Comedian and Author of The Wednesday Soul, Sorabh Pant's list of the best words he's read in book form.
Most people are surprised when they learn that I read. I don't fit the profile of an educated human, occasionally I even defy the 'human' prototype; but, enough about my sex life.
I love books. I especially love to read them. Though, the anticipation of a good book showing me its cover through the glass on my book shelf is sexier than busty women in Amsterdam displaying their wares through similar glass windows. If you love books - you know that feeling of lust.
I've read over 10 books in my life and these are the 10 books that I would read if I could only read ten books. They are in ascending order and I've ranked them like songs on a Billboard chart, so please play the appropriate peppy music as we run down them: Bach (if you like classical music), Bhangra (if you're unstable) or silence (if you don't have an iPod). Here goes:
10. The World According to Garp By John Irving
A story about a writer writing a book about another story; John Irving's super classic is the Inception for readers everywhere. It also achieves one of those rare things: much like Nelson Mandela it united different genres of people who read nothing alike. My sister, wife, mother and uneducated friends (comedians) alike devoured Garp. There's really nothing like it. In one scene, Garp's publisher tells him the simplest thing about what makes a great selling book: "The reader wants to know what happens next."
In Garp, you never do; which is what makes it exceptional.
9. Speaker for the Dead By Orson Scott Card
While 45% of America voted for Mitt Romney, I vote for my favorite Mormon, Orson Scott Card. I picked up Speaker for The Dead because I'm suicidal and wanted to know what the hell a Speaker for The Dead was, that's it! Turns out it's a person who speaks about the dead but, unabashedly with all the faults and low points and high points. Oh, also - the Speaker travels across galaxies and times. AND, the Speaker is Ender - a legend in the sci-fi world.
Speaker for the Dead is easily my favorite sci-fi novel, because the human (and alien) element prevails over the scientific mumbo jumbo as is the wont for many sci-fi writers. I would love to hire Ender Wiggins to speak at my funeral, though if there's cyrogenic freezing possible - then cancel that engagement.
8. Life of Pi By Yann Martel
I took three shots at reading Life of Pi. I never got it until the third. And, when I did - boy, my brain exploded into 3.14 pieces. Aside from being a magnetic tale of a boy lost out at sea with a tiger and briefly with other myriad creatures you could not even imagine - it is the book that has made me guffaw more than any other. Some of the comic scenes in this novel are so unexpectedly delicious, you can't help it. I snorted at an airport while reading one scene and I'm pretty sure that airport security thought I was doing cocaine. But, who needs coke when you have this book. And, the denouement! Good God - I could kiss Yann Martel's keyboard.
7. Old Man and the Sea By Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway's great classic is barely 150 pages long and is considered a novella but, Old Man and The Sea manages to make every single word matter. Every word is released like a precious drop from a dam. The language is succinct, yet poignant. And, what is the story about? An old dude trying to catch a fish. I mean for heaven's sake! Is the fish an alien? Is the man the President of China? Is the sea full of Pirates? No!- to all of those things. It's the simple magnitude of the prose that makes you feel so deeply about an old man's Piscean hopes!
Also, since it's short - you can pretend you're all classy and literate very quickly.
6. P.G. Wodehouse's Galahad at Blandings AND Enid Blyton
Now, I know that Enid Blyton is not a book. I'm aware of the difference between a book and an author, mainly because I read loads of Wodehouse & Blyton. Both the authors were my introduction into the literary world. I read everything Blyton wrote including her novels for young girls - St. Claire, Naughtiest Girl, St. Mallory - which explains why I was scared when I didn't get my periods till I was 14. I wished I had pigtails and treacle pudding. Seriously.
Similarly with Wodehouse, who taught me how to laugh when no one liked you, which happened till I was 17 (no periods yet). Though my favorite book of his has to be Galahad at Blandings - a love which I was amazed that comedian Craig Ferguson shares. Galahad is not old Woody's most famous novel but, it's hilarious, well plotted and has Galahad who like the original Galahad is chivalrous, helpful and, 'will wake up at five thirty in the a.m. to collect post for his friends.' Oh, and he's hilarious. For much of my school life I wanted to be Galahad - the helpful bachelor. My wife ruined my dreams.
