Five books that were a waste of time

Updated: Dec 10, 2018, 08:23 IST | Aditya Sinha | Mumbai

There are plenty of lists for the best books of the year, so here are some of 2018's disappointments instead, to help save your time

I felt cheated by 'The Paradoxical Prime Minister: Narendra Modi and his India'. Shashi Tharoor gives you no insight into Modi. Pic for Representation/Getty Images
I felt cheated by 'The Paradoxical Prime Minister: Narendra Modi and his India'. Shashi Tharoor gives you no insight into Modi. Pic for Representation/Getty Images

Aditya SinhaThe only problem with books is that occasionally you're trapped in a complete waste of time. Perhaps expectations from that book or from that author were unachievably high. Perhaps it was just poorly written. Since you're bound to find dozens of lists of best books of the year - highly subjective in any case - here are my disappointments of 2018.

1. The Paradoxical Prime Minister: Narendra Modi and his India, by Shashi Tharoor. I'm no fan of the PM. However, Modi has dominated Indian life since May 2014, like it or not, and while much is written about him, rarely has anyone gone behind the veil and seen what makes him tick. That is why I read through the entire book and, in the end, felt cheated. Tharoor gives you no insight into Modi: his inner life, or what makes him attractive to his followers. The book is well-researched, no doubt by a team of interns painstakingly researching Modi on Google and YouTube.

Yet it is bereft of wisdom. Indeed, the way its chapters are organised, you'd think this was a report card of each policy or programme undertaken by Modi's government. Sometimes one wonders whether Tharoor is pitching himself as PM. I have nothing against Tharoor, or his insistence of esoteric words, but this is a shallow work. A phenomenon like Modi - whom Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal once called a psychopath and a coward - merited a deeper study, not just a Modipedia.

2. Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward. This portrait of US President Donald Trump, by America's best-known journalist, served zero purpose. Over the past two decades, Woodward's books have generally been worthless. He ferrets out a lot of information from principal characters at the highest levels of the US administration, which produces many juicy episodes; The Final Days (1976) has an account of the time that Richard Nixon, during his dying presidency, made Secretary of State Henry Kissinger join him on his knees in prayer. Woodward obviously did not get it from Nixon.

He however, has rarely put his access and information in service of the good or purposeful; the sum of events is an end in itself. Fear similarly gives you nothing new from what you already learned from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury or James Comey's A Higher Loyalty or Katy Tur's Unbelievable. They thrust you into the chaos of Trump's campaign or administration, his disinterest in detail, and his frequent staff changes - though none of this bothers his supporters, because it is all proof that he isn't a typical politician. The best Trump book is by far The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy, which stunningly details the US-Russia cyberwar, and which makes clear that Robert Mueller's investigation will not end well for Trump. It proves that Trump's personality is of less consequence than his actions.

3. Jashoda, by Kiran Nagarkar. Cuckold is one of my favourite novels and Ravan and Eddie is not bad either. However, in Jashoda, Nagarkar appears to have simply gone through the motions. His latest novel is more of a let-down because he so obviously has the gift of writing. Yet this novel, about a Rajasthani villager crushed by her circumstances, etc, lacks novelty or engagement. Also, the ending is unsatisfying. This is a problem bedevilling much of Indian fiction - writers begin a story with an energetic idea but don't have the patience for the story's natural, logical and imaginative conclusion to evolve. They're in a tearing hurry to finish the damn thing. Perhaps that's why some say a writer has one big book in him/her, and that most writers ought to retire once they write it. Instead of this forgettable book, you would do better to pick up Shubhangi Swarup's Latitudes of Longing, perhaps the best this year.

4. Pakistan Adrift, by Asad Durrani and The Unending Game, by Vikram Sood. Having co-written The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace with former ISI chief Durrani (and former RAW chief AS Dulat), I should not say Durrani's own self-important memoir was dull as dishwater. As was Sood's (he was Dulat's successor as chief). Bureaucrats won't change; their memoirs will only have redeeming value if they partner an accomplished writer. (It's why both my projects with Dulat, the other being Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, were bestsellers; you won't find better-written books by a retired Indian official.) Publishers that don't force bureaucrats to partner professional writers will continue to suffer miserable sales.

5. Exam Warriors, by Narendra Modi. This exercise in narcissism and wrong advice to children (yoga as preparation for exams) is the pits. Modi wants to emulate former President APJ Abdul Kalam, but inadvertently proves that he has no vision, no ideas, no programme.

Aditya Sinha's latest book, The Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace, co-written with AS Dulat and Asad Durrani, is available now. He tweets @autumnshade Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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