My Java Journal

Another Story, Another List: India And Books

Packing to head north and into the Himalayas. You can see my Lonely Planet India guide – a brick of a book. New Delhi, India, 1995.


Well, that was fun last week! So many responses and shared lists on the six cassettes you’d select, if you could select only 6.

The range of artists and albums from the many lists shared covered old country to rap, classical to grunge, and pop to swing. Really, some amazing artists and albums to consider. Of note, there were a few artists and albums that appeared several times:

  • Pearl Jam – Ten
  • Leonard Cohen – The Best of
  • Beethoven (although not necessarily the same piece)
  • James Blunt – Back to Bedlam
  • Bob Marley and the Wailers – Legend (the Best of)

Another notable point from the shared lists, that I had also considered but in the end couldn’t decide on an artist and their album, were the many strong female artists. I had Norah Jones and Sarah McLachlan on the first draft of my list, but ended up cutting them when I couldn’t decide on a single album that I would select – although Mirrorball by Sarah McLachlan was close, and also shared by one reader and their list.

Amy Winehouse also placed high, however, another amazing artist that I have recently become obsessed is Lana Del Rey. If I was to redo my list right now I would have to seriously consider Mirrorball or Lana Del Rey’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! The latter has become a favourite, and gets much play these days. Honestly, an album called Norman Fucking Rockwell!, and that carries explicit warnings on the first 6 songs of the album has got my attention. The whole album is sultry, powerful, raw and extremely well written – musically and lyrically.

Similar Theme, Different List

Now, if you’ll allow me to indulge one more India related story, and another list.

In my readings and research before traveling India the warnings about the weight and space books consumed became a far greater consideration than that of cassettes (see feature picture and the stack of books). With this insight I decided on departing with only one book (other than my travel guides) – City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre.

City of Joyis the inspiring story of an American doctor who experienced a spiritual rebirth in an impoverished section of Calcutta.” It is an amazing story really. One of the things I recall immediately each time I think back on this book is how it humanizes the lepers, specifically, and those living in abject poverty; detailing the hospitality and generosity of those with so little. It, and my own similar experiences, changed my perspective on life to this day.

The Traveler’s Book Exchange – Old Skool

Here’s how it worked in India in 1994-95. Remember, no Internet, no iPad, no Kindle, no 1000 titles in the palm of your hand in 1995.

Similar to those ‘Take a Book Leave a Book’ libraries that have popped up around cities, in India there were book stands, and the occasional store set up to cater to travelers. It was an exchange platform whereby you gave a book and got a new one. There were times when there was a (very) small cost, generally if you traded in a short book such as The Little Prince for, say, Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Otherwise, it was one-for-one.

With so many travelers from around the world tramping through India in the 90s the selection to choose from was considerable.

What I Read In India

To the best of my recollection here is the list of books I read while traveling India for 4-5 months. Where I can (and where I can, it is a very strong memory) I have added the city I associate with the book. More often than not, I would be reading a book while moving, but would eventually land somewhere and spend a day or two completely consumed with the book. I did this because I could, but also because I wanted to get the book exchanged before the next bound.

Without further ado then …

  • City of Joy (finished in Varanasi/Benares)
  • The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Lord of the Rings, the trilogy  – J.R.R. Tolkien (Varanasi through Bodh Gaya and finished in Puri)
  • Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (Jaipur)
  • Another Roadside Attraction – Tom Robbins
  • On the Road – Jack Kerouac
  • Skinny Legs and All – Tom Robbins (Pokaran)
  • Still Life with Woodpecker – Tom Robbins (Pokaran)
  • The Silmarillion – J.R.R. Tolkien (New Delhi)
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance – Robert M. Pirsig
  • Even Cowgirls Get the Blues – Tom Robbins (Shimla)
  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I am certain I am missing some, but obviously I became consumed with Tom Robbins. I loved his books, but haven’t read them since. I think, perhaps, I will now again though.


What I loved most about this method of book exchange was that although the range of books was broad, the selection at any given stand was limited. You weren’t overwhelmed and were mostly excited to find something that followed what you had already been reading, or perhaps a recommendation made during  your travels. For example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy was easy to find and complete, but finding The Silmarillion was a crap shoot. I wasn’t looking for it per se, but when I saw it I grabbed it immediately. I don’t remember enjoying it so much, but was glad to complete the book series.

There’s a whole post I could write on the beauty and joy of living in the analogue world of the 90s, where limited choice and delayed gratification so much better provided a depth and simplicity to life; but not here, not today.

Let’s finish this way this week though; what books take you back to some significant point in your life, that had an impact so great that just hearing the book title or author’s name pulls you to some memory so clear you can recollect the place, people and circumstance of when you read the book?

If you haven’t already, check out my book lists.

My Book Lists

My original list of Top 100 Books was a challenge and really, unfinished business. I have, since creating the page for that list, written a post with a new, pared down and more universally accessible list of 50 Must-Read books.