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Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (1919, M) – A short story cycle with the town’s newspaper reporter as its main character, this book this have much in terms of plot. But in terms of emotions, it packs a wallop. It is raw, honest, and just tenderly beautiful. This is Anderson’s most famous work and considered by many critics as his masterpiece. After finishing it, I consider it as the best book that I have ever read. If you love modernist works and if you value characters over plot, this is a good book to pick.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009, L) – It is a bit of a struggle to get into the narrative voice of the first book of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell series. I even had to reread it when I lost it. But when you get into and attune yourself into its rhythm, it does deliver. The pronoun usage may be confusing, but the thrill and court intrigue can put you in binge-reading moments. At the end, you would definitely want to pick up the next book in the series.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2000, L) – This is one of those works that I consider “cool” books. Every nerd should read this. Kavalier and Clay create one of the most unforgettable comic book characters and prove that comic books are also serious works of art. The dynamic duo resort to the overlooked art of the comic book as they struggle to overcome the personal demons that threaten to destroy them.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2013, L) – At the core of this book is the love story of two Nigerians who are separated as each of them migrate to the U.S. and the U.K. This novel is a legitimate page-turner, which is a wonderful feat because the heavy themes of class and racism are tackled without bogging down the plot. Being black in America is described in illuminating thoughts without being academic, and these make the reader reconsider his or her own politics on this matter.
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001, L) – Probably the most famous work of Franzen whose irascible temper never fails to shake one’s head, this is a funny, laugh-out-loud novel about a family who come home to spend one last Christmas together. At the final run of all the mad and comic plot twists and turns, including do-it-yourself psychiatric therapy, Internet entrepreneurship, and disastrous love affairs, one cannot help but give nods and respect to the author, and forgive him for his immense talent at storytelling.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996, L) – So far, this is the biggest book on this list. It took me a while to get to the end of this tome. It’s also probably the most challenging one to read thanks to the nearly 400 formidable footnotes and detailed descriptions of the characters. They, as a whole, are one of the most unforgettable cast of any novel out there. It’s mostly about drugs, depression, alcoholism, anhedonia, tennis, television, and ultimately, it is about endless entertainment.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981, L) – Children born on the eve of India’s independence are gifted with special powers. This gives all of them a special bond. Leading the midnight’s children are Saleem and Shiva, born at the same moment but from the extreme ends of the socio-economic spectrum. These two rivals bring about a novel, narrated in a fantastic voice, about individuality and collectivity.
Richard II by William Shakespeare (1595, M) – This is not the typical Shakespeare that one will pick up but it is definitely a good one to start with since it is the first, in terms of historical chronology, of The Bard’s back-to-back tetralogies. Based on England’s King Richard II who ruled at the near end of the 14th century, this play epitomizes the dichotomy of a king, his body being both mortal, prone to human weaknesses, and spiritual, expected to be the supreme political ruler.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) by Milan Kundera (1984, L) – I suspect that this is one of those books that one either utterly loves or utterly hates. Told in chapters that usually begin with philosophical meanderings, it is about two couples who move about in the artistic Czech society. Their lives intertwine with each other while the Soviet invasion serves as a stage for the drama that turns their lives around.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010, L) – This is an ingenious novel about characters surviving the goon squad, also known as time. Each chapter is narrated in a different voice and style, and just when you think the author has exhausted all her stylistic efforts, a delightful surprise at the near end is given to the reader in the form of an unconventional medium of storytelling: the Powerpoint presentation. Overall, the novel surpasses this one little gimmick as the loose ends are tied up in the last chapter.
Thanks a lot to everyone who supported this series. As a bonus, here are some of the titles that didn’t make it.
- The Once and Future King by T. H. White
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
- Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
- Empire Falls by Richard Russo
- Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Top Five Alternates:
- Independent People by Halldór Laxness
- Death at Intervals by José Saramago
- Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
- Cathedral by Raymond Carver
- Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Format: [Title] ([Original Title]) by [Author] ([Publication Year, LSS Meter Level])
This is part of the Literary Snobbery Series (LSS).