A short while ago my brother asked me for some novel suggestions, something I am often asked by people – so I decided on a list. Below is a diverse list that contains books that can appeal to a large variety of readers. Some of the books on the list are my personal favorites, some of them are recent discoveries/fascinations and some of them I find important contributions to literature as a body. Below the list is an “Others” category that are books or authors I cannot live without; these books largely appeal to my personal taste and sentimentality.
IQ84 – Haruki Murakami
This novel was a recent discovery and I was surprisingly taken by Murakami’s style; I have already moved onto my second novel by him, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. First picking up IQ84 is daunting, I will admit. It’s long, but when you realize that it’s three novels in one, you allow yourself room to breathe between the sections and it is completely manageable. Despite the length, the pages pass surprisingly fast because Murakami really carries you through this fantastical world that he creates through vivid magical realism and intricately woven story lines. It is easy to allow yourself to be transported by Murakami’s writing. This novel primarily follows the curiosities of two main characters that eventually are woven together. Good writing, good story and an excellent tell of a writer with a vivid and exciting imagination.
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
I love this book so much that my cat is named after one of the main characters, Sebastian. The story takes place pre-WW2 and follows a young Oxford history student and his relationship with the flamboyant Sebastian, the younger son of an aristocrat. The story is entirely English in it’s cultural exploration and highlights themes of religion, sexuality, death, war, love, purpose and morality. I find all the characters and their eccentricities entirely delightful and provocative, even in their simplicity. I’ve read this book over and over again, watched the BBC miniseries. It is really is the quintessential love-song to my love affair with all things English and all things period. Downton Abbey would also fall into this category.
Sexing the Cherry – Jeanette Winterson
According to Wikipedia, “set in 17th century London, Sexing the Cherry is about the journeys of a mother, known as The Dog Woman, and her protégé, Jordan.” All true. It’s hard to describe Winterson’s writing because it really manages to constantly surprise and cross genres; fantasy, epic, biographic, etc. This novel is fantasy, adventure, magic, sensuality, mystery, but above all, has tremendous heart and humanity.
Invisible Cities – Italio Calvino By now I’ve realized that a majority of these mini-review/synopsis-type descriptions contain statements like “I love this book,” “this book is one of my favorites,”etc. Of course, these statements certainly hold true for this book written by Italio Calvino. Invisible Cities is at it’s core a conversation that takes place between Kublla Khan and Marco Polo, reminiscing about the fantasy of their discoveries and trying to outdo one another. This book reads more like a series of vignettes, with each chapter highlighting the magic of the explorer’s discoveries that transports the reader to the edges of imagination. Beautifully written, these places/worlds will always linger with you.
Possession – A.S. Byatt
Possession is another love song to my affair with all things English and period, with a dash of biography/love story.mystery through correspondence. This book is a love song in itself. The novel profiles two modern-day academics as they unravel a love connection between two famous, fictional poets through correspondence. I love reading this book in the winter, with a blanket and a warm cup of tea. And I have read this book in winter, many, many times over.
Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf
I’ve come to love compilations of correspondences. It might be because I am a huge believer in “snail mail,” that magical moment when you find a hand written letter in the mailbox from a loved one – a trend that is dying out, too fast for my taste. This book was one of the first (of many) correspondence compilations that I owned, and Virginia simply took my breath away. I am a great respecter of her work, however, her novels have never struck me as much as her letters, which reveal her very deepest vulnerabilities and humanity. I relate to some of her struggles and her challenges pull at my heart strings so fiercely. In addition, everything is written in letter format – something you can pick up and put down and pick up again because there are a million endings to the story.
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clark
This book is fun, it is. It’s Harry Potter for adults. The plot is centered around the relationship between two men, Gilbert Norrell and Jonathan Strange, and the notion that magic once existed, was practiced in England and has again returned with these two characters. This novel is a modern translation of the traditional Romantic, comedy of manners and the Gothic tale. It’s long, but every smile that this books draws to the face makes the length more of a pleasure than a sacrifice. Again, all things English and delightful.
The Death of Artemio Cruz – Carlos Fuentes
This book is amazing. It begins with the title character beautifully describing the feeling of his own flaccid genitals against his leg – how’s that for an opening? Fuentes is as much a writer as he is a politico, humanist, romantic and storyteller; he holds nothing back but manages to romance the reader even when describing the grotesque. This novel goes straight into the tumultuous history of Mexico, as Cruz reflects upon a life rife with military and political involvement. One of the most moving portions of the novel highlights the Mexican sentiment towards the Spanish. Powerful and romantically real, this novel is as much a story, as it is a political history, a love letter and a proclamation to Mexico and her people.
Foucault’s Pendulum – Umberto Eco
The second Italian writer to make my list, Eco’s writing is thick literature, filled with complicated language and an enormous vocabulary. You have to use your brain to read Eco, but if you can manage it, his stories are completely worth the while. Foucault’s Pendulum appeals to my taste for things conspiracy, occult and mysterious with the pragmatic academics often employed in Eco’s writing. Three vanity publishers invent their own fictional conspiracy…and then things turn from fiction to fact. Exciting, mysterious and provocative this is an excellent read and worth the attention Eco’s writing deserves.
Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut
The wit of Vonnegut is a gem for all mankind – please read, enjoy and allow your sides to split. Also Slaughterhouse is an excellent introduction to Vonnegut’s extensive library. I have no words – JUST READ.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Garcia Marquez is truly a master of his craft, one of my favorite writers; he writes with all the brutality and romance of humanity which is compressed into every inch of his novels. I could easily recommend any book by Garcia Marques but Chronicle holds a special place in my heart, as it was my first exposure to this astounding writer. Chronicle is a novella (or short story) written in a non-linear fashion that opens on the morning of the death of a man named Santiago Nasar. The details surrounding the death gradually unfold as the story progresses with the raw, visceral romance of Latin culture and set against the background of a little town with all it’s mystery and secrets. Garcia Marquez will never let you down, I promise.
The Shining Girls is an engaging read, packed with high intensity drama and magic. It’s the right amount of science fiction and mystery with a story that pulls you right in. This book is an excellent plane-read or travel companion. The pacing is good and structure employed by the author reveals just enough in the right moments to keep you turning those pages. The story is what “shines” in this debut novel for author Lauren Beukes and it accompanied by two astounding and mysterious narrators.
Anything by H.P. Lovecraft and Edward Gorey, A Treasury of Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne, The Complete Novels and Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The List of Seven by Mark Frost, Midnight Blue: The Sonia Blue Collection by Nancy A. Collins, Diary of a Witch by Sybil Leek, The Alexandria Quartet – Lawrence Durrell and Ariel by Slyvia Plath.