5. The Bartimaeus Trilogy: Ptolemy's Gate By Jonathan Stroud
My favorite character/narrator of any fantasy ever has got to be Bartimaeus, the self-interested genie. He thinks humans are idiots and yet he has to serve them. His conflict with them is the stuff of legend. The trilogy of Jonathan Stroud's Bartimaeus trilogy are hilarious and riveting in parts. And, they also saved me from jumping into the Goa sea when I went there alone because no one accompanied me back when I was 16. Wow, I see that as a recurring theme with books! Thanks, Bartimaeus. For me you're sexier than most topless Russian women.
4. Autobiography Of a Yogi By Parmahansa Yogananda
I was fresh out of happy time in college, so I was depressed and unhappy with humanity (You see a trend here?). I was just on the verge of doing something dire: like getting a job when I picked up Parmahansa Yogananda's spiritual classic. I spent fifteen days reading, re-reading and then marking passages and behaving like an utter lunatic with this book. AOAY answered a lot of questions I had about Hinduism and Monotheistic religions, as well as explained the science behind our cultures; while telling a really hypnotic story of an enlightened man.
Critics consider a lot of the book to be the work of fantasy, I don't particularly care - since, if you believe in the truth of any fantasy, it's true in some way. Right? Eventually, it's a book about a really wonderful and tolerant man and his self-discovery into the world of religion. It could apply to anyone. Side-note: I got a job immediately after reading this book and pretty soon discovered that jobs are worse than reading nice books.
3. The Dark Materials Trilogy By Philip Pullman
MY GOD! Really. Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy is a children's book about things you don't see in children's books: religion and atheism, Paradise Lost, the occult, particle physics; all packaged within the best magic rules ever. Pulman has a habit of writing children's books that speak about a lot more for e.g. Sally Lockhart's Tiger In The Well that speaks about a single mother dealing with misogyny in 1880's London and communism. For heaven's sake, Phillip - stick to your damn genre, you effing genius.
This is one of those books that makes you wish you had a Time Machine, just so you could go back in time to read it again. It starts off slow but, by the time the second and third books roll around - you really wish you had dæmons of your own. Also, Lyra - the protagonist inspired my own Nyra as well as similar named protagonists in numerous fantasy books. The Dark Materials is the brightest children's book ever.
2. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell By Susanna Clarke
OK. Let's all take a pause. Seriously. Everyone just be cool. This book is the most complete, complex and outstanding work of not only fantasy but, of general writing that I've read. Susanna Clarke has poured every pore of her being into this magnificent tome.
Neil Gaiman called it, "The finest novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years." I couldn't agree more and would like to add an Apple pie to the writer - on the house!
Susanna Clarke spent a decade writing this book and boy, does it ever show. The book tells of a real historic war interspersed with fantastical magic written in19th century British English along with footnotes about all of the above. If you want to immerse yourself entirely into a book - this one is it. The footnotes itself cover an entire mythology in themself. The story is complex but, I will try and summarize it: two magicians land up on either side of a real war i.e. the battle of Waterloo. But, that barely does it justice.
Jonathan Strange is not a book for everyone but, if you enjoy fantasy and want to immerse yourself in something wonderful, macabre and strange - then grab it now!
1. Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy By Douglas Adams
I am a Hitchhiker. I know very few funny people who are not. Ask any comedian or any person who enjoys a good joke and they'll be Hitchhikers too. I've read the books, heard the radio plays, read the radio plays, read the companion books and repeated all this once over again. Every time I am at a book store, I secretly wish to see a Douglas Adams tome on any shelf. Maybe he traveled in time or his ghost wrote some words or he rose from the dead - I'll settle for anything!
HGTTG is hilarious, ridiculous and just mad, good fun. If life had been like Hitchhiker's Guide - we'd all go to the grave laughing, which is how I always imagine Douglas Adams doing.
Which Hitchhiker's Guide? Which from the five of a 'trilogy'? All of them! Though, So Long and Thanks for all the Fish is a bit more special to me than the rest because poor Arthur Dent finally finds his love and learns to fly. My wife refuses to let me teach her how to. My own book, The Wednesday Soul was me trying to write a HGTTG version of a brown guy's visit to the afterlife. Sorry, Douglas - I tried!
These are all books I loved and that meant something to me. I'd love to know your top 10, tweet to me @hankypanty.
Just some other superb books that I have loved and enjoyed: Slaughterhouse Five, The English Patient, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, The Murder of Roger Akroyd, The Death Instinct, The Historian and Sorabh Pant's The Wednesday Soul :. (www.thewednesdaysoul.com)