This week’s musing asks:
What do you think are the top 5 books every woman should read? (And for the men who might be playing today: What do you think are the top 5 books every man should read?)
I’m going to answer both. For both men and women books, I make my selections based on two assumptions: (a) fiction only; (b) subject matters pertaining to the respective gender only. In addition, I’m not picking any Jane Austen because there will be no shortage of her books among bloggers’ choices.
The Hand That First Held Mine Maggie O’Farrell. It’s one of the most memorable book because it shows how fate entwines an ordinary woman to people who forever antagonize her. It explores what it means to have a career and sustain parenthood for a single mother whose scope in life is ahead of her time. It also afford an insights into the working of a child’s memory. A perfect choice for Mother’s Day.
The Easter Parade Richard Yates. A most poignant but touching story of two sisters. This quietness of style best illuminates time’s difference, since over half the sisters’ lives are packed into the thin volume. The book is one that will stay with readers and haunt them long after the last page is turned—because of the tragic choices and truly empty lives the sisters allow themselves.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Betty Smith. Although is not a showy piece from a literary point of view, nor is it a personal favorite, this book’s possibilities and inspirations for women growing up in adverse conditions will never exhaust. The strength of this novel derives from its power to evoke universal emotion and compassion. It’s main themes are the fabric of family, the perseverance through hard times, and the limit of love.
Fingersmith Sarah Waters. The book is an ingenious intrigue. Two girls’ fate were ineluctably entwined since they were born. To complicate matter further, the two women fall in love with each other, if there is any truth coming out of the hoax, during the intricate dealings. Waters has downplayed the romance, focusing on the layers of secrets to be revealed carefully.
Beloved Toni Morrison. Beloved is a breath-taking novel that tells the story of family under the turmoil of slavery. The past is told in flashbacks, stories, and plain narratives. Many of the passages are written in fragments and pieces that leave the impression of a frayed mind.
Shadow Without a Name Ignacio Padilla. This book presents a story within stories, twisted and shrouded. At each turn of a page, at each switch of narrator, the book challenges readers with the question: is the man who he says he is? I have to flip back and forth to make sure I do not have the slightest confusion of who is who, though it is sometimes inevitable to fall into the trap of which who I think the man is. This book mirrors to my selection of Toni Morrison’s book for women.
Stoner John Williams. The ultimate everyman novel. The prose that elaborates on Stoner’s reflecting moments of self-realization and profound insecurity is most beautiful. John Williams, in depicting Stoner, whose indifference becomes a way of living among the dark forces and sadness that have swept over the society, seems to be saying that most of us will live quiet, unremarkable lives that can probably be summarized in a few sentences and that contribute nothing to humanity’s accomplishments.
Disgrace J.M. Coetzee. The steely intelligence that evokes from the simplicity of the writing is wrapped up in layers of truths is calling readers to cultivate. The sparse prose encompasses some of the larger issues that surpass Lurie’s own embarrassing drama: religion, sexuality, power, free will, and politics.
The Art of Racing in the Rain Garth Stein. How could a list of must-reads for men be without man’s best friend? In this heart-wrenching but also funny narrative, as the old canine, down to his last days of his lifetime as a dog, takes stock of his life (with much dignity and honor), I’m once again assured that dogs are really men’s best friends. They might not be able to speak and communicate, but they are certainly aware of our gestures and vibes.
The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro. Subtly plotted, this novel gives the impression that characters and scenes in the beautifully paced novel become no more than mouthpieces and backdrops for Ishiguro’s concern for the human condition: A desire to exceed one’s limitations.