Top Ten Books That Make You Think

Fourth week in a row participating in the Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! I’m having so much fun with these Top Ten lists still so even though I found this week’s theme a hard one, I’m still game. Apparently, books don’t make me think. At least not when I’m put on the spot and told to come up with a list of 10 who did. So this has actually taken a bit of effort to come up with 10.

Well, I could have taken the easy way out and just written a list of books I read when I studied for my Master’s Degree in Philosophy, but to me that felt like cheating. I mean, of course reading Locke, Heidegger, Sartre, Plato will make you think! But to me, the challenge lies in coming up with 10 novels that made you think. Non-fiction, all non-fiction, tend to make you ponder it’s subject but not all fiction do – so here’s ten novels, that has made me think.

Here’s my list:

  1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Half of a Yellow Sun. This novel taught me about a country and a war I had never heard of: Biafra and the Nigeria-Biafra war 1967-70. This is a book about what life is like when you live in war times – how life in some ways are just the same and in other ways, very very different. I think books about war often make you think because it often shows what it means to be human, both good and bad, and you question what you would do if you were put in the same situations and had to struggle for your survival.
  2. Agatha Christie: And Then There Was None. This is crime fiction and I guess the nature of crime fiction is to make it’s reader think when we try to figure out who the killer is. I know who the killer is in this one – it’s my favorite Agatha Christie novel and I’ve read it several times so now, when I read it, I try to figure out what clues she drops along the way and if it’s possible to figure out who kills them all. Especially, since every person on the island end up dead…
  3. Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections. This was one of these books that just hit close to home. It’s a book about an elderly couple, Alfred and Enid. Alfred is suffering from beginning Alzheimer’s and Enid is struggling to get their children to come home for one last christmas. For me, this really made me think about my own family, my father having been ill for most of my life and my mother struggling to keep everyone happy and keeping up appearances. My review here.
  4. Georges Perec: Life, a User’s Manual. This is a strange book. It’s about all the people who live in an apartment building and how their lives overlap, how the thing uniting them all is this building. It’s about what makes life life. It’s not a book for everyone – but I love it. It made me think just to be able to get it – and it made me think about how our lives are made up of tiny details as well as huge events. I read it 5 years ago – I really need to read it again!
  5. Jodi Picoult: My Sister’s Keeper. Well, this is what Picoult does, isn’t it? She writes novels that makes you think. This one really grasps at the heart strings of any parent. How far would you go to save your child if she’s sick? Would you have another child and use her to get the things your first child need to survive?
  6. Kurt Vonnegut: Slaugherhouse-Five. It’s been 4 years since I read this and I really liked it. I saw it as a discussion of free will v. determinism – among other things – and that always fascinates me.
  7. Will Self: How the Dead Live. This book made me think because I just didn’t get it. I felt it was really difficult to follow and really understand what it was that Will Self wanted with it – but even though it’s been 4 years since I read it, I keep thinking about it from time to time. I’ve since read that Self doesn’t write books for readers and I can believe that! Still, Self is on a quest to find and write the truth and he doesn’t believe that it can be found in conventional linear structure. I don’t necessarily get what he intends – but it makes me think. I need to read more of his novels!
  8. Steven Hall: The Raw Shark Texts. Say the title out loud and you get the first clue that this is a special book. This is a book which toys with the idea of what a book can do. This is a book where the protagonist keeps finding letters written by his former self, trying to explain why he’s been chased by a word shark and almost drowning in his living room… This is a highly original book! And it really makes you think about what makes a book and stop fearing about the future of books!
  9. The same can be said about Jonathan Safran Foer: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. An amazing book about how a young boy deals with loosing his father in the 9-11 attacks. Foer does things in this novel that I at least haven’t seen before. My review here.
  10. John Steinbeck: The Grapes of Wrath. I loved this book! It’s just such an amazing book, although very depressing. The Grapes of Wrath is sadly becoming very current at the moment with the economical crisis. Both then and now, people borrowed money from the bank and lost their homes. This is a story of one of those families and how much they have to endure to try and find a way to survive. But it’s also a book about how people sometimes help each other when they are struggling and sometimes do even more than can be expected. Again, it’s a book about what it means to be a human being.

I thought this would be a hard list to make but actually, doesn’t most books make you think in one way or other? Isn’t that why we read? To learn about the world, to know more about how other people think and feel and live. When I look at the books I’ve read, a lot of them could be put on this list. I’ve chosen mostly books from before I started blogging to give them their due, both well-known and lesser known books. And I could have made the list much longer. These ten made me think, yes, but they are not necessarily the ten who made me think the most. Because how do you determine that? Almost every book makes you think – that’s the wonder and beauty of books.

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The World’s Most Difficult Books

So we all love lists, right? And especially lists of books, yes? Now, the Guardian has published a list of the 10 most difficult books and asks, how many have you read? Here’s the list:

  • Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  • A Tale of a Tub by Jonathan Swift
  • The Phenomenology of Spirit by G.F. Hegel
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Clarissa, or, The History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson
  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
  • Being and Time by Martin Heidegger
  • The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  • The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein
  • Women and Men by Joseph McElroy

The list has been put together by Emily Colette Wilkinson and Garth Risk Hallberg from the Millions, apparently after researching it for three years. As always with such lists, they immediately open up for debate and so the writer of the article, Alison Flood, speculates that she would probably have included Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and maybe The Waves by Virginia Woolf instead of To the Lighthouse.

It seems that every author is only allowed one book on the list – otherwise I think Ulysses by James Joyce also would qualify.

Now, I’ve read two of these (To the Lighthouse and Being and Time) and 70% of Clarissa as well as parts of The Phenomenology of Spirit. Most of the others I haven’t even heard of (except of course Finnegans Wake). Being and Time is definitely difficult – Heidegger talks about being and ontology and when he runs out of words, he invents them himself. It requires multiple readings and lots of thinking to get this book. The Phenomenology of Spirit is also a difficult book.

When I think of To the Lighthouse, I recall it as being very difficult and as a book I didn’t particularly like. However, when I go back and read my review, I can see I gave it 4 stars and were very impressed with the way she crafted the book – and that it made me think of Hegel! I think a lot of people find stream of consciousness difficult and that’s probably why this book is on the list, however, sometimes I think you just have to go with the flow and let the words wash over you … if that makes sense. I can see that I was very impressed with Woolf when reading this and wanted to read more books by her – and somehow I have forgotten this and have just been very intimidated by her. I need to read Woolf soon!

I don’t find Clarissa difficult – just very, very, very long, repetitive and boring at times. But not difficult.

A book I found difficult is Will Self’s How the Dead Live. I can see my review is only about 15 lines long and for everyone following this blog, you know that I don’t write short reviews! It confused me – but some parts of it has stayed with me and pop up in my thoughts from time to time so maybe I need to tackle Will Self again. His newest, Umbrella, is longlisted for the Booker so maybe now is a good time?

Now, how many of these have you read?