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:
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.
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…
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
So I’ve read 41 books this year. Some good, some bad. Here’s a list of my favorites. I haven’t written reviews of all of them (yet) but for each book, I’ve written a reason for why it’s one of this year’s favorites. And I’ve linked to the review I have written. So in no particular order, my best reads of 2011.
A.S. Byatt: The Children’s Book: This was the first book I read this year and it was a good start to the year. It was my first Byatt and I loved it. Byatt might make it onto the favorite author list one day! Especially since this is apparently isn’t one of her best books if I am to trust other reviewers and bloggers. For me, the best part and the part I keep on remembering is what gave the book it’s name. How the mother in the family wrote a story for each child and each child had it’s special notebook, decorated so it fitted the child and the story. Loved it!
Charles Dickens: David Copperfield: I have a weakness for Dickens. At least I think I do. I loved this, I loved A Christmas Carol, and I loved Nicholas Nickleby when I saw it in it’s entirety in a theater some years ago. David Copperfield is an amazing book, apparently kind of self-biographical. This is the story of David Copperfield’s life, starting with his birth, and it’s good.
Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections: Not only did I love this book and added Franzen to my list of potential favorite authors, my review of this also made it to the Fresh Pressed page here on WordPress which makes me remember it even more fondly. What can I say? It’s an amazing book. Franzen writes so so so good and everything in the book is just perfect (almost).
Colum McCann: Let the Great World Spin: This one surprised me. It involves a lot of different stories, most of which cleverly connect over the marvelous feat performed by a tightrope walker, walking between the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The various stories gives the impression of a huge city, where a lot of it’s inhabitants get to share an experience that in some ways can be said to define the uniqueness that is New York.
Orhan Pamuk: Snow: The language in this one, the way he uses snow as an image and a metaphor … This is so good. Even though he reveals parts of the story, Pamuk still keeps you hooked. This is an amazing book and it has made Pamuk one of my potential favorite authors.
Marcel Proust: Swans Verden 1 (På sporet af den tabte tid 1)/Swann’s Way 1 (In Search of Lost Time 1): Proust is Proust. He’s in a league of his own. I don’t know yet if it’s a league above everyone else but I know he has his own league. Some of his thoughts are so interesting. And it’s weird that an entire book about a man who has just woken up but hasn’t gotten out of bed yet, can be so interesting. I need to read on to really figure out what my thoughts on Proust exactly are.
Jack Vance: The Complete Lyonesse: If you like a fairytales, this is a book for you. This is a beautiful and well-written and wonderfully long fairytale with princesses, princes, magicians, kings and queens, fairies and everything else, that makes a fairytale. This is good!
Melanie Joy: Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows: An Introduction to Carnism: The argumentation in this is simple: We’ve all ben indoctrinated to think that it’s all right to eat our fellow animals but it really isn’t. I’m not vegan or even vegetarian but I hope to one day have the guts to take the step. Books like this are preaching to the choir – still, I think the argumentation in this was more sound than in lots of other books. And I loved it.
So out of 41 books, 8 got 5 stars. So close to 20% of the books I read, I gave 5 stars. Looking back now, the only one I might regret giving 5 stars, is the first volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Times Past/In Search of Lost Time. But I had a hard time figuring out what to rate it. And it’s Proust. I’ve had him on a pedestal forever so I couldn’t rate it anything else. Maybe I’ll change my thoughts about Proust as I read on.
When I look back, 2011 has felt like a really lousy year with regard to reading (and health). Still, I’m sitting here pain free, I got engaged this year (something I never thought I would be) and I did actually read some darn good books this year! So thanks for everything 2011 and see you in 2012! (Oh, and maybe I need to read a bit more non-fiction next year!)
Wow, yesterday my blog post about Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections was chosen to be on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed page and since then I’ve had a lot of hits on this blog, a lot of Likes and a lot of wonderful comments on especially the Franzen post but also on some other posts. It has been amazing and I don’t want it to stop! I love reading all the comments and seeing how many hits I’ve got and how the number just goes up and up. Yesterday was huge – today has been twice as big and it’s still growing and it’s fantastic!
I’m so happy about all this. I love books. I’ve been reading always and it’s my favorite pass time. I started this book blog to meet people to talk about books with. In my day to day life, I don’t know a lot of people that read – or at least not read the same books I do. My best friend and my boyfriend are the two I talk the most about books with but both of them read rather different books than I do (horror and historical novels) so I enjoy going online to talk about books. I’ve been using Goodreads for 4 years now and I love it but this year I decided to branch out and start a book blog. And now I’ve made it to the WordPress Freshly Pressed page and – wow, it’s a mad ride!
