“I think bad writing is essential,” Avni Doshi told The Rumpus. “Bad writing is the most important thing for learning how to write.” It took eight drafts before Doshi felt ready to publish her debut novel, Burnt Sugar, but the revisions paid off: the book landed on the 2020 Booker Prize shortlist. Built around a knotty mother-daughter relationship in Pune, India, the book has earned plaudits for Doshi’s refusal to sugarcoat her protagonist, making her challenging to like. “I wanted to push boundaries,” she has said. “If that ends up feeling destabilizing for the reader, that’s okay.” Born in New Jersey, Avni Doshi moved to India, after completing an MA in London, to curate, and write about, South Asian contemporary art. It was there in 2012 that she wrote what would become the first draft of Burnt Sugar, winning the Tibor Jones South Asia prize for an unpublished manuscript and, with it, an agent. Check out draft number 8, which has just been published stateside by The Overlook Press, available here. Below are Avni Doshi’s favorite books, available to purchase individually or as a set.


Light Years

James Salter
This novel, about the slow disintegration of a marriage, is beautifully and delicately handled. The characters are unforgettable - glamorous and deeply flawed. I always feel I am learning how to write when I read Salter. His prose is masterful.
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A Spy in the House of Love

Anaïs Nin
There is something intimate about Anais Nin’s writing that pulls me in. I love this story about a woman on a path of sexual (and self) exploration. I had never heard of moon bathing until I read this novel. Now I do it every month.
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The Vegetarian

Han Kang
A woman stops eating meat in an attempt to become more vegetal. It sounded simple enough, but this book triggered me so intensely that I almost didn’t like it. The exploration of violence, shame and escapism completely destabilized me. I returned to it later because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Complex and deeply subversive.
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A Heart So White

Javier Marías
I had to read the first sentence of this novel three times to try and unpack what was going on. And from there, it just rose in intensity. I experience something visceral when I read Marias. He clearly understands how language moves through the body.
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Fleur Jaeggy
I had never heard of Fleur Jaeggy until last year, and now I can’t get enough of her. This book is about 100 pages long, and as polished as a diamond. I read it in one sitting, and was breathless by the end. A young girl remembers a cruise she took with her now deceased father, and the narrative switches between third and first person to create an uncanny, dissociative effect.
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Mottled Dawn

Saadat Hasan Manto
I read Manto’s short stories as an art history student, when I was thinking about violence in art inspired by Partition. The story of Toba Tek Singh always sticks out in my mind, about a man who dies on that narrow stretch of land between the two nations. I have since returned to his stories, and am always struck by the grim humor that peeks through.
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Loitering with Intent

Muriel Spark
I know everyone loves The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but Loitering with Intent is my favorite Muriel Spark novel. Her protagonist, Fleur Talbot, is the kind of writer I would love to be. Courageous and inventive. In this book, Spark is at her playful best, toying with the idea that life imitates art – and the results are hilarious.
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Swimming Home

Deborah Levy
A friend of mine introduced me to Deborah Levy while we were doing a fellowship in the UK. The novel has a surreal quality, like looking through the surface of water. In Levy’s deft hands, anxiety spreads through the pages of the novel, and everyone is susceptible. Characters that once seemed intact begin to unravel.
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One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This book has probably influenced me more than any other work of fiction that I have read. I came to it by accident, on my aunt’s bookshelf, and I could see that even though the book was old, it had never been opened. Marquez led me to my own preoccupation with memory, which has informed almost all of my creative writing so far.
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On Beauty

Zadie Smith
I had already read and loved Howard’s End, and when I finally came to Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, it felt like a revelation. How could a book be at once comfortingly familiar and completely new? This meditation on race, class and family is something I return to again and again.
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