Three must reads.

Edith requested a top -five or something, anything- list of must-reads. I don't know if I can actually rank the books (I'll only forget a bunch, I'm certain..), so I am just going to share some books I feel any booklover will cherish. I'll keep them coming, but here are three to start off:

Beware of a long post. You can always just note the titles if you don't want to go as in-depth, since I can't help writing essays it seems, about my most beloved book treasures :)
1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl
One of my most beloved books, of all time. It is an absolutely amazing read. I love everything; from the intricate plot, the first person narrative, the brilliant characters to the ambitious set-up and fantastic writing. I'm not going to deny that I am a bit pretentious, or that I love reading books that make me feel smart. It may sound silly, but this is one of those books that you feel adds to your intelligence, never a waste of your time. Perhaps I also love it because the main character, Blue van Meer, is so clever; a reader, a thinker. It's a book written by a reader, for a reader, if that makes any sense? As soon as I find the time, I'm going to re-read this book. It's one of those books which you will keep finding new answers in, new clues, new depths every time you read it. It wasn't written to be read only once. As for the mystery in it, the author has stated in interviews that all the clues are in there, and that if you want to you can work out all the things even Blue doesn't understand in the end. But enough gushing about how good it is - since I'm including it in the list, that part is rather self-explanatory...

Plot (and I'm quoting the publisher's website here): "Blue van Meer is the precocious only daughter of a dashing and scholarly father. After her mother’s death in a car accident when Blue is six, they hit the road together, traveling between her father’s ever-changing teaching positions in obscure college towns. While Blue’s intellectual gifts have been nurtured by her devoted father, she has never had a real home or friends. Instead, she has been raised on her father’s voice and on the literature and political history that he thrives on.

Enter Hannah Schneider and the Bluebloods, an enigmatic clique at St. Gallway, the private school Blue enters for her senior year. Hannah is the gorgeous, mysterious mentor to a select group of St. Gallway seniors, and she invites dutiful and shy Blue to join them. A film studies teacher, Hannah is alluring and unconventional, “the lone bombshell slinking into a Norman Rockwell,” who treats the students as friends and equals. For the first time in her life, Blue finds herself drawn out of the insular family world she and her father have created, and into the lives of these maverick and beautiful peers.

But after a suspicious death at Hannah’s house, this new world raises some disturbing questions, and Blue’s life begins to come “unstitched like a snagged sweater.” Who is Hannah Schneider and why is she so interested in Blue? Does Blue’s narcissistic father really love constant travel, or is he running away from more than the ghost of her mother? What really happened the day her mother died? Who can Blue really trust?"

The book is comedy, tragedy, mystery, romance, thriller, secrets, and growing up all in one. It is full of cultural and literary references, which Blue keeps dropping. In fact, the entire book is in the format of a course curriculum, the required reading list making up the chapters. This list is in itself another one of my projects: you can find it here, and I am half-actively working my way through it (note: Les Liaisons Dangereuses).


As mentioned, the author is amazing from a pure literary perspective alone. Even if we were to disregard the plot and the characters (which we shouldn't, because they're equally amazing), the language is so beautiful that I could've read it simply for the words.

Quote time! (My books tend to be dog-eared as perfect phrasings have me unable to not fold down a corner to bookmark it.)

“Not returning phone calls is the severest form of torture in the civilized world.”

“He said you couldn't pretend the terrible things in life didn't happen. You can't clean
it up. You keep all the refuse and the scars. It's how you learn. And try to make improvements.”

"You wouldn't believe this, but life hinges on a couple of seconds you never see
coming. And what you decide in those few seconds determines everything from
then on... And you have no idea what you'll do until you're there...”

“Juliet and Romeo be damned, you can't be in love until you've flossed
your teeth next to the person at least three hundred times...”

“No wonder so many adults long to return to university, to all those
deadlines--ahhh, that structure! Scaffolding to which we may cling! Even if it is
arbitrary, without it, we're lost, wholly incapable of separating the Romantic from the
Victorian in our sad, bewildering lives...”

“Funnily enough, it is the subject one dreads talking about at length one
ends up talking about at length, often without the slightest provocation.”

“Dad's Theory of Arrogance--that everyone always assumes they're the Principal
Character of Desire and/or Loathing in everybody else's Broadway Play.”

“It was as if Hannah had sprung a leak and her character, usually so
meticulous and contained, was spilling all over the place.”

“Such things as anguish, woe, affliction, guilt, feelings of awfulness, and
utter wretchedness, the bread and butter of Days of Yore and Russians, sadly have very
little staying power in these lickety-split Modern Times.”

“If all histories have a period known as The Golden Age, somewhere between
The Beginning and The End, I suppose those Sundays during Fall Semester
at Hannah's were just that, or, to quote one of Dad's treasured
characters of cinema, the illustrious Norma Desmond as she recalled the lost
era of silent film: "We didn't need dialogue. We had faces.”

“Always live your life with your biography in mind," Dad was fond of saying.
"Naturally, it won't be published unless you have a Magnificent Reason,
but at the very least you will be living grandly.”

