Tuesday, 27 May 2014

What's On Your Reading Pile?....

If there is one thing that is common to all Book Lovers (Melbourne or anywhere else in the world) it is how our reading piles and want-to-read lists keep growing. There's that immense sense of achievement one week from acquiring and finishing one that has been on the wishlist for ages, then you walk into the next bookstore and add 10 to the list! The pain of Book Lovers, eh?

Well, to narrow down my pain somewhat I thought it would be a good idea to list the top 10 of my current pile. Note that I have not finished reading any of these, so they are not in order yet. Just that I'd like to complete these 10 before I move on to others. So here you go:

1. Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software by Vikram Chandra

Vikram Chandra intrigues me as a writer. I cannot pin him down to any genre based on his previous books, he calls programming his obsession (and writing his vocation) and he has even screen-written some of the most popular movies in Bollywood. So his first non-fiction work simply HAD to be on my list. More so when it aims to explore whether computer programming and novel writing are creative efforts of the same stamp! I have been a computer programmer for over 5 years after all. And it simply could not be kept off the list when Vikram decided to visit Melbourne and I had a chance to go to his talk at the Wheeler Centre.

Progress: Procurement done (Melbourne City Library), 1 chapter down and a few more to go.

2. Murder in the Telephone Exchange by June Wright

This is one that got added to the list at Clunes Booktown 2014. Published first in 1948, this has recently been republished and was the subject of an enthralling talk at the Booktown. June Wright was a working woman in the 1940s, she worked in a telephone exchange. Once she got married and had children she quit her job to raise them, as was the norm in those days. She had no ambition of becoming a published writer, but she sent in an entry to a competition she noticed. She did not win the competition but someone did think it good enough to publish. And then this classic crime fiction went on to outsell Agatha Christie in its day! I have this one on reserve at the library, in the queue at #6.

3. Agatha Christie

From one Queen of Crime to another. After our guest post on top 10 Agatha Christie novels, she has resurfaced as one of my favourites. Her books bring back memories of long gone summer holidays, me curled up on a couch for entire days buried in one of her who-dun-it's. Her popularity has hardly waned, the top 10 all seem to have months of wait at the local library. I have got my hands on a few though. Delightfully diverse - they include a Miss Marple, an Hercule Poirot and even a collection of Parker Pyne short stories. I can already see how many a winter Sunday afternoon will be spent this year!

4. The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail and some don't by Nate Silver

A book on the art of using probability and statistics to real world circumstances. 36 year old Nate Silver is an American statistician and writer who analyses, among other things, baseball and elections. Prior to the 2012 US Presidential Elections, he accurately predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia - so he obviously knows what he is talking about.

Being a regular reader of his popular blog FiveThirtyEight, (relaunched recently with ESPN, originally established in 2008), I simply had to put his book on my list. The book promises of going through the history and progress of prediction in different areas - e.g. baseball, poker, weather, stock market, elections, earthquakes. Combination of history, statistics, forecasts and predictions - this will be an immensely interesting read for the nerd in me.

5. Extreme Places: by AA publishing

If there is one thing I enjoy almost as much as being lost in a book, it is travelling. Exploring the earth, its history, the marks of natural forces on its surface, its people. Travel books, being at the fulcrum of these 2 worlds I love, are particularly close to my heart.

This particular book, as per its cover, transports us to the hottest, highest, largest, coldest, wettest, deepest and driest places on earth. It is like the ultimate "life list", already made for the explorers among us.

6. Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

As a blogger, I simply had to have at least one blog turned best selling book in my top 10. I have to admit, Meryl Streep being in the movie (loosely) based on this book is part of the reason. Although I am yet to see what I think of her writing style, the fact that she thrust herself from an office temp job to cyber-fame to best-selling author inspires me to check how she did it.

7. Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Series) by Arthur Upfield

Arthur Upfield is another author I learnt about at the Clunes Book Festival. He is best known for his detective novels featuring Inspector Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte, a half-caste Aborigine. His stories are also said to feature great depictions of the Australian outback life in the 1930s and 1940s.

In an interesting aside, Snowy Rowles, convicted for the real life Murchison Murders in Australia used the "perfect murder" method suggested by Arthur Upfield in one of his books "The Sands of Windee". This was actually before the book was published, Rowles stole the idea from discussions Upfield had with him and other acquaintances around the plot of his book. Creepy!

8. A Random Walk down Wall Street by Burton G Malkiel

Although this sounds like a book only for financial nerds, there seems to be a lot more here than Wall Street and random walks (The "random walk" in the title is a reference to a financial theory that says stock prices evolve according to a random walk and hence cannot be predicted.). What attracts me to this book is not the "time-tested strategy for successful investing", but Malkiel's promise of taking us through the history of markets, and the hubris and fall of many of those that thought they had mastered it.

From the tulip bubble and South Sea bubble in the 17th and 18th centuries to modern day biotech and internet and sub-prime security crashes, this will be a fun read for not just the finance professional but also the (amateur) historian and anthropologist and philosopher in me.

9. The Dinkum Pommie by Bernard Hesling

Bernard Hesling, primarily, was a muralist and painter rather than an author. His first mural was at the Qantas headoffice in Sydney and other examples of his art are at various museums across Australia.

Originally from Yorkshire, Bernard migrated to Australia in 1928 when promised a job in Sydney and out of work in London. He held down several jobs over a number of years - ranging from murals to design work to painting. In  his spare time, he first drew cartoons for The Daily Telegraph and then moved to illustrations and biographies. His first book was an illustrated account of Sydney, followed by several humorous illustrated autobiographies talking of his childhood in Yorkshire, working in London and later life in Sydney. This particular book contains the essence of his philosophies and observations about Australia and Australians.

I saw this book at the stall in Clunes and it immediately triggered something in the immigrant in me. The original name (and the copy I saw then) was "The Dinkumization and Depommification of an Artful English Immigrant" but I suppose that proved too long for the abbreviation loving Aussies?

10. Miguel Street by V S Naipaul 

This is one I picked up on a recent run to the library. The attraction to this is from several factors: a Nobel prize winning author of Indian origin, backdrop of a colonial neighbourhood, a setup of short stories each focusing on one character that reminds me of another favourite (R K Narayan's Malgudi Days)... And the fact that it is a short read goes in its favour too.

I have read both fiction and non-fiction by V S Naipaul before (A Bend in the River, A House for Mr Biswas and Among the Believers: an Islamic Journey), but this will be my first collection of stories.

So there you have it, my top 10 in my reading pile. What's on your reading pile?