“That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.”
–Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
One thing that can be said with certainty is that human life is absurdly limited and one way in which you can make this experience of life more meaningful is through reading books. One can live a thousand lives through pages of books because words have the power to recreate you. However, the current century believes in extracting its content through electronic means as it’s faster and more accessible.
This enslavement to electronic gadgets is making us distracted, impatient and unimaginative beings. But luckily there still exist few who are not entirely engulfed by the new medium and still believe in reading books.
Following is the list of twenty best books you must read once in your lifetime.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Published in 1925, this novel is a portrait of the jazz age and is considered the greatest classic of the 20th century. The novel recounts the story of enigmatic and rich Jay Gatsby and his passion for his beloved, Daisy. It explores themes of the American dream, capitalism and social upheaval.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Bell Jar is the first and the only novel written by writer and poet Sylvia Plath. The novel has autobiographical elements and is confessional in tone. In the book, Esther Greenwood, an aspiring poet of nineteen years old who descends into a mental illness and tries to kill herself. Sylvia Plath too was struggling with mental illness and tried to kill herself when she was young and then took her life in her thirties.
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
The Colour Purple, written as a series of diary entries and letters was written in 1982 and Alice Walker won Pulitzer Prize for this novel the following year. The novel documents struggles of Celie, a black southern woman who fights rape, racism, and toxic masculinity. The Colour Purple is the story of Celie discovering herself and her independence.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The God of Small Things written in 1996 is a novel by Indian author Arundhati Roy. The book won the Booker prize in 1997. The novel is set in Ayemenem in Kerala, India and is about fraternal twins Rahel and Esthappen. The novel is about how Rahel and Esthappen’s lives are destroyed by the ‘love laws’ and how they defy it towards the end of the novel.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez, is a magic realist book that tells the story of rise and fall of Buenďia family through several generations in the fictitious town of Macando. The novel is an insight into the Columbian culture and history.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre is a novel written by Charlotte Brontë under the pen name “Currer Bell” in 1847. The novel is a bildungsroman and speaks of the experiences of Jane Eyre from childhood to adulthood and her undying love for Mr. Rochester. The novel is said to be ahead of its time with feminist overtones.
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who wrote the book under the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll. The book tells the story of a young girl Alice who falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world. Though a children’s book, the novel grips its adult readers with as much awe.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
Lolita authored by Russian-American writer Vladimir Nabokov is a 1955 novel about pedophilia of middle-aged literature professor Humbert who is obsessed with 12-year old, Dolores Haze. He nicknames her “Lolita” and becomes sexually involved with her.
The novel received several objections due to its obscene nature back then and now is one of the most popular books in literature.
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Stranger is a novel by French writer Albert Camus published in 1942. The novel is the story of Mersault, who is deemed immoral and dangerous for the society because he refuses to cry and exhibit remorse at his mother’s death. The novel has a theme of existentialism.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brave New World is a dystopian novel published in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley. The novel talks of a future where world order has dramatically changed and its citizens are genetically modified and divided into different groups based on their intelligence. Major scientific advancements are made and now humans are being manipulated through reproductive technology and through sleep-learning.
The Vegetarian by Hang Kang
The Vegetarian, published in 2007, is a South Korean novella written by Hang Kang. The book was translated into English by Deborah Smith and it won the Man Booker International Prize in 2016. The novella is divided into three parts: “The Vegetarian”, “Mongolian Mark”, and “Flaming Trees”, is the story of Yeong-hye who, one day, suddenly stops eating meat after having series of dreams about animal slaughter. This decision leads to the distancing of the protagonist from society and her family.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
This debut novel by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini is about Amir, son of wealthy Kabul merchant whose only true friend is his servant, Hassan. The book touches upon the themes of friendship, betrayal, and redemption. The novel also explores the fall of Afghanistan monarchy through the hands of the Soviet Union and the rise of the Taliban.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore authored by Haruki Murakami in 2002 tells two different yet interrelated plots. The novel covers up each plot line in alternating chapters. The novel received a World Fantasy Award in 2006. The first story that this magical book narrates is of a 15-year old boy Kafka who runs away from his father’s house to escape an oedipal curse and in search of his sister and mother. The second story is of Nakata, a differently abled man, who can converse with cats.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Animal Farm is an allegorical and satirical novel written by George Orwell in 1945. On the surface, the novel is about farm animals revolting against humans and aspiring to take over them. The animals that live on Mr Jones farm finds it very distressing how animals are taken advantage and thus start their rebellion. The revolution in the book is actually the depiction of the Russian revolution in 1979. Orwell, who was a democratic socialist, wrote the book in the opposition of Stalinism.
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 by author JD Salinger. The novel talks about Holden Caulfield’s tough ascent to adulthood. The protagonist is the epitome of teenage rebellion and anguish. The main theme of the book is about the loss of innocence, connection, and teenage angst.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel was written by Harper Lee in 1960. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most famous classics. The story is narrated by six-year-old Jean Louise Finch who through her innocent and warm narration observes racial discrimination and rape. Courage, compassion, goodness are some other themes that the novel covers.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief is a historical novel written by Australian writer Markus Zusak. The novel tells the story of an adolescent girl Liesel who learns reading and writing from his foster father Hans. Amidst cruel regime of Nazis, Liesel learns the power of books and reads books that are forbidden by the Nazi party and also writes her own story.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishigaro
Never Let Me Go is a 2005 dystopian romance novel by Noble Prize winner Kazuo Ishigaro. The story is about three school kids Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy who after they leave grounds of their boarding school discover the gruesome reality of the outside world. The novel is a criticism of human arrogance.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The handmaid’s tale was published in 1985. It follows the story of Offred, a handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. Her working life at the commander’s house is deprived of basic dignity and keeps in line with the treatment of women during the period. The story is also interspersed with little bouts of nostalgia of Offred’s life with Luke.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little women were published in 1968-69. The story is one of the rare ones out there with female protagonists in the form of four sisters. The absence of their father for a major part of the novel is crucial in their evolution as independent women towards the end of the novel.