Having completed my first round of books from the 1001 List, I was eager for round two. Zadie Smith’s On Beauty was next to be tackled. Smith’s writing was sharp and witty, and the story itself was diverting enough, but it’s what I would call a “good book,” not a great one. I remember that I found Beauty to be a well-written, fast-paced read, and that the plot was somewhat soapy in nature. That being said, it would be a perfect book for reading during a vacation--but not exactly must-read-before-you-die material.
Next on the List was a book I’d never heard of --The Romantics, by Pankaj Mishra. At the time that I was reading this book, I’d had very little experience with Indian literature (although I’d loved M. G. Vassanji’s Book of Secrets). For me, the lovely thing about The Romantics was how effectively it created the sensation of being transported to South East Asia. The setting of Mishra’s novel made a simple, beautifully told story even more fascinating.
The transition from reading a story set in India to one set in Britain would have been less jarring, had the U.K. not been in the midst of an alien invasion. I’m referring, of course, to The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, a book so marvellously terrifying that everyone should just skip the movie adaptations (and the countless rip-offs) and just read it immediately. Here’s why: If there is one thing more distressing than being attacked by malevolent Martians, it is being attacked by space creatures without the benefit of modern communication and transportation technologies! The War of the Worlds was published in 1898, but it still packs a solid action-packed punch today. Before the List, I thought I might like Wells; it turns out that I adore him. See also: The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and The Time Machine.
The final book from round two was Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, which made no impression on me whatsoever. I’m not sure if I was losing something in translation, or whether it had been included on the List for its historical significance rather than any particular merit it might possess. But it strikes me as strange, that despite my vivid recollection of the other books I was reading during this period, that I do not have any strong memory of neither Werther’s content nor its execution. Perhaps further explorations of Goethe’s work will yield better results….