April 03, 2020
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Patrick French toils over V.S. Naipaul's biography; Jeffrey Archer's awesome reading list and Penguin India's 15th birthday gift.

Just how close Trinidad-born Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul feels towards the land of his forebears is clear from the way Patrick French is going about his authorised biography. Within a few months of being commissioned to write the life of the irascible India-baiter, the India-lover and author of Younghusband and Liberty Or Death flew into Mumbai and Delhi to meet the many Indians who had dealings with Naipaul, including those who figure in his controversial Indian books. French took a break to pursue his other passion, Tibet, but will return to Delhi in February for more research.

It’s that time of the year again, when literary stars all over the world are bombarded with requests from papers and magazines for year-end lists of favourite books. Most writers fight shy of presenting their reading list for the past year, claiming they have been too busy writing to have read much. But not Jeffrey Archer. In the first 67 days that he spent in prison on a sentence for perjury, the best-selling author not only wrote the 70,000-word Prison Diary, but also managed to get through 16 novels and plays plus uncounted volumes of short stories by five authors. Archer’s prison reading list: nine Shakespeare plays, three Dickens novels including the 1,072-page Bleak House; novels by Hermann Hesse, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, including the 768-page Sword of Honour trilogy; and short story collections by H.E. Bates, O. Henry, Saki, Somerset Maugham and John Mortimer. Besides, Archer also managed to read contemporary books by Robert Goddard, Maev Binchy, Frederick Forsyth and Pamela Stephenson. And oh yes, The Art Book: A Visual Dictionary. "It’s almost as if he was trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records," comments a sceptical professor of English, John Sutherland, who volunteered to test Archer on his reading.

And for those who want to read but don’t dare to because of the prices, Penguin India has put out some choice titles at affordable prices as its 15th birthday gift. The Editor’s Choice titles include Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Feast of the Goat, Berlin, the best-selling account of its downfall by Antony Beevor, Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, Embers by Sandor Marai, The Ash Garden by Dennis Bock, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. Happy reading!

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