As we enter the last month of 2017 — a significant year from the publishing point of view — the wide variety of books published over the past eleven months, both fiction and nonfiction, make a case for book lovers. Despite the rising trend of mediocrity in the literary world, there are enough books of both literary value and merit for readers to chew upon.
And whenever there is a splendid offering on the stands, it is certain to attract vast readership as well as critical acclaim. Consider Jeet Thayil’s “The Book of Chocolate Saints” and Sunita Narain’s “Conflicts of Interest”, both of which had made the cut into this column last month. While dozens of other titles have gone out of sight and mind, these two books — one fiction and the other nonfiction — have successfully made their way not only into our reading lists but also into the literary columns of leading newspapers.
The last month of the year is no different and here are the five books we cannot wait to read this December:
1. “That Thing We Call a Heart”, by Sheba Karim (Bloomsbury)
Shabnam Qureshi is a funny, imaginative Pakistani-American teen attending a private school in suburban New Jersey, but everything changes when she meets Jamie. Jamie finds Shabnam fascinating — her curls, her culture, her awkwardness. Shabnam finds herself falling in love, but her best friend Farah finds Jamie worrying. Featuring complex, Muslim-American characters who defy conventional stereotypes and set against a backdrop of Radiohead’s music and the evocative metaphors of Urdu poetry, “That Thing We Call a Heart” is an honest, moving story of a young woman’s explorations of first love, sexuality, desire, self-worth, her relationship with her parents, the value of friendship, and what it means to be true.
2. “The Fever”, by Sonia Shah (Penguin Random House)
Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and chikungunya have been around for over 500,000 years and continue to flourish even as we continue to progress as a race. In “The Fever”, Sonia Shah delivers a timely, inquisitive chronicle of malaria and its influence on human lives. Through the centuries, she finds, we’ve invested our hopes in a panoply of drugs and technologies, and invariably those hopes have been dashed. With original reporting from Panama, Malawi, Cameroon, India and elsewhere, “The Fever” captures the curiously fascinating, devastating history of this long-standing thorn in the side of humanity.
3. “The New Pakistani Middle Class”, By Ammara Maqsood (Harvard University Press)
Pakistan’s presence in the outside world is dominated by images of religious extremism and violence. These images — and the narratives that interpret them — inform events in the international realm, but they also twist back around to shape local class politics. In “The New Pakistani Middle Class,” Ammara Maqsood focuses on life in contemporary Lahore, where she unravels these narratives to show how central they are for understanding competition and the quest for identity among middle-class groups. Through a focus on religious study gatherings and also on consumption in middle-class circles — ranging from the choice of religious music and home decor to debit cards and the cut of a woman’s burkha — “The New Pakistani Middle Class” untangles current trends in piety that both aspire toward, and contest, prevailing ideas of modernity.
4. “The Atlas of Beauty”, by Mihaela Noroc (Particular Books)
Since 2013, photographer Mihaela Noroc has travelled the world with her backpack and camera taking photos of everyday women to showcase the diversity of beauty. “The Atlas of Beauty” is a collection of her photographs celebrating women from all corners of the world, revealing that beauty is everywhere, and that it comes in many different sizes and colours. Noroc’s colourful and moving portraits feature women in their local communities, ranging from the Amazon rain forest to London city streets, and from markets in India to parks in Harlem, visually juxtaposing the varied physical and social worlds these women inhabit. Packaged as a gift-worthy, hardcover book, it presents a fresh perspective on the global lives of women today.
5. “Djinn City”, by Saad Z. Hossain (Aleph)
Indelbed is a lonely kid living in a crumbling mansion in super-dense, super-chaotic Dhaka. His father, Dr. Kaikobad, is the black sheep of their clan, the once illustrious Khan Rahman family. A drunken, loutish widower, he refuses to allow Indelbed to go to school and the only thing Indelbed knows about his mother is the official cause of her early demise: “Death by Indelbed”. But when Dr. Kaikobad falls into a supernatural coma, Indelbed and his older cousin, the wise-cracking slacker Rais, learn that Indelbed’s dad was, in fact, a magician and a trusted emissary to the djinn world. But the djinns, it turns out, are displeased and one of the consequences of their displeasure is that a “hunt” is announced with 10-year-old Indelbed as prey. Still reeling from the fact that genies actually exist, Indelbed finds himself on the run. “Djinn City” is a darkly comedic fantasy adventure and a brilliant follow-up to Hossain’s acclaimed first novel “Escape from Baghdad”.