20 Books you Should’ve Read by Now
Reading and writing in the English language is a growing phenomenon in the country today. There are also several literary organizations pushing the boundaries to increase readership among the new generation.
Here are 20 books recommended by well-known Nepali authors and literary personalities as well as avid readers.
Saguna Shah (5 lesser-known books from South Asian female writers)
Saguna Shah is an Educator. Best known for her personal memoir in Telling a Tale (2010), her writings have been published in various journals and magazines. She is the Founder of bOOkahOlics; a forum promoting literature and readership in Nepal.
1. My Feudal Lord (1991) by Tehmina Durrani
It is believed that privileged women have good upbringing and education and hence, suffer less. Durrani's novel Blasphemy was quite intriguing. With this autobiography Durrani has broken the cultural, political and feudal hegemony by breaking her silence.
Brought up in a dysfunctional family, Durrani has a hard time with her overtly dominating mother. For a society that is conventional and rigid in many regards, Durrani is blasphemous when she falls under the charm of the reigning politician Mustafa Khar, leaving behind her husband Anees who belongs to a lower social standing. Exceptionally delusional, Durrani is unable to fathom the dual personality of Mustafa Khar in public and private spheres. Her love, patience and benevolence are rewarded only by Mustafa's ungratefulness, infidelity and betrayal.
As one reads, it feels as if Durrani has been exaggerating at times. Thus, despite feeling bad for the author, the reader will tend to hold her responsible for her own condition. However, My Feudal Lord can be called a pivotal book in which Durrani breaks her silence and frees many voices from the double standards of society.
2. Calcutta Exile (2011) by Bunny Suraiya
Bunny Suraiya’s Calcutta Exile is an adeptly crafted novel that addresses the social and cultural dilemma of the inhabitants of Calcutta (now Kolkata), especially of the Armenians, Jews, Muslims, and Anglo-Indians who settled there in large numbers. For most of them, Calcutta was their home until the British Raj crumbled and soon they were left uncertain of their future, in pursuit of their imaginary homelands. The theme of exile and the quest for identity lies at the core of this magnificently vivid novel. Colonialism from the perspective of the colonizers has always been the mainstream of critical discourse but in Calcutta Exile, the writer seems to have taken a different stance. It is the colonizer who is at the receiving end.
3. Fragments of Riversong (2013) by Farah Ghuznavi
Farah Ghuznavi's collection of 12 shorts stories, some long and others flash fictions, is one of the most intriguing collection of stories that conjures up vivid imagery and shades of the contemporary Bangladesh. Ghuznavi's characters are real life people whose weaknesses/strengths lead to emotions such as joy, sorrow, trials and triumphs. Fragments of Riversong hauntingly remains in the memory of the readers long after one finishes the book. A beautiful book!
4. In Other Words (2015) by Jhumpa Lahiri
I loved Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake and The Lowland immensely. So when it came to this translated autobiography that chronicled her passion for the Italian language, I couldn't lay my hands off the book. In Other Words is the journey of a passionate author who is seeking a new voice to express herself through a linguistic revolution trying to break her own dominant language; an extremely passionate and honest book.
5. These Fine lines, edited by Ishita Giri
These Fine Lines is a collection of poems by young Nepali women from different walks of life who share an immense love for the power of words. At a time when prose has the best market value, These Fine Lines proves that poems are not dead but still thrive amidst literary enthusiasts. Divided into five sections thematically, These Fine Lines are voices of dreams and despair, space and identity, intimate tales and confessions, longing and desire and much more. One of the most empowering reads that every girl needs to read.
Pranaya SJB Rana ( Five essential reads from female writers )
Pranaya SJB Rana is the author of City of Dreams: Stories (2015).
1. The Second Sex (1949) by Simone de Beauvoir
“The problem of woman has always been a problem of men” wrote Simone de Beauvoir in this seminal treatise that sparked second wave feminism in the west. The ‘problem of woman’, as Beauvoir put it, had little to do with woman herself but rather the many ways in which men, through domination and subjugation, had circumscribed what a woman could be. Parts scathing critique and parts historical and cultural genealogy, The Second Sex is essential reading for anyone who desires an understanding of how woman as a category came into being. While it might sound dated to our modern ears, Beauvoir showed how woman and femininity were not givens but rather, socio-cultural constructions, succinctly put in her now-famous pronouncement, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
The Second Sex is by no means an easy text. It is intellectual, abstract and polemical. It must be read against itself and engaged with in light of all that it has inspired, not least of which was Betty Friedman’s The Feminine Mystique.
2. Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus (1823) by Mary Shelley
There are perhaps a few who might not be familiar with the tale of Frankenstein, although most tend to confuse Frankenstein for the name of the ‘monster’ when it is really the name of the creator, Victor Frankenstein, who animates the dead.
This early tale, perhaps the first science fiction story, was begun by Mary Shelley when she was 16 and published when she was 20. It takes a somewhat harsh view of humanity, represented by Frankenstein himself and the hordes of peasants who view the nameless creation as a ‘monster’ when he is a thinking, feeling being, shunned by his ‘father’ and seeking only to understand his own self.
It is a poignant allegory, far from the horrors it has inspired. In essence, it is the story of a child, brought unwilling and uncomprehending into the world, yearning only for the love of his father.
3. White Teeth (1999) by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith set the literary world aflame with White Teeth, her debut novel. With its sweeping narrative, its endearingly flawed characters and its unerring ear for the varying rhythms of dialogue and language, White Teeth is a book to be savored.
It has its share of critics -- primarily in James Wood’s Human, All Too Human essay where he lambasted the writing of authors like Smith as ‘hysterical realism’ – but the brilliance of White Teeth is its ability to capture that very hysteria which characterizes the postmodern globalized world. With its array of characters that spans age, ethnicity and gender, the book is a hyperreal culmination of what Dostoevsky pioneered so brilliantly – multiperspectivity.
White Teeth is an immigrant novel and it throws the perspective of so many immigrants into sharp relief. All that aside, I would recommend this book for the sheer pleasure of reading it. Zadie Smith’s language leaps and bounds in an infectious rhythm that leaves you dizzy. It is an achievement.
4. The Vegetarian (2007) by Han Kang
The Vegetarian became a recent phenomenon after winning the Man Booker Prize. This book, by South Korean writer Han Kang, is a singular one in that it is unlike any other book I have ever read. Its themes have been well-trod but its presentation is stark and at times, bizarre.
Though written in an understated and minimalist style, there is a palpable tension brimming underneath the surface. The prose follows the narrative closely, rising and falling in arcs. What begins as a simple tale of a young wife who one day refuses to eat meat morphs into a surreal story where the lines between plant and animal slowly and steadily blur. Many lines are crossed and a fight to preserve a gustatory preference becomes one that challenges patriarchy, society and the limits of what it means to be human. All the while there is sensual imagery, full of plants and leaves and roots and flowers. This is certainly an uncomfortable book but an unforgettable one at that.
5. Fun Home (2006) by Alison Bechdel
Long gone are the days when comics were the sole province of children. With works like Maus, Watchmen and Persepolis having paved the way, comics, or graphic novels, have come into their own. They are now as rich and literary as any novel, perhaps even more so, given the interplay of word and image. Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a giant addition to that canon of literary graphic novels, one that is layered, humorous and quietly devastating.
Fun Home is uniquely a graphic novel; it couldn’t be told as a novel since so much of its deftness comes from its beautiful art. It is an autobiography of sorts, telling the tale of Alison and her father, exploring sexual identity, gender, suicide and family. All these themes are explored with recourse to countless pieces of literature, cementing the central role of literature and stories in exploring and even creating the self. This is a book about many things but at heart, it is a book about stories, the ones we tell others and the ones we tell ourselves.
Rabi Thapa (Five books to reset your place in the world)
Rabi Thapa is the editor of La.lit, a literary magazine. He is the author of two books: Nothing to Declare (2011) and Thamel: Dark Star of Kathmandu (2016).
1. The Vegetarian (2007), by Han Kang
The Vegetarian, by Han Kang, is not even about food. But the manner in which the protagonist refuses first meat, then any sustenance at all, ultimately aspiring (in both senses) towards a plant-like existence, is terrifying. For someone who had just given up meat, it was (excuse the pun) too close to the bone. Translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith, Kang’s prose is scintillating and charged with an eroticism and physicality that’s almost unbearable. The Vegetarian would be a prime candidate for an art house adaptation (and indeed, I’ve just found out it’s already been done), except it’s a perfect companion piece – to be read and imagined – for the visceral horrors of the French film Raw.
2. Shadow Country (2008), by Peter Matthiessen
Peter Matthiessen is better known in these parts as the author of Snow Leopard, an occasionally hard-going hybrid of travelogue, Zen philosophy and natural history set in Dolpo. But Shadow Country may be his masterpiece. This colossal, semi-fictional history of 19th-century Florida pioneer Edgar “Bloody” Watson – clocking in at 900 pages even after the three original parts were combined – is as far away from the thin air of the Himalayas, or indeed the Wild West, as you can conceive. But wallow a few pages into the humid heat of the Everglades, and you’ll be hooked like a hobo on moonshine, of which there are plenty in Shadow Country.
