My list of memorable books

12:58 PM

I read a lot, I love reading. I've always had been that book stores and library roaming kid. When I was old enough to go shopping alone downtown (I was 12-13 years old)
I would spend a lot of time roaming from store to stores, occasionally spending my allowances and gift money on a few books. When I was not found in stores inhaling the smell of new books, I was at the State library taking a whiff from second hand borrowable ones.
Our library in Geneva was awesome, it had lots of reading nooks and study tables spread all over and I could easily forget time sitting on the ground in a corner, or sinking in an armchair.

Growing up my favourite were the "Fantomette" series (French), and Nancy Drew (which was called Alice in French). Both of which are mystery novel series for kids. As I grew up I read more and more, of everything (but still I love me a good Mystery novel even today). Some considered "intellectually worthy" some stuff where the stuff the book snob brigade would call dumb and "too popular". Harlequin romances, brainy novels, biographies...if it caught my fancy in one way or another I read it.

So much so, I decided to compile a list of the books that have been the most memorable read, in one way or another. Some are what those "I want to appear oh so cultivated" book elitists would approve of, but most are just books I had fun reading, or books that somehow made an impact on me.

You see a lot of those lists entitled "X amount of books you must read before you die". But seriously most of them are full of books that one would be afraid to leave out and be labelled "uncultivated" doing so. I swear people, you can totally live a happy and fulfilling life and die without having read "Madame Bovary". In French speaking countries we are forced to do it in high school and most of us never really finished the book, and hated it just the same.

My list has links provided so that should you feel the urge to read it, you can purchase it off Amazon. And as it is the case with all such links on my blog, they are affiliate links. This means if you purchase anything, I'll get paid a commission. At no extra costs to you.

The original Starwars Trilogy: A new Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi

If there is one set of book that defines my teenage years it's these 3. I always had been a Starwars fan, and loved the movie. The problem was that my dad found them stupid, and had anyway a ground rule that we must never watch a movie more than once. He also was against us taping movies on TV to keep them. So a movie once recorded and watched was to be recorded over. We were also not to buy VHS tapes of movies in stores.
I found a way around that, turning bookstores upside down until I found the novelisation books of these beloved movies. I was 13-14 when I finally did, and I read them a million time, in French. My copies were battered, went on every holidays, and it was my safe escape from the rising tension between my parents. My parents rolled their eyes at my reading choice, my dad quite obviously tried to hint at the fact I should read more "cultivated" stuff. And I was a typical teenager who didn't give much of a fuck about that. I LOVED these books...period. And if I was already going to be prohibited from buying VHS tapes, screw it I would read those books as many times as it took for me to get fed up reading them (never happened).

I ended up buying the VHS tapes the instant my dad left and my mom lifted the "no repeat watching" rules for movies. And I got more fluent in English to find out the English bookstore had a ton of Starwars Expanded Universe stories to buy. I read more of these stories than I can count over the years.

Sorrow Mountain 
I remember picking up this book at the small bookstore attached to my local supermarket in Geneva. It was a French translation which I don't remember the name. In fact to compile this list, I had to Google hard to find what this book was even called in English.
The reason it's memorable to me was that I was in a LDR with my now husband, and it was really really hard at time, and I read a lot of motivational, uplifting stories back then. This book tells the true story of a woman that saw her native Tibet getting invaded by China and spent 21 years in captivity, being constantly tortured.

Gone with the wind
The book should not need any intro, it has made to the rank of classics. Which is why it might surprise you to hear I read it quite late in my life.
I watched the movie with my parents as a teen, and found it pretty dumb. To me Scarlett O'Hara was a spoiled brat, and to be fair, this is how she was portrayed in the movie. I had no idea there was more to it, because that bore of a movie scared me away from the book.
I read it in 2004, because for some reason DH had purchased it second hand in one of the many second hand bookstores India had to offer. He never read it, but he had it. And back then I was bored, with him being away on business trips a lot, so I read it! I was super surprised to see that in the book you have a strong determined Scarlett fighting to keep her family and estate in one piece during the US Civil war, a tale of survival and probably early feminism as well. Go with the win!

Of Mice and Men
This book is one I have had the privilege to read in school not once but TWICE. The first time I was 14 and read it in French. The second time I was 18 and read it in English.
Both time I enjoyed the read, even though the 14 years old me struggled understanding the ending, I found myself having a far better grasp of it and probably more wisdom to understand it at 18.
I also aced that English paper, not only being able to FINALLY explain that it was an ode to true friendship but do it in English (which is not my native language).

The reason this book made it to the list is that when my family went on vacation in this pre-mobile technology era, we were off the grid : no TV, no phone, no nothing. We went camping, road-tripping, and sailing a lot.
To keep ourself entertained, we played games, and there was the bedtime story ritual that remained. But because carrying a million small books for a 3 weeks trip was impractical, my mom would pick a children chapter book instead, one chapter a day before bedtime was the norm.
This one, we read one Summer we were sailing on our boat in the Mediterranean sea. This was the book that brought us all together at night, no matter how challenging the day had been. And believe me, days on a boat can be super challenging.
I actually bought this book for Ishita and plan on reading it with her soon.

