Category Archives: Nikesh Shukla

Other People’s Bookshelves #61 – Nikesh Shukla

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week, for a special 60th post in the series, we are off to Bristol to join author Nikesh Shukla who has just left an array of gorgeous treats for us all to nibble on as we have a nosey through his shelves. I had the pleasure of taking part in Newcastle Writer’s Conference which involved lots of bookish chatter, laughter, beer, vogue-ing, book recommendations and almost karaoke. Let’s get to know him a little better before we start riffling shall we…

Nikesh Shukla is the author of Meatspace, Coconut Unlimited (which was shortlisted for a Costa Book Award), The Time Machine (which won best novella at the Saboteur Awards 2014, and Simon reviewed here) and Generation Vexed (a non-fiction book co-authored with Kieran Yates). He wrote the multi-award winning short film Two Dosas, a Channel 4 sitcom pilot called Kabadasses and has contributed to Buzzfeed, Guardian, Independent on Sunday, BBC Radio 4 and many more. He also sent a lambchop into space, which was nice. He talks about race, rap and comics a lot on Twitter. And is a new dad. Which supercedes all of this.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I keep everything I plan to read at some point. I’m getting to a point where my shelves contain more unread than read books, which is very different from how it was when I was growing up. I read everything on my shelves. And I kept everything on my shelves. Even stuff I didn’t like. I didn’t have much access to books as my local library was small didn’t stock what I wanted to read. I was obsessed with reading writers that looked like me (not white) so I had to buy everything. And I read it all. And quickly learned that much as I felt this compulsion to read writers I felt a cultural affinity for, they had more than one story. And it was ok to not like them all. I think that’s the problem with the attitude to writers of colour today – people still assume we only have one story to tell. Sorry, I’ve gone off topic. To bring it back, I junk books I’m not enjoying when I know I’m not feeling them, and I eject from books I like when I feel like I’ve got it. I hold on to the ones I like in case I need to revisit. The culled ones, twice a year, I take them to my work and host a free-for-all.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

They started off alphabetical – A-Z fiction, A-Z non-fiction, A-Z short stories and A-Z homeys (books by my friends) but I’ve just given up at this point. My TBRs are by my bed (growing perilously tall – if it’s suddenly announced that I died when the new Paul Murray book fell from a giant height and smashed my nose into my brain, don’t suspect foul play). We also now have children’s books, picture books and board books everywhere because we’ve read to our baby at a young age. We’ve put most of her favourites in a box in front of the television. I have an orange shelf to match the orange of my study walls. The paint colour is the same Pantone as the cover for Coconut Unlimited, which I love. I have a shelf of books that is my ‘study of orange’. I love the colour orange, it’s auspicious in my family’s cultural heritage and it makes me happy. I have a t-shirt with Hindi on it, which translates as ‘In the game of life and death, we’re all oranges’.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Oh god, wow, this just dredged up a memory. With money I borrowed off my dad, I bought Better Than Life by Grant Naylor. It was the second of the Red Dwarf books. We were in a rainy hotel on a weekend away in Portsmouth and I had seen a friend reading it at school, and was desperate to also read it, because I was obsessed with Red Dwarf. Mum was really pissed off I bought it because it was Red Dwarf and therefore silly. Not a proper book. It taught me a lot about comedy. I stayed up all night reading it in our tiny family bedroom, biting the sheet to avoid LOLing.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I don’t think so. I think I’ve charity shopped the ones I’d be really embarrassed about. For two weeks, in 2004, I read every Dan Brown book that was out. I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

My copy of Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her is signed. It says ‘Finally we meet, young brother. Stay on course. We need you.’ A copy of a Zadie Smith book has her referencing an injoke we had about dubstep when I did a podcast with her. Two writers I respect and admire treating me like I could be an equal – it’s very inspiring. The most cherished book that doesn’t involve a namedrop is my tattered copy of a book called Bombay Talkie. It came out in like 1999 or 2000. I found it in my university bookshop. It’s the only book that Ameena Meer wrote. It is the book that set me on my course because it told a story I knew I had to counter with my own. It’s really special in my heart because reading it was my day dot of wanting to be a writer.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My mum read Mills and Boon books and my dad has only read an Aristotle Onassis biography. They’re not big readers. I tried to read Crime and Punishment when I was 11, because the pretentious narrator of a Paul Zindel had read it. I didn’t get it.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

Hell yeah!! Now I don’t collect records or box sets anymore because of streaming services, I collect books.

