From the creator of When Harry Met Sally, You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle and Julie and Julia, comes an anthology of essays about love, ageing and life lessons. Sharp, witty and hilarious, Nora Ephron is not only a feminist icon that I’ve adored all my life, but she is also the woman who collaborated with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal to create the infamous diner scene “I’ll have what she’s having”.
If that isn’t enough to make you fall head over heels in love with her, try reading the first essay on how she feels about:
It isn’t just the fact that she was a brilliant journalist and critically acclaimed screenwriter; it was that she truly lived each moment as if it was her last.
If you like, you can get your copy of I Feel Bad About My Neck here.
I’ll be honest; I found out about this book because a popular social media influencer would keep posting pictures of this book with a cup of coffee over and over again. There had to be something special about it because she was not getting paid to read it and YouTube stars rarely ever do that. I’m so glad I got this book.
“Ikigai” is a Japanese concept which tells us that the key to living a long and happy life is about finding the perfect synthesis between what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs and what you can get paid for.
The authors travelled to Okinawa, Japan, which has the highest number of centenarians in the world. Everything from diet, exercise, lifestyle, recreation and community is discussed and it gives an incredible insight into living a longer and more fulfilled life. I’ve had no trouble at all in following their advice and it has made it easier for me to focus on myself during an extremely difficult year.
You can get your copy of Ikigai here.
Why had no one ever told me about the adventures of the packhorse librarians? You think you’ve read it all and then you find this perfect piece of historical fiction based on the true account of four women in rural Kentucky from the 1800s who were running a mobile library for the edification of the neighbourhood.
Alice Wright is a simple, quiet, shy girl who marries young, following a whirlwind romance and moves to Kentucky to be with her husband. The rural town, however, is no different from her oppressive life back in England, which she is so desperately trying to escape.
Turns out, being ignored as a single woman is the same as being ignored as a married one and things seem bleak until she meets the local scoundrel Marjorie O’Hare and the sisterhood of the travelling librarians. What starts as a religious outreach programme to bring the Bible to the local community ends up becoming a life-changing journey for Alice as the women fight tooth and nail against corruption, ignorance and misogyny.
I couldn’t imagine how a town so small could hold so many conflicting ideas about womanhood. Are they mothers, wives and daughters? Are they church-going, God-fearing and rigidly devout? Or are they in fact, human beings with hopes, dreams and, most of all, desires?
In the end, this book is about the love of books. It is an ode to reading and how one book can bring you so much joy.
You can get your copy of The Giver Of Stars here.
I am not one for historical biographies and this may very well have been my first one, but after watching Timothy Spall in The King’s Speech, Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour and John Lithgow in The Crown, I could not help but be fascinated by Winston Churchill. You may have quoted him many times, but you will never know this man until you read this book. I believe it is the definitive biography of Churchill about the monumental role he played in a very pivotal moment in history, World War II.
There are no words to describe the insane zest for life Churchill had. His joie de vivre, gumption, optimism, obsession with technology and passion for politics. The chapter that stood out for me was the bombing of St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry during a German air raid on the night of 14 November, 1940. As Churchill and his entourage made their way through the rubble mere hours after the massive attack, one of the locals shouted, “Get those bastards Winnie!”, at which he whirled around, raised his fist and said, “You leave that to me!”.
What you realise after reading this epic saga is that until the very end, Hitler could never truly break Churchill.
You can get your copy of The Splendid and The Vile here.
Set in the 50s, this is classic horror done with a touch of magic realism. Noemi Taboada is an heiress, gorgeous debutante and high society hostess who is pursuing a degree in anthropology and chasing men when she gets a disturbing letter from her cousin begging her to come and rescue her from an ill-fated marriage with an English aristocrat.
Following the strict orders of her father, a pragmatic businessman who does not want to risk bringing dishonour to the family name, Noemi is sent to High Place, a gloomy mansion with a sepulchral cemetery and a haunted coal mine. Noemi is a reluctant heroine, far too cynical and rebellious to comprehend what is going on at High Place until it is too late. As it transpires, once you’re a guest of High Place, it becomes impossible to leave. It is forbidden.
It might sound a little clichéd when a saviour finds herself in need of saving instead, but what makes this novel terrifying is how it intertwines dreams, family drama and mycology. And yes, mycology is the study of fungi.
You can get your copy of Mexican Gothic here.
It might seem odd that so far I’ve neglected to mention any Indian authors, but I’m far more critical of them than I am of foreigners. This book, however, was an education. Tara Kaushal is a survivor of child rape, a seasoned journalist and a woman on a mission who went undercover to interview seven violent offenders accused or convicted of rape. Her subjects were not aware of her research and were, therefore, fairly candid about their crimes.
