I love to read! It makes me feel all warm and squishy inside. Lately I’ve been lamenting how few books have been written in the last ten years or so that I actually liked. Heroes and heroines seem so formulaic these days, plots are contrived, and the writing is comparable to the proverbial thousand monkeys at typewriters. Even books that are featured on the Bestseller List leave me unimpressed and are largely forgettable. So if you find my reading recommendations outdated, I apologize. I just wanted to review some of my favorite books that may be somewhat more obscure. And of course, because this is a lady blog, they all feature strong female leads! :] And none of them are Twilight or 5o Shades of Gray. No worries. You’re all intelligent women, and I have no interest in talking down to you and pretending your interests extend no farther than teenage vampires.
1) The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
This was the kind of book I drank in slowly like a fine glass of Pinot, but could have downed quick and dirty like a shot of Jameson. It’s a dystopian tale of a woman who we know only by her moniker, Offred. She lives in a society where women are literally property, owned and controlled entirely by males and with no rights of their own. Offred is a Handmaid – a distinction given to the few women who remain fertile in a world where the ghastly pollution has rendered many women barren. She is shuttled around to different men, hoping to bear one of them a child in order to save her own life, until she decides one day to change things.
Part of why this book is so good is that Offred is immensely flawed. The narration is entirely from her point of view, and the reader is privy to her darkest secrets and most private thoughts. In that way, she is utterly identifiable. She is a reflection of ourselves, though by the end of the story she proves herself to be the version of ourselves we all wish could come out more often.
I also loved Atwood’s construction of the futuristic society the story takes place in, which, at one point not too long in the past, looked very much like the society we live in today. The reader witnesses the crumble of the familiar political structure concurrently with Offred, and is swept helplessly away into her world and her predicament. Whatever you do, don’t see the movie with Natasha Richardson. It’s not altogether a horrible movie, but the book is so much richer and deeper.
2) Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaardner
This Norwegian novel/philosophical masterpiece focuses on fourteen-year-old Sophie, who begins receiving mysterious letters in the mail from someone identifying themselves as a teacher of philosophy. The letters contain philosophical, religious and ethical quandaries that have plagued humankind for thousands of years. Eventually Sophie meets Alberto Knox, her new philosophy teacher, and he takes her down an infinite rabbit hole where real things and things imagined bleed together like watercolor paints. The events in Sophie’s life increasingly mirror the questions with which she is faced, until she is forced to reexamine existence as we know it.
The first thing you need to know is that should you decide to undertake the reading of this book, you should set aside at least a year for it. Plan on reading other things in between. It is a LONG book, over 500 pages in my copy, and it is dense with information. It is essentially designed as a textbook for the history of philosophy, but because it is told through a fictional lens, it reads more like an epic fantasy. Sophie is remarkably perceptive for a young teenager, but her viewpoints are unspoiled by comprehensive life experience, making her an inventive and capable character. The book is both understandable and highly conceptual, incorporating surreal events that will make you feel as though everything you know has been turned upside-down and inside-out. It’s a journey I highly recommend taking.
3) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King
Anyone who knows me knows that Stephen King is my favorite author. I love horror fiction, and nobody does it like King; his complex symbolism, his thorough comprehension of his characters, the desperate struggles and adventures they embark on, and his uncanny ability to pinpoint the very epicenter of human fear all make for a satisfying and terrifying reading experience. My one complaint is that some of his books do tend to be very long and introduce seemingly hundreds of characters with varying