From Sherlock Holmes to Orhan Pamuk, ten wonderful – and colourful – books
Alas, about the only thing that is growing faster than our waist size is the number of reading lists on our radar. Just when we were feeling pleased about wading through the first two books on our spring reading list, we realized that summer reading lists are already out. And we haven’t even begun with #ReadWomen2014, books by coloured authors and re-readings of long lost companions.
With so many things competing for attention, what is a girl to do (apart from drooling over Tyrion Lannister)? For a change, we decided to make a list of books we have loved and cherished – and to celebrate our Colours Issue, we thought we’d focus on those that have a red, black, blue, or more, in their titles. So here’s our selection of 10 books that sparkle as brightly as the colours of a rainbow.
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Anna Sewell’s stirring tale of horses and humans is a colourful depiction of Victorian England – though at its heart it is an ardent tale of compassion and morality. It is now part of children’s reading lists, but Sewell had originally intended to educate people who worked with horses. Interestingly, Sewell started writing the novel when she was 51 years of age, at a time when she was bed ridden – Black Beauty ended up being her only published work.
It is good people who make good places
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith was only 24 when she was anointed by the British press as the publishing sensation of the millennium (this was in 2000) for White Teeth, her debut novel (It took a reading of only 80 pages for her publisher to offer her a humongous advance). Usually we find it difficult to get excited about yet another book documenting the immigrant experience, but Smith approaches the unusual friendship between working class, London born Archie and Bengali Muslim immigrant Samad with creativity and warmth. She also captures the million tales of “cold, wet, miserable” London with tons of chutzpah and a wicked grasp of human nature. In the words of a reviewer, cheers to ” aborted suicides, scooters and the marvels of our lives, whether we’re blessed with a twin, false teeth or neither.”
Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.
Half Of A Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Set against the backdrop of the Nigerian-Biafra Civil War of 1967-70, Half Of A Yellow Sun is a meditation on the price that war extracts from ordinary men and women. Despite writing about a subject that’s close to her heart, Adichie manages to strike the difficult balance between empathy and objectivity. “He (Biafran leader) would come back with justice and salt” – a principal character’s reaction when she learns that a political leader is going abroad to look for peace – is a poignant commentary on the common man’s sentiments about war. Adichie doesn’t provide a happy ending, but she does offer hope – of survival, persistence and renewal, despite all odds.
This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
It is in the nature of an artist is to travel to new places – literally and figuratively – in search of ideas, people and experiences. Nobel prize winning author Orhan Pamuk is one of those rare writers whose books have a common central axis – his beloved Istanbul. In My Name Is Red, Pamuk transports us to 16th century Ottoman Turkey, and gives us a master class on Islamic art and culture. The familiar Pamuk tropes of love, devotion, betrayal and secrecy are also found in this novel – but this is as much a whodunnit as a treatise on Istanbul’s glorious but conflicted past.
Colour is the touch of the eye, music to the deaf, a word out of the darkness.
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
The story of a young lad growing up in a mining community in rural South Wales is an elegy for the lost era of simplicity and innocence. Huw Morgan’s loving evocation of the lush valleys of his childhood is so intense and so vivid, you can feel the sour juice of the blackberry tart running down your fingers; see the “valleys rising up with bits of blue velvet”; taste the meat, sage and thyme of the Brandy Broth and smell the sweet wild flowers in the wind. A wonderful chronicle of a time when lives were simpler – though not any easier – and man lived in harmony with nature.
Sing then. Sing, indeed, with shoulders back, and head up so that song might go to the roof and beyond to the sky.
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s tale of African American women savaged by the men in their lives often makes it to the list of Best Depressing books, but we think that’s unwarranted. Walker is brutally honest in portraying the evils of gender stereotypes and male chauvinism, but she also offers immense hope. Despite the unimaginable misery in their lives, the women in The Colour Purple – Celie, Nettie, Shug – never lose their unwavering faith in God and their steadfast belief in better times. Their unswerving camaraderie is not just a prop – together, they help each other find a better world through education and emancipation. Not an easy read, but an essential one.
Time moves slowly, but passes quickly.
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle
The first time you read the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, you expect a mystery. The second time around, you enjoy the banter between him and Watson. The third time, you take pleasure in the concise language and the observations on human nature. The fourth time…admit it, you’re an addict, just like us!
The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle may not be as complex as The Hound Of The Baskervilles or The Adventure Of The Final Problem, but it’s a great example of Holmes’ unique talent – a highly evolved power of deduction coupled with an astute understanding of human nature. To fully partake of Holmes’ mysteries, we suggest you purchase The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes (with 356 illustrations by Sidney Paget – the original illustrator of the series when they appeared in the British magazine The Strand).
My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people don’t know.
Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
Before the famous, and can we say bunkum, 50 Shades of Grey, came the immensely cleverer Shades of Grey. Who else but the madly inventive Jasper Fforde could dream up a world where social hierarchies (Colortocracy) are defined by the colour that you can see? Dystopian, barmy, radical and amusing, Ffforde’s Chromatocia has spoons playing a life-affirming role and a chicken being declared a vegetable to “assist the dietary requirements of vegetarians”! Our only grudge about this book is that it’s sometimes too smart for its own good. (If you are new to Fforde, do try his Nursery Rhymes and Thursday Next series)
There is no problem on Earth that can’t be ameliorated by a hot bath and a cup of tea.
The Golden Compass / Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
Many moons before Harry Potter, Hermoine Granger & Ron Weasly, there was the impulsive Lyra “Silvertongue” Belacqua and the exceedingly brave Will Parry. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of those rare books that offer equal pleasure to young adults and err, full grown adults. In The Golden Compass (titled Northern Lights outside the US), the first book of the trilogy, we meet the precocious Lyra as she sets off to the top of the world to rescue her best friend, Roger, with the help of an exiled bear and a balloonist. A wonderful tale of loyalty and courage.
You cannot change what you are, only what you do
Also read : The Amber Spyglass, the third book in the trilogy
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Stanley Kubrick’s celluloid dramatization of A Clockwork Orange often makes it to Top 100 movie lists, but few people have read the book – especially those who have watched the movie! Burgess created a huge stir with his dramatically violent passages and usage of make-believe teenage slang (which he called “Nadsat”), and he manages to pack a heavy punch in the compact 210 pages. 15 year old Alex rules the city after dark, committing crimes at will with his fellow “droogs”. He is then taken in by the state to be reformed, but does that really help? Burgess’ intention is straightforward – ” “Is it better for a man to have chosen evil than to have good imposed upon him?” But the violence is not easy to digest, nor is the language easy to settle into – so this is one of those books that you’ll either love or hate.
Each man kills the thing he loves
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