A good mail day and another new start for the new reading year. I am once again subscribing to the NYRB Classics Book Club and my January book is here. All in all I didn't do too badly with last year's books since I read just over half of them (and maybe I can cross off a few more this year as well), but one of my 'goals' is to read even more this year. It would be a really spectacular year to read them all, but you never know what NYRB will throw at you. Generally the books are on the shorter side, but not always. Sometimes what shows up in your mailbox will be a reading challenge in some way or another. Whatever book they choose, however, will be a worthy and often a really amazing read.
To kick 2017 off they have sent the just released (rather reissued) Indian classic Samskara: A Rite for a Dead Man by U.R. Ananthamurthy, which was published in 1965 and translated the Indian poet and scholar A.K. Ramanujan. To be honest I had never heard of this book or author before and were I not a subscriber this likely would not cross my radar and I would not have picked it up otherwise. That is, however, the very reason I love NYRB and eagerly look forward to what each new month will bring. Subscribers get one of each month's new releases which are generally reissues of forgotten classics and more often than not they are works in translation. Since I am not part of a local book club, this is a good way to read outside my normal comfort zone and expand my mind and reading experience. And I have found some favorites through the books I have received and read.
Silly as it sounds seeing that parcel in my mailbox each month makes me all happy and tingly inside. I try not to look ahead of time so I can be surprised by what they send, but lately I have not been especially successful. The anticipation always gets the better of me.
So what is Samskara about? Good question and I shall soon find out, but just perusing the book a bit . . . there is a translator's note which calls this a novella (just over 150 pages, so certainly entirely doable in the coming month before I start thinking about February's book). He writes that it is "a religious novella about a decaying brahmin colony in a Karnataka village, an allegory rich in realistic detail." It was popular with readers and critics when it was published and shortly after made into a "controversial" film. The NYRB description assures me it is "a tale of existential suspense, a life-and-death encounter between the sacred and the profane, the pure and impure." I wonder if it will in any way shed light on my other Indian read, A Suitable Boy? I'll let you know!
Shall we start reading?
"He bathed Bhagirathi's body, a dried-up wasted pea-pod, and wrapped a fresh sari around it; then he offered food and flowers to the gods as he did every day, put the flowers in her hair, and gave her holy water. She touched his feet, he blessed her. Then he brought her a bowlful of cracked-what porridge from the kitchen."
When you subscribe you get a freebie/previously published classic, which in my case turns out to be The Jeffersonian Transformation: Passages from the "History" by Henry Adams. That seems a pretty good choice considering my plan to read Colonial American Literature (fiction and nonfiction). The actual History runs to nine volumes, so this will be a sampling. Since this is a freebie I will probably take my time reading it. Maybe a chapter a month or so? It seems like it will be heavy-duty reading, but I might be pleasantly surprised.
Hmm. I seem to have a very respectable (and slightly formidable) reading pile going, but I am happy with each and every book!