The Alchemist
I first discovered this book when I was 17 and in high school, a friend of mine was reading it and said it was awesome. So I went to buy it myself (in French) and read it in two evenings (after school and before bed). This became one of these books I re-read periodically because the book really spoke to me. You know how I am about following you dreams. 
When I moved to India in 2003, I missed that book and went to my neighbourhood's second hand book shop where I found it on my first attempt, if it isn't a sign. 
At the time hubby was finishing his studies in another town. When we finally got together, I found out he had that exact same book in his belongings (he never read it though). For a while we had two copies of the book. We donated one years later and that book is one of those I'll never be able to part with. 

I remember how I came to read this book and where. It was in year 2000, I was on a holiday with a friend. I actually persuaded her to come discover London which was my favourite European city to visit. It turned out to be a disastrous trip that pretty much was the beginning of the end of our tight knit friendship. She ended up leaving London earlier than planned, partly due to a medical emergency in her family, but because she also was in a place where she hated me for having a boyfriend when she was single. 
Anyhow, I still enjoyed the end of that trip alone, and because it was Summer and pleasantly warm in London, I decided to just make a date with myself in Hyde Park. I stopped at a bookstore to buy this book, and then to the supermarket to buy snadwiches and a salad and found a quiet spot in the high grass in the park. Hidden from view I spent the whole afternoon reading. Then continued reading at night in my hotel room. I read that book in one day. 
I still have that one copy, it was one of the book I had to pack along when I moved to India. And I re-read it more times than I can count. The poor thing is quite battered and the paper really browned as you can imagine. 

While hubby is not much of a reader, his best friend is, and I constantly tapped into his library when we all lived in Bangalore. 
This book was one that said friend recommended as good, and the title had picked my curiosity. It was an easy read, and I did a lot of it basking in the sun on our rooftop terrace. 
It made it to my list of memorable books because for some reason, it made death a less scary thing and gave me a lot to ponder about life as well. It's a book that make you feel less insignificant as it teaches you that all your actions have more impact than you think in life. 

I love reading dystopian novels because they force us to reflect on our present to a great extent. Many of the ones popular today are geared up toward young adults, and that is a shame to label them that way. Just because these books are written in a way a teenager can grasp doesn't mean they are "childish" or not worth an adult time. On the contrary! 
The Hunger Games sent chills down my spine more than once, realising that we aren't too far from the reality this book offers as an alternative to ours. A future where reality TV, war and gladiator combats to the death merge for the entertainment of a sheltered elite. You must all admit it's not much of a stretch to imagine our future just going that place. 
It is a book that also explains the danger of extremist political regimes, and the progressive suppression of people's voices in a way that no history classes I took as a kid could. 

Equally impactful in the same genre : The Divergent series

This book was a birthday present from DH's best friend. It is a fictionalised story of the woman who became China's last Empress. 
The book focuses on her entrance into the Forbidden city as one of the Emperor's 7 wives, follows her struggle with court intrigues, competition among women to bear a son to the Emperor, all the way to the death of her husband, and her rise as the Regent for her son. 
I myself enjoyed reading this one a lot because of the human aspect and emotional struggle the heroine faces. It's a nice peak into what the court probably was like to a great extent and the burden it put on the women living that reality. Imagine an entire gated city where 3000+ women fight for the attention of just one man!

I started my list with Starwars novels, so it is only fitting I end it with one of them too. As I said,  the Starwars Expended Universe had a special place in my teen reading years (and early adulthood). I read a considerable numbers of books belonging to the Starwars franchise. 
A set of those books was the whole X-Wing series of which this one is the last. It has Wedge Antilles for main character. A character that was present as a minor role in all 3 of the original movies and became a much more developed one in the expanded universe. 
This last book in the series that saw him as the main protagonist is by far the best in said series. It has tons of humour, and the kind of human depth none of the others had. 

One of the reason Wedge Antilles has been my favourite minor character in the movies and in all the books is that he is the only non-gifted, fairly disposable character that lived. In the movie he represents the one that survives without being famous or special. I like rooting for that kind of protagonists. You know the type that tells you that you don't have to be super-mega important to make a difference, or have some out of ordinary talents to carve yourself a worthy future and destiny. 

There that makes the end of my list of memorable books. These pretty much represent the tiny tip of a giant iceberg of reading.

What are the books you read that would make it to your own list of memorable reads? 

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  1. Anonymous11:04 AM

    You have both popular and critical taste as far as books are concerned. Quiet a comprehensive list. I think it represents your tastes from teenage to adulthood. Growing up I was quiet fond of “Famous Five” and “Nancy Drew” which I borrowed from my school library and I used to finish them in one day. Nancy Drew had boyfriend which I found adult stuff in those innocent days.

    These are the only books I read. My father did subscribe children magazines like “Champak” and “Chandamama” which helped me immensely to improve my vocabulary. Other than that I was very fond of comics like “Amar Chitra Katha” with its beautiful illustrations

    My next favorite was Sydney Sheldon, “Sand of Time”, “Windmills of God” and “Rage of Angles” are my favorites.

