You don’t realize how difficult it is to frame a list of good books to read until you try to do so. Why this book instead of that other one? What makes these authors special and not the ones standing on the sidewalk in front? It’s been many days of thinking and re-thinking, but here you are. The list includes authors I admire, other ones I’m curious about, new prize winners, best reads suggested by the press, and recommendations from dear people.
Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.
This citation opens Unaccustomed Earth, Jhumpa Lahiri’s second collection of stories after her Pulitzer Prize winner Interpreter of Maladies. The book contains a marvellous collection of nine short stories that tell about the lives of Bengali-American characters and how they deal with their mixed cultural environment.
Without Blood by Alessandro Baricco. I read his precious Silk five years ago, and ever since I’ve always wanted to read this magical author again. The book tells the story of a political killing in post-war Italy, where, after a gun battle and fire, a little girl, Nina, is concealed beneath the trap door of the house where it all happens. The story ends many years later, redefining reconciliation and the human nature of salvation.
Ward No. 6 by Anton Chekov, was one of the first readings the professor of the course ‘Writing with the Classics’ recommended us to read while studying Chekov. The story is set in a provincial mental asylum and explores the philosophical conflict between Ivan Gromov, a patient, and Andrey Ragin, the director of the asylum.
Youth by J.M. Coetzee. Given that Coetzee is one of my favourite writers, I simply want to follow him describing a part of his novelized life. Set between South Africa and England, the book is a portrait of an isolated and adrift young man struggling to find his way in the world, and in his way transforming life into art.
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. Nobel Prize winner of literature in 1999, it’s said that this novel is the great novel of the 20th century because it defines the era in all its glories and catastrophes. It tells the story of Oskar Matzerath, an anti-hero, a maniac and genius obsessive beater of the titular drum. Grass gives life to the evolution of the century: From agricultural to industrial, traditional to cosmopolitan, feudal to postmodern and full modernity.
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. Our professor of Novel, talking about suspense, recommended this book to anyone who wanted to deepen their skills. On a beautiful day Joe Rose and Clarissa Mellon celebrate their union with a picnic. That day Rose’s calm and organised life is shattered by a balloon accident where a man dies. In the rescue attempt Joe meets Jed Parry, who becomes obsessed with him. That will test Rose’s scientific rationalism, threaten the love of Clarissa and drive him to the brink of murder and madness.
Sulphuric Acid by Amelie Nothomb. I loved Nothomb’s sharp tongue in Fear and Trembling and always wanted to re-read her. Sulphuric Acid tells the story of a reality TV death camp show, which becomes a nation’s obsession. At the camp, prisoner-participants are chosen at random from the population and abducted in raids in public.
Japanese-British Kazuo Ishiguro was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. I didn’t know him, and I want to know him. An Artist of The Floating World is set in post-World War II in Japan and is narrated by Masuji Ono, an aging painter, who looks back on his life and how he has lived it. The novel deals with the acceptance of responsibility and the role of people in a rapidly changing environment.
Autumn by Ali Smith. Best-selling, Man Booker-shortlisted author, tells the story of an extraordinary friendship between an elderly songwriter and a precocious child. This is the first of a four volume seasonal series, and I am willing to meet the writings of Scottish Ali Smith.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. I am curious about the winner of the 2017 Man Booker Prize. Saunders tells a father-son story featuring Abraham Lincoln, and many other supporting characters, living and dead, historical and invented. The novel is described by The New York Times Book Review as “a luminous feat of generosity and humanism.”
Feel Free by Zadie Smith. I loved her novel White Teeth, and I would love to dive also into her essay style. Smith is one of the most beloved writers of her generation, and it is said that her second collection of essays promises only to increase her reputation.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize, Doerr tells the story of a blind French girl, Marie-Laure, and a German boy, Werner, whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II, illuminating the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.
Award winners, old classics, young creatives, essays, all sorts of mixed ideas come to mind when trying to recommend a good book. But what I’m looking for, always, are those words and stories that captivate me, that transport me to places where passion, kindness, compassion, heroism, generosity, beauty, the transcendent human soul, is exposed freely in creative ways. My hope, for you and for me, is that we find these precious places in some of the mentioned books during the months to come.
Paula Arellano Geoffroy is a Chilean writer that lives with her family in the Netherlands. She is also an engineer in forestry, but her true passion resides in working with both creative and technical writing. Always curious, avid reader and a perennial student, she is actually writing articles for different organizations, revising the draft of her first novel, and studying creative non-fiction and professional writing at an American university.