A Facebook meme has been making its rounds, in which you’re supposed to list 10 books that have impacted and stayed with you. Then you’re supposed to nominate 10 more people to do the same by tagging them. The instructions go like this:
List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes, and don’t think too hard. They do not have to be the ‘right’ books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way.
I find it interesting how it has just been picked up now, considering I first encountered it and posted my list back in December 2013 (according to Facebook, the meme has been active for a year). But I decided to post it again, and intriguingly, it resulted in a different list, containing 5 books I originally picked last year but replacing the other 5.
Why did my list change? I suspect the first time, I followed the instructions faithfully and didn’t think too hard, listing down the books that immediately came to mind. But this time, I spent ages thinking through each choice and ensuring I had a legitimate reason for each book before I decided to include them. (By the way, these are not my 10 favourite books.) Without further ado, here is my list of 10 books that have greatly impacted and stayed with me (in chronological order):
This is my favourite book of all-time. Many individuals of the male species have incredulously remarked: ‘But you’re a guy! That’s so gay!’ Um, feel free to say whatever you want – I’m perfectly comfortable with my sensitive masculinity, thank you. I love well-constructed romantic comedies, and this is the epitome of a genre plagued by mediocrity. Witty, emotional and a brilliant insightful study of traditional gender roles (though Lizzy’s subversive personality was well ahead of its time, serving as excellent entertainment), this is one book that, even after multiple readings, never fails to satisfy the romanticist in me.
I read this book last year and was delighted to discover, finally, a worthy match to Pride and Prejudice. Though containing a similar love story, I find North and South arguably even more complex and deeply-layered, a wondrously realistic portrayal of the difficulties of reconciling love and attraction with class conflict and gender hierarchies. I also admired Gaskell’s handling of faith, interestingly making a distinction between faith and religion, and in one of the most beautiful passages in the book, she describes a scene where 3 of the main characters pray together in unity despite their varying backgrounds:
‘Margaret the Churchwoman, her father the Dissenter, Higgins the Infidel, knelt down together. It did them no harm.‘ (p. 233)
[Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South, ed. Angus Easson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).]
This was the first comic I ever owned and it was enough to get me hooked. To this day, Tintin is a personal hero of mine – bold, intellectual and resourceful. How could I ever tire of his thrilling, exhilarating adventures that spanned the entire globe, from the Scottish castles of The Black Island to the pyramids of Egypt in The Crab with the Golden Claws? The Adventures of Tintin undoubtedly played the biggest role in exposing me to the whole new world out there, ready to be discovered and explored and encountered. How to explain my desire to travel, to find my own adventures, to venture out into the unknown? Tintin.
Firstly, I absolutely loved the prose (props to the translator). Secondly, despite it being a blatant allegory of the Nazi Occupation in France, it still carried a lingering power. It addressed all sorts of issues with respect, from the innately evil hearts of men, to the hope or despair of religion, to the prevalence of abstraction in extreme circumstances. Camus has written a disturbing but necessary novel that seeks to stir up something in its readers, making us aware that we are all prone to carrying the plague in our hearts. Even with the difficult material, he writes audaciously because of his unwavering faith in what he believes to be right, and for that, I have the utmost respect for him.
‘…everyone has it inside himself, this plague, because no one in the world, no one, is immune. And I know that we must constantly keep a watch on ourselves to avoid being distracted for a moment and find ourselves breathing in another person’s face and infecting him.‘ (p. 195)
[Albert Camus, The Plague, trans. Robin Buss (London: Penguin Classics, 2013).]
What a sprawling epic of a novel. Unrelenting, unabashed, self-indulgent though not in an unpleasant manner. I was stunned, overwhelmed and ultimately entertained by Rushdie’s novel that attempts to bridge the gap between Britain and India (though my friend mentioned he does a better job in The Satanic Verses, which I’ve yet to read). And I remember, after turning the last page and putting the book down, feeling inspired to write a similar book, not for India, but for Japan. As I mentioned in my previous ‘Blog Hop‘ post, what India is to Rushdie, Japan is to me. My goal is to bridge the gap between Japan and the English-speaking world. This novel gave me courage and proved that it was very possible to do so.
Introduced to me by a friend in elementary school, I was unprepared for what I was to find within the pages of this gripping novel. I know I’m not the only one who immediately resonated with Ender, tiny in size but great in stature, overcoming the odds stacked against him. I was the smallest, weakest kid in my class – my admiration for Ender, in a similar position, knew no bounds. I felt like one with him. And in the toughest moments of my army days, I thought of Ender, his courage, his strength, his determination not to weep anymore – when my tears finally stopped, I was certain he was mighty proud of me.
‘It made him sorrowful, but Ender did not weep. He was done with that […] he decided that he was strong enough to defeat them – the teachers, his enemies.‘ (p. 172)
[Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (New York: Tor, 1985).]
Poignant, subtle and beautifully written. I am jealous of Ishiguro’s prose and the way he manages to convey so much in gentle simplicity. I first read it 5 years ago, a bit too young to grasp fully its themes, but it still left a powerful impression. Since then, I’ve read it twice more, and like fine wine, it gets better with age. Stevens’s musings about ‘dignity’ in his eventful (though from his perspective, relatively minor) life as a butler are meant to be pondered over in great depth. And how much more heartbreaking is the underlying love story as I get older! A distinguished breath of fresh air.
‘After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?‘ (p. 256)
[Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day (London: Faber and Faber, 1989).]
