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Editorial Choices,Reading 2009

Romila Thapar

Long distance plane journeys are very boring. Watching movies doesn’t quite prevent travel fatigue and the ensuing jet lag. There was one exception this past year. Before I set out westwards I made my usual visit to The Bookshop to ask KD Singh if he could recommend some travel reading. He said he had just finished a book that he found riveting—The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. So I picked up a copy and he was right. The hours went by and so did jet lag. Having once been a reader of science fiction I enjoyed the references to the gadgets of contemporary life that almost approached science fiction but were nevertheless basically humane, unlike the use of gadgetry in a James Bond novel. And the story was essentially fun. My reading during the year was a mixed lot. Another friend suggested Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader, an unusual theme treated with a delightfully subtle humour. Queen Elizabeth II suddenly takes to reading modern ‘classical’ literature and becomes so avid in her reading that she carries a book in her handbag when riding in a coach and four. The books are procured for her by a kitchen-boy turned page with a penchant for gay writers and who is a member of a mobile lending library that parks every week in a backyard of Buckingham Palace. What she chooses to read and the reactions of the various flunkeys and officials who are in attendance on her and cannot quite fathom the change that this reading has brought about, presents the contradiction of being such a Queen and yet seeking anonymity, in a quirky but oddly sympathetic light. The gentle satire is aimed both at the politics of monarchy as well as aspects of modern literary writing. The book remains highly enjoyable. Richard Dawkins’s The Greatest Show on Earth, taken chapter by chapter over a few weeks provided me with a renewed interest in Evolution. The argument is set in a context that also draws on research since Darwin. The book counters arguments that come from an opposition to Evolution at an uninformed level. Dawkins understands the implications of the debate as a perspective of social attitudes and ideology. However he does not give as much attention to the debates around his own work. Another reading of a debate but on a different subject is the ...

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