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Monday, June 30, 2008

The Quick Ones

(That's me!)

There is no such thing as a fixed reading speed, I believe. Some books just rush past more quickly than others. This does not mean that a particular book is more interesting more than others, it's just that it demands less in the way of attention from the readers. Yesterday I started and finished "The Colour Purple" by Alice Walker, which was admittedly a not-so-long novel, but still it is longer than Amit Chaudhuri's "Afternoon Raag" , which barely qualifies as a novella. Still, the serpentine nature of Chaudhuri's elaborate prose, his loving detailed descriptions of his subjects and their surroundings and, his penchant for atmospherics meant that I had to devote 2 days of intense reading to get through it.Alice Walker, on the other hand uses the informal, Afro-American working-class dialect and slangs so well that one tends to get the net import of scenes so much faster. Moreover, the whole novel is written in an epistolary format, which is much easier on the reader anyway.

Then of course, there is the factor of anticipation. I remember when I first read "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows", I did so in one marathon session, from six in the morning to five in the evening. I couldn't remember many of the side-plots afterwards, so recently I have given it another go. Now this sort of feverish reading, I think is familiar, not only to Pottermaniacs but devoted fans of other writers as well. "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" was the first Rushdie novel I had got my hands on after I was enthralled by his groundbreaking "Midnight's Children". I absolutely devoured it in less than a day.

But this can sometmes work the other way,as well. For instance, when you are aware of a certain writer's reputation for being dense or "difficult" , you might give him or her a wider berth than usual.This was in play when I read Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49" recently. Aware of his massive, labyrinthine post-modern antics, his wide-ranging cultural allusions, frequent references to esoteric topics in both science and arts, I was on my guard constantly. Actually, the novel turned out to be a great deal more accessible than what many friends say about his work, Gravity's Rainbow in particular. Anyway, a relatively slim volume took rather more time than it should have.

So it's really up to the reader to decide what a "quick" read is. In this respect, my suggestions for a "quick" yet satisfying read would be(these are pretty random- off the top of my head)

1. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (my post about it here)

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell

4. Everything ever written by P.G.Wodehouse

5. Foundation series by Isaac Asimov

6. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

7. Our Gang by Philip Roth

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