“We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom” However, “I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about.”Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace & Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Todays’ article is going to be about some of my favorite fiction books. None of these books are ranked in order of preference.
I am anchored to each entirely.
That’s not to say that this is a fixed “top 10” whatever book listing. These books will always be a part of an unfinished list. So it’s not too excessive of me to map this article out to be the first of many similar articles to come
Nausea is truly a one-of-a-kind book. The story revolves around a French writer too acutely aware of his own existence. And his actions that stem from such a realization that, in nauseated twists and turns, he grows hysterically more attached to.
It’s odd that that last sentence just reminded me of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The unsettled feeling of the book. The questionable and dark, too transparently existential and absurd relevancy of Jean-Paul Sartre’s protagonist in Nausea that asserts its philosophy on that of Kafka’s most notable work, Metamorphosis.
I’m not saying that the two books are similar in their making. But the fabric seems to fit both roles.
At the core of it, the problems faced by both characters, when put under a philosophical telescope, have an existential sensibility to them. I may be wrong but the more I talk about Nausea, my understanding of Metamorphosis seems clearer than ever.
Anyway, must you read Nausea?
Well, if you want to get acquainted with life’s most underestimated facts. The kind that you won’t find in any other book. Be it religious, political, or philosophical, or historical. Or that you pursue something abstractly concrete, so brutal, that it forces you to fall into the deep end of the pool. With zero guarantees of you ever recovering from that dive, read it.
I think I’m scaring you away from the book, rather than sweet-talking it, but some truths go down like bitter pills, and Nausea, in no way, is a smooth-talker. It’s honest, unpredictable, grim, and 100% mind-expanding.
The next is The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. An astounding and perfectly sculpted writer, whose poetic imagination of her characters sweep you off your feet.
The story is a tug of war between the soul and the laws of Love. A stray boat drifting into the unknown with no anchor but only the wind to carry it forward (or backward, sideways, in no discernible direction). The wind of a world’s political, cultural, and social biases. As you read the story, you find out what world Arundhati Roy’s characters live in.
She has a unique way of describing the soil of this world. And from it, the lives that sprout, the colors they inhabit, the shells that they once used to fit into, and now they have grown out of.
Arundhati saw in her characters what the world would rather forget. It’s a shade of light that even sorrow may turn its head away from. And in expressing such sensitivity, the book embodies such strength and resilience.
Truly, it’s a beautiful sketch of the shadows that come into play around the essence of things.
My third favorite read is Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami.
I mean, not mentioning a Murakami book in this article is as nonsensical as not talking about Murakami in any conversation ever!
I was torn between Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Sputnik Sweetheart, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, and practically all of his other books. I wish I could end this article here itself. They’re so unconventionally romantic and resonant.
Kafka On The Shore, a true pioneer in magical realism, revolves around Kafka Tamura. His prophecy, his strong attachment to a likeness that’s so out of the confined boundaries of this world that as soon as you finish reading it, you feel so empty in your reality.
This is the epitome of an unforgettable reading experience. Almost cinematic, unerringly poetic, Haruki Murakami’s novel takes unexpected turns of love, fate, metaphors, and afflictions.
One minute you are acquainted with the deep sentiments of a crow, and in the other, you sense the frightening existence of a cat. One minute you think you’re standing under an invisible cloud of raining fish, and in the other, you’re sharing the dream of chance encounters.
As absurd as this description sounds, the book is just as absorbing. I can’t wait to re-read it for the rest of my life!
This brings me to another book that I’m sure I will re-read hundreds of times, Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse.
Part of my fascination is due to mere circumstance. I had first read this book during a difficult stage in my life. And the thoughts expressed in this book did more to encourage my thoughts to surface out of that slump than I anticipated. The book helped me ascend to new heights of introspection, specifically having a more intrinsic and psychologically-charged nature.
The book is again a solitary voyager into the world of literature. It stands to reason one’s humanity, misanthropy which is cynical uprooting of one’s responsibilities as a person in society, and of course, the debasement of culture.
Again, the book conveys a harsh side of reality and so my description might seem a bit severe to some of you who may have perceived this book under a more positive light.
I, for one, found this book inexcusably eye-opening. The book exists not so much on the external side of things; the strings of civilization that often thread a person together. But rather it’s alone and wildly inherent.
The protagonist’s half-human and the half-wolf narrative is intelligent. After reading most of Herman Hesse’s books, I don’t see how else Steppenwolf could have been concocted, still so relevant and chilling even today.
Speaking of books that shatter your discernible reality, my next recommendation is If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino.
I swear if the world’s falling apart, and in a world of books if there’s one author whose book I’d give up everything else for, just to be able to read for one more day till I, too, obliterate into nothingness, it would be this one.
I would gladly die with the substance of this book still lingering in my mind. It’s the perfect last thought to be privileged enough to possess.
What is this book about?
Well, it’s a continuous kind of living. I’m sure the story, despite my having read it weeks ago, still persists. The reading of it is an experiment. The story is its conclusion. And the reader is the interpretation of that conclusion.
If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler should not have been written. But it’s not even written yet. It’s lost somewhere taking the reader on a whimsical adventure. So memorable that even after you finish the book, it starts all over again.
Again, a book that breathes magical realism, the book is time-bending and space-confining. But of course, in Italo Calvino’s world, one can, no doubt, bend time and confine space.
A book to remember female sexuality by is Lifting the Veil by Ismat Chughtai.
If you were to divide the universe into tiny fragments, each fragment will contain within it, like phosphorescent droplets of rainwater, a soaring heart, an eager mind, a melody of nature, a strand of despair, and a morsel of profanity.
The book opens unopened doors, barred doors, doors that walk you into a sentient world. It’s impulsive, full of life, and extraordinary. It erases every ounce of doubt, of regret, of guilt, or suffering.
You don’t just read the book, you feel it especially if you’ve been brought up in a tightly-wound and deeply-biased society. There’s no other reason to read this book than for resurrection.
Twenty-One Stories of political and social and cultural confrontations, so real and historical that you want to feel the deep connection that binds the world together. That knits the path of a lonely road to a forgotten one. And the dusty and scorched footsteps of women who often possess a mosaic of personalities but are painted only in one.
This is one that most of you must have already read, it’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
A melody of characters, of possessing an insomniac quality, so puzzling, so acute, the story completes itself in its imperfection.
One Hundred Years of Solitude presents itself to us but in fragments – some tightened like the strings of a shoe – some hidden for centuries like buried copper coins stamped in time and mythology – and some circling the cells of our inner beliefs and habits, those environments that run faster than the wind and that shine brighter than the sun.
I still think of my memory of reading this book as a blanket of mystery and converging sentiments. I am often taunted by the book’s consciousness – the events that transpire in the book still swirling in my head as alive and intense as the dawn. Maybe that’s the effect books like One Hundred Years of Solitude can have on us.
To breathe as is, is enough.
But to breathe as if you are able to separate yourself from the act of breathing only to achieve perfection so that you can live in that dream a bit longer. Well, Gabriel Garcia Marquez urges you, through his writing, to cease to breathe completely.
On an ending note, I’d like to add a few more quick suggestions to this list. They are:
Notes from Underground and The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Midnight’s Children, and The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Wolf, The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and lastly, The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe.