‘Books and humans both come with great covers’

Manu S Pillai is of the opinion that books are vastly superior, and humans can never match up

BENGALURU :  Author Manu S Pillai is known for his debut non-fiction, The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore, for which he won the 2017  Yuva Sahitya Akademi Award. Here are excerpts of the conversation we had with him:

Your favourite book of all time and why? Could you quote a passage?
There are too many wonderful books and picking a favourite is an 
impossible task.

Your favourite fictional character and why?
PG Wodehouse’s Jeeves. Because he is exquisite.

Few lines you got from a book, which you would never forget?
I have a terrible memory. (That is why I am always making notes.)

Five top books released in 2017, according to you?
Upinder Singh’s Political Violence in Ancient India, Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar, Pranay Lal’s Indica, TCA Raghavan’s The People Next Door, Tripti Lahiri’s Maid in India.

One book you would want a first edition of and why?
Aubrey Menen’s sparkling Rama Retold, which was one of the first books to be banned in India – because we prefer to conceal insecurity and a lack of humour with self-righteousness and an overblown tendency towards outrage. The capacity to laugh at ourselves comes with confidence. We are still on our way there.

Which author would you like to have tea with and what would you talk about?
Vyasa, to talk about the little ironies and hilarious mischief woven throughout the Mahabharata — a work that truly is, as my ex-boss Shashi Tharoor wrote, The Great Indian Novel.

One advice you would give to your favourite author, and one you would give to terrible writers.
I try not to give advice. The world would be a happier place if people weren’t so eager to lecture other people.

Which books would you take with you on a solo holiday?
Something like Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, but also something very “pop” for the road or in the plane. Also something like Jonas Jonasson’s brilliant The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden.

Your one guilty-pleasure read?

Jeffrey Archer.

One fictional character you go to when you need a friend?
Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. I have warm memories of this book from my childhood and feel a certain comfort at the very thought of it.

What is one quality of a book you wish people would have?
Books are vastly superior, and humans can never match up. It is futile to even expect. Books and humans both come with great covers — it is usually the book that lives up to its image, while we humans are, on the inside, quite different from what appears outside. But then I suppose that is precisely the point of being human.

One book you wish was never written, and why?
All books have their place. I’d never wish any book’s non-existence. There are sentences I myself have written, though, which, I wish I had not. Or that I had crafted them better.

What is one thing you cannot 
tolerate when you are reading?
Unwanted company. What would be ideal when reading is to have a dog nearby. (Never a cat)

Your favourite reading nook?
A carpet on the floor.

Do you remember to keep bookmarks?
No, I have that uncivilised habit of dog-earing pages instead.

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The New Indian Express