Fiction writer, translator and teacher
“I understand this is a piece about books I plan to read next year. But please bear with me while I bring to your attention the most memorable book I read in 2017. The Pike: Gabriele d’Annunzio Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallet is a sensational biography of an Italian poet, novelist, playwright, and legendary seducer who exploded his literary stardom and transformed himself into a revolutionary spiritual and political leader. He dragged Italy into World War I, led a military revolt thereafter, captured the Italian city of Fiume, and during his one-and-a-half-year reign invented rituals and rhetoric (including the Roman salute) that were later borrowed wholesale by the Fascists.
Earlier, Joyce had called him the only European writer after Flaubert to carry the novel into a new territory while he was praised by Henry James for “the extraordinary range and fineness of his intelligence”, but clearly, who cares right? d’Annunzio would rather be an inspirational predecessor for both Mussolini and Hitler than to exist in paperbacks and doctoral dissertations. (I found this book in a bookstore in Lahore through no mediation of a reference or review. It brought me the greatest reading joy in the entire year.)
The book I am most eagerly looking forward to reading in 2018 is a social history of a building. The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution by Yuri Slezkine is a monstrous tome of 1,000-plus pages. Slezkine, a historian at University of California at Berkeley, has written the story of the residents of a 505-room apartment building where top Communist officials and their families lived before they were destroyed in Stalin’s purges. It sounds exactly like a book out of my wildest dreams leaping across disciplinary bounds and weaving a story that is at the same time a biography, literary criticism, architectural history, millennial prophecies, and political terrorism. Bonkers, I tell you.
The books of fiction I am most looking forward to is Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif, who is one of my favorite writers anywhere in the world. The other books I am excited about are the ones I missed out on reading this year: Jennifer Egan’s new novel, Manhattan Beach, the Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasam’s The Story of a Brief Marriage, and Nasir Abbas Nayyar’s latest collection of stories, Farishta Nahin Aaya.”
Nasir Abbas Nayyar
Critic and short story writer
“To me reading books is an act of negotiating with the world and my own self alike. I read books to satiate my instinctual urge to find a way to solve some big riddles pertaining to the outside world and undiscovered regions of psyche. I love to read books of philosophy, psychology, history and literature alike.
In the upcoming year, I want to re-read Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life, it is one of the few books that I want to read again and again; Socrates’ Apology, another all-time favourite; Plato’s dialogues; Ibn Tufail’s Hayy Bin Yaqzan published recently under the title Jeeta Jagta Insan with Asif Farrukhi’s introduction; Sarah Backwell’s At the Existentialist Café; Jung’s Modern Man in Search of Soul; Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death; Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind; Arvind Sharma’s The Ruler’s Gaze: A Study of British Rule.
Tolstoy, Borges, Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera, José Saramago, Murakami, Orhan Pamuk, Manto, Qurratulain Hyder, Intizar Husain and Naiyer Masud are my all-time favourite fiction writers. I would be reading their books throughout the year. I intend to read again Mustansar Hussain Tarar’s Bahao, Khaild Javed’s Nemat Khana, George Orwell’s collection of essays, Shooting an Elephant, Umberto Eco’s Inventing The Enemy, Peerzada Salman’s debut collection of English poetry, Bemused. I intend to read some recently published Urdu novels include Anis Ashfaq’s Khab Sarab and Neelam Ahmad Bashir’s Taoos Faqat Rang along with Ishrat Afreen’s recently published collected works of poetry Zard Patton Ka Ban.
I also want to read Pablo Neruda’s Memoirs translated into Urdu by Anwer Zahidi, Kuldip Nayar’s autobiography Beyond the Lines also available in Urdu tilted Aik Zindagi Kafi Nahi. Some Urdu magazines including Dunyazad, Aaj, Niqat and Tasteer will remain part of my must-read list.”
Dr Shah Mohammad Marri
Baloch historian and intellectual
“I have already cracked into my reading list for next year. Recently, I got a copy of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech at the opening ceremony of the 19th Communist Party congress in Beijing, along with his book, The Governance of China, in two volumes. As I am reading them, I hope they will educate me about the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the One Belt One Road initiative, and the Chinese economics in the 21st Century.
Another inclusion on my reading list for next year is the 2013 biography of Sindhi intellectual and research scholar Muhammad Ibrahim Joyo: The Voice of the Century, written by Syed Mazhar Jamil. The Balochi translations of Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Pablo Neruda’s Memoirs are Sangat Academy of Science’s latest publications and I intend on reading them next year, along with the Brahvi translation of Rasul Hamzatov’s book Mera Daghistan.
