“If the riches of the Indies or the crowns of all the kingdoms of Europe were laid at my feet in exchange for my love of reading, I would spurn them all” – Fenelon.
Inner & outer journeys
C. S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress, 1933 – may be less accessible, though to me, one of his best.
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist, 1988 – seeking one’s dream in Egypt, grabbed on a Bangalore street for light-weight bedtimes.
Herman Hesse, The Journey to the East, 1956 – short & surreal, weaves themes from diverse spiritualities.
–– The Glass Bead Game, 1943 – longer & harder, confirmed Hesse as my favourite German author.
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat, 1889 – a less profound but more comical English river trip.
Non-fiction on India
V. S. Naipaul, An Area of Darkness, 1964
–– India: a Million Mutinies Now, 1990 – Trinidad-born Indian explores his roots.
Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods: the Strange Rise of Modern India, 2006 – observations of a Western journalist.
Gandhi, An Autobiography or the Story of my Experiments with Truth, 1927 – backgrounds India’s independence struggle. I’m awed by his pursuit of God as truth & non-violence. Like a chemist, Gandhi tested spiritual reactions in his personal lab, and when convinced they worked, scaled them up to nation-wide industrial production.
Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable, 1970 – a day in the life of a toilet-cleaning, street-sweeping outcaste. Gandhi approved its accuracy.
Sarah Macdonald, Holy Cow! An Indian Adventure, 2002 – Australian seeking meaning in India’s “spiritual smorgasbord”.
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, 1980 – likely my top Indian novelist. Quirky history & intellectual play with words & allusions.
–– The Satanic Verses, 1988 – controversial, but reverently agnostic – “To be born again, first you have to die” echoes through it.
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance, 1995 – fantastic historical novel. Struggling lower castes in 1970s Bombay, bit like Charles Dickens.
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, 1997 – beautiful depictions of childhood, but in a sick family so not always pleasant.
Gita Mehta, A River Sutra, 1993 – strings together life-stories from various Indian faiths.
Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali: Song Offering, 1912 – poems that echo the gospels, and my own heart.
The “Ramayana” epic, 2000 years old give or take a few centuries. Get a shortened version for a great yarn of demigods & demons slugging it out with magic weapons to rescue a princess abducted by a 10-headed baddie – better than American superheroes!
Other good stuff
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods, 1997 – hiking the US Appalachian Trail. I’m glad there are no bears in the NZ bush.
Samuel Butler, Erewhon: or Over the Range, 1872 – the 1st half is a tale of colonial exploration in NZ’s Canterbury Plains and Southern Alps. It also left me grateful for foam sleeping rolls, light-weight parkas & comfy fitted packs.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, 1962 – my first by him. Set in a USSR concentration camp. As a friend said, If it doesn’t make you feel cold & hungry, there’s something wrong with you”.
Elie Wiesel, Night, 1958 – in a similar vein, memoirs of a Jew losing his faith in a Nazi death camp.
Karen Armstrong, A History of God: the 4000-year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, 1993.
Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh, 1982 – the funnest intro to Chinese Taoist philosophy, taught by Winnie the Pooh!
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962,1996 – influential & easy science philosophy, popularised “paradigm shifts”.
Ellen Langer, Mindfulness, 1989 – Harvard psychologist encourages thinking & seeing in new ways.
Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: the Ragamuffin’s Path to God, 2000 – living by gratitude for God’s “maelstrom of mercy”.