Friday, January 31, 2014

from the bookshelf #1

Whenever the academic year gets underway I immediately fall off the 'reading-for-fun' bandwagon, even though I have a fantastic library system at my disposal! But, alas, I just run out of time. In lieu of reading new books, here is a list of some of my favorites from my bookshelf - as a disclaimer, three of the six are actually translations (two of which I haven't read in the original, because I cannot read Russian or Italian) so read them in the original language if you can, but if not there are definitely good translations out there!

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
I always hesitate to call this my favorite book because I have never read it in the original (like I said, no Russian skills) but I just love the story so much that I just have to list it as a constant favorite. I first read this when I was twelve - I know, I was an ambitious reader - but of course none of the meaning really sunk in (obviously). I reread it when I was probably about fifteen or so and that's when the story really hit home and I fell in love with the novel. Since then I try to make it a point to reread it once a year and I've actually been mostly successful in that endeavor. ANYWAY. Once you get past the sheer number of characters and also get past the cringe-worthiness of some of their actions, the ideas Dostoevsky manages to present through these characters are truly thought-provoking and beautiful. 

Dune by Frank Herbert
And now for a complete change of register - here's some classic sci-fi! If you're not familiar with the Dune series, there are a billion books. I've never actually counted, but I remember going into the local Borders (a moment of silence for Borders Bookstores), heading straight to the sci-fi section, and seeing a few shelf-fulls of Dune books. Some of these were written by Herbert himself while others were written by his son and, weirdly enough, Kevin J. Anderson - whose name is only familiar to me because I read a TON of Star Wars novels when I was young. I had weird taste in books when I was a kid, apparently. Regardless, I love Dune because I'm all over any sci-fi books that create worlds and cultures in detail and I thought the ecosystem of Arrakis was really neat. That being said, I strongly caution anyone who decides to read the rest of the series because in my personal opinion the quality of the books themselves crashes after the second and third novels. Then the stories get super sketchy (which includes scenes of child molestation and even worse things, what the hell Herbert?!) - so word to the wise, just read this one.
If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino
Now this is a really awesome book for anyone who likes novels that really play around with narrative structure. However, I do not have any skill whatsoever in reading Italian, so I rely on translation - but the translation was good! I don't want to give too much away because this is a book that does its best work when the reader approaches it with no preconceptions. I read it on a whim without knowing anything about it and it BLEW MY MIND. Go read it!
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
This was the first book of Ishiguro's books that I read and because of that it holds a special place in my heart. My boyfriend also got me a beautiful hard-bound copy of it and it looks so pretty on my shelf, which also probably adds to its appeal. I remember how struck I was by Ishiguro's evocative language and the amount of feeling he transmits to readers in such short works. This novel is part of his war trilogy (which includes An Artist of the Floating World and A Pale View of Hills, both of which are also fantastic) and is the only one of the three novels set in England - the other two deal with the issues of post-war Japan. Honestly, I love anything written by Ishiguro so it was hard to pick just one novel. Seriously, go pick out any one of his books and I can almost guarantee that you will be floored.  
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami
I freaking love Murakami. It was hard for me to pick just one but this novel is my favorite out of all his works - 1Q84 was a close second - I just can't get over the amazing mix of magical realism, psychological study, and his unique narrative style. I've also read quite a few of his novels in the original Japanese and I can tell you his novels do translate well into English. Like the Calvino novel, I don't want to go too much into detail because I think Murakami is so fun to read without knowing what the hell is going on (which is a significant chunk of the time, let's be honest), so go read it!

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
This one is another one of those books that I can reread a million times. I love this one because Hall plays with narrative and the bounds of language, but he does it within the action genre. Most novels that attempt to break narrative convention have a contemplative atmosphere and even though there may be some action in it, the action itself is not necessarily what the focus is on. Hall's novel on the other hand reads like one of the Bourne books but manages to completely blow your mind with new ways in which language can become sentient - just, go read it and you'll see what I mean. Spoiler: yes there is a real shark. But not in the way you'd think. 
And as a bonus, here's a book that is not my favorite, but I have a weird love-hate-fear relationship with it because it is an incredible work, but it scares the be-jeezus out of me every time I see it on the shelf: House of Leaves. If you want your mind blown, crying/rocking in the corner, while becoming afraid of your own house, then go read this one.  
.wp-caption { background: transparent; }.image-attachment .entry-content .entry-attachment { background: transparent; }