OK, so if we got down to it, pretty much every book I’ve ever read has changed me in some way or another. But here are five (of many) that I distinctly remember having the “OK-I-need-a-few-days-to-process-what-I-have-just-read-excuse-me-while-I-stare-into-the-distance-and-contemplate-everything-I-have-ever-known” experience. That is its technical term, might I add.
(These are in no particular order. Ranking them would be impossible and I would probably change my mind within five minutes of publishing this.)
- Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
“…our impulses are too strong for our judgement sometimes.”
I am a big Thomas Hardy fan and although this isn’t my favourite of his novels, it is the first one that I read, when I was about 14, and I could not put it down. Here was a 19th-Century novel about women which wasn’t ‘feel-good’, but sad, depressing and wholly infuriating. It deals with double standards around male and female sexual behaviour; this was something I hadn’t even thought about in my early teens but suddenly this novel made me look at society from a different perspective and take notice of inequalities I hadn’t even considered before. It obviously isn’t the sole reason I started to inform myself about gender inequality, but it certainly gave me a kick up the bum to start questioning things I had passively accepted before.
Also, apart from anything else, Hardy’s writing is exquisite. I once had a dream he was trying to woo me by reading me his poetry. I mean, most of it is pretty depressing so it’s not the height of romance but dream-Alice was definitely swooning.
2. A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman
“We always think there’s enough time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and then we stand there holding on to words like ‘if’.”
I implore everyone to read this book right now. Done? OK, good. This is a bittersweet gem of a novel, and I find it difficult to eloquently express why it’s so brilliant. Ove shouldn’t be a lovable character. He is a curmudgeonly old man who complains about everything, but he is hilarious and endearing and most importantly, a reminder of how the elderly can feel out of place and isolated as they age in a fast-changing world. It forced me to reassess how I think about the older generation and made me want to sit down with them and have a chat. This book made me contemplate life, love, death, and everything in between. It made me realise that we can find strength in the unlikeliest of places and with the unlikeliest of people. And as cheesy as it sounds, it reminded me to truly appreciate the life I have.
I also laughed and cried throughout most of it and was emotionally exhausted for a while afterwards, but it was totally worth it.
3. Happy – Derren Brown
“We are, each of us, a product of the stories we tell ourselves.”
I read this in the last year or so, and I’ve recommended it to pretty much everyone I know. I am a huge Derren Brown fan. I’ve seen him perform live twice and both times I came out questioning everything I ever knew about…everything. Brown takes the popular self-help guides that preach positive-thinking and setting goals, and explains why they often do more harm than good, proposing alternative and less anxiety-inducing methods. He offers insights into happiness which have completely rewritten the way I think about and try to achieve it, and I can’t express how much this has helped me in this terrifying decade of life. Whoever you are and whatever stage of life you’re at, this book is bound to help . Go buy it. Read it. Worship it. You’re welcome.
4. Matilda – Roald Dahl
“These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: you are not alone.”
This needs no introduction, really, and it’s probably on many a bookworm’s favourites list. Matilda made me feel like I had company in loving books so much as a child. I found solace in them, just as she does. I spent my childhood summers checking out books from the library, and I will never forget the sheer excitement I felt when my card got upgraded so I could take out TWELVE books at a time instead of six. Pure bliss.
I think I need to go and have a re-read.
5. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
“This is not a war, this is a test of how far man can be degraded”
Before I read this book, I had never really thought about the emotional realities and the atrocities of war. I had learned the facts in history lessons at school, but I always felt detached from these events that seemed to have happened so long ago. Faulks’s writing is brutal and beautiful in the ways it depicts the horror, fear and hopelessness experienced by the soldiers. It’s as if he is writing from personal experience. I couldn’t help but be captivated by his prose and it made me look at the past from a completely different perspective. Read it and weep. In the best way.
I really wanted to put more books on this list, but the next satisfying number I could have used is ten, and considering how much I want to write about each book, it would have ended up being as long as my dissertation. And no one wants 10,000 words of Alice rambling on about books.
OK, that is a slight exaggeration but I think I conveyed my point. If anyone is still reading, I congratulate you, here is a round of applause *claps*.
Until next time,
TTFN, tata for now