preserves its rites and rituals in a multi-cultural country like India. I was fascinated with the narrative, which deals with a lesser known fact about corpse bearers who prepare the dead to be placed in the Towers of Silence. I discovered their trials, tribulations, aspirations and concerns for their community. At the end I felt the author had given a voice to the Towers of Silence.

Bilal Tanweer
author of The Scatter Here is Too Great

This past summer I discovered a splendid book, Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit. It’s part intellectual history survey of walking and walkers, part personal narrative essay and part a meditation on how our cities and lifestyles have changed and what it means for the future. It's also a beautiful reflection on walking. Solnit is an unerringly gorgeous writer. Her prose is light and precise and elegant all the way through.

Mukul Deva
author of And Death Came Calling

Of the dozens books that I read in 2014, I especially enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I loved this book for the way it communicated such a deep plot in such a simple manner. The suspense was amazing and it kept me turning pages, wanting to know what would happen next. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed the character development and the climax.

Shyam Selvadurai
author of Funny Boy

A book I read this year and really liked was Sandip Roy’s Don’t Let Him Know. I read an advanced copy and the book will be released in January 2015. I liked the book because it uses the devise of linked stories to create a composite novel that looks at a family from various points of view. The characters were memorable and I still think of them as if I knew them as real people. The book has a gay character, the father, whose wasted potential is both sad but all too prevalent in South Asia. The book does something important by speaking of these hidden lives. However there is nothing sensational about the book. It is a quiet and complex portrait, very much in the style of Jhumpa Lahiri’s work.

Andaleeb Wajid
author of No time for Goodbyes

I’ve read several books this year but there’s one series that stood out in particular  the Fablehaven series (there are five books in all) by Brandon Mull. I started reading it with a fair amount of scepticism and didn't have much expectations from it, but it surprised me completely. The books kept getting better as they progressed. Also, one of the things I liked most about this series is that it has inspired me to try my hand at writing a genre that is very different for me. I plan to write my own fantasy series with dragons et al soon!

Fatima Bhutto
author of Songs of Blood and Sword: A Daughter’s Memoir

Gary Shtyengart’s memoir, Little Failure, was a delight to read but I loved Beautiful Thing by Sonia Faleiro, a writer who brings new light to narrative non-fiction and whose writing is sharp and incisive, heartbreaking and funny. On the fiction front I was totally captured by The Road by Cormac McCarthy which is one of the best books I’ve ever read, not just this year. My Michael by Amos Oz is a beautiful novel of a marriage, every sentence is perfect.

Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa, which came out this year is part poetry, part music and all radical a really original novel. The Unloved by Deborah Levy kept me up at night, not a line is out of place in this novel. Lastly, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver is a must read. Every short story is more elegantly crafted than the next.

Ashwin Sanghi
author of The Rozabal Line

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, will probably become the definitive history of the digital revolution. A feel-good book that propels you through the greatest achievements of the information technology age. Unputdownable despite the 560 pages!

Rachel Dwyer
author of Picture Abhi Baaki Hai

Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station appeared in 2011 but I caught up with it only this year. The novel takes us through the life of an American student in Madrid, allowing us to delight in the gaps between his narrative viewpoint and the world around him. Fuelled by an alarming range of drugs, legal, prescription and illegal, Adam’s outrageously ridiculous statements about literature and his incompetent translations of Spanish poetry are heralded as profound by the vapid scene around him.

Adrian Levy & Cathy Scott-Clark
author of The Siege

We liked The Forgiven by Lawrence Osborne. Tightly written, evoking an old world of colonialism and a new one of terror. There’s a twist that will keep you guessing. It’s like Paul Bowles’ Sheltering Sky crossed with Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Amitava Kumar
author of A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna

Ayad Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize last year for his play Disgraced. Akhtar is an American writer; his parents migrated from Pakistan in the 1960s. Akhtar’s play is a striking work which belongs to the genre that can be called “the literature of September 11.”
I would put it in a category with books like Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist, Lorraine Adams’ Harbor, and John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man.
Disgraced takes place for the most part around a dinner table in New York’s Upper East Side. Amir, a successful lawyer, who is hiding his Muslim identity, is critical of Islam. He calls the Quran, somewhat viciously but memorably, “one very long hate-mail letter to humanity.” His wife, Emily, a white American woman, is an artist whose paintings rely on Islamic motifs. She is a champion of Islamic achievements in history. At one point, she says, “The Muslims gave us Aristotle.” Amir and his wife invite another couple to dinner at their home. Isaac, who is Jewish, is a curator at the Whitney; his wife, Jory, is African-American and a colleague of Amir’s at the legal firm. During the argument that begins at dinner, insults are traded and stereotypes bared, leading to a violent end that is shattering to witness. I recommend the slim volume published by Back Bay Books.

Lydia Millet
author of Love in Infant Monkeys

I  loved a book of poems called Talkativeness, by Michael Earl Craig, because it was hilarious. I laughed aloud reading it. That’s always a quick way to my heart.
I liked that the poems were funny but that the humour didn’t undermine their thoughtfulness and beauty. I prized it because it was unique.

Saba Imtiaz
author of Karachi, You’re Killing Me!

I  read a lot of great books this year, but the one that’s stayed with me is The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, which is a collection of non-fiction essays. The main reason is how heartbreaking and raw the essays are and how much I could identify with many of the themes, as well as Jamison’s own insights.

Shahnaz Bashir
author of The Half Mother

I really liked The Death of Ivan Illych by Leo Tolstoy. It is one of the most important novels on the subject of death. The novel has treated both, the elision and the deceptive uncertainty of death so amazingly well.