Salil Tripathi


For September we reached out to Salil Tripathi, a well known and writer and journalist. He prepared a reading list for young writers, here we go!

My first language, or mother tongue, is Gujarati, spoken widely in western India. I read many books in Gujarati as a child, including translations of novels and poetry from other languages of India and from abroad, but I was not conscious at that time that I was going to be a writer. I realised I liked to tell stories and to write in my teens, so I have chosen five works I read in my early years of reading serious writing, of books which have left a deep impression on my mind. I have deliberately chosen to restrict my focus on works that I read early in my reading years and which are written in English, to ensure their easier availability:

1. Pauline Kael / Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

I have a passion for cinema – Italian neo-realists, Indian lyrical humanists, and French new wave masters. Seeing something beyond the obvious in the film itself, and to see it as a social comment, as an interpretation of society, is an art. Kael did this better than most critics. She was highly opinionated, deeply subjective, and sometimes infuriatingly stubborn, but she could make an argument well. Her criticism has been published in several volumes, but Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, which I read when I was 22, is a good place to start.

  2. Virginia Woolf / Mrs. Dalloway

“This novel dates back to 1925, and it is the harbinger of modernity. Set around Clarissa Dalloway preparing a party in the evening, it goes back and forth during the course of an apparently uneventful day, squeezing an enormously large universe in those hours, revealing how interior monologue can be a powerful tool in the hands of a writer, in telling a story. Seemingly microcosmic, it encompasses more than a universe. I read it while I was at college, around 19. ”

3. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre /Is Paris Burning?

” This duo of writers – one American and one French – have an engrossing way of recreating history as if it were a novel. They do take liberties, but they make the past vivid. In this book, they write about the Occupation of France during World War II and French resistance with verve. I read it when I was 15 and learned how to inject drama in what might otherwise seem dry. ”

4. Salman Rushdie / Midnight’s Children

“How can you tell the story of a country that is the size of a continent in one novel? Midnight’s Children is the answer. India is highly complex, and had this novel not been written, if I were asked to name one book that someone should read to understand India, I would not know where to start. Midnight’s Children not only gave India its narrative, it made many of us believe we owned the English language and we could write in it. The novel shows how a writer can use history and have it serve the demands of fiction. I read it when I was 21. (If understanding India is your priority, I should also mention The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, which is a remarkable, monumental piece of work which Nehru wrote over four years while in prison.)  ”

5. Ernest Hemingway / A Moveable Feast

“If there is one time in history I wish I had been alive, it is Paris of the 1920s and early 1930s. It was the period between the wars, and many American writers lived there in exile, to understand themselves better and interpret the world around them and figure out their own place in life. Hemingway spent an enormous amount of time honing his craft to write better, sharpening his language by culling out what was inessential and making his prose lean and sparse. There is much to learn from the way Hemingway writes, and the way he recalls his early years (and now we know part of it is fictionalised) is a lesson of the craft. I read it in my mid-20s, and have often walked the streets of Paris that Hemingway talks about.”

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