At the beginning of 2017, I was determined to read 50 books that year. On December 31, 2017, my reading log (on Goodread.com) informed me that I came up short, reaching only 44. Working full-time and raising two children, one has to deliberately seek out time to read amidst all the quotidian demands. (Also, having a job as a librarian does not necessarily facilitate reading for pleasure, contrary to what the layperson may think.) For this blog post, I selected ten books that left lasting impressions and expanded the mental horizon within me.
The list owes more to my personal philosophy and whimsical predilection than impartial analysis. I posted links (to our library’s OneSearch) for each book, hoping that another reader will share the affinity for the book. I listed them from ranking #10 to #1, in inverse order.
Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
The story tells of a young couple who flees the havoc of civil war from an unspecified country. The book conveys a clear message through their struggle to attain the most basic claims and needs as human beings. The novel is concise (only about 200 pages) and timely, and allows the readers to think once more about what our proper reaction to refugee crisis should be.
Title: Call Me by Your Name
Author: Andre Aciman
Adapted successfully into film this year as well, Call me by Your Name allows the readers to bask in the indulgence of love edenic in its purity and passion. What blossoms is a romance between two ostensibly heterosexual men and how a passion of a six weeks can last a lifetime, with or without the significant other.
Author: Thomas Mann
Written when Mann was only 25, Buddenbrooks chronicles the four generations of a family living in Germany in the 20th century. The dynamics of a family life, as well as its interaction with social norms and epochal events of the era, are masterfully portrayed in this novel that was the stepping stone to his Nobel Prize in Literature three decades later.
Title: Too Much Happiness
Author: Alice Munro
Munro’s prose is magical, deceptively simple yet undergirded by deep complexity and emotions, and it is this collection that enacts the full potential of what her prose can do. Every story in this collection took turns being my favorite. I rank her stories evenly with Poe’s and Chekhov’s.
Author: Roberto Bolano
Nazi Literature in the Americas is a gem unlike any others. Short vignettes of the lives of thirty or so writers comprise this ingeniously structured novel, and these writers have one commonality: They purport the superiority of Aryan bloodline (hence the title) through their writing. You will be addicted to Bolano’s narrative allure once you read this one.
Title: The Remains of the Day
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
The recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, Kazuo Ishiguro wrote many novels, but one can argue that The Remains of the Day is his masterpiece. It’s about an English butler, who, upon retrospection, uncovers the darker side of his master whom he has served his entire life. Flipping the last page, I had to admit that only a genius can write a novel like this one.
Title: The Waste Books
Author: Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, who was primarily an experimental physicist in 18th century Germany, is also known as the father of aphorisms. This book is a collection of his aphorisms jotted down throughout his life; they are witty, pithy, ironic and intellectually stimulating. His erudite sayings were admired by Tolstoy, Einstein, Breton, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. A perfect book for busy-bodies (because the whole book is composed entirely of short aphorisms).
Title: The Distant Star
Author: Roberto Bolano
I’d say that the two best novels by Bolano are The Savage Detectives and 2666; but they both are 600-page plus novels, hence not easy to recommend. I would recommend The Distant Star to those who want to experience the rapture of Bolano’s prose and storytelling. According to the author, the book endeavors to reach the core of “evilness.” The book tells of several, wayfaring artists whose lives intersect with an Avant-garde poet, who writes aerial poetry (skywriting with airplane) and murders with indifference, exhibiting with pride the photos of his mutilated victims to unsuspecting audience. The novel toys with the idea of the embodiment of evil.
Author: Agota Kristof
Agota Kristof is a Hungarian author who writes in French. Her novels (the trilogy) entice readers with their multi-layered deception and meaning, even within stories themselves. We are often confused about the nature and/or purpose of these written words, and our assumptions, more often than not, turn out to be wrong. It’s a story about two brothers, whose relationship is a metaphor for the state of Europe during the war. Dark, nihilistic, yet highly satisfying novel. Ironically, only one CSU out of 23 CSUs has this book in its library.
Title: Antipoems: New and Selected
Author: Nicanor Parra
Nicanor Parra, still alive at 103, writes antipoems, and reading them endowed me with whole new perspectives on the nature of poetry. I have always believed that Art isn’t unless it broadens what’s possible by it. A professor of mathematics by training, Parra said about his antipoems: “In antipoetry, it is poetry that is sought, not eloquence.” This seemingly paradoxical statement says much about the state of poetry nowadays. Even for those who stayed away from poetry due to its esoteric “eloquence,” I highly recommend Parra’s antipoems.
The writer of this blog post wishes to thank Colleen Green (Marketing Librarian) and Lauren Condina (Library Marketing student assistant) for their assistance with creating this post.