Rainy Day Reading

Features Issue 188 Jul, 2017
Text by Evangeline Neve

When wet weather keeps you in the house, take advantage of it by diving into a few good books.

There are possibly few things better on a rainy, stormy day than curling up on your couch or in bed with a steaming mug of tea or coffee and a good book. If, like me, you have several four-footed companions hanging about the place, they’ll enjoy it too—animals seem to love to sit on your lap while you’re reading, for some reason, preferably on the book itself!
It’s been a busy few months, during which I’ve had less time than usual for reading. But the rainy season seems to slow things down a bit, doesn’t it? When it’s pouring outdoors, I feel less inclined to dash around in a mad hurry. Staying at home with a book is just the thing. And, not just at home—I make sure there’s a current read-in-progress tucked inside my bag, too, so that when I’m stuck somewhere, waiting out a sudden downpour, I’m never bored.

My to-be-read list is always too long, and if you were to visit my home, you’d find stacks of books everywhere, filling four bookshelves and also…everywhere else, including in some of the most unlikely places. But despite the piles, and the fact that I probably have enough books to last me five years of uninterrupted reading without needing to buy a single volume, there are some new books that have begun clamoring for my attention, so my plan is to aim for a mix of old and new in my reading time this summer. Below is what’s commanding my attention at the moment. Maybe you’ll find one or two here that will strike your fancy, as well.

Mad Country by Samrat Upadhyay: As one of the first Nepali writers writing in English to be published abroad, I have tremendous respect for the author and his place in the pantheon of Nepali writers. However, I must admit I’ve struggled to connect with his prose. I’ve read Arresting God in Kathmandu, his first short-story collection, but never managed to work my way through any of his novels. So, I was delighted to hear that he’d come out with another book of short stories, a genre that I am increasingly coming to love these days. This is one I’m looking forward to. Short stories are also perfect for when you have smaller snatches of time; you can read one, absorb, and enjoy it, and even if you don’t pick up the book again for a few days, you haven’t lost the narrative thread or anything. 

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen: It’s pretty embarrassing that I’ve lived in here for this long and still haven’t read this classic book—the author’s account of his travels in Dolpo in search of the elusive snow leopard. There’s even a lovely, old paperback printing of it tucked carefully on my shelf, part of a book haul gifted to me by friends when they left Nepal. When Matthiessen died in 2014 at the age of 86, I told myself it was finally the time to read it, but again, somehow, I didn’t. This monsoon, I will. 

Human Acts by Han Kang: Of the fifty-seven books I read last year, one that impressed me profoundly and has still stayed niggling in my brain, bouncing around there like a ping-pong ball, is Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, the winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for fiction. This is an odd book, impossible to classify. Each of its three sections is told by a different narrator, none of which is the central figure. I can’t say I liked it, as parts are disturbing, but I have been unable to forget it. That’s why, when I heard that Kang has another book out, Human Acts, I knew that I had to read it. Dealing with a 1980 student uprising little known outside South Korea, it is, also, not a cheerful book; it might be a necessary one. 

Singha Durbar: Rise and Fall of the Rana Regime of Nepal by Sagar S.J.B. Rana: Non-fiction, particularly historical non-fiction, can make for slow reading. But, as George Santayana, writer and philosopher, once famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” For that reason, I believe that recording, reading, and remembering history—both the recent and far-off varieties—are important exercises. This is a book that will probably take me a while to work my way through, but I attended the launch earlier this month, and was impressed with the author’s bluntness and honesty when speaking of the Rana actions of the past. I think this is one that’s going to be worth the time.

Blue Mimosa (Shirish Ko Phool) by Parijat: This slim Madan Puraskar prize-winning novel is not new, of course. But, if you haven’t read it, it’s certainly worth your time. I read it myself only a couple of months ago, making it the one book on this list that I’ve already completed, but I couldn’t leave it out. It’s a strange, sad, lyrical book that says so much, and also leaves so much unsaid. Another one that has stuck with me, and that I’ve often thought of since reading it. It’s not long, either, so if you don’t have time for a longer book, and you’ve not read this one yet, I highly recommend it. As far as I can tell, it’s the only one of this esteemed Nepali writer’s many books to be available in English, which is a shame, as I’d love to read more of her work. Reading it piqued an interest in me to search out more Nepali writers, specifically those from the past who have works available in translation.