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I just bought The Box, by Gunther Grass, because it’s my book club’s next book. It’s okay. I also used the dreaded *m*z*n to buy a book that doesn’t have a UK release date. It’s called Delicious Foods by James Hannaham. It’s incredible. I’m shocked no one in the UK is going to take a punt on it. I also preordered at my local Foyles the debut book by Katherine Woodfine. She’s one of my closest friends and that book is headed directly to the homey shelf.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Oh my god, yes! I sold my comic book collection in my mid-twenties so I could go travelling. I wish I hadn’t. Also I leant my brother-in-law my copy of the now-out-of-print The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead and I need it back thanks.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I bet he’s only read 40% of those. Which is a lie. It’s more like 47%.

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A huge thanks to Nikesh for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, here’s hoping I can get Ann Kingman to do it in the future too! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Nikesh’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Coconut Unlimited – Nikesh Shukla

After the Costa shortlists were announced I was lucky enough to be emailed by some of the publishers who wondered if I would like to read some of the novels on the lists. As I mentioned a while back it was the debut novels that intrigued me. One of them was ‘Coconut Unlimited’ by Nikesh Shukla which I had heard mentioned in the broadsheets and had intrigued me from its synopsis partly because it was a coming of age story, which is something I am trying to get my small bias around, and also because it was a comic novel by all accounts.

Quartet Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 200 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

‘Coconut Unlimited’ does seem like it could be very much on the authors, Nikesh Shulka’s, youth. It’s a tale of Amit from his childhood growing up in Harrow in North West London in the mid 1990’s. Born left handed his Indian family are rather concerned for him due to its religious connotations and so he is sent to a very white and rather middle/upper class private school where the teachers are known to make racist comments and expect no comeback. With his friends Anand and Nishant they create a rap band based on their passion for hip-hop (such as the Wu Tang Clan, Skee-Lo, Nas etc – which really took me back – who in honesty some of them have never heard of and in fact some of them make up hip-hop acts they have heard of to try and sound street) called ‘Coconut Unlimited’ as his sister says ‘because you are brown on the outside and white on the inside’.

The story then follows the bands highs and the lows both as they try and get noticed, get street (with some very funny consequences) and also whilst they deal with the perils of growing up and becoming men and belonging. It is much more than just a coming of age story, with humour Shukla deals with the issues of race and class as they were, and in some cases still are, just a decade ago. It is very funny, occasionally in a slightly bittersweet way, and if you didn’t or don’t love hip hop there is much to entertain you whilst enlightening you and certainly making you laugh and remembering your awkward teenage years.

Nikesh Shukla has a great voice, and in writing through the eyes of Amit he never makes the reader feel patronised, it’s all very authentic. In fact I would say that he deals with these three young men with a kind of tenderness which adds that extra something to the novel as a whole. His prose is fluid and energetic which may have something to do with the fact Shukla is a performance poet. It’s a very promising debut from a novelist I think we will be seeing much more from in the future. 7.5/10

Has anyone else given ‘Coconut Limited’ a whirl? If you have been umming and ahhing about it, possibly as from the blurb it sounds slightly niche as was my slight concern, then give it a whirl. I’m glad the Costa Book Awards shortlist brought this novel to my attention, and then to my door, now which one of the shortlisted titles should I try next?

This book was kindly sent to me by the publishers.

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Filed under Nikesh Shukla, Quartet Books, Review