“Reading gives you more time than not reading”, says Jeanette Winterson. Indeed, the time invested in reading a good book is the time saved, not wasted. You enter a new world when you pick up a book and start reading it. Writers are magicians, dreamers, believers. They believe in unearthly time zones and give you a reason to believe in them too. They take you to new adventures. They reflect in their works the world that you live in. Hence, reading makes you realize the inevitable, and imagine the unimaginable. Right now you may be in Utopia and the next minute you may find yourself in a dystopian surrounding. One book may take you in the magical world of Hogwarts and another may show you the cruelties of Zamindars on poor population in an Indian village. Books are a wonder, and as Jane Austen suggests, “A fondness for reading, properly directed, must be an education in itself.”
Reading around being an important part of education, everyone must try to indulge into it. While you are free to choose any genre of your interest and skip the others, there are some books which just cannot be missed. Here is the list of ten exceptional fictional books from all over the world which must be read by everyone before they enter the significant second decade of their lives. These books teach you, inform you, and help you evolve by asking certain questions to yourself and your society. All of the below mentioned books are available in English.
1. God of Small Things
“If you're happy in a dream, does that count?” - Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Being Arundhati Roy’s first novel, it is a treat for all those who appreciate the linguistic intricacies and playfulness. It’s a subtle critique of caste system, very finely blended with the local life of a South Indian family, and a love story. Arundhati Roy enfolds the story giving it a realist, yet magical touch. The enfolding happens as if the god himself is unfolding the several of someone’s real life, unexpectedly, and shockingly. Various layers and perspectives that Roy creates for each single event, and the time she invests in every minute detail is exceptional.
“When all else fails, philosophize.” - Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee.
This is a novella written by the African author J. M. Coetzee, and again, is a must read for more than one reasons. Starting with the story of an old university professor and his failed affair with one of his young students, the focus of the novel shifts to the daughter of the professor. The novel familiarizes us with the African city life as well the countryside. It is also a psychological study of the protagonist as he loses his reputation and his job because of his affair, and finally also loses the ability of saving her own daughter from getting raped.
3. To Kill a Mocking Bird
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Written by a spectacular author, Harper Lee, the novel is a masterpiece. If you want to learn about a parent-child relationship, or a brother-sister relationship, no book can be better than this one. It is the story of a motherless pair of brother and sister and their father, Atticus. The story deals with the experiences of the family which involve Atticus’s profession as a lawyer, the filthiness of which he never hides from his children. You will fall in love with Atticus even before you reach halfway in the novel.
4. The Kite Runner
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” - Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
From the perspective of politics, third world history, diaspora, and even friendship, this novel is both perfect and heartbreaking. It is written by the Afghan writer Khaleid Hosseini. Set in the 20th century Afghanistan under the brutal rule of Russia and Taliban, the novel tells us about the country’s citizens by the story of two young boys Ameer and Hassan. It is a saga of friendship worth knowing.
5. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
“The moment I saw her, a part of me walked out of my body and wrapped itself around her. And there it still remains.” - Arundhati Roy, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness
Arundhati Roy is a gifted writer and that is evident from both of her novels. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness also talks about social issues like God of Small Things, again subtly blending it with local tastes of Kashmir and Old Delhi. Recently published, the novel criticizes almost everything happening in India, picking the real events from the timeline. She leaves nothing untouched, be it the Anshan of Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar or the killing of militants in Kashmir valley. Roy captures the culture of Old Delhi and Kashmir quite picturesquely in her latest novel.
6. Raag Darbaari
“लेक्चर का मज़ा तो तब है जब सुननेवाले भी समझें कि यह बकवास कर रहा है और बोलनेवाला भी समझे कि मैं बकवास कर रहा हूँ।” - Shrilal Shukla, राग दरबारी
(The lecture is enjoyable only when the one who listens feels that what is being spoken is rubbish, and the one who speaks also knows that what he’s speaking is rubbish)
The quote above is enough to prove why this Hindi novel by Srilal Shukla is a must read. If you enjoy biting satire and sarcasm, then this book would be no less than Bible for you. Shrilal Shukla very shamelessly uses the sarcastic tone throughout the novel to ridicule the village administrations in post-Nehruvian era. Unlike other Hindi writers he does not lament over the failed administration and dirty politics in the earliest days of post-independence but makes fun of these issues. You can easily see the familiarity of the village described in the novel with the degrading standards of politics in the country today.
7. Sexing the Cherry
“The Buddhists say there are 149 ways to god. I'm not looking for god, only for myself, and that is far more complicated.” Jeanette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
Even by the name, you would think of this novel as queer. And indeed, it brought a major breakthrough in the postmodern world of gender studies. An important book from the shelf of queer literature, Jeanette Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry helps the young minds to have a better understanding of LGBTQ community. Apart from this, it is a perfect read if you want to learn how to break the stereotypes. The section which retells the stories of various traditional princesses like Cinderella and Rapunzel is a major attraction. So is the unconventional character of Dog-Woman.
8. Crime and Punishment
“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment
Originally written in Russian by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, this nineteenth century novel was the first of its kind, and this accounts for its one of the many specialties. Dostoyevsky was probably the first to give us the concept of the “super-man” (which has nothing to do with the DC comic character), also used by Nietzsche in his philosophical theories. Dostoyevsky is the very first novelist who delves into the mind of a criminal and attempts to justify the murder committed by him. The novel is a realistic account of a crime committed and the redemption attained through suffering.
9. Harry Potter Series
"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?" - J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
If you don’t believe in magic, you will never find it. It’s this philosophy with which J K Rowling has written all the seven Harry Potter novels. These books would encourage you to find magic in the most unexpected places. It just takes a swish and a flick. Apart from the magic and fantasy, Harry Potter series provides its readers a portrayal and stark criticism of various social evils like Racism, Institutionalism, and so on. It is a great read for the readers of psychological and detective novels as well.
10. Kafka on the Shore
“If you remember me, then I don't care if everyone else forgets.” - Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore.
Written by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Kafka of the Shore adopts its story line from the Greek classical myth of King Oedipus marrying his own mother and killing his father. The inherent philosophy of institutionalism and its effects on an individual is taken from the great German author Franz Kafka. Murakami combines both the fictional and philosophical elements to present to his readers the life of a Japanese teenage boy who flees from his home and ends up taking refuge in a library. Even if you aren’t familiar with the Greek literature or the philosophy of Kafka, the enjoyment and engagement is assured on many levels. It acquaints you with the Japanese culture and you may also start having a different and special view of various normal things like cats and old men.
The books enlisted above are not just great from the window of entertainment. They all have something to tell about life which is inevitable and non-ignorable. I believe that a good book is the one which changes you as a human after you close it and put it back on the shelf. If you are planning to follow this list, get ready to be changed in at least ten different ways.