Everyone wants to feel intelligent. Sometimes, we even start to feel pretty smart. But then it happens, that feeling of blandness when you find yourself amidst a bookish discuss by chance, and you’re just smiling and nodding, beaming plastic smiles until the facade cracks. Awkward feeling….
The truth is that even the nerdiest book nerds haven’t read everything in the literary canon. If you’re feeling particularly inferior to your bookish friends though, reading the titles on this list will help. Although they are not, by any means, the most influential works in the world’s literature canon— the 21 books included here are some of the works where creativity openly makes love to art, and I have arguably wagged the most tongues both recently and since ages. Read them, and you probably won’t miss a bookish reference for a long, long time….
While everyone should attempt to be a Shakespearean at one point in life, this list below mainly covers Fiction, Non-Fiction, Autobiographies, Biographies and/or Memoirs
Disclaimer: Oh dear Book-Nerd reading this, we may not agree on all below, but we surely gonna be on the same page on some….*tongue out*
In no particular order. ….here they are…..
‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ by Khaled Hosseini
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the followup to Khaled Hosseini’s hit debut novel, The Kite Runner. Like Hosseini’s first book, A Thousand Splendid Suns takes place in Afghanistan and deals heavily with the impact of regime changes on the country’s people. Unlike its predecessor, the novel centers on the experiences of Afghan women, who must bond together in order to survive the harshness of poverty, domestic violence, and disenfranchisement.
‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ by Dave Eggers
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is like an after-school special come true. This memoir chronicles the author’s experiences after taking on the responsibility of raising his younger brother after his parents’ deaths. Readers join Eggers in grappling with the magnitude of responsibility thrust upon him, and all the anxieties that come with it.
‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Since its publication in 2013, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning novel, Americanah, has become one of the most talked-about books of the millennium. It’s been featured on choice pick lists from NPR, Goodreads, and The New York Times. If you want to know what the best contemporary fiction looks like, read this book. Ko ju be e lo.(Supplementary: ‘Purple Hibiscus’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ are two other books from the same author that definitely thrill)
‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens
When I eventually read this “highly famous” book, I was like ‘really, that’s it?”. But, honestly though, I’m really glad to have read it. Getting through Charles Dickens’ writing style can be a struggle if you don’t truly enjoy it, but the pound of flesh to get in reading it is the plot. A Tale of Two Cities is a gripping tale of political complications and revolution, and trust me, you won’t regret reading it.
‘1984’ by George Orwell
Amazing dystopian book set in a utopian age. Speaking of haunting, allow me to present the book that can turn you into a fetal curl of paranoia. Of all the books on this list, 1984 is probably the easiest to read and the most widely referenced. Ever hear of Big Brother, the Thought Police, or Thought crime? …all from this novel. Read it, and just try to remain calm. *winks*
(Supplementary: ‘Animal Farm’ is the other popular work by this author, that has also proven to be a must-read)
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood pushes the boundary between genre fiction and big-L Literature off the edge of a cliff, where it catches fire and crumbles to ash. When I first read The Handmaid’s Tale, I was a pimply teenager obsessed with dystopian fiction. Reading it again in university, I realized I’d missed so much of Atwood’s skill in my focus on her novel’s science fiction aspects. This is one of the greatest works of feminist fiction ever written, so add it to your TBR today.
“Long walk to freedom’ by Nelson Mandela
If you are not a prolific reader, the size and weight of this volume (aside from e-readers, LOL) may look daunting. After reading the first two or three chapters, you will be tempted to give up. DON’T!!! It’s just about to get really good.
This autobiography chronicles Mandela’s life, first as the son of a tribal chief, then as an educated Black man under apartheid (a dangerous thing to be), then the journey, both outward and inward, from attorney to the leader of a revolution. You will read about his time on Riecher’s Island, the notorious prison, and the various experiences he had in the courtroom and in captivity. He tells of the cunning ways those who were jailed for political reasons created to communicate and to an extent, continue to lead from inside prison. And he breaks up the horror with an occasional vignette of a surprisingly kindly jailor or other authority figure who does small, decent things when no one is looking.
If you are interested in the history of South Africa and the defeat of Apartheid, this is a must-read.
A favourite quote from the book read thus:
“As I finally walked through those gates to enter a car on the other side, I felt- even at the age of seventy-one- that my life was beginning anew. My ten thousand days of imprisonment were over.”
(Supplementary: ‘Conversations With Myself’ is another sound work by the author worth a read)
“Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe
This is probably the one for which its mention brings the cringe when it’s content hasn’t honed a space in your mental library, especially as a Nigerian.
The 1958 novel follows the life of one-named Okonkwo, an Igbo (“Ibo” in the novel) leader and local wrestling champion in the fictional Nigerian village of Umuofia. The work is split into three parts, the first describing his family and personal history, the customs and society of the Igbo, and the second and third sections introduce the influence of British colonialism and Christian missionaries on the Igbo community.
‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel García Márquez
Meek Marquez is one of the few writers I know, who asides from creativity, also pen with grace. At its heart, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a cultural history of Colombia, as told through the experiences of seven generations of the Buendía family. Layered with rich symbolism, metaphor, and prose, Márquez’s novel is a heavy but enjoyable and romantic read.
‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace
Witty Wallace nailed this, though wierdly. So, this book is long. If you aren’t a big reader to begin with, starting with something lighter might help. Infinite Jest weighs in at nearly 1100 pages in hardcover. Author David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008, is a rock star darling, the Kurt Cobain of English Lit. And this tome is an ode to his genius. Make a point to read it; you won’t be disappointed.
‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In the last few years, The Great Gatsby — always a popular choice for high school English classes — has experienced a renaissance of its own. It was part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read, and let’s not forget the 2013 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. If you’re sick of hearing about this book but have never read it, now’s the time. It’s a short and bittersweet read that captures upper-crust life in the Roaring Twenties. Everyone’s read it, so joining in on the fun is sure to give you something to talk about.
“The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S Lewis
This one is an ensemble of literary depth, and I’m sure most of us have seen a ‘slice’ of the writer’s imagination in the movie adaption. It is a series of seven high-fantasy novels, which though have been widely considered a classic of children’s literature, have been throughly referenced in many other ways, especially within human sociology, political and spiritual/religious circles. It is Lewis’ best-known work, having sold over 100 million copies in 47 languages. The entire 7-part ensemble were written between 1949 and 1954.
(Supplementary: ‘The Games of Thrones’ by R.R Martin can fit where Narnia does too. Read both if chance ‘happeneth’)
“The Man died’ by Wole Soyinka
This is a book that surprisingly flashed light in the “wonderful prospects” of solitary confinement. Living with the knowledge that he could be summarily executed at any moment while imprisoned in one of those dark days in early Nigeria, Wole Soyinka sought to preserve his sanity by writing his thoughts down on toilet paper with homemade pens and ink. This book is a result of all that Soyinka soliloquy.
(Supplementary: Other notable works by this Nobel prize winner include, ‘AKE’, ‘You Must Set Forth At Dawn’, Trials of Brother Jero’, ‘King Baabu’ and ‘Opera Wonyosi’, and others, all of which will definitely make a good read)
‘White Teeth’ by Zadie Smith
Similar to Americanah, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth tells the story of immigrant life in the United Kingdom. The novel deals with themes of assimilation and ethnic diversity, as individuals from Bangladesh and Jamaica, and their children, navigate an overwhelmingly white society. Lost religions, customs, and identities feature prominently, as does the discovery of new ones.
‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Book nerds will generally be quick to correct anyone who uses “Frankenstein” to refer to “Frankenstein’s monster.” LOL… Most people know the story of a scientist who sews together corpses and tries to play God, but only folks who read and remember the novel understand that it’s really all about the human condition. What constitutes life, death, right, and wrong? Who is worthy of love? Frankenstein gives readers a vehicle to explore these and more questions.
‘Beloved’ by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison’s Beloved is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and its popularity hasn’t dropped off since its publication in 1987. This is the tragic story of a former slave haunted — quite literally — by the ghost of the young daughter she killed years before. Beloved is more than just a spirit, but you’ll have to read the book to find out exactly who — or what — she is.
The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr. and Clayborne Carson (Editor)
A first-person account of the extraordinary life of America’s greatest civil rights leader. It begins with his boyhood as the son of a preacher, his education as a minister, his ascendancy as a leader of civil rights, & his complex relationships with leading political & social figures of the day. It’s sad how so many of Dr. King’s insights into society years ago still seem to flick the right cords across governments today.
(Supplementary: ‘AWO’ – The Autobiography of Obafemi Awolowo…..I read this book out of deep love for The great Awo and his wit. You won’t find sense lacking in every line)
‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club attained both mainstream and literary success after its 1989 release. The novel follows a group of Chinese immigrants and their American-born children as they navigate interpersonal relationships and the conflict of assimilation and identity. Because of its widespread readership, you’ll hear it referred to a great deal, so it would be a good idea to pop this one into your library.
‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler’ by Italo Calvino
Allow me the hipsterism, but If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is just so meta. You’re reading about the experience of reading, and half the book is told in the second person. You (as the book’s protagonist) begin reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler (the eponymous book-within-the-book) only to uncover a vast network of conspiracy and intrigue. If you find yourself asking “What’s going on here?” you aren’t alone. Almost 45 years after Italo Calvino’s book was published, it’s still pretty damn experimental. Even if you don’t totally get the novel, you’ll still have plenty to talk about with your friends, who probably don’t really get it, either.
“Blood River’ by Tim Butcher
This book is more like a thrilling travelogue. For lovers of Africa, travel writing or sheer adventurism. Tim takes the reader on a vividly narrated journey into the heart of the Congo, and he expertly intertwines that great undertaking with his own adventures, Tim takes on challenges, extreme adversity and genuinely uplifting experiences. Fast paced but with great attention to detail, this actually is a terrific read.
‘We are all completely beside ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler
This book is funny. The Guardian wrote, ‘A provocative take on family love, where a psychologist father’s animal-human behaviour experiment on his children has heartbreaking and hilarious repercussions’.
Although on a flip side, Fowler’s comedy raises questions about animal rights, parental subterfuge and self-delusion.
You will laugh, you will think too.
There you have them folks!
More reviews on other genres will come soon..watch this space. ..*winks*