    I would say Charles Dickens novels like “David Copperfield” “Great Expectations” and “Oliver Twist” had a profound influence on me, there is such haunting melancholy in them. It is said that David Copperfield was part biography of Charles Dickens. Besides I did like “Pride and Prejudice” and “War and Peace”. I did not have the opportunity of reading many novels but I have read more short stories from Indian and international authors. Short stories are easier to read and their impact is instant.

    There is a particular author I would like to mention called Saddat Hassan Manto, who has written extensively about partition of India. His stories present a chilling description of horrors of partition. His short story “Toba Tek Singh” aptly captures the communal lunacy of partition using a mental asylum as a metaphor.

    I don’t have a list but I had the opportunity of reading good literature from time to time and these are the stuff which I can think from the top of my mind.


    1. I read a lot and I don't really pigeonhole myself in one genre which is probably why this list is so eclectic. I still read "teenager novels" they are fun, quick to read and still have a lot of good strong ideas that are discussion worthy.

      As a kid I never really got into the Famous Five, I tried to read them, but I failed to connect with the stories or characters. I was really more into Nancy Drew.
      As a teenager I enjoyed Agatha Christie's novels AND Mary Higgins Clark's novels as I was quite a mystery junkie (when I was not reading Starwars novels).

      I never quite enjoyed short stories :-) To me it was always finished way too fast, I like longer stories that can keep my mind busy for hours.

      I haven't read the English classics as much as I read French ones, that too for school because it was mandatory, but I can't say I really enjoyed any of them except Candide by Voltaire. That one was on "initiation travel" novel that was written in a such a way that teenagers with a still developing mind could grasp and be entertained by.
      I wish I could say the same about Madame Bovary, Les Fleurs du Mal, Les Miserables, or Tristan and Iseult. Which as an adult I can see why they could be good read, but really can't trigger much of a good debate and discussion with teens who don't have much of a connection to these old stories. There are many more contemporary novels, that are equally well written on the same themes that would trigger the interest of a 15 years old better.

      Of Mice and Men is a classic example of needing maturity to really understand the "True friendship" theme. As a 14 years old, I could not fully understand why killing your retarded best friend was an act of love. Even though I already knew then that death was unavoidable in this story.
      As an 18 years old, it was clear, and I could explain it much better, and I had the ways to explain it to the teacher during my exam and defend my points and make my case in a stronger way.

    2. Anonymous3:05 PM

      I liked Famous Five just for the innocent nature of storytelling. Children visit their grandparents and just by chance solve a mystery, quiet convenient. I liked the stories of Shakespeare too. Macbeth used to scare me a lot and I was particularly touched by the grief of Hamlet. Even at that age, I had no problem relating to anything even the kind of literature which I was not supposed to read since I kind of loved the whole experience of reading. Those “Forbidden Fruits”, did hold me in good stead, later on in life, you know those critical lessons which no one tell you and you have to figure out yourself. Besides there was so little available for reading beyond the text books anyway. I just wanted to read. Reading is like discovering, you never know what you get.


    3. Well in Europe, and from what I understand in the US as well, these classics are read in school and are the topic of some hardcore dissecting, theme finding, theme discussing, and children are taught to dissert and present their findings only for the teacher to try to disprove those findings and force the child to come with the proper ways to prove how justified their findings are.
      We are groomed in the art of dissertation as early as age 12, and by then we already have enough "baggage" to know how to conduct a research paper right as those were already part of our curriculum since Grade 3.

      This means we don't just read these books, we READ them, as in we are reading between the lines, trained to find hidden meanings, symbols, and interpretations. By the end of a term in high school (age 15-19) one student in Language major like I was had 2-3 classics to read in French, 1 book to read in german, one in English, one in Italian, and one in Philosophy class (all mandatory topics by the way). In each class, regardless of the language we were taught to dissert. That means the teacher in my German class was expecting me to hold my own in German when explaining that short passage I got in a lucky draw just the same my French literature teacher would expect me to.

      In the language classes I was not only graded on my degree of proficiency, but if my interpretation and dissertation skills were not up to par, I would loose points.

      This is the way you achieve a super high sense of critical thinking in the West, and this is what is seriously lacking in the educational system in India.

      Anyway, when you have to read Romeo and Juliet, in English which is not even your native language, and are expected to tear the story apart and know each and every obscure symbols and hidden meaning to build a case during your oral examination, you can bet it's going to be challenging.
      Often kids end up buying the translation when asked to read a book in foreign language, and then work backward from there translating the main ideas back into the language you are meant to be quizzed in. But then of course you still need to do it for all "exam worthy" snippets of the book because you never know which one you are going to be fishing out of the lucky draw on exam day. Once you fish your topic out, they give you 10 minutes to prepare in the back of the exam room and then you have 10-15 minutes to explain and defend your findings.

      So when you are to do that kind of work on a classic novel, having enough maturity to understand the story to the core is crucial. And it's hard to have a solid grasp enough of a story that was written centuries ago with codes and symbols and a moral code that are no longer current tainting the main theme. For a teenager, this is very challenging. And yes boring at time.


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