If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller – Italo Calvino

We live in a world in which our perceptibility of reality, its acute awareness, and tireless influence are embraced as if canvassed across the night sky in a spectacle of lights. Marking your own bearings on such a sky takes a lifetime.

Every star, every imprint has a gleaming light of its own; a deep and intense light. This intensity keeps changing for those who are still on earth because they look at it differently. Some look at the stars in hope, some in anguish, some in euphoria. But do we wonder if anybody is looking back at us from above? The effulgence of light manifesting a ‘telluric’ quality of sorts.

And do we then derive our passions, loves, and fervor from the energy of lights? Standing under them, one after another, embracing all its ethereal traits. The multiple voices of a thousand and more lives. The language that resonates most with our inner voice. We hear it in whispers, taste it in nondescript flavors, and see it through the eyes of our soul.

Consider Calvino’s If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller as a trove of those voices. It remedies the ragged edges of reality. It reclaims the unattainable in dreams, the impossibilities in feeling, and the unimaginable in expression.

The path this luminous book takes is idiosyncratic in that it has many truths and many identities. It stations you into a world no one yet knows is. Invading your mind, soul, and whole concrete being. Calvino perfectly describes the uncertainty, the murkiness, the anticipation which compels a reader to read a new book. And how each time you read, you experience the self that is you, the reader.


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Memories of My Melancholy Whores – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The truth is that every book, and in it every story, holds in its imagination a dream. The dream demands truthfulness from its reality. Separating, by a thin veil, the person hanging on to reality for clarity and the person relying on the lucidity of dreams for intense, unforeseen love.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is the exploration of the lacunae between both worlds. It’s moving, crisp, and soul-rendering. The words ignite and wander in the land of nostalgia, love, and mortality. Reclaiming you as its solitudinous voyager, its narrator, and impersonator.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s words aren’t a measure at all. They burst forth into the recesses of a melancholic and lonely life. The book chronicles the fullness and emptiness of such a life. And soaring from its pages is the transparency of what returns to life over and over again. Tightening the threads of time strung together by mortality. The ending is the fulfillment of an unfulfilled life. The beginning of the resurrection of one.

Memories of My Melancholy Whores is about the incomplete and restless relationship of love and time. The depth of the right love met at the wrong time. And the fragility of a love that never returned when it should have. Perhaps love never does fit one like a glove. Love is time’s revenge upon death. And its own extinction.


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Kusamakura – Natsume Soseki

This book remains too ephemeral. And yet it is profoundly infused with the feeling of living in (or with) the present. It’s a book that goes on changing as a self but its characteristic motif is of lightness and timelessness. Kusamakura is Natsume Soseki’s plunge into experimental literature. It’s a first on many counts and will be the longest-lived. 

It’s a book that realizes its extraordinariness but not in the way that most books do. The present is all that the book is willing to give up and that’s what makes it a meditative read. When you step into the world of a fictional character, you’re taken through objects as if in reality. You explore new horizons, observe the map of the character’s world which a novel allows you to investigate. 

And even if you come out of this book without feeling inspired or transformed. Know that to read it is to let go of the chaos that resides everywhere around you. To read it is to appreciate stillness that grows with every page. And there’s nothing more revealing and rewarding for a reader – to be the one at the receiving end of this beautiful transaction. 


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The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is the sanest book about the insanity of nothingness. And what humans are capable of accomplishing to fight against it. Isn’t the absence of a thing that gives rise to nothing? And the power the emptiness holds over everything else.

Humans think because they have been given a choice not to. They act because there’s the absence of an action lurking in the corner as their shadow; forming their identities. This act, and the emptiness of its realization is what’s personified in the book.

Air has a pattern we don’t quite know how to keep track of. And that it gives definition to everything else. So tell me – which is more powerful? The one wielding the rock or the space that allows one to do so? Are we powerful because we can quantify courage, wisdom, and greatness – magnifying it as we see fit – and praising our own capacity while doing so? The significance is in the space. Handed over to the action. Given the freedom to do so. Freedom, then, is not taken to measure one’s survival. It’s perfectly granted.

So if we are capable of transcending power in some such way. Where the air is heavier than the thing that takes its place. What is left to prove?


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The Night is Darkening Round Me – Emily Bronte

When what one feels is unbearably bitter, one writes to express the chaos with sweet words to the world. This is what I felt after reading The Night is Darkening Round Me. Famous for her novel Wuthering Heights – which I’m yet to read – her short collection of poems is eye-opening. With the way of the world, the undeniability of death, and loss of precious life.

It encompasses a truth that travels through generations and asks for nothing in return. The poems – like Hope, My Comforter, and Death – do not go gentle in emotional intensity. Reread each stanza and you would go on reading whether you feel the grips of reality pulling you back or not.

