In an environment where the pleasure of reading has been replaced with many other, less meaningful options, I want to suggest today a number of books. Beautiful books, amazing books, unbelievably powerful books – but mind you! the non-motivational/non-business kind! I am talking about the books that made me float and fly and see beyond; books that can unwind imagination and make you wonder; books that are both enjoyable and significant, books that… well I have to stop before it turns into a Terminator commercial. Anyways – this is my 10 Titles list (not a Top 10!). I hope you enjoy it! (Aaand, don’t worry, there is no spoiler, you still need to read the books to understand what it’s about. Or go see the movie!)
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde. A beautiful book – about the dangers and hidden traps of the human mind – in sharp contrast with the external appearances. Wilde’s credo Art for Art’s Sake is detailed in the prologue of this book – and what better definition have you heard other than ‘the artist is the creator of beautiful things’? And to think this sentence comes from an Irish guy! The only wisdom pearl one would expect form Ireland is ‘Drink beer, it’s good for you!’ or… something like that! Why I recommend – it’s a book that everybody needs to read once in a lifetime. It is written in an apparently simple and unsophisticated manner; however it is filled with so many subtle symbols and parallels that one is simply stunned of the beauty and richness of the ideas presented. The alternating tone – from funny to gloom and from serious matters to totally trivial one provide an intense sensation of dreamland – and the moment you finish the book you can do nothing but stop and wish the reality would be a beautiful picture…
Voyage au bout de la nuit – Louis Ferdinand Celine. At the time this novel was written the French (and world) literature was swept away by the power of Proust, and nobody really believed a narrator of his force would appear any time soon. Still, this French guy that no one has previously heard about comes up with a piece of literature that has remained a masterpiece ever since. Written in a very ‘frenchy’ manner – the novel is stunningly beautiful; taking the reader on a journey that starts in a WWI despair and ends in an half optimistically apocalypse. Why I recommend it – it is a purely French novel, breathing French, smelling French, literally screaming out French – and it depicts such vivid images and emptions that it will make you completely forget about reality whilst you read it… It is absolutely phenomenal, you will love every page – and you will suffer when it ends. (And also it will curiously bring about the urge to eat some cheese, a baguette and a huge cup of coffee…)
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck. This is by far one of my favourite books in the world, and I could read it on and on – and every time I would discover something new and exciting. Oddly enough – it was written by an American – and it is not about McDonald Duck, Facebook, money and cowboys, but about human feelings, friendship, sacrifice and honour. It is a moving story of two friends wondering around farms in America and doing odd day-jobs; it is about standing up for your beliefs and doing the hard, right thing – and about deep, unhealed scars that mark your destiny forever. And about McDonald Duck! Why I recommend it – because it defies the classical endings of American novel – and it does not have a happy ending! It is brutal, it is honest, it shows a deep knowledge of the human soul, it is a book that depicts such an ever unconventional perspective over life that you cannot do anything but fall for this story and enjoy it to the very last page.
Shame – Salman Rushdie. If you have heard about Rushdie and the ‘fatwa’ – you should know that this Indian guy is sentenced to death because he upset some religious minds – and if you read Shame you will also understand why. Rushdie is perhaps the most modern and innovative writer in the English-speaking world, his style is absolutely unique, outrageously amazing and definitely mind-blowing. Shame is a book about the Indian spirit and the Indian mind and about the Indian life but nothing about Indian food unfortunately! Shame is the book that depicts a history of a family – but the story actually looks at the rise and fall of a post-colonial India, torn between civil war, international prejudices and national pride. But it does not mention curry anywhere – and this is a big minus! Why I recommend it – simply because it’s a greatly enjoyable book! It is perfect for an evening of relaxation; and it will take you in a world that is magical, strange, incredible and unusually exotic. Rushdie is a master of words and images, he can easily convey in a few pages a whole history of a civilisation – and you will take part on a journey you had never experienced!
