My shelfie… Binna Kandola OBE
Binna Kandola OBE, Senior Partner at Pearn Kandola and Visiting Professor at Leeds University Business School and Aston University Business School
This was a revelation to me not just because of the subject matter, but also for its style. Published in 1981, the novel follows the life of Saleem Sinai who was born at midnight on 15 August 1947 – the exact moment of India’s independence. As well as having a nose the shape of India, he possesses telepathic powers which connect him to other children born in the first hour of independence. Saleem’s experiences, and those of his family, serve as an allegory for the early decades of India’s existence.
The powerful story represented my introduction to magical realism, a style that uses real events and mashes them up with surreal and fantastical elements. The anger and sense of the betrayal that Rushdie felt about Indira Gandhi’s state of emergency in the mid-1970s is still clear to me even though it is years since I last read it.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood is a wry and perceptive observer of society as well as an original storyteller. Several of her books are set in a dystopian future (aren’t all books set in the future dystopian?) and she always forces the reader to think about our lives today. She does this effectively in The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985. The United States has mutated into Gilead, an authoritarian, fundamentalist Christian state. The story is one of power, misogyny and oppression, where religion is used to justify the subordination of women. One has to wonder about its predictive powers when you consider the sexual harassment and exploitation scandals of powerful people in recent days, including the election of an openly misogynistic man as the president of the United States.
Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, my favourite (for the moment anyway) is Coriolanus. Until recently, I had only read it and found it utterly compelling on each occasion. Of course, the plays were not meant to be read, and watching it performed at the RSC in Stratford recently only enhanced the writing for me. In the character of Coriolanus, Shakespeare provides commentary on what occupational psychologists refer to today as authenticity, integrity and ethical leadership.
The central character, Coriolanus, never changes from the beginning to the end – he is utterly authentic. We know what he is like his, strengths as well as his considerable flaws, from the very first moment we see him. What changes are the events around him, and the expectations that others place on him. His refusal to be other than what he is, and to not play political games causes others to perceive him differently, and to take advantage.
The Rose Window: Splendour and Symbol
There is the section in our library which I refer to as ‘Books I Like to Look At’, more often labelled as ‘coffee table’ books. These are beautiful to look at, but too big to be read; I find them relaxing and contemplative. Of these, Painton Cowen’s book takes pride of place. A creation of the Gothic era, the power and beauty of rose windows still entrance visitors to the great cathedrals today. ‘Like all great works of art, such rose windows seem to speak directly to the individual, catching us unawares and slipping past the enquiring intellect by the impact solely of their warm light and colour’ says Cowen. The crowning triumph of the book is that the aesthetic and spiritual impact of the rose windows is conveyed by the beautiful photography.
Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier is another favourite author who creates suspense not just from the plot, but from a deep sense of character and of place. ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ is the opening line of her most popular book, Rebecca. The story is narrated by the second Mrs De Winter, wife of Max De Winter. The story is full of intrigue, mystery and twists. We witness the development of the narrator from a timid, bullied, insecure person to someone who is more confident and strong.
How to Cook
Finally, a book in three volumes, which is indispensable. I have been a fan of Delia since the mid-1980s, and by the time volume one of How to Cook appeared, I already had many of her books. Her aims in writing this series were twofold: ‘to reintroduce people to the pleasure of basic, staple ingredients’ and ‘to provide a first-time cookbook, something that will be a good grounding in the simple basics’. Her approach is deceptively simple, but designed with the amateur cook in mind; and most importantly her recipes work.
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