In December, it is the custom of taste-makers everywhere to create lists of the ten best things of the year. Taste-makers, aware that they will be called upon to perform this task, work hard throughout the year winnowing through possible entries into this category so they will be prepared by December to do their duty by the public. We are sad to report that no one at Chapati Mystery has properly planned ahead for the preparation of lists of the best things of 2010. But when we read lists drawn up by other people, and find names of authors we have never heard of such as a gentleman named Jonathan Franzen, we feel it is incumbent on us to create a list of our own. We must admit we were not paying much attention to whether or not the books we were reading were published in 2010. We could perhaps instead attempt to make a list of ten best movies, or ten best Broadway musicals, but we feel we have not engaged with these media with sufficient rigor. And so, with all good holiday cheer, we bring you instead our list of the ten best books we happened to read in 2010, regardless of when they were published.
(This list is alphabetically, and should not be taken as a countdown, or up)
- Ali, Agha Shahid, The Veiled Suite: The Collected Poems. The first time I carried it on the S-Bahn, I remember complaining about its heft – and its hard-cover. Then I opened it randomly: We shall meet again, in Srinagar,/by the gates of the Villa of Peace,/our hands blossoming into fists/till the soldiers return the keys/and disappear. Again we’ll enter/our last world, the first that vanished/in our absence from the broken city. I have never carried a lighter book with me. On ride after ride, I have reached for it, read a poem, a half-poem, two verses, a hint of a mood. Long ago, in another city, faced with another new beginning, I approached Faiz as a talisman, a mantra. This hardcover of Agha Shahid Ali fits the contours of my hands. (sepoy)
- Asad, Talat & Mahmood, Saba, Is Critique Secular? Those crazy kids are at it again! Formidable scholars Asad and Mahmood give us the low-down on secularism, critique and the Danish Cartoontroversy. Make yourself the toast of any cocktail party when you smite down fellow party-goers’ paeans to secular critique with these erudite arguments! Additional essays by Judith Butler and Wendy Brown can be skipped. (lapata)
- Devadasan, Rashmi Ruth, Kumari Loves a Monster. From the awesomeness that is Blaft comes a little jewel-like picture book full of Kodak moments documenting the happy romances of curvaceous damsels and a wide variety of monsters. The illustrations by Shyam are what make this a must-have item for any coffee table. (lapata)
- DeWitt, Helen. The Last Samurai. This book, urged upon me by Jessa, rocked my world. Speechless, it made me. (sepoy)
- Jalib, Habib. Kulliyat/Collected Poems. Zamana thak giya, Jalib hi tanha/wafa kay rastay par chal raha hai. ENUFF SAID. (sepoy)
- Kumar, Amitava, Nobody Does the Right Thing. Much cyber-ink has already been spilled in these pages about this novel (published under the title Home Products in India). Suffice it to say, this is the great realist novel of Bihar you never realized you were missing. Oh, plus, it’s really well written, too! (lapata)
- Life’s Too Short Literary Review. Had it just about up to here with the Granta issue on Pakistan, and even more so, discussions of the Granta issue on Pakistan? The antidote is in! This slim volume of terrifying (but not terrorist-centric) power is full of engrossing and original stories. As a major bonus, there’s also a translation from Urdu of lesbian erotica by celebrated author Mohammed Hanif. (lapata)
- Lear, Jonathan. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Both this and Mumford, I read before, but didn’t read before, if that makes sense. This book has truly asked me some seriously hard questions – which I have no answers for, but which I might spend a decade or so trying to answer. (sepoy)
- Mumford, Lewis. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. I literally quote this at cocktail parties. Ok, correction. I have not been invited to a cocktail party in years – but I quote this at pubs. Usually, people simply look at me “oh hai, crazy academic person.” But they don’t know that this 1968 classic is an astoundingly dark piece of work: The palace: the exchequer: the prison: the mad-house – what four buildings could more completely sum up the new order or better symbolize the main features of its political life. These were the dominants. Between them stretched the blankly repetitive façades; and behind those façades the forgotten and denied parts of life somehow went on.
- Yashpal, This is not that Dawn. Did I mention that this novel is the War and Peace of Hindi literature? Oh yes, I did.