So thank you to WordPress, thank you to everyone who has stopped by and please, please come again, hit the like buttons and make a lot of comments. 🙂
In November 2010, my father died. He had been sick for years and then one day in November, he got sick in the night, was taken to the hospital and died later in the day – totally unexpected. My mother had been taken care of him and always put herself second. She called me and told me about how their life was, but although I felt bad for her, although I listened to her and tried to help her, I don’t think I ever really got it. I don’t think I ever understood how hard it was for her – not only having to take care of him but also feeling somewhat good and especially relieved when he was finally put into a nursing home.
I was reminded of all this when reading this book.
This is a book about the Lamberts, Enid and Alfred and their three grown-up children, Gary, Chip and Denise. Each of these has their own issues they struggle with. Enid and Alfred still live in the home where they raised their children even though it’s slowly falling apart and to big for just the two of them. Alfred is struggling with early Parkinsons and maybe dementia, making it a real chore for Enid to take care of him.
Enid is desperately trying to keep her family together. She’s old-fashioned, has strict rules for how people ought to behave and is not always proud of the choices her children make. She comes across as a typical woman, set in her ways and determine to present herself to the neighborhood as having the perfect home and family.
This is a story of a mother and wife, desperately fighting to have her family together in her home for one last christmas. Enid lives a life where she has to have something to look forward to to be able to make it – a cruise, the family christmas – but when you pin all your hopes on one thing, you are disappointed more often than not.Her children each struggle with their own problems – and neither of them are really living up to their mother’s expectations.
Chip is the intellectual, he’s a struggling screenplay writer after he was fired from his job as a professor after having a relationship with one of his students. This not only lands him in a position where he owes his sister a lot of money but also makes him take a rather questionable job in Lithuania with his ex-girlfriend’s husband.
Gary is the eldest brother. He lives with his wife and their three boys. Gary wants to be in control. He’s desperately trying not to admit that his life maybe isn’t perfect – in that way, he’s a lot like his mother. He’s fighting what seems to be a depression and is having a power struggle in his marriage, especially since his wife can’t stand his mother.
Denise might be my favorite character in the book. She’s working hard to be what she wants to be. She’s an amazing chef and after a failed marriage, she suddenly get the opportunity of a lifetime to be the chef of a new restaurant where she gets to do whatever she wants and where the owner has money enough to support her no matter what. Denise, however, is struggling with her identity and sexuality and this is making her life rather difficult.
Both Denise and Chip are having issues in their professional life because of their sexuality – something that’s rather hard for their mother to accept and come to terms with – while Gary is the know-it-all who thinks he pretty much should be in charge of everybody.
But it’s so much more than this. This really dives into the relationship between parents and children and between siblings. It’s about children feeling more in the know than their parents ever were, it’s about all the things happening in a family beneath the surface – but sometimes bursting throughs in ways you least expect.
This was an amazing book – especially because of the way it’s written. On the surface, it’s the story of an elderly couple struggling with getting old and sick while their kids are trying to find their way in life, not always having time for their parents. But because of Franzen’s masterly command of language, there is so much more in this book. It’s by no means a dysfunctional family – or at least not a more dysfunctional family than all other families. It’s a perfectly normal and ordinary family fighting with the issues every family faces. And that’s what makes it into such a wonderful book.
I can’t say enough about the excellency of the writing. Not only is it beautiful, it’s also surprising. He uses a lot of words to describe a person – like Gary – and then in just one line, he sums up the totality of Gary’s relationship with his wife. Or at one point in the book, I expected something to happen – it didn’t happen, we switched viewpoint and a couple of pages went by and then it happened anyway and I got so surprised …
I noticed a lot of reviews are calling it a sad book – and it is sad what they are going through. A family with a sick father who’s slipping away is a family desperately trying to find it’s way. Franzen manages to make his characters so real, their struggles so real, their thoughts feelings and fears so very real that maybe it becomes too much for some readers – but I could identify with these people and recognize parts of my family in them so I felt right at home.
Sometimes, we want literature to take us away, sometimes we want a fantastic journey into an unknown reality where we can forget and just sigh with wonder. But sometimes, we need to learn about our own existence, learn about how the people around us are coping, by reading books that strike right at home. This is such a book.