8. The Sandman (Neil Gaiman; 1989-1996)
I cheated slightly because there are 10 trade paperbacks collecting the original run of 75 issues. But I view Gaiman’s graphic novel magnum opus (and in my personal opinion, his greatest work) as a whole masterpiece, in which he magically weaves a plethora of characters and storylines in such a deft manner. There’s a reason why I’m writing my dissertation on it this year – it deserves thorough appreciation. No matter how many times I read it, I take away something new each time, notice something I never did before. It’s such a rich and outstanding work, one of the greatest pieces of contemporary literature.
‘But – you say that DREAMS have no power here? Tell me, Lucifer Morningstar… Ask yourselves, all of you… What power would HELL have if those here imprisoned were NOT able to DREAM of HEAVEN?‘ (#4: ‘A Hope in Hell’; p. 128)
[Neil Gaiman, The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (New York: DC Comics, 1991).]
I believe this slim yet touching novel to be the quintessential bildungsroman for the Millennial Generation, and for good reason. Addressing all the issues close to our hearts when we were teenagers, it refused to shy away from topics commonly-perceived to be controversial, especially by adults. These issues – friendship, love, sexuality, drugs, suicide, disorders, disabilities – were awkwardly rampant in our lives, and we didn’t know how to deal with them. Then came along a book that dealt with teenage angst in as real a manner as possible, without the aesthetic coverings – it was raw, painful and authentic. Well done, Chbosky, and thank you.
‘So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.‘ (p. 211)
[Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower (New York: MTV Books/Pocket Books, 1999).]
I first picked up this 600 page illustrated novel (aka graphic novel) at a Barnes and Nobles in California during the summer of 2005. I sat on the carpeted floor, opened it and become completely engrossed, losing track of time, only jolted back to reality when I finished it 2 hours later. It’s not an exaggeration to say this is the most beautiful book I’ve read, an intimate recounting of his own coming-of-age, including his poignant memories and descriptions of his first love, and his pervading doubts about what he has been taught growing up. It’s a book that triggers your own bittersweet memories, and all the struggles you faced in order to get to where you are today.
‘Pressed against her I can hear ETERNITY — hollow, lonely spaces and currents that churn ceaselessly, and the fallen snow welcomes the falling snow with a whispered “HUSH.”‘
[Craig Thompson, Blankets (Georgia: Top Shelf Productions, 2003).]
There were 2 significant books in my original list that I chose to omit in my updated list: The Outsiders (S. E. Hinton; 1967) and Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom; 1997). Both had an undeniable influence on my life, the former when I was in my early teens (What wasn’t to like about ‘a story of loyalty and friendship as teenagers […] search for personal dignity and a place in the world’?), the latter when I was in high school (Still an important motto: ‘Love each other or die.‘). But I guess as I get older, other books will naturally replace ones that were vital in my earlier life.
Other quick observations:
- 3 out of 10 are graphic novels (no surprise since comics are one of my favourite mediums)
- 2 out of 10 were written by female authors (and these were both romance novels – strengthening the stereotype that when it comes to emotional matters, women know best?)
- 1 out of 10 was published this millennium (oh, how I rue the lack of brilliant contemporary works!)
Also: I did omit the Bible, even though it’s definitely a book (or 66 books, depending on how you look at it) that has stayed and will continue to stay with me for the rest of my life, only because it was a given.
Facebook recently released a fascinating analytical blog post about this meme, gathering a sample of 130,000 status updates appearing in the last 2 weeks of August 2014 (63.7% US, 9.3% India, 6.3% UK) to generate a list of the top 100 books, along with a percentage of all lists that contained them. Here are the top 20 (click the above link to see the full top 100):
- Harry Potter series (J. K. Rowling): 21.08%
- To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): 14.48%
- The Lord of the Rings (J. R. R. Tolkien): 13.86%
- The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien): 7.48%
- Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): 7.28%
- The Holy Bible: 7.21%
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams): 5.97%
- The Hunger Games Trilogy (Suzanne Collins): 5.82%
- The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger): 5.70%
- The Chronicles of Narnia (C. S. Lewis): 5.63%
- The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald): 5.61%
- 1984 (George Orwell): 5.37%
- Little Women (Louisa May Alcott): 5.26%
- Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte): 5.23%
- The Stand (Stephen King): 5.11%
- Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell): 4.95%
- A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle): 4.38%
- The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood): 4.27%
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (C.S. Lewis): 4.05%
- The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho): 4.01%
I’ve read 16 of the top 20, 62 of the top 100, but only 3 of my 10 books were in the top 100: #5. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): 7.28%, #24. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card): 3.53%, #70. The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Stephen Chbosky): 1.83%. I wonder what that says about me?
What are your top 10 books that have stayed with you?
- Albert Camus
- Craig Thompson
- Elizabeth Gaskell
- Ender's Game
- graphic novels
- Jane Austen
- Justin Lau
- Kazuo Ishiguro
- La Peste
- Midnight's Children
- Millennial Generation
- Mitch Albom
- Neil Gaiman
- North and South
- Orson Scott Card
- Pride and Prejudice
- romantic comedies
- S. E. Hinton
- Salman Rushdie
- Stephen Chbosky
- The Adventures of Tintin
- The Black Island
- The Outsiders
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower
- The Plague
- The Remains of the Day
- The Sandman
- Tuesdays with Morrie