“All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its
own way, and when it comes to the Holiday Season, happy families can abruptly
become unhappy and unhappy families can, to their great alarm, be happy”

2. The Secret History - Donna Tartt
This is another one of my most beloved books of all time. I literally couldn't put it down, and the very first page of the first chapter is dog-eared for the sake of that perfectly phrased first sentence. Aaaah. I can't tell you how brilliant Donna Tartt is as an author. Genre wise, the book is not too different from Special Topics. I think I have a thing for stories that are rather dark, mixed in with a sense of precociousness and ambition (in whichever form?), and written in a first person narrative. And, of course, full of perfect language. Another thing, I've realized lately, is that I enjoy books that start off with the first person narrator reflecting on the story as he/she is at the very end of it, before he/she starts at the very beginning to tell you (the reader) about it all. It leaves you with hints and clues to a puzzle, and the whole book consists of pieces falling into place. Same thing with this book, it starts off with a prologue which has you on the edge of your seat because you are so intrigued, as you start reading, to see how things will progress from point A to point B. Even if, in a sense, it provides you with the ending, with answers, uncertainty is replaced by a sense of fatality.

Ok, plot (again copied): Truly deserving of the accolade a modern classic, Donna Tartt's novel is a remarkable achievement--both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

Again, we are talking brilliance from a pure literary perspective. But even more so than Special Topics, all the characters are so complex. They have so many sides to their personalities, and the way Tartt walks you through them changing and developing in such a believable manner is impressive and terrifying at the same time, considering where they end up and how easy it is for the reader to accept the reality and probability of their moral decay and extremities. Due to learning instantly, in the prologue, that one of the six friends in this highly unusual group so obsessive and detached from reality, will be murdered by the other five, the story walks us through understanding why. With care and steady escalation, Tartt justifies the deed with such skill that it is all dauntingly believable.

I can't not go all quote crazy on you again:
“Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the
middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it
does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but
now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

“Could it be because it reminds us that we are alive, of our mortality, of our
individual souls- which, after all, we are too afraid to surrender but yet make us feel
more miserable than any other thing? But isn't it also pain that often makes us most
aware of self? It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from
the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one's burned tongues and skinned
knees, that one's aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow old,
to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves
make us most unhappy, and that's why we're so anxious to lose them, don't you think?”

“The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It is a moral duty. People who read your
books are sick, sad, traveling, in the hospital waiting room while someone is dying.
Books are written by the alone for the alone”

“I suppose the shock of recognition is one of the nastiest shocks of all.”

“For if the modern mind is whimsical and discursive, the classical mind is narrow,
unhesitating, relentless. It is not a quality of intelligence that one encounters
frequently these days. But though I can digress with the best of them, I am
nothing in my soul if not obsessive.”

“It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but
my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed
very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen.
Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was
revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous
discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future,
my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a
thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!”

“It's a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call
beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful,
to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the
chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?"

“One likes to think there's something in it, that old platitude amor vincit omnia.
But if I've learned one thing in my short sad life, it is that that particular
platitude is a lie. Love doesn't conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool.”

“Are you happy here?" I said at last.
He considered this for a moment. "Not particularly," he said.
"But you're not very happy where you are, either.”

3. Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
It has been quite a while since I read this book (quick note: the film adaption that has come since may be very beautiful from a purely cinematographic point of view, but story-wise it has nothing on the book. Which is fair enough, it's hard to convey this amount of detail onto the big screen, but if you felt a bit so-so about the film then don't let that put you off from reading the book.), but I remember finishing it in one day simply because I couldn't put it down. It must be said, that when it comes to purely the literary aspect, Ishiguro's writing doesn't quite measure up to Pessl or Tartt, but although I'm not folding down corners for quotes in the same way (or perhaps it is so clean because I was plowing through it so obsessively...), it isn't bad or anything of the kind, just less quotable, I suppose. That said, the book is more focusing on its' story. And what a story. It takes a while, if you have no background info on the plot, to figure out what is going on. Where are these children? What is happening to them? But as pieces start falling into place, it is so, so heartbreaking. I don't cry to movies, I rarely cry to real life, and I cry to deserving books only occasionally (How horribly cold it sounds when put so blatantly, haha. Anyways...). But be assured that this book did bring out a few tears.

"A page-turner and a heartbreaker, a tour de force of knotted tension and buried anguish" (Time).

: Check out this review
"Never Let Me Go follows the story of 3 students at Hailsham, a secluded boarding school in England. The school, at first, seems like any other boarding school. However, Ishiguro deftly reveals the differences between Hailsham and the rest of the world and the reader learns what makes Hailsham special slowly, at the same pace as the students."

The story is beautiful and heartbreaking, as are the characters, as Ishiguro guides us through stories of a life too short; a story of love, memory, friendship, mortality, fragility, and trying to keep hope alive as innocence slowly dies.

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly
quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value
most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

“It had never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely
interwoven, could unravel with such speed.”

“The problem, as I see it, is that you've been told and not told. You've
been told, but none of you really understand, and I dare
say, some people are quite happy to leave it that way.”

“It was like when you make a move in chess and just as you take
your finger off the piece, you see the mistake you've made, and there's
this panic because you don't know yet the scale of
disaster you've left yourself open to.”

Ok, it is now 2 a.m.
Please bear this in mind when navigating through this ramble of a post. Happy reading!

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