All the write choices
Four novelists tell us why they write, what inspires them, and what books you should be reading too
If you know anything about HT Brunch, you know we’re nuts about books. And we’ve been holding the #BrunchBookChallenge every year since 2014. Each year we set ourselves reading targets: 24 books: check. 48 books: check. More Indian authors, more women writers, more classics, more unfamiliar genres: all checked. And along the way, we’ve found a priceless community of readers and writers.
What’s the plan for 2023? Aha. Here’s where the plot thickens! This year’s challenge is a reboot. Read 24 books before the year ends. And try to read as diversely as possible. Fat novels, slim novellas, Indian-language translations, Russian sci-fi, Chilean magical realism, Botswanan detective series, Iranian graphic novels, Pakistani memoirs, American explainers – it’s all good.
Each time you finish a book, tag @HTBrunch on Twitter and Instagram using #BrunchBookChallenge. We’ll cheer you on, push you to read more, help you connect to your favourite authors and fans, maybe even send you free books.
Where do you start? Four top fiction writers recommend the titles they’ve loved. Perhaps you might too. Dig in!
I love narratives that intertwine:Priyanka Khanna
By Urvee Modwel
“At the age of seven, my mother gave me a journal to write in, I think that ignited my love for writing,” recalls Khanna, 41. “I also think it showed me the power of thought and expression; journalling every day is rightly touted as a way to practice self-care and to gain clarity.”
Khanna’s first article was published when she was 16. She then spent over a decade writing and editing fashion pieces. She described her first novel, All The Right People (2022), as being, “at its heart, a story of female friendship and of three women finding their own way”.
Life does indeed come full circle. “My happy place now is curled up on my favourite couch with a good book, a cup of coffee and my daughter, reading beside me,” Khanna says.
Custom of The Country (1913) by Edith Wharton
“ I loved how the main character in this novel is so transparent in her objectives. Through her, Wharton provides a scathing, incisive look at American society, that is relevant even today, across the world.”
A Burning (2020) by Megha Majumdar
“I read this while I was writing my own book. Apart from how brilliant the subtext is, I loved its dynamic pace. It really is for the Netflix binge-watching generation.”
Crazy Rich Asians (2013) by Kevin Kwan
“How fun was this book! It could have easily been set in India!”
Girl, Woman, Other (2019) by Bernadine Evaristo
“I just finished this last week. I love narratives that intertwine, and this is a masterclass in the technique.”
Milk Teeth (2018) by Amrita Mahale
“I’m a Bombay girl through and through. I can’t remember a book in the recent past that so beautifully captured how this city inspires frustration and awe in equal measure.”
Fiction lets your mind run free: Tarun Mehrishi
By Urvee Modwel
“Growing up, we couldn’t afford to buy all the books I wanted to read, so I would force my friends to issue books on their library cards so that I had enough books for that week,” says Tarun Mehrishi, 39. “My favourites kept changing. I’d believe that there were no smarter people than the Famous Five, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. That changed to Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Poirot when I got a little older. Then, on to Jack Higgins and Alistair Maclean and eventually on to Sidney Sheldon, Robert Ludlum, Michael Crichton and John Grisham through college.”
But it was The Call of The Wild (1903) that changed everything. “As a child, I could clearly picture myself in the snow, imagine the campfires, the fights with other dogs and all the other experiences that Buck goes through in such a short book,” he recalls. His first book, The Portrait of a Secret, a thriller inspired by true events, is out this month.
Micro (2011) by Michael Crichton
“It’s among his less appreciated works. It envisions a world from a micro size and describes challenges that no person would likely have thought of.”
The Three-Body Problem (2008) by Cixin Liu
“This is brilliant science fiction, especially in its ability to bring the latest science to life in a larger narrative. His description of using the sun to amplify the message from Earth is the most incredible thing I have read in a while!”
Harappa (2017) and Pralay (2018) by Vineet Bajpai
“These were also great reads and do a wonderful job of combining mythology, history and contemporary reality into a fast-paced narrative. It keeps you at the edge of your seat, wanting to know what happens next.”
Where Eagles Dare (1967) by Alistair MacLean
“It’s at least a hundred times better than the movie. If an aspiring author wants to learn about building and holding tension, injecting humour and driving audiences to compulsively turn pages, they must read this book.”
