Jun Woo Kang, News Writer
Well, I realize there’s a smidge bias here, but I really believe that books make the best gifts, because they last. I mean obviously the stories last in your minds, but the books themselves do too. I have a copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” my grandfather gave me on my fifth birthday. Not only are they great gifts, they are also great sources of entertainment, as they give us free opportunities to travel out of our consciousness — they have often been described as an outlet away from the real world. It is perhaps a cliché to say that books “transport you to a place you’ve never been before”, but they certainly act as a welcome break from the reality of assignment deadlines. That said, I would like to give you a few recommendations of my all-time favorite books for your next read.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
The Brazilian writer introduces a young shepherd from the south of Spain who has a recurring dream about finding a treasure. Believing that finding this treasure is his ‘destiny, he leaves the comfort of home and travels into the African desert to find it.
“If you start out by promising what you don’t even have yet, you’ll lose your desire to work toward getting it.” The old man would say to the wandering shepherd. If you prefer a short read (167 pages), don’t mind novels that involve mystical, magical scenes like a shepherd having a conversation with the soul of the universe, and most importantly, if you are looking for a few words of wisdom, this would be a read for you.
Norwegian Wood by Murakami Haruki
It seems somewhat out of place, since I would say this book is a great Winter read, with images like frozen lakes up on the mountain and snow-blanketed woods, but there are no problems with reading it during temperate Spring time. When 30-something Toru Watanabe hears a fragment of the titular Beatles track after a long flight, his memories are returned to his days as a young college student and his love with the beautiful but vulnerable Naoko. Murakami guides his readers to life’s darkest territories: the cold, dark winter woods of death and grief and abuse – but also provides wisdom and warmth. If you often find yourself wandering around the trees in Winter seasons, I recommend this read as your guidebook.
The Big Picture by Douglas Kennedy
Kennedy showcases a Connecticut lawyer who loses his designer life to a moment of murderous rage — and then runs away frantically to avoid retribution. Ben Bradford has it all, even though he doesn’t necessarily want it. Years ago he gave up his desire to be a photographer to fulfill his father’s demand that he go to law school. Now he’s immured in a junior partnership in his New York firm’s cozy Trusts & Estates division; in family responsibilities– a second child who’s keeping him up nights, a wife who’s stopped loving him; in the upscale consumables that holler success; and in the excess acid that pays for it. Then, his life’s pursuit turns into mush. Though the intense atmosphere of the story, the writing is very readable and makes you want to keep turning the pages well into the night.
This Bloody Mary is the Last Thing I Own by Jonathan Rendall
I should say this is my personal favorite novel about sports in general. The best of that genre of boxing where an educated, otherwise well-adjusted person explores their own obsession with the universally dismal realities of life (and death) in the ring. I know it sounds pretty dark, but as a fan of boxing, this is the kind of book, and Jonathan Rendall is the kind of writer, that the sport and fans of the sport deserve. The greatest part of this read is though boxing is the overall motif, there is a clear parallel between the sport and the society — so it is amusing to see how this brilliant writer has established parallelism throughout the entire novel. The book can be considered violent, so if violence does not sound like your cup of tea, I don’t suggest this one. If your reason for not reading this book is because you are not interested in boxing, I would still strongly recommend this read, because it might actually make you become a great fan of the sport.
One of Us by Alice Dreger
This is the one of the two nonfiction books on this list. The book strives to answer a controversial question: must children born with socially challenging anatomies have their bodies changed because others cannot be expected to change their minds? One of Us views conjoined twinning and other “abnormalities” from the point of view of people living with such anatomies, and considers these issues within the larger historical context of anatomical politics. It sounds like a sophisticated read, but it isn’t simply a writing about a unique genetic outcome. For me, this is more than just one of the best nonfiction books I have read. It’s a book about disability, power, and how people in charge tend to essentialize and marginalize the other. My highest recommendation to those non-fiction lovers.
Thirsty by M.T. Anderson
All Chris really wants is to be a normal kid, to hang out with his friends, avoid his parents, and get a date with Rebecca Schwartz. Unfortunately, Chris appears to be turning into a vampire. So while his hometown performs an ancient ritual that keeps Tch’muchgar, the Vampire Lord, locked in another world, Chris desperately tries to save himself from his own vampiric fate. Vampire genre has been so overwrought with petulant childish and silly characters lately, but this one definitely broke my preconception. If you want a read that goes well with the warming weather, this one’s for you.
The Golden Rule by Ilene Cooper
This probably is one of the most profound books for children I have ever read. Here, a grandfather explains to his grandson the importance of the simple “golden rule” in this world and demonstrates the wonderful effect following it. He explains what it means, and then goes on and talks about its universality. He ties in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and even the Shawnee Native Americans. He talks to his grandson about many of the religions that have the golden rule, and then teaches his grandson how to use the golden rule. He explains that you cannot force others to practice the golden rule, but by living it everyday you can create a world of kindness and love. What a lovely way to introduce the world to younger children. This book can be a great guideline of life for children who have begun to observe the world seriously. This book can also be used to introduce religion, and the difference in perspectives of the different beliefs.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I probably do not have to spend too much time introducing this book, as it is already widely known. Let’s just say that this book is certainly open to a lot of controversy and debate, yet I think that is what makes it such an interesting read. The Catcher in the Rye certainly wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, however I find it an exciting and compelling read, with a gallon of brutal reality poured in along with some humour, contrasting with moments of depression. Despite being written in 1951, I think many teenagers would be able to relate to the various themes present in the book. It is a modern classic of the coming of age genre. I find the main character, 17-year-old Holden Caulfield, absolutely intriguing and as I read the book, it was fascinating to get inside the head of the strange, rebellious protagonist. As I said, this might not be everyone’s favorite, but I personally loved it. If The Golden Rule was a guide for children, The Catcher in the Rye, I would say, is the ultimate guide for teenagers — but don’t try to do what Holden Caulfield is doing in the novel.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
Ned Henry is badly in need for a rest. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s searching for a Victorian atrocity called ‘the bishop’s bird stump’. It’s part of a project to restore the famed Coventry Cathedral, which was destroyed in a Nazi air raid over a hundred years earlier. The mixing of the historical-fiction-like voice and the “sci-fi-ness” in this novel is just incredible. When someone says the book was his or her “ favorite” one of a particular genre, you better listen. This underappreciated novel is definitely my favorite time-travel book ever.
Regarding the Pain of Others by Susan Sontag
Sontag really attacks the modern obsession with photography, with documenting everything. She looks at all the arguments on why photography might help us understand better the suffering and trauma of war – of ‘the pain of others’ — but concludes that it is an ineffective medium because it reduces the observer to a single frame instead of taking him/her beyond the true excesses of suffering that is trapped within the same frame, just out of reach. By no means is this a light read — it is photography-based — but Sontag’s meditations on photography will forever change the way you think of pictures. In an image saturated age like nowadays, this is absolutely a required reading about the unreliability of the image. I would particularly recommend this book for those who work better with visuals.