I stumbled upon the 30 Day Book Meme at Fat Books, Thin Women and really enjoyed reading the answer. It’s a month-long campaign with daily prompts on books and related topic. With ongoing book reviews, thoughts on The Divine Comedy, and the commitment to Musing Mondays and Booking Through Thursday, it’s not feasible to post consecutively for a month. Instead I’ll post whenever it’s possible to maintain one blog post per day.
Day 1: The Best Book You Read Last Year
This is the most difficult question to answer, and it gave me pause about participating the campaign. I have to select one or two books from The Twelve Books of 2010. It’s truly a tough call to nail a year’s worth of readings down to a few books. The word “best” is purely subjective, ambiguous and conditional. In order to be “the best,” a book must demonstrate lucidity in story-telling, contribute to either enhancement or appreciation of humanity, assert unique literary style, and last but not the least, entertain the readers. It is very difficult to compare books from different genres because they don’t embody all the elements. What makes a mystery is the story and not the language art. hat separates literary fiction is the multiple voices and subtexts that aren’t meant to be straight at the first reading. The answer to this ambivalence, at least to me, hinges on posterity. Think of the best as being classic. On top of the knack for telling an entertaining story with which readers resonate, the talent in achieving beautiful literary forms, and the sheer luck of earning fame and popularity, these classic authors have endured over time. The widely-accepted notion that a book has to achieve a level of critical and popular success that endures for many years can be a tricky standard to be rigid about. The length of time it takes for a book to achieve a classics status can also be disputable. The question, therefore becomes: what book that I read in 2010 will continue to be read 50 years later?
Works of literature that delve in the large and unpredictable forces in life would more likely to achieve the classics status. Despite the enormous changes in society throughout history, the subject matter of human experience that writers explore in their work is often very similar. Evil, guilt, materialism, love, self-fulfillment, and violence are all perennial themes that writers over time and geographical barrier have cultivated in their writings. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden (1952) is already a classic when I read it for the first time last year. It is a story about love and how one perceives love. Through a family romance, with betrayal and denial, Steinbeck explores how humans can spend a lifetime trying to decipher their expressions of love. But whether one is really loved sometimes cannot be known. The only love one feels is the love one feels for someone else. To me the most monstrous action to be remembered about East of Eden is not Cathy’s vice but Adam’s withdrawal, which has profound impact on the course of his sons’ lives.
Fifty years after East of Eden came Fingersmith (2002) by Sarah Waters. Set in Victorian England, 1862 to be exact, Fingersmith captures the teeming life that thrives underneath the various repressions of that era. In this book, the approach to the truth is so convoluted that appearances in one case have pointed one way while the truth lay all the while unsuspected in another direction. On top of the entangled fate of the two orphaned women, Waters surrounds their lives with characters who are unforgettable—neither wholly good nor evil. Waters’ prose is lyrical, but it’s what the plot that kept me up all night, with all the twists and turns concerning the identities of two girls whose fate completely changed because of a secret.