I am a voracious reader. I think (or like to think) I get that from my mother who sometimes gets so engrossed in a book that she forgets the conversation doing rounds around her. For most writers, voracious readers must be the easiest challenge, for they read anything! If it is a bad book, they read and tell the world it sucks! But they still read it because sometimes book reviews aren’t always right and most of the times the author’s most famous book is not necessarily his best and more importantly, might not go on to become your favorite. So here is a list of the so-called “second bests” which are my favorite:
1. “Diary of a Bad Year”, JM Coetzee: better known for his work in “Disgrace” and “Life and Times of Micheal K” this guy manages to change the way he tells a story in each one of his novels. Why Diary… appealed to me as because of its unique method of running parallel stories in the diaries of the various characters. It was political and apolitical at the same time. Romantic and unromantic simultaneously. Now, I agree Life and Times is definitely the best stories ever told but Diary became my favorite simply because being such a famous novelist, sometimes authors forget to take risks and the Diary is a risky book. Not everyone gets it and yet he wrote it!
2. “Chronicles of a Death foretold”: it’s hard to find a favorite Marquez. But among “No one writes to the colonel” and “love in time of cholera” (the only romantic novel I could stand till date) and the most famous “Hundred Years of solitude”, the chronicles wins because of its unique storyline and Marquez managing to intrigue the reader in spite of the ending being given away in the very first sentence!
3. “Like a flowing river”, Paolo Coehlo: I’m not a Coehlo fan but again I have read most of his famous work like the Alchemist and the Zahir and not really agreed with his so-called “philosophy of life” but in Like a flowing river, he is more honest, possibly because it’s a collection of his thoughts, it helped me come to terms with what he blatantly tries to say in his novels. It was more personal and one of the only two books of his I could finish without being angry at him for writing(Veronica decides to die being the other one)
4. “The Meek one”, Dostoevsky: a friend of mine recently went wide eyed and shook his head and said of doestovsky, “That dude was twisted!” Between the “Brothers Karamazov” and the most famous crime and punishment, doestvsky came up with a group of short stories and among them it was this unassuming tale of a working class man living in loneliness that really stuck! This is the best take on the lives of the middle class all over the world. For a lot of years I used to compare, every death and every life happening around me to this story and it seemed to define the way I saw mankind!
5. “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” Edgar Allan Poe: “The king of darkness” as I call him, he started the concept of a cult. Poe remains to this date quite a mystery, even in death (the flower that was laid at his grave every year until 2009 is sufficient proof). “The System..” appears in most short stories and has now become such a common tale spoofed in almost all scary movies that involve a lunatic asylum and yet as always no one really knows it originated with this short story. At a time when dark literature was not generally popular, Poe provided the perfect stage for future writers of horror and sci-fi. Of course, “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” are better known poems from him but this story was the perfect start to amazing things to come!