She also spoke to police officers, mental health professionals, women’s rights activists and heads of non-governmental organisations to put together the ultimate case study on the prevalence of violence against women in India and its primary causes. While the list is not exhaustive, it is certainly illuminating as she explores crimes committed against women across socio-economic barriers, religion, caste, class and status.
It’s the only research-based, and field work-centred novel that is part social commentary and part psychoanalysis of toxic masculinity in India. For anyone who is an advocate for gender equality, I highly recommend this book and I suggest making your notes as you go along because this is going to be a better experience than any gender justice lecture you’ve attended in your life.
You can get your copy of Why Men Rape here.
So I have to start by saying that growing up, one of my favourite films was V for Vendetta and I had absolutely no idea that it was so greatly inspired by this. George Orwell’s magnum opus is a dystopian novel set in 1984 London, or what used to be London but is now called Airstrip One which is a small but central part of the State of Oceania.
Orwell’s novel takes a hard look at totalitarianism, mass surveillance, socialism and the extinction of human emotions. What makes it truly unputdownable is that even though it is about an authoritarian government ruling over its people with an iron fist (those who do not conform are “vaporised”, another word for exterminated), at the heart of it, it is a love story.
I won’t give it away, but what makes this science fiction novel worth reading is that it was one of the few classic novels that lived up to its name. I have been disappointed too many times in the past after referring to those “100 must-read classics of all time” and finding nothing that I could enjoy. I took a bit of a risk trying this one and it paid off.
It may be a sign of the times that I found comfort in this story because I now know that my fears about the current state of human rights are well-founded. At least in the world of fiction, I could see that human will is indomitable.
You can get your copy of 1984 here.
Probably the only good thing this pandemic has taught us is to start having honest conversations about mental health. Nora Seed is a shop assistant in Bedford, Bedfordshire. She’s struggling with the big D: Depression. She’s lost her mother to cancer. She is estranged from her brother, no longer in touch with her best friend, broken off her engagement with her fiancé and, today, her cat just died. She makes the ultimate decision of her life: to end it. Little does she know that one end is just another beginning.
Nora finds herself hovering between life and death (possibly having a neurological episode, or transcending this dimension?) at a library. With the help of an old friend, she must now confront all her biggest regrets and explore the different directions her life could’ve taken by reconsidering all her choices.
Is there a universe in which Nora could’ve lived up to her potential? Could she have been an Olympic swimmer? A successful musician? A good wife? These are no longer wishful thoughts. She will get the chance to live alternate versions of her own life until she finds the right one. But which one will it be? And more importantly, will it make her happy?
I’m a big fan of Matt Haig because of the amazing work he’s doing for mental health and this masterpiece is just another step in your self-healing journey.
You can get your copy of The Midnight Library here.
Don’t lie; at some point, you have shared a Rumi quote and come off as deeply spiritual. If you haven’t, what have you been doing on the internet? Farrukh Dhondy’s latest translation gives us Rumi’s most famous works and I know you’ll agree with me when I say that poetry is the soul’s elixir. Rumi’s themes are still incredibly popular because love, loss, God, philosophy, existence and human suffering continue to mystify people in the 21st century.
If you are one of those lost souls looking for answers to questions you haven’t even begun to phrase in the literary works of Paulo Coelho or Khaled Hosseini and your heart is raw from the constant chafing of life’s hard edges. This book will be a soothing balm, an oasis in the desert, a port in the storm. For me, it was like returning to a lover, because only Rumi can make me feel this way.
You can get your copy of Rumi here.
This is last on my list because I just finished it so do not let the order of the books diminish the weight of my message: read it. If the glowing reviews in the New York Times and Washington Post will not sway you, then let me make my case. Majumdar is not the next Jhumpa Lahiri; she is the first Megha Majumdar.
Her debut novel expertly weaves the stories of three characters, Jivan, a shopgirl at Pantaloons, Lovely, a transgender woman and PT Sir, the local physical education school teacher. Based in Calcutta, the novel begins with a terrorist attack where a local train is burnt down, leading to the loss of hundreds of lives and Jivan’s arrest, following her inflammatory anti-government post on Facebook.
Her high-profile trial launches the careers of Lovely, who aspires to be an actress and PT Sir, who finds a place among the ranks of the opposition party. But what is the ethical cost? Will an innocent woman’s life be spared in the pursuit of justice or will she be sacrificed at the altar of personal ambition?
More than anything, this book provides us with a brutal portrayal of the rise of extremist nationalism, communal violence, media sensationalism and mob-mentality. It should come as no surprise that the Indian media has downplayed its release and heavily criticised this work of art. Just remember, art mirrors life.
You can get your copy of A Burning, here.