Books to catch up on

Smriti Daniel makes her pick of the best books to emerge in 2009

1. Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (fiction): Could this be Pratchett’s last book? Despite the author being diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, fans are delighted to find that Discworld lives on in ‘Unseen Academicals', Pratchett’s 37th Discworld novel.

The book is everything readers have come to expect from the satirist heralded as the “the purely funniest English writer since Wodehouse” (Washington Post Book World). ‘Unseen Academicals’ focuses on the wizards at Ankh-Morpork’s Unseen University, who are renowned for many things - wisdom, magic, and their love of multiple mealtimes - as they attempt to conquer the violent game of street football. As sport, food, fashion and wizards collide, the thing to remember about football - the most important thing about football - is that it is never just about football.

2. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer (non-fiction): A picture of a windmill changed William Kamkwamba’s life.

Discarded motor parts, PVC pipe, and an old bicycle wheel, things that most of us would dismiss as junk, were to him tools of marvellous potential. Growing up amid famine and poverty in rural Malawi, the young boy pored over borrowed textbooks and scrounged through salvage yards, determined to make his own windmill because it “meant more than just power, it was freedom.”

3. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger (fiction): The author of the extraordinary novel, ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ returns with ‘Her Fearful Symmetry,’ a haunting tale about the complications of love, identity, and sibling rivalry. When Elspeth Noblin dies, she bequeaths her London flat and its contents to the twin daughters of her estranged twin sister.

These 20-year-old dilettantes, Julie and Valentina, move from Chicago to London, eager to embrace this new experience. Bordering Elspeth’s home, the historic Highgate Cemetery provides an inspired backdrop for the rest of the tale. The twins soon find their lives entwined with those of their neighbours: Elspeth’s former lover, Robert; Martin, an agoraphobic crossword-puzzle creator; and the ethereal Elspeth herself, who appears to be struggling to adjust to the afterlife.

4. Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India by William Dalrymple (non-fiction): The priz-winning author of six novels, William Dalrymple newest book has been described as a “travelogue of both place and spirit.” A compelling exploration of India’s complex religious landscape, it introduces several intriguing characters.

In it a middle-class woman from Calcutta finds unexpected fulfillment living as a Tantric in an isolated, skull-filled cremation ground, a prison warder from Kerala is worshipped as an incarnate deity for two months of every year, a Jain nun tests her powers of detachment watching her closest friend ritually starve herself to death, the twenty-third in a centuries-old line of idol makers struggles to reconcile with his son’s wish to study computer engineering and an illiterate goatherd keeps alive in his memory an ancient 200,000-stanza sacred epic.

5. Drood by Dan Simmons (fiction): Dan Simmons specialises in writing highly literate horror and science fiction. In his newest novel, the mammoth doorstopper ‘Drood’ he imagines a terrifying sequence of events as the inspiration for Dickens’s last, uncompleted novel, ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

Along with his real-life novelist friend Wilkie Collins, who narrates the tale, Dickens pursues the ghoulish Drood, an effort that leads the pair to a nightmarish world beneath London’s streets.

6. How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel (non-fiction): When Emmy, a German shepherd, wants to know where her bone is, her master has a strange reply. “I have no idea where your bone is,” Orzel says, “but I can tell you exactly how fast it’s moving.” He uses the joke as a lead in to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle – which states that the less we know about a particle’s position, the more accurately we can determine its momentum, and vice versa. Needless to say, the dog is not amused.

Through its gimmicky concept, the book serves well as a introduction to quantum mechanics for dummies. A physics professor at Union College in New York, Orzel explains all the oddities and marvels of the quantum world through conversations with Emmy – who then applies them to chasing squirrels and receiving treats.

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