Book picks

Book picks

Mimlu Sen decided to abandon a carefree life in Paris when one day she watched a performance by a Baul group. The Bauls are the mystic minstrels of Bengal who entertain and philosophize through their soulful songs. Sen returned to her roots in Kolkata and travelled with a singer, Paban Das Baul, through the heart of the verdant Bengal countryside. She went to the famous Baul festival at Kenduli, to Shantiniketan and to Agrodwip, living like them and learning their music. She encountered tribals and tantrics, “sexo-yogic secrets" and strange things such as “catfish that climb tress". In her first book, Baulsphere, Sen tells all. Nomadic artists anywhere in the world are a fascinating subject, and this memoir has been enriched by the colourful anecdotes, fascinating history and the plentiful passages on the soul-stirring music of the Bauls.

This book has often been labelled “the best novel about running ever written". The story of Quentin Cassidy is a cult classic among those who run or take running seriously . Like last year’s Running, Haruki Murakami’s memoir about the similarities between running and writing, this book isn’t for everyone. But the demand for and interest in the book has remained since it’s first publication in 1978. Now, a third edition of the book has come out. Quentin is a high school student who is disqualified from a school competition, and he leaves school, lives in a house by the woods and trains himself in running. Parker writes about the pain and the mystery of battling against one’s mind and body to be an accomplished runner.

China High: My Fast Times in the 010 by ZZ (St Martin’s Press)

After last year’s many books on China and its economy comes one that makes me want to pick it up. Written by a pseudonymous author, ZZ, this a memoir of an urban youth living it up in Beijing. The author grew up in the US, but began his professional life Beijing, where he got caught in an endless loop of shopping, clubbing and smoking zigarettes (opium-laced cigarettes). He ended up getting arrested for possession of drugs and had a harrowing prison term. Fast-paced and honest, it’s a rare glimpse into the decadent yuppie side of Beijing.

A Shadow Falls: In the Heart of Java by Andrew Beatty (Faber)

Anthropologist Andrew Beatty lived in a small village in Indonesia with his family in the mid-1990s and closely observed the cultural and social fabric of the most populous Muslim-majority country. Beatty recounts his experience of Islam in Indonesia and why, in a country where Islam and democracy is known to have co-existed, fundamentalism is seeping in. This is a promising book in the genre of contemporary non-fiction.