A good friend has sent me a complete set of Carl Sagan’s books. I will also read Bolshevik poet Vladimir Mayakovsky’s collected poetic works, in two volumes, in the first quarter of new year. The Myth of the Strong Leader by Archie Brown, and another voluminous book Comrades by Robert Service will also be included on my list. Gohar Malik, daughter of Mir Gul Khan Naseer, is a wonderful Balochi female short story writer who has come out with a collection of stories that I intend to read.”
Dr Mohammad Taqi
Pak-India relations took a nosedive after jihadists attacked an Indian army base in Kashmir in September 2016. India responded by army raids across the Line of Control (LOC), which it dubbed as ‘surgical strikes’. A 2017 book Defeat is an Orphan: How Pakistan Lost the Great South Asian War by Myra MacDonald, the former Reuters bureau chief in India, is a comprehensive account of these events which explores how “India had a new twist to the new rules … by announcing its cross-LOC raids without international objection”. MacDonald attributed this upending of stalemate to India’s economic and diplomatic strength.
Another 2017 book, From Chanakya to Modi: Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy, by Dr Aparna Pande discusses in fascinating detail the building blocks of India’s foreign policy and diplomatic potential and pitfalls. Dr Pande has discussed in detail the civilisational, colonial, ideological, individual and institutional currents that have shaped India’s policy, which not only seeks hegemony in the subcontinent and the region but also seeks equality and partnership with the world powers like the US.
Curiously, neither book has been discussed in detail in Pakistan — both should be on every Indo-Pak watcher’s shelf.
In a world where economic woes are resulting in political tumult such as the election of Donald Trump, Thomas Piketty’s 2014 seminal work, Capital in the Twenty First Century deserved revisiting. The volume After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, edited by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum, does just that. Both Capital and After Piketty are essential reads for activists wishing to study the correlation of economic inequality and sociopolitical changes of our times.
Surprisingly, no major work on Afghanistan came out in 2017, perhaps this suggests an intellectual fatigue. Steve Coll’s Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001-2016 is expected to break that dry spell in early 2018. The book is tipped as a sequel to Coll’s Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001.
Urdu novelist, short story writer
“Literature lovers of the world have always remained insatiable, particularly in those years when our planet fails to produce even one fiction book worthy of the author’s merit. A year is too long a time for the globe’s fertile minds to remain barren. The lovers are dying to protest, the only thing stopping them is not knowing against whom to stage the protest. Thank goodness for that.
It will be meaningless to protest because just one look at the past will show a glittering heap of books from which we can read to our heart’s content.
In the past I have had the opportunity to enjoy some selections from the The Arabian Nights (Alif Laila wa-Laila) The Unrivalled and Evergreen Tales of the East. It is a big book. Its translation in 10 volumes is available at the Quaid-E-Azam Library Lahore. Next year, I will read more stories from this famous book.
I also intend to read the The Buried Giant, the latest novel of the recent Nobel Laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. I will attempt to read his The Remains of the Day, the only distinction of the book is that its British author of Japanese descent has written about the age-old Butler tradition of British nobility.
Haruki Murakami is another Japanese author who has written numerous novels — I want to go through at last one novel of this prolific writer.
In 2018, I also intend to read the first volume of Dars-e-Masnavi Maulana Room.
The old and now-dead weekly US magazine Time, had a tradition to provide its readers with the sales graph of 10 fiction and 10 non-fiction books every week to assist book-lovers with their choices. One wishes a paper in Pakistan would adopt this idea.”
Fiction writer, teacher
“My 2018 reading list is made up of three parts. As a fiction writer myself, I’m most interested in fiction, Urdu fiction in particular. So far, there are two fiction books on my list: Fehmida Riaz’s novel, Qila-e-Faramoshi and Syed Kashif Raza’s novel, Chaar Darvesh aur aik Kachhwa.
Reading contemporary fiction improves an understanding of new techniques and trends in writing. For the same reasons I have a few books of global fiction on my list: Somerset Maugham’s Ten Novels and their Authors, Fun-e-Fiction Nigari (three volumes), edited by Muhammad Umar Memon, and Arundhati Roy’s new novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
The second part of my list is about books relevant to my academic interests, ones I have already read but feel the need to read with even greater scrutiny and attentiveness. Of these, I particularly want to read Iqbal Ka Ilm-i Kalaam by Syed Ali Abbas Jalalpuri, Iqbal, Shakhs aur Shaayiri by Rafiq Zakaria, Fikr-e-Iqbal ke Saath Chand Shaamyin by Naseer Shah, Iqbal ke Aakhri do Saal by Aashiq Hussain Batalvi, and Fikre-e-Iqbal ka Almiya by Salahuddin Darvesh.