Recognize and imagine every conviction that spills out of this book. Its affectivity is profound, tearful, and refined.

Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – Oscar Wilde

This isn’t an ordinary short story; one that conveys a sentiment that’s crystal clear or even imaginable. Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime by Oscar Wilde discreetly discusses the fate of a man immersed in his delusional fallacies. About ephemeral moments of conceited insanity. And the boundaries one crosses to seal one’s fate.


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Don Quixote – Cervantes

The truth is, before reading this book, I used to think about chivalry and its unwavering hope through a vague lens. You still see the “quixotic” effect around you. The term means idealistic, unrealistic, and even extravagant.

While Don Quixote is an adventurous, courageous, and a masterful novel. It tells many truths about storytelling that I was unaware of before. You won’t find a novel with such intricately beautiful details. A historical fiction characterized by lies so imaginatively vivid and sincere that, at some point, you’ll have to stop and reconsider whether or not this is fiction at all.

Don Quixote’s personal reality and that of Sancho Panza’s felt strikingly non-fictional. Even so, you may mock his unreal yet aggressively visionary ideals and find them titillating, regardless. Believing the protagonist to be childish and delusional. But, at its very core, Don Quixote is a half-finished tale where perception trumps reality.

A mind so entranced and immersed in fantasies, in Don Quixote’s case chivalric romances, that in response to such an internal environment one is bound to encounter external validation. Isn’t that what perception is all about anyway? To bridge the gap between one’s internal thoughts and beliefs to the actual reality. We create, what I’d like to call, an “experience framework” where our reality amounts to the same thing as our thoughts. And still, some of us, label most of our actions as being void of any meaning whatsoever. As if it’s the absence of thought, like a plant deprived of nourishment, that leads astray.


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The Woman in the Dunes – Kobo Abe

Kobo Abe’s The Woman in the Dunes’s motif is itself not essentially a parable. It exists within and without the boundaries of utopian gestures. Out of which comes a story that is fluid, relatable, and engrossing. Kobo Abe’s way of narrating the story of a man wandering in a remote desert with the goal of identifying a type of sand beetle; who gets sucked into a trap with a woman with whom he has to shovel sand away to survive the advancing sand dunes is existential, in so many ways.
The man has no way to escape the pit. He is doomed to live in it doing the same thing every day, in repetition, like the beating of the heart.

“One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it is also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life.”

So what is the purpose of such a life with a pronounced fate? The novel has a great way of illustrating the man’s frustration and the woman’s passionless gloom while they wrestle with sand’s inevitable triumph; with each other’s thirsts. The novel mirrors the movement of sand with the flow of time. And how both are one and the same lest one loses one’s grip on what’s real. Here, sand is life and living and death and dying.

The man and the woman are brought together in happenstance. And their lives threaded together so intricately that both their identities soon dissolve and become one entity. Read this novel if you want to feel the slow, grudging tide of captivity; of what was, is, and will become irrespective of how many shadows we cast behind us.


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Blind Willow Sleeping Woman – Haruki Murakami

A collection of 26 stories, each story tied to the other, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman is an oddly gratifying serenade. The stories illustrate love, loss, sexuality, and unsolicited passion. While love translates into grief into beauty into loneliness, you slowly dive into a world where only metaphorical relations are possible. Where matter has more meaning. Where solitude brings incomparable comfort and joy. Where there’s a deeper insight into what life is all about.

As with any Murakami book, what you read doesn’t come easily to you. And yet you feel each character’s presence as if it’s your own. You want to draw a poetic picture that only you can recognise. I do not have a personal favorite as there’s simply no comparison to how odd but deeply satisfying the narration of each story is.

This book has its own movement and noise. You can look on it, breathe it in, and let it pass through you. What you experience are infinite possibilities. Similar to how chemicals transform, this book continually changes color and shape. And somewhere between turning pages and mulling over each story, your love for simplicity arises. Which is a fragile thing and yet it is the book’s strongest suit. Observe and you become that pot of spaghetti, the dabchick, or a poor aunt.


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The Tell-Tale Heart – Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart starts off in a bizarre yet gratifying manner. And as the story progresses, in a brief second, you’ll find yourself turning page after page to get to the end. What do you suppose happens when madness is clobbered by reasoning? You’d have to read this exquisitely gripping story to find out.

This Penguin Classic also contains his other works: The Fall of the House of Usher and The Cask of Amontillado. The Fall of the House of Usher follows the tone and appearance of that of The Tell-Tale Heart; horror fiction at its best. The last story, The Cask of Amontillado was one that I least enjoyed. It felt too knotty and drawn-out to decipher. I’ll keep the book handy if I ever wish to read the story again.


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