Books I Like

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Here’s a list of books and articles I’ve enjoyed reading over the past few years:

Nonfiction

Community and belonging in Indian Jewish literature by Navraas Jaat Aafreedi

Empires of the Indus: The Story of a River by Alice Albinia

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong

The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions by Karen Armstrong

Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan

Two Men and Music: Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition by Janaki Bakhle

Swami Vivekananda’s Disputed Legacy by Rajni Bakshi

Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy and the West by Benazir Bhutto

The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia by Michael Booth

I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away by Bill Bryson

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi by William Dalrymple

The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das

The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger

Why Marx Was Right by Terry Eagleton

The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China by David Eimer

Shaking off the perspective that equates China solely with the Han Chinese is difficult. The Han-dominated Chinese Communist Party assiduously encourages a view of the country that relegates the other ethnic groups to the fringes. Just as they exist at the geographical edges of China, so they occupy an uneasy space at the margins of society. The Chinese like to think of themselves as one vast family with their unelected leaders, whether the emperors of the past or the CCP, as its patriarchs. China’s minorities are at best distant cousins, linked to their relations by forced marriages rather than blood.

— David Eimer, The Emperor Far Away

House of Fire: Can India’s Parsis survive their own success? by Nell Freudenberger

Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition by Nisid Hajari

Today Partition is a horrific memory for millions — but it is just that, a memory. What truly continues to haunt today’s world are the furies that were unloosed in 1947 — the fears and suspicions and hatreds forged in Partition’s searing crucible. Partition’s legacy is no mere colonial hangover. The unresolved sense of siege Pakistan has suffered since 1947, its fear that India has both the capacity and the desire to snuff out its independent existence, poses one of the greatest threats to the stability and security of today’s world.

— Nisid Hajari, Midnight’s Furies

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

The Last Speakers: The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages by K. David Harrison

The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama by Pico Iyer

Tyagaraja: Life and Lyrics by William Jackson

“Looking for a Hindu Identity” by D.N. Jha

A White Trail: A Journey Into the Heart of Pakistan’s Religious Minorities by Haroon Khalid

A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story by T.M. Krishna

The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible by Aviya Kushner

The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama by Thomas Laird

From Stone to Flesh: A Short History of the Buddha by Donald Lopez

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann

“Contrary to what so many Americans learn in school, the pre-Columbian Indians were not sparsely settled in a pristine wilderness; rather, there were huge numbers of Indians who actively molded and influenced the land around them. The astonishing Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan had running water and immaculately clean streets, and was larger than any contemporary European city. Mexican cultures created corn in a specialized breeding process that it has been called man’s first feat of genetic engineering. Indeed, Indians were not living lightly on the land but were landscaping and manipulating their world in ways that we are only now beginning to understand.”

— Charles Mann, 1491

1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created by Charles Mann

Speaking like a Brahmin: Social Aspects of a Register of Spoken Telugu by Brad Miller

Preserving Ethnicity through Religion in America: Korean Protestants and Indian Hindus across Generations by Pyong Gap Min

From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia by Pankaj Mishra

For most people in Europe and America, the history of the twentieth century is still largely defined by the two world wars and the long nuclear stand­off with Soviet Communism. But it is now clearer that the central event of the last century for the majority of the world’s population was the intellectual and political awakening of Asia and its emergence from the ruins of both Asian and European empires. To acknowledge this is to understand the world not only as it exists today, but also how it is continuing to be remade not so much in the image of the West as in accordance with the aspirations and longings of former subject peoples. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

— Pankaj Mishra, From the Ruins of Empire

The Story of French by Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow

“Searching for a Progressive Hindu/ism: Battling Mussolini’s Hindus, Hindutva, and Hubris” by Balmurli Natrajan

The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna by Swami Nikhilananda

“From Kali to Krishna: A love song” by Devdutt Pattanaik

Indian Mythology: Tales, Symbols, and Rituals from the Heart of the Subcontinent by Devdutt Pattanaik

Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You by Devdutt Pattanaik

Hindu mythology makes constant references to queerness, the idea that questions notions of maleness and femaleness. There are stories of men who become women, and women who become men, of men who create children without women, and women who create children without men, and of creatures who are neither this, nor that, but a little bit of both… There are also many words in Sanskrit, Prakrit and Tamil that suggest a long familiarity with queer thought and behaviour.