Cien anos de soledad – Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The term ‘magic realism’ was coined shortly after this book has been written – and once you read it you perfectly understand why. From the very first pages you succumb yourself in a fantastic game, on a whole new world, in a whole new dimension and in a completely reversed reality. You have to be prepared and accept that uncommon thinks can happen to remarkably ordinarily people; you need to completely change your way of seeing and hearing and smelling, you need to open your heart and embrace the surreal reality of common, friendly shapes that live among us and farm together with us… Every page is a delight, every chapter is a journey, every new character is a facet of your own thoughts and desires… A powerful carousel, full of mystery, introducing you in a world of fantasy – that’s what this book is all about. Why I recommend it – because we need to dream, and forget about jobs and careers. Because we need to remember the powerful tool of kindness. Because at the end of the day our most precious gift is our loved ones. And because it’s a very beautiful book…
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller. Yet another American on the list… I can’t help it. If there were an Oscar awards for books – this book would not be awarded! It is a book that goes against everything that is American. We have the hero (Yossarian) of Assyrian heritage, his plans are to flee the army and get away with it, he is always breaking the Army rules – and is the perfect architype of a son of immigrants that enjoys the American benefits – but hates the American way. The whole book is a manifesto against the war, dealing with the neuroses and psychological wounds of the enlisted men. Each character is crazy in his own way, and every new character that enters the book is just another dimension of the same absurd despair that the WWII has brought about. One special character is Milo – an absurdly popular officer who ends up making business with the enemy whilst strongly believing in the justice of the American Army actions. Why I recommend it – because it breaths with a strangely familiar sound, and it raises a tons of questions about justice and war and religion and sanity and ethics. And because it has to do with McDonald Duck!
The Master and Margarita – Michail Bulgakow. This one I will not use the original name – as I can’t even read Russian, but I read a translation of the book – and got completely blown away! You can read this book in many ways – as an allegory, as a satire, as a depiction of the incipient Russian communist society, as a religious manifesto… and all these interpretation would be right. Bulgakow is simply amazing – both in his approach as well as in the fine details of his astonishingly intricate plot. He is able to use simple, mundane events – and transform them in historical matters, dancing between different times and separate yet intertwined spaces – he can introduce you to talking cats and flying monsters and beautiful maidens and Pontius Pilatus… The whole book is perfectly made, and if you are a fan of the Dostoyevsky spirit you won’t find it here, however you will find that this book is really living up to the great heritage the Russian literature has given to the world. Why I recommend it – because it provides an unusually poetical insight to the early years of the Soviet Union, using a sharply ironic tone, but keeping that very Russian feeling, that somehow makes you all soft and mushy and warm inside… (It’s either that – or the effect of a shot of vodka, not sure…)
Morometii – Marin Preda. Interestingly enough – a Romanian writer! You wouldn’t have thought of that, now would you? I am not even sure if there was ever a translation of this book, however I cannot miss mentioning it. It is probably the most modern Romanian book – dealing with the universal themes of Time, Love and Destiny – all form the perspective of a simple, uneducated family, living somewhere in the south, in a very rural region of Romania. The challenges of living a life bearing the constant threat of Dracula, in a country that had yet to offer Ceausescu to the world; the constant fights for the family fortune (an old country house, some farming land and some sheep) the forbidden love between the daughter of a rich peasant and a poor peasant; a monumental discussion during a game of horse-shoe trying – everything happens in a steady, calm, surreal pace – until the very last pages of the book when disaster hits. The ending of the book is monumentally beautiful – it says ‘Time was running out of patience’… how awesome is that? Why I recommend it – well, let’s just face it – because I am Romanian myself. And because it’s a great book, that would teach you a lot, and contrary to the popular belief – it is a Romanian book that does not mention Dracula.
Der Process – Franz Kafka. If you have not read yet this book, you really ought to. If you are not familiarised with the term kafkian – then you never had anything to do with any state authority. If the name Josef K. doesn’t tell you anything – then waste no more time, and start reading. This novel is probably the most accurate depiction of the absurdity of the judicial system in particular – and a deep satire of the bureaucracy in general. It’s a brilliant book, very dark on some instances, grotesquely humours on other episodes – and overall a masterpiece of the absurd genre. Why I recommend it – because it is one of those books that will not let you go until you finished it – and when you do finish it you ask yourself… what happened? (As a fact – Kafka never really did finished the book, though he did find the time to write an ending…) So yes – enjoy it!
Tristram Shandy – Lawrence Sterne. This is actually the second book I am incorporating that does not belong to the 20th century literature as it was written as early as the first half of the 18th century. However, this does not mean it is not an extraordinary modern book – both in style and in the depth of the prose. And it is yet another British author – they seemed to be quite ahead of their time. Whilst reading this novel you need to be prepared to leave all that you know about the (auto)biography genre aside – and embark on a journey of non-answered questions, a surrealistic theatre of ideas in a very Rabelais manner, yet so utterly britishy humours to the very essence (or at least the way us, the rest of the European perceive it) – that it will make you burst out laughing of tragic events such as an unfortunate childbirth or an accidental circumcision. Why I recommend it – because it is a modern novel, way ahead of its time. If there is any father of the modern British novel – Sterne is for sure the father of that father, and better in any aspects!
Which one is your favourite? Which one would you add to this list?