The Year Gone By: 2009

The count of books I read this year has been abysmally low. I can’t even blame it on increased online reading, though I have to admit that facebook and twitter now occupy much more time and space than blogging did. I am a latecomer particularly to twitter, but summarizing ideas and comments into a 140 character limit is a challenge of sorts and whatever little I have tweeted has been fun.On the reading front, in fiction, Senselessness by Horacio Moya has been a welcome introduction to the Salvadorean writer. It is a novella in the genre of the political novel. The amazing thing about Moya’s treatment is that politics does not enter into the narrative at all and yet it very vividly conveys the nausea of the Guatemalan massacre in the 1980s.

Norwegian writer Per Patterson’s Out Stealing Horses that won many accolades a couple of years back provided a scintillating view of the snow covered country and its life. All stories, as they say, have been written and the only innovation is the manner in which they are told. This is very true about this novel, and I would highly recommend for anyone to read this very humane and humanizing story.
Apart from this short list of two works of fiction, the only other one I read related to fiction was How Proust can change your life by Alain Bottonde. The initial few chapters were quite gripping as Bottonde interleaves the personal story of Marcel Proust with episodes and quotes from Proust’s novels. My unfamiliarity with much of Proust’s writings perhaps led me to abandon it midway.

Another masterpiece, the East German Fred Wander’s 1971 novel, The Seventh Well remained unread and has moved into my 2010’s to read list.

Two books in an unusual series, a series of biographies of Books that Changed the World, made for an absorbing read. One of them was on Das Capital, by Francis Wheen, whose biography of Karl Marx was the first one to be published in the West after the collapse of Soviet style ‘socialism’, the other being that of Charles Darwin’s equally world changing work, Origin of Species. On a related note, I re- read parts of John Foster’s masterpiece, Marx’s Ecology.

PC Joshi’s welcome biography was an accidental read, given to me by my friend and comrade PPC Joshi who was named after PC Joshi himself and whose father achieved a heroic martyrdom during the Telengana peasant uprising of 1948. It’s review appeared on this blog some time back. PPC Joshi is also an independent publisher and published my friend Rahul Banerjee’s book Recovering the Lost Tongue: A Saga of Environmental Struggles earlier last year.

This year, I changed my opinion about e-readers, and in that spirit, I need to mention three works that I managed to read in their pdf formats (don’t have an ereader as yet!). One of them is Hymn to the Buddha written by the 3rd century poet Matrceta. The book played a big role in popularizing Buddhism during its time and undoubtedly remains timeless. Cloud and Water, a collection of poems by the Chinese Buddhist poet Hsing Yun was also a pleasant reading.

Another ebook, Causality and Emptiness: The Wisdom of Nagarjuna by Dr. Peter Della Santina proved a very good introduction to the Buddhist philosopher. Nagarjuna’s key concept of shunyata is eerily reminiscent of the existentialist school of philosophy that includes Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus. Nagarjuna concerned himself with questions that the Buddha had brushed aside, concerned as the latter was with questions of living and conduct. A key reason for the popularity of Mahayana Buddhism was the segregation of truth into two by Nagarjuna- the absolute and the instrumental, the latter being much easier for the layman to follow. Nagarjuna wrote what in today’s language can be called ‘Buddhism for Dummies’. It explains the fundamental concepts of the religion in just a few pages. Online version of Dr. Santina’s books is available here (pdf).

Two books, however, need a special mention. One of them is Ajoy Bose’s biography of Mayawati- Behenji on which I have based a previous post defending the construction of statues of Kanshi Ram and herself, along with Dr Ambedkar’s in Uttar Pradesh. It is a sympathetic, yet objective, though hurriedly prepared work. It brings to the English reading public the life story of a person who in many ways is more representative of an India than many among them may know about.

The last work, and one that rises head and shoulders above all the rest is The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar, that made me aware of the most important writings of Dr. Ambedkar. I have based an earlier post on some of the articles contained in this book. However, the import of this book is far more. When I look back at the last ten years, this is one of those few books that have changed my ideas not only fundamentally, but have made me make a U- turn on some pertinent issues that I have thought about and to some extent involved myself with.

This incidentally is the fifth consecutive year of writing an annual post on my readings. The links to previous years end of year posts appear below.



Author: bhupinder singh

an occasional blogger

10 thoughts on “The Year Gone By: 2009”

  1. i had missed your earlier post on the hymn to the buddha and looked it up this time. it is indeed very good. the basic difficulty with the buddha’s teachings has always been there atheism. but nevertheless there is something in his teachings that nevertheless inspires people even if sometimes their import is not fully imbibed. i am surprised that you discovered ambedkar so late!

    1. I read Dhananjay Keer’s bio of Ambedkar about 10 years back and have intermittently read his works in bits and pieces, but this collection is the first one where I had opportunity to read him comprehensively. As for Buddhism, I guess it is important not so much for what it is, but for being an early revolt against Brahmanical Hinduism.

  2. given that the early revolt was later swamped what is more important is that it still inspires a variety of people in the modern world. there are a lot of conscious buddhists around.

    1. Of course. There are elements in Buddhism that are very relevant- much more than many other religions, particularly its atheism, its focus on human conduct as well as the concept of the middle path. However, it is after all a religion, and comes with all its pitfalls.

  3. Wow, this post made me want to think back to the fiction books I read in 2009… Which is quite a daunting task… I’m gonna look into some of the books you mention here, since your review of them is interesting. One nice book I read last year was the Bastard of Istanbul by elif shafak. A very interesting story about diversity spanning continents. I also quite enjoyed a short and easy little book entitled A Concise English-Chinese Dictionary for Lovers, yet another book about the difficulties of diversity.

  4. Took up your recommendation for Valerian Rodrigues’ book. It is indeed a fabulous collection! Ambedkar’s works are just too voluminous and the form of the books as published by Govt is not appealing. This book overcomes all the shortcomings and makes Ambedkar’s writing truly accessible. The Democracy essay is just a classic and as he himself says it should be hung on a wall to read daily.
    The others are also good. A perfect 101 book for Ambedkar’ writings 🙂
    Thank you Bhupinder!

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