It is common to either deny the existence of such fluidity in our stories, or simply locate them in the realm of the supernatural or point to law books that, besides endorsing patriarchy and casteism, also frown upon queer behaviour. Yet the stories are repeatedly told and shown. Gentle attempts, perhaps, of wise sages to open up stubborn finite minds and lead them towards infinity.

— Devdutt Pattanaik, Shikhandi and Other Tales They Don’t Tell You

Indonesia Etc.: Exploring the Improbable Nation by Elizabeth Pisani

God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter, by Stephen Prothero

Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind by David Quammen

Hindu Pride and the Future of Hinduism by Anantanand Rambachan

A Hindu Theology of Liberation by Anantanand Rambachan

Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia, edited by Paula Richman

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East by Gerard Russell

Alaap in C minor by Dustin Silgardo and Kingshuk Niyogy

We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel’s Jews from Arab Lands by Rachel Shabi

Globally, Jews who come from Arab countries are a minority: 90 percent of the Jewish population outside Israel is of European descent — German, Polish, Russian, Hungarian, or Eastern European. They’re defined as “Ashkenazi,” from the old Hebrew word for German. The Western worldwide presence of European Jewry is why the idea of “Jewish” usually conjures up images of Ashkenazi culture: Yiddish words, klezmer music, gefilte fish, and the shtetl-life-depicting musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

But in Israel, Jews from Middle Eastern and North African countries (also called “Oriental” or “Mizrahi”) comprise at least 40 percent of the Jewish population and at one stage were a clear majority. Jewish culture in their context is Arabic words, Oriental music, Middle Eastern food, and the high melodrama of classic Egyptian cinema. Identities developed to the rhythms and patterns of the Middle East so that, for a large proportion of arrivals to the new Israel, Arab was a way of being Jewish.

— Rachel Shabi, We Look Like the Enemy

The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity by Amartya Sen

Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India by Davesh Soneji

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama’s Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero by Stephan Talty

Radical Tantra by Isabella Tree

Exotic Aliens: The Lion and the Cheetah in India by Valmik Thapar

Gandhi’s Tiger and Sita’s Smile: Essays on Gender, Sexuality and Culture by Ruth Vanita

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

In American terms, the accomplishment of Genghis Khan might be understood if the United States, instead of being created by a group of educated merchants or wealthy planters, had been founded by one of its illiterate slaves, who, by the sheer force of personality, charisma, and determination, liberated America from foreign rule, united the people, created an alphabet, wrote the constitution, established universal religious freedom, invented a new system of warfare, marched an army from Canada to Brazil, and opened roads of commerce in a free-trade zone that stretched across the continents. On every level and from any perspective, the scale and scope of Genghis Khan’s accomplishments challenge the limits of imagination and tax the resources of scholarly explanation.

— Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Fiction

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

South Haven by Hirsh Sawhney

Poetry

The Memory of Love: Surdas Sings to Krishna, translated by John Stratton Hawley

Migritude by Shailja Patel

When God Is a Customer: Telugu Courtesan Songs by Kshetrayya and Others. Edited and translated by A.K. Ramanujan, Velcheru Narayana Rao, and David Shulman

Classical Telugu Poetry: An Anthology. Edited and Translated by Velcheru Narayana Rao. and David Shulman.

Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska

Academic articles

If you’d like PDFs of any of these, please email me at nikhiletcblog@gmail.com!

“Geography as Melody in Muttusvami Dikshita’s Indian Musical Works” by Chandra S. Balachandran and Surinder M. Bhardwaj

“A Muslim Princess in the Temples of Viṣṇu” by Richard H. Davis

“The Third Stream: Odissi Music, Regional Nationalism, and the Concept of ‘Classical'” by David Dennen

“Capitalism and Gay Identity” by John D’Emilio

“Has the American Public Polarized?” by Morris Fiorina

“A Progressive Hindu Approach to God” by J.A. Kasturi, Sunita Viswanath, Aminta Kilawan, and Rohan Narine

“Diglossic Hinduism: Liberation and Lentils” by Vasudha Narayanan

“The Myths of Bhakti: Images of Siva in Saiva Poetry” by A. K. Ramanujan

“Three Hundred Ramayanas” by A. K. Ramanujan

“Hindu Minorities and the Limits of Hindu Inclusiveness: Sindhi and Indo-Caribbean Hindu Communities in Atlanta” by Steven Ramey

“Reform and Revival: The Devadasi and Her Dance” by Amrit Srinivasan

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