The third category of books that I’m interested are those that pertain to contemporary Pakistan’s history, sociology and beliefs. Some of these books include: Pakistan; A Garrison State by Dr.Ishtiaq Ahmad, Lahore in the Times of Raj by Tahir Kamran and Ian Talbot, The God’s Market by Nanda Sherma, City of Three Religions by Karen Armstrong, Stranger in my Own Country by Khadim Hussain Raja, Crimson Papers by Harris Khalique, The Shadow of Great Game; The Untold Stories of Indian Partition by Narinder Singh Sarila, Mohasray ka Roznamcha by Wajahat Masood, Munir Inquiry Commission Report, Misr ka Qadeem Adab by Ibne-e-Hanif, and Pakistan kay Tehzeebi Masail by Sibte Hasan.”
French writer of Urdu fiction
“What to say to someone who would come to you at dawn and say, “You know, the death penalty is a distinctive feature of mankind”?” This is the question with which Jacques Derrida began his first lecture on death penalty, delivered in 1999, which has been recently published in France, and which I plan to read this year. Derrida (like Voltaire, Hugo and Camus, his abolitionist forerunners) believed that the issue of death penalty should be addressed on any possible occasion and available platform until the very last of these peculiar states which “must and wants to see the convict die” abolishes it.
I am looking forward to reading two contemporary polyphonic novels, one published a few months ago and the other due for publication in September 2018. These are Jeet Thayil’s The Book of Chocolate Saints and Mohammed Hanif’s Red Birds. The first one explores from different angles and in different voices (using a technique reminiscent of Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives), the different facets of a character which is a composite of the poet Dom Moraes and the painter Francis Newton Souza; and the second, through various voices, describes and explores an uncanny and surreal space, on the border between dream and reality, a camp of refugees totally forgotten in the heart of a desert.
I am also planning to read again the poems of Álvaro Mutis, which he wrote before switching to novel writing, at the age of 62! Each poem of Mutis is a tour de force, a miniature of a travelogue, of an epic or of an adventure novel which could have virtually stretched over thousands of pages.”
“I can’t wait to read Jennifer Egan’s latest novel Manhattan Beach. I don’t know anything about it — only that it’s the hotly anticipated follow-up to her shape-shifting, mind-boggling, truly life-changing novel A Visit From the Goon Squad, which I read (and loved) five years ago.”
“I prefer the term ‘reading life’ to ‘reading list’. My reading life in 2018 will begin with my own work; Rafina, a novella that I wrote more than 13 years ago will be published in March. I expect to be occupied by revisions and proofs of it well into January, as well as meditating on advance copies of Sarim Baig’s short story collection Saints and Charlatans, from our very own Mongrel Books. I must have read each of its stories scores of times by now, but each time I have found something original to admire, and I can’t stop dipping back into them. ‘Paindus’ have never been more endearing. I promise that will make sense next year.
In February, our submission window will open for a brief period, and I expect to be reading manuscripts well into April. To survive what is sure to be a grueling, intense time — in my experience we don’t really write about happy things here — I will take regular supplements of weird fiction and fantasy. I will be revisiting Shirley Jackson, and experiencing Nnedi Okorafor. I also plan to try to get my hands on the latest books from Sri Lankan poet Vivimarie Vanderpoorten, and Estonian writer Kätlin Kaldmaa, as well as Soniah Kamal’s UnMarriageable: Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice in Pakistan, forthcoming from Random House.”
Poet, Translator and former Director, Gurmani Centre, LUMS
“I have never made anything like an annual reading list. I wouldn’t quite know at this time, what I might be reading or wanting to read six months from now, but I do know what I am reading at the moment and what I’d be interested in reading, in the near future. Just a few days ago I started reading The Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler.
Usually, unless it’s long fiction, I never read one book at a time. It’s almost always two or three books simultaneously; poetry, short fiction, criticism, history; it could belong to any of these categories.
In the next month or so, I plan to start rereading Gopi Chand Narang’s book Ghalib Ma’ani Afrini. This is one of the best books on Ghalib that I have come across. I also intend to reread Ghalib’s poetry and some other literature on the poet. I also intend to read some English poetry beginning with Philip Larkin. I am also looking forward to reading our own younger poets, focusing especially on the Urdu nazm. These days I am working on a book on South Asian poetry and would be doing some related reading on this subject.
I would also like to read Carlo Coppola’s Urdu Poetry 1935-1970 The Progressive Episode. I have already bought this book and will read it, perhaps, in a few months.
I am also reading Women and Fiction — Short Stories By and About Women edited by Susan Cahill, one story at a time. The book has stories by 26 writers, from Kate Chopin to Alice Walker. Another book on the shelf is Suhail Ahmed Khan’s collection of essays, Majmu’a and Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House. There would also be a lot of random reading that I cannot foretell at the moment.”