My sisters were my first audience: Tanushree Podder
By Urvee Modwel
Podder, 69, says that she has always had an active imagination. “It was the vivid imagery created by writers that woke me to the power of language,” she says. “As a child, I loved reading about freedom fighters. It made me want to fight for the nation.”
Podder’s parents would often leave her in charge of her younger siblings. “I was a good storyteller, even at 11. I kept my siblings occupied by telling stories and soon became adept at creating them. The story telling transcended into writing. I did not imagine that it would, one day, become my vocation!”
Her first fiction book, Boots Belts Berets (2011), about the lives of NDA cadets, is being adapted into a web series. Ambapali, which came out this year, focuses on a woman who was once seen as the most beautiful and talented in the subcontinent. Her next work of fiction is set against the background of India’s freedom struggle.
All The Light We Cannot See (2014) by Anthony Doerr
Chapters in this novel, set in World War II, alternate between the tale of a blind French girl hiding in a home in Saint-Malo after Paris is invaded by Nazi Germany, and a young radio prodigy in the German military. “It’s a very touching book of love and hope.”
Three Men in a Boat (1889) by Jerome K Jerome
“I confess I have a weakness for humour. PG Wodehouse is an absolute favourite; I seek out his books whenever I am feeling low.” This book, an account of a two-week boating holiday on the Thames, by another English author is also a favourite.
The Glass Palace (2000) by Amitav Ghosh
“I would be remiss if I didn’t list at least one book by a contemporary Indian author. I have read all of Amitav Ghosh’s books, but The Glass Palace remains a favourite.
The Good Earth (1931) by Pearl S Buck
“My mother was a fan of Pearl S Buck, and this was one of her favourite books. I started reading them as a teen and ended up loving them, too. The books gave me an idea about Chinese society in the early 20th century.”
Exodus (1958) by Leon Uris
“I have a fascination for historical fiction. This book, about an immigration ship in 1947, taught me a lot about the birth of Israel.”
In prose, we build new worlds: Khalid Jawed
Khalid Jawed won the JCB Prize for Literature in 2022, for his Urdu novel, The Paradise of Food. Looking back, he says he always knew he was going to be a writer. “I was born in a family of writers, and I wrote my first story while I was eight.”
Jawed says he’s always been more receptive to fiction writing than poetry. Not just because he grew up listening to stories, but also because “fiction creates an alternate world in a way that poetry does not allow.” The flexibility of the genre is immense and it provides a wider field for creativity. “And importantly, it suits my creative temperament.”
His latest book, Arsalan Aur Bahzaad, is coming out soon.
The Idiot (1869) by Fyodor Dostoevsky
“It deals with complicated moral questions and existential dilemmas. I would like to claim that The Idiot is the Bible of existential narratives, and the character of Prince Myshkin is the ideal personification of Christianity and simplicity.”
The Street of Crocodiles (1934) by Bruno Schulz
“This collection of seventeen short stories has a unique style and linguistic qualities and offers a metaphysical and mythological discourse. For me, reading it was like witnessing a march of unique and gigantic metaphors where each line is as disciplined as a cavalry but still perpetually in chaos.”
The Master and Margarita (1967) by Mikhail Bulgakov
“This is an outstanding piece of dark and shimmering satire that deconstructs the era of Stalin. It displayed elements of magical realism before the Latin American boom. It’s a strange dance of good and evil and a masterpiece of 20th century literature.”
Barabbas (1950) by Par Lagerkvist
The Swedish writer and Nobel laureate’s novel is about the life and fragmented soul of Barabbas, who was released instead of Jesus Christ. It narrates the journey of a spiritually hollow man and maps the maze-like road from the heart of atheism to the stone of belief.
Kavve Aur Kala Pani (1985) by Nirmal Verma
Seven short stories by a writer who Jawed considers a master of fiction. “Nirmal describes a situation as intricately as an embroiderer. The book captures not only complexities of estrangement and introversion but also comments upon the inhuman poignancy of barren relationships.”
Follow @Urvee_M on Twitter and @modwel on Instagram
From HT Brunch, March 4, 2023
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