A friend on Facebook asked me to do one of those chain games, where you list 10 books that have stuck with you through the years. I said I would, and perhaps someday I will post this list on her wall, but it has a tendency to change. In the meantime, here is the current version, with brief explanations of why these books are meaningful to me. I read an awful lot, but I also tend to read shallowly — these are books that have somehow resonated despite that. I’ll also note that most of these books are ones that I encountered in my teenage years — somehow, it seems a lot harder for a book to leave a lasting impact once one is no longer a child.
- Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers: This is a British detective story, probably my absolute favorite category of fiction, but that’s really the least of its charms. Besides the mystery, the central question this book wrestles with is whether women should choose an intellectual academic life or the safer domestic one. At the time this was written (1935), this was definitely an either-or question; some might argue that it still is. I was struck when reading this how similar Harriet Vane’s dilemmas were to my own, so many decades later.
- Watership Down by Richard Adams: I usually loathe books with animal protagonists, so this is a surprising book for me to love.The part of this book that I always remember is the seeming warren paradise that the roving band of rabbits discover fairly early on in the book. There’s abundant food and the rabbits seem to have to work very little for it. The true situation soon becomes clear: a farmer sets out food for the rabbits in this warren, and in exchange, the rabbits essentially sacrifice one of their own when the farmer sets out a snare, doing nothing to save the trapped rabbit.
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: A brilliant book, set in England immediately before and after World War II. A consummate professional, Stevens served Lord Darlington as his butler for three decades, including during the War. He sees himself as serving society through his service to Lord Darlington, but revelations about his former employer force him to reconsider the sacrifices he made to be the perfect butler and his true contribution to the world.
- Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery: By far my favorite Anne of Green Gables book, one I’ve probably read dozens of times. I’m not sure there’s anything I can say here that hasn’t been said better by other people. I loved the depiction of the slow-blossoming love between Anne and Gilbert in this book. Particularly, I was a hopeless romantic about the chapter where Anne finally discovers her true feelings for Gilbert when she believed him to be dying.
- The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton: Few Americans have heard of Enid Blyton, but several generations of Indian children were pretty much raised on her books (this could be an entirely separate blogpost). This was my absolute favorite of all the fantasy series she wrote. Jo, Bessie, Fanny and Dick have discovered a magic tree in the nearby woods, the top of which rotates between multiple magical lands. I particularly loved the lands where they got good things to eat (The Land of Goodies involved cake and treacle pudding) or had nice things happen to them (The Land of Birthdays!).
- Boy by Roald Dahl: Another childhood favorite, an autobiography of Roald Dahl. If I’m honest, I probably remember two main things from this book: 1) Childhoods in the UK at the time Boy is set seem to involve a large amount of corporal punishment and 2) They sure got a lot of yummy-sounding candy to eat. Sherbet suckers and liquorice bootlaces sounded so exotic and delicious to my Indian ears. And later, he and his schoolmates actually got to test out new flavors for Cadbury!
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: I can’t say that I remember most of this book very much at all, but there is one tragic scene that will haunt me forever. To tell you about it would destroy its impact, but if you were to ever read this book, you would know which scene I’m talking about.
- The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: The story of a fundamentalist missionary Nathan Price, his wife, Orleanna, and four daughters, who move to the Belgian Congo. The books switches between the perspectives of the wife and four daughters and is remarkable for the way in which it depicts the slow change in perspective on the parts of Orleanna and her daughters and in contrast, the hubris shown by Nathan.
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I’m slightly ashamed to admit that it took me five tries to read this as a child. Austen is just so witty here, so subtle, so observant, her language so delightful. I will also forever be a fan of the 6-part BBC miniseries, which is remarkably faithful to the book.
- An Equal Music by Vikram Seth: A beautiful and perfect love story but set in a world I’m completely unfamiliar with: that of professional musicians. Though I’m far from musical, this book made the music come alive and the passion these characters felt for it became completely understandable. I wished I’d taken those violin lessons more seriously.
That’s the end of my list. Ask me tomorrow and I might produce another one.