I once saw a book, How To Hold Up a Bank, and to my regret didn’t buy it. No, it wasn’t about making a quick buck but provided advice to farmers who have a problem controlling the flow of water in their fields. And to those living near shore lines. Now I am glad I didn’t buy the book.

This follows news that a judge in an Indian court has been upset by Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which was seen in an accused’s shelves. It was, in his words, “objectionable material”, and seemed to suggest that a 19th-century classic (this is the 150th year of its publication, by the way) was somehow forcing an individual to do something the judge didn’t approve of.

Luckily for the man in the dock, How to Hold Up a Bank wasn’t among his effects. For those who think I am making this up, it is a book by Giorgina Reid and was published exactly a hundred years after War and Peace.

Any literary website will give you a brief summary of what great novels are about. What we need now is a list of what they are not to help some folks.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: This is not a book about a pregnant woman who is told she will soon have quadruplets.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James Cain: This is not a comment on the problems of someone on the verge of going deaf nor is it the diary of a postman complaining about having to ring more than once before someone comes to the front door.

Lord of the Rings by Tolkien: This is not about Olympic champions, serial monogamists or the postman in the above-mentioned title.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas: This is not about a mathematical problem where a bunch of scientists is locked up in a tower and asked to say Monte Cristo a certain number of times.

Catch 22 by Joseph Heller: This is not an order from the authorities to arrest a certain number of people for doing something they don’t like.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: This is not a book detailing the kind of punishment to be meted out to people who possess the above-mentioned books.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell: This is not about those old-fashioned clocks that you sometimes wind so much that it goes “poof” and refuses to work again.

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch: This is not about a bad tennis or badminton player who can’t seem to get his shots across to his opponent often enough to earn points in the game.

More from Suresh Menon:

The several ages of man and the lingering question

I’ve got a feline we can’t pussyfoot around

When forms follow function by design