A casual enquiry into what some friends were reading threw up interesting names. You may like to try them too, says PANKAJA SRINIVASAN

We watch the sexy Nigella Lawson pigging it out, and, of course, the conversation turns to cooks and cook-books. That is what Chandrakanta (she restores paintings) is into at the moment in a big way. Not any old cookbooks. These are ‘different’. She speaks about the absolutely fascinating Apricots on the Nile by Collette Rossant, and MFK Fisher’s Gastronomical Me. Rossant who is part Egyptian, part French, Jewish and married to an American, writes about food in Cairo and of her childhood in the 1950s. “It is a memoir of her memories, her multi-cultural experiences, and her love, romance and marriage, all interspersed with recipes.” How lovely is that! As food for the soul, Chandu is also reading An Autobiogaphy of a Yogi.

It is a good feeling to be able to read anything that takes one’s fancy. And not follow the herd. We have been there and done that. (There is an article somewhere about Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which everyone talks about but hardly anyone seems to have read fully).

Page turners

Of course, one tries. Journalist Shiny Verghese says she is reading Rushdie’s latest, and is not completely enchanted by it. “At some point he stops telling the story, and then it’s only craft that carries you through the pages”. She is more enthusiastic about The Other Boleyn Girl, a historical novel written by British author Philippa Gregory, about how a girl of 16 seduces a king. “Awesome and a page turner,” says Shiny who is now waiting to read a translation of the Tamil Zero Degree, by Charu Nivedita.

Old friends

For some, old companions like Enid Blyton and the Billy Bunter series still work. Mini Fowler regularly picks them up in Scotland and from second-hand stores. At the moment Japanese Wife and Labyrinth are by her bedside. And waiting in the queue is Cold Steel by Bouquet and Byron (Mini is an architect, so that explains it).

Jayashree Vivek also an architect is in serious-reading mode at the moment. “I am reading The Curtain by Milan Kundera. It provides fascinating insights into the development of the novel through the ages and across the countries.” Sea of Poppies and Limping to the Centre of the World by Timeri Murari wait in the wings. She loved Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth.

Business woman Samyukta Narayan is reading Sea of Poppies, too because “It is Amitava, and Barkha Dutt liked it!”

She has also made frequent trips to China, and has heard talk of the righteous British introducing the Chinese to opium. And, most of the book happens on a ship, and she has spent considerable time on one…” She likes to be in touch with more than one book at a time. Samyukta was curious to know more about the feisty former first lady of UK, so she picked up, Cherie Blair, the autobiography. She is also reading Scott Turow’s Limitations. She loved his Presumed Innocent, and wanted to know if he could repeat the magic.

Three’s company

Samyukta reads three books at a time because: “It started off as greed. I would always buy three or four books, and would want to read all of them at the same time. Now, I do it as an exercise for the rusting grey cells! Amitava is on my coffee table with my morning cuppa; Scott is for after lunch and Cherie at night!”

Anyone who enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series has her heart in the right place, and school principal Roshini Edward does.

Soul food

At the moment she is immersed in Tony D’Mello’s Prayer of the Frog. She also frequently calls up her old friends Poe, Saki, O’ Henry and A.J. Cronin. The Chicken Soup series did nothing for her soul, but, she enjoyed Jeffery Archer’s Prisoner of Birth with that oh-so-marvellous line “…we all suffer in our different ways from being prisoners of birth”.

She has Homer and Voltaire in her shelves, but “while the spirit is willing, the flesh craves its daily dose of whodunits and thrillers.”

Suryarekha is reading Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss, and she is enchanted with it, especially the part that mentions Anton Chekov’s protagonist Perekladin (in one of his short stories that is a parody of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol) who Scrooge-like is haunted by spectres, that are all punctuation marks!

Suryarekha is an English teacher, and that explains why she reads about punctuation marks!

The aforementioned friends all have a list of books they hate too, but that is another story altogether…

Some must reads…

Galileo’s Daughter by Dava Sobel

Apricots on the Nile

by Collette Rossant

Unaccustomed Earth Jumpa Lahiri

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

Zero Degree

Charu Nivedita

The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco

The No1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith