Reads, Ranked: Top Ten Books, Part One

This fall, my friend Kate created a Google Doc called ‘Top Ten Books’ and shared it with all of our friends who read frequently. It was great to see the overlap [popular books included Where’d You Go Bernadette, which I read, but didn’t adore as much as other seemed to; The Interestings, which made an appearance on my list; and A Moveable Feast, also on my list], and to add books to my list that I never would’ve purchased at my own accord. Below you’ll find the first five of my personal Top Ten list [second post to come, but for the sake of brevity, I’m doing this in two installments – I know that unlike myself, most of those reading this are gainfully employed and don’t want to procrastinate too obviously], with brief descriptions of each book along with my favorite quotes from within.

1. Anthropology of an American Girl 

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I read this book during the spring of my freshman year of college, which was a very important and exciting time in my life for a number of reasons. It just so happened that I purchased the book around the same time I became enamored with the music of Lana del Rey, and her songs, particularly “Off to the Races” provided a perfect lyrical backdrop to the events within the book as well as my own life. Though my experiences weren’t even close to parallel to those of Evie, Thayer writes in a way that renders her coming-of-age inherently relatable to any late high school or early college-aged girl. I was honestly shocked to see how many poor reviews it had on Goodreads because, though I never re-read books, I consistently find myself thumbing through to look for quotes that inspire.

Favorite Quote: 

Boys will be boys, that’s what people say. No one ever mentions how girls have to be something other than themselves altogether. We are to stifle the same feelings that boys are encouraged to display. We are to use gossip as a means of policing ourselves — this way those who do succumb to sex but are not damaged by it are damaged instead by peer malice. Girls demand a covenant because if one gives in, others will be expected to do the same. We are to remain united in cruelty, ignorance, and aversion. Or we are to starve the flesh from our bones, penalizing the body for its nature, castigating ourselves for advances we are powerless to prevent. We are to make false promises then resist the attentions solicited. Basically we are to become expert liars. – page 65

2. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close 

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I read this book in 2009, two years prior to the movie’s release, which I still haven’t seen for fear it will spoil the book. Surprisingly [and embarrassingly] enough, this book, along with Little Bee, which is also on this list, came at the recommendation of Emma Roberts’ Twitter account. I don’t follow her movies, but I enjoy keeping up with her on social media because she frequently tweets and instagrams photos of her latest reads, and, more often than not, they are excellent books. So, now that we have that out in the open – this book is the story of a young boy, Oskar Schell’s attempt to retrieve a final message from his father, who died tragically in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The book manages to take on heartwarming and heartbreaking qualities within the scope of a single page, and is an excellent showcase of Safran Foer’s tremendous talent. If you haven’t read it, or don’t read often, this is an excellent and non-intimidating book to start with.

Favorite Quotes: 

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

“She wants to know if I love her, that’s all anyone wants from anyone else, not love itself but the knowledge that love is there, like new batteries in the flashlight in the emergency kit in the hall closet.”

3. The Master and Margarita

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Mikhail Bulgakov is a Russian author who, despite never quite achieving the fame of Nabokov or Tolstoy, is valued in the intellectual community for his masterful, tongue-in-cheek contributions to the magnificent canon of Russian literature. Bulgakov began The Master and Margarita, which took him twelve years to complete, in 1928, though it was not published until 1967. If you have even the slightest grasp on Russian history, when you read it, you’ll recognize why it wasn’t safe to publish for a number of years. The work is a biting satire of Moscow under Stalin, featuring a cast of characters including Satan, Pontius Pilate a magician and a cat, all of whom act as allegories for prominent governmental figures of the period. Its a little bit hard to explain without making it sound entirely unfeasible [which, as with any satire, on the surface it is  just that], but it is a consistent, if less obvious, addition to many lists boasting the ‘Greatest Books of All Time.’ It was the first work of Russian literature that I ever read and an excellent introduction to the genre.

Favorite Quote: 

“But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if
evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows
disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the
shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings.
Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because
of your fantasy of enjoying naked light?”

4. Little Bee 

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It seems redundant to describe a book on my “Top Five Favorites” as “one of the best books I’ve ever read,” but that’s what I say every time I recommend this to someone [note: it’s actually a bit hit-or-miss, and it’s not for those who can’t handle a depressing tale], so that’s how I’ll introduce it here for the sake of consistency. Little Bee tells the tragic story of the titular character, a Nigerian refugee who flees to England and finds herself seeking the help of an acquaintance from the past, an English editor, upon her arrival. Though I enjoyed the plot to an extent, what truly captivated me was the writing. At points it almost seemed as if the book was written in quotable quotes, but I honestly didn’t mind because they were so poignant. As the blurb of my 2009 edition [not sure if this still holds] said, giving away too much of the plot will spoil the magic of the book, so I’m just going to skip ahead to the quotes section instead.

Favorite Quotes: 

“I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”

“I did not want to tell her what happened, but I had to now. I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.”

“What is an adventure? That depends on where you are starting from. Little girls in your country, they hide in the gap between the washing machine and the refrigerator and they make believe they are in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around them. Me and my sister, we used to hide in a gap in the jungle, with green snakes and monkeys all around us, and make believe that we had a washing machine and a refrigerator. You live in a world of machines and you dream of things with beating hearts. We dream of machines, because we see where beating hearts have left us.”

5. A Tale for the Time Being

    I don’t blame you if you’re ready to stop reading, but even if you skip this final review, do yourself the favor of grabbing it from the bookstore and finding out why it made my list yourself. This book is actually fairly similar to Little Bee, both in subject and sadness. The protagonist, Nao, is a young girl living in Japan forced to cope not only with excessive bullying at school, but also family troubles, including repeated suicide attempts from her hapless, unemployed father. Like Little Bee, Nao’s story intersects with an older woman, this time a lady named Ruth, who lives in British Columbia. When Ruth finds a backpack that belonged to Nao, detritus from the Japanese tsunami, washed up on the shores of her beachside hometown, she is determined to put a face to the artifacts within. Ozeki connects the two stories seamlessly and the book manages light and funny prose despite the deeply depressive characters that populate the pages.

    I happened to be reading this book during the fall of my senior year at Colby where, as a Political Science major, I was enrolled in a Contemporary Japanese Politics class. I was disheartened to find out from my professor that the suicide, depression, and bullying that Ozeki details in this tale is deeply rooted in reality. Learning about the culture in conjunction with reading a fictional account of life in the country was fascinating. For those interested, Bending Adversity by David Pilling is an excellent journalistic account of many of Japan’s plights. Regardless of whether you choose to supplement your knowledge, the book is worth a read; at the very least, it will make you appreciate your own middle school experience.

Favorite Quotes: 

Am I crazy?” she asked. “I feel like I am sometimes.”
“Maybe,” he said, rubbing her forehead. “But don’t worry about it. You need to be a little bit crazy. Crazy is the price you pay for having an imagination. It’s your superpower. Tapping into the dream. It’s a good thing not a bad thing.

Do not think that time simply flies away. Do not understand “flying” as the only function of time. If time simply flew away, a separation would exist between you and time. So if you understand time as only passing, then you do not understand the time being.   To grasp this truly, every being that exists in the entire world is linked together as moments in time, and at the same time they exist as individual moments of time. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.

That’s all for now…look out for a Part 2 post tomorrow!

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