5 Best Books I Read in 2016
There is this increasing gap between the number of books I buy and the no. of books I read in a year. In that manner, 2016 was no different than previous years. But, I hoped to finish at least one book a month in 2016. I have surpassed that target (actually it’s not a big target at all). Out of the 16 books I have read this year, here are the five books which impacted me the most:
The Sixth Extinction || Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
As a kid, I used to wonder, ‘how cool it would have been if dinosaurs walked on this Earth now?’ The asteroid impact that killed the dinosaurs 66 million years ago made the kid within us feel a bit of sadness. Elizabeth Kolbert, a practitioner of environmental journalism, in The Sixth Extinction scrutinizes the wave of mass extinctions happening in our era, which we aren’t either seeing or simply ignoring. We may curse the asteroid that struck upon our Earth but this new wave of unspoken extinction is caused by an entirely different beast: Us – the humans. Kolbert has traveled to rich, bio-diverse places on Earth. She has witnessed the rapid fall of species – from larger to smaller in size – as a result of what we are doing to our environment.
She mourns the death of Panama’s poisonous golden frog. The near-extinction of coral reefs due to rising temperature in oceans, etc. Apart from pondering over the effects of global warming on the fellow species of earth (in the Anthropocene age), Kolbert’s book also deeply looks at how the study of extinctions came into place. Kolbert’s exploration of the science behind extinction doesn’t get too heavy non-scientific readers. All in all, a must read for anyone interested in our degrading environment.
Black Boy || Author: Richard Wright
This enlightening memoir by Richard Wright, prominent African-American writer of the 20th century, was first published in 1945. The auto-biographical coming-of-age tale is divided into two parts. The first part on the violent childhood experiences in the segregated American South. The second part on his migration to Chicago as a young adult and about the Great Depression (during the time he joined the Communist Party). Mr. Richard Wright wrote to free himself from the constraining ideologies of race. His belief in writing bestowed him the change and self-realization. Wright’s vivid realization of his childhood and adulthood plus the stunning vignettes makes the memoir more influential than a novel. Wright’s account is so visceral and authentic that it passes on to us the agony of a individual, being treated as a second-class citizen.
Time Magazine placed Black Boy at 2nd place in its list of All Time 100 Non-Fiction Books.
Slavery Inc: The Untold Story of International Sex Trafficking || Author: Lydia Cacho
Mexican investigative journalist Lydia Cacho has brought numerous human right abuses to light at great personal risk. In 2005, she published Demons of Eden, in which she exposed the child pornography ring involving some of Mexican prominent senior politicians and businessmen (based upon the book, a documentary was made by film-maker Alejandra Islas in2007). After the book’s release, Cacho was abducted, imprisoned (for a short time on defamation charge) by the powerful Mexican officials. In 2007, UN Human Rights Council advised Cacho to seek political asylum in another country. Despite facing all kinds of threats, Cacho traveled around the world in pursuit of evidence about sex slavery. In 2014, she published Slavery Inc. The book exposed the colossal scope of this vile, shocking trade.
She has bravely tracked down the relationship between traffickers and the officials in each country’s government (from judges to senior politicians). Cacho’s record of the victim’s shocking testimonies will haunt us for many days.
The only flaw I felt with the book is that it doesn’t sharply examine the role played by (or relationship between) poverty, migration, and globalization in forcefully shifting the humans. Nevertheless, it tenaciously exhibits the darker elements, lying beneath the glitzy metropolitan cities of the world.
Dead Souls || Author: Nikolai Gogol
Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol is the purest literary artist among the 19th century Russian fiction writers. Even though, Gogol is not a well-known name like Fyodor Dostoyveysky or Leo Tolstoy, the ingeniousness of his prose is just as supreme as those eminent authors. The restless Gogol was famous for vividly portraying the inanities of life. Critics hail him as the ‘man who saw extraordinary in the ordinary’. Gogol has written memorable stories and a single novel titled Dead Souls (first published in 1842). The novel is about Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov, a well-to-do young man. He travels to a provincial Russian town to buy up dead serfs from the landowners. The serfs or ‘souls’ are workers bound to the land, owned by their masters. The serfs are counted every ten years for the purpose of tax assessment. A landowner has to pay taxes, as per the number of serfs he owns.
The passion and exuberance that oozes in between Gogol’s prose makes Ivanovich’s tragicomic journey so fascinating. Before his death in 1952 (at the age of 43), Gogol suffered from writer’s block for years. Gogol planned two volumes for Dead Souls. The 2nd volume is incomplete. (Gogol is said to have set fire to lot of portions he wrote for the 2nd volume) Nonetheless, this uncompleted novel is a masterpiece.
The Vegetarian || Author: Han Kang
I feel there’s something powerful about a work of literature that asks piercing questions rather than provide neatly-packaged resolutions. From Kafka to Murakami, the primary aim of the cryptic form of writing is to mystify & puzzle you. Such literary form kindles an internal conversation, which may take us closer to the dark, slippery things concealed within our mind. There’s a feeling that you have zeroed-in on a comprehensive answer, hidden beneath the story, yet it shape-shifts and slithers away from our heart & mind’s grasp. We can read over hundreds of articles decoding the enigmatic work, even so nothing could be definite answer for the creators’ obscure world.
Korean novelist Han Kang’s The Vegetarian belongs to that category of literature (it won the Man Booker International Prize for 2016). It is unsettling and dark, yet it offers a transcendent experience. It will make us examine the darkest crevices of our inner feelings, while also questioning our conformism & rigid value system. This short novel, at 192 pages, unfurls in three interlinked parts. The Vegetarian is a very distinct take on the victimization of womanhood by the patriarchal order.