-The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.
Inspired by the #bestbooks hashtag on Twitter, and in part out of shame that I haven't blogged in so long, here's s brief list of what I've been reading.
I know a lot of people crib about reading on the Kindle v/s an actual book, but frankly - hardcovers are expensive in the US, and I'm not inclined to wait for a year before the paperback comes out for some books. The following isn't the entire list of what I read this year (and frankly, am still working my way through Teju Cole's Open City, so the list is still a work in progress), but here are some of the books I enjoyed:
This was probably my favourite book of the year. When I finished reading it, I couldn't believe I'd put it off for so long. Set in Sri Lanka, this book is not just about cricket -- it's the art of journalism, travel writing, war, and the poignant tale of families trying to get along, fall apart, drink a lot and death.
I went to Sri Lanka in 2006, a few years before the war ended. During the trip, I visited two cities by the sea -- Galle and Colombo -- both of which had come under attack in the week prior to my arrival. The country's tourism sector was still clawing it's way back after the horrendous tsunami. At one point, I got stuck in a traffic jam because the President was passing by. There were tanks on the streets. It felt just like home.
Except it was prettier. I was completely taken aback by the literacy rate, the culture, and frankly, the gorgeous beaches. I'd visit again in a heartbeat if I could.
Recommendation for Chinaman: Probably best to read right before the India v/s Pakistan series begins. On a related note, Pakistan had better not ruin Christmas Day for me.
This year, I went to Guantanamo Bay to cover the arraignment hearing for Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and the four co-accused in the 9/11 case. While I will leave the legality of these hearings to the experts, Terry McDermott and Josh Meyer have painstakingly pieced together Khalid Shaikh Mohammad's story and the hunt that ended in 2003, when he was caught -- in Rawalpindi. The interesting aspect of this book is really how torture didn't lead to KSM's name being disclosed as the lead guy in plotting the 9/11 attacks.
And yes, Khalid Shaikh Mohammad's orange beard was creepy.
While I had read a lot of Shadid's reportage for the Times, I hadn't, unfortunately, read any of his books before he passed away this year. His reportage, and these two books, should serve as a model for how to cover wars for every journalist out there.
For a couple of weeks, all I heard in Washington DC were people talking about this book -- self included. Once you read the book, you'll understand why.
Again, a long overdue read, and in my opinion, the finest post-9/11 book out there.
When I grow up, I want to be Katherine Boo and write a book as beautiful and meticulously detailed as this.
Comfort read, inspired by the sister's purchase of the same in Karachi. The first books I remember reading are those by Enid Blyton. And yes, I KNOW she was racist, but I didn't at the time -- and Blyton's books were a foundation for my love for literature.
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
I think I've read Pride and Prejudice from start to finish about a dozen times now, and arguably, my favourite book. I don't remember the first time I read the full text, but I try and make an effort to re-read it every couple of months. In related reading, Allison Pearson's essay on Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice is fantastic.
And I finally got around to reading P. G. Wodehouse. My life has changed for the better. Also, I want a Jeeves in my life.
Earlier in the week, I was getting nostaglic about being home. Eidi, sainvayian in the morning, five day holidays, the eventual grumpiness about being at work and the inevitable complaining of having to meet relatives that one never really wants to see.
I take it all back.
There is a lot that one can complain about Pakistan, especially when sitting in relative comfort miles away. Load shedding, inflation, security, terrorism, the apathy of the judicial and police system, the inefficiency of the political system, Rehman Malik, Aamir Liaquat..really, the list is unending.
The US isn't perfect either. The massacre at Oak Creek, mosques being burned down, hate crimes, drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay. Again, the list goes on.
But Pakistan is home. The US, is not my home.
This week, the same where I saw Pakistan's flag being hoisted on its 65th Independence Day, I am seriously considering getting my grandfather's name, Ali, omitted from all my official documents when I go back to Pakistan. As awful as that sounds, I do not want to be one of those people pulled off a bus and killed in broad daylight on account of being labeled as a Shia. God forbid that that day ever comes in my life where I have to explain that I was born a Sunni Muslim, have not practised religion in yonks [save for on PIA, Airblue and American Airline flights when the turbulence makes you repeat the kalma and every other religious incantation you remember], and that my grandfather's name is perhaps the only link I have to the man that died long before I was born.
In the past month alone, my sister faced a man pointing a gun in her face outside our house asking for her money. Another friend threw her bag and glass bangles on a street to ward off robbers while she was going home from work. And yet another friend braved a robber outside her house and called out for help. All live in my hometown, are educated, fiercely independent working women who belong to different economic classes, and have never shied away from being independent and working their butts off to be where they are today.
And then there is this: an 11-year-old Christian girl has been locked up behind bars in Pakistan, accused of blasphemy. Oh, did I mention that she reportedly suffers from Down's Syndrome?
Tomorrow morning, I will be at a mosque, watching people pray as they rejoice to celebrate the end of Ramazan, and the beginning of a new year. And I will be standing there, wondering how our faith became so weak that an 11-year-old who suffers from Down's Syndrome apparently comitted the ultimate sin and deserves to be behind bars.
Enjoy your Eid, and your azadi.