3. The Wake (2014), by Paul Kingsnorth
I wouldn’t recommend a book written in an imaginary language – essentially a simplified form of Old English – were the results not so devastating. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, is a first-person account of a rebel fighting the 11th-century Norman invaders. But this is less history and more incantation, as the deranged Buccmaster rages against the change foisted on him and his beloved Fens, and battles his own soul. Summoning up the old gods, he has to contend with the French as well as the increasingly skeptical Green Men he recruits to his cause. Like Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting, a little perseverance in the first few pages will take you a long way into Buccmaster’s heart of darkness.
4. Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville
Moby Dick is one of those tomes that were it not already on my Kindle on a slow day, I might never have begun. But boy, does Herman Melville know writing. Yes, there’s a lot about whaling that will be of no practical use to you whatsoever, and a modern editor would trim off the chapters like flesh off blubber, but this madcap tale of a one-legged sailor possessed by vengeance against the white whale who ‘dismasted’ him is all the richer for it. For a book written in the mid-nineteenth century about a crew that includes a South Sea cannibal, a Native American and an African, the protagonist’s views are remarkably liberal and humanistic, and there’s as much wit and wisdom as could fit in the world bound round by the watery depths through which the Pequod plows its fateful course. Well worth the journey.
5. Sumnima (1969) by B.P. Koirala
There’s plenty of room to critique B.P. Koirala’s Sumnima for the deterministic dichotomy it imposes upon its narrative of boy meets girl, wherein the indigenous Kirats self-identify with the base earth and Brahmin priests are of the air. But in its brave pairing of the star-crossed Sumnima and Somdatta, and its examination of the consequences of idealizing either nature or culture, it’s much more than just a wrenching tale of love and loss. Ultimately, you feel sorry for Somdatta and his arid asceticism…and as you move further away from nature in self-generated bubbles of social media, you may feel sorry for yourself, too.
Arijit Lal Shrestha (5 books on entrepreneurship)
Arjit Lal Shrestha is the Director of Sulux Centre, the authorised distributor of luxury Swiss watch brands in Nepal. He is also the Chairman of Sulux Holding company which specializes in commercial property development.
1. Rich Dad Poor Dad (1997) by Robert Kiyosaki & Sharon Lechter
One of my favorite books would be Rich Dad Poor Dad, one of the first books I'd read. Based on the author's personal life experience, it compares the life lessons he was taught by his father and his godfather. His father being a government worker always encouraged him to study, get high grades and land up a well-paying job, whereas, his godfather taught him that college education is not mandatory and encouraged him to be an opportunist instead.
In Rich Dad Poor Dad, the author tries to illustrate that entrepreneurship is encouraged by the upbringing of the family. The reason why I would recommend this book is that it tells its readers about teaching entrepreneurship to oneself and to the new generation.
2. Think and Grow Rich (1937), by Napoleon Hill
Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill is also one of my favorite books. It was first written in 1937 and is still one of the most read books in the market today.
The author illustrates how to adapt and become successful by giving lessons on 13 steps that motivates the readers’ entrepreneurship dream. There are so many things we do and little habits that we are not aware of; this book teaches us to tailor our habits perfectly to be more aware and attract wealth.
3. The Virgin Way (2014) by Sir Richard Branson
I would have to say that Sir Richard Branson's books are the most fun to read. My favorite quote from this book is when Sir Richard Branson quotes Sir Winston Churchill : "A good speech should be like a woman's skirt: Long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest". In The Virgin Way, Branson talks about how and what type of decisions he has made in different situations and illustrates this with beautiful examples. I would definitely recommend The Virgin Way, if you want management tips from the billionaire himself.
4. Corporate Chanakya (2010) by Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai
Another Interesting book I've read has to be Corporate Chanakya by Dr. Radhakrishnan Pillai. Kautilya or Chankya was one of the greatest teachers, economist and philosopher in history. The author has achieved a doctorate degree in a book written by the great Chanakya called "The Arthashastra" or Economics. I found it very interesting as the author takes lessons from this ancient book Arthashastra and tries to merge it with modern day management. A national best seller, this would definitely be a book I would recommend.
5. The Secret (2006) by Rhonda Byrne
The Secret by Rhonda Byrne is yet another book you need to put in your shelf. This book focuses on a theory called The Law of Attraction and teaches the reader that if you want and desire something, you will definitely attract it, but there are certain steps and guidelines that you will need to follow. The author gives lessons on money, relationship, health, the world, life and how you should visualize and see things differently on all of these topics. I would definitely recommend this book as it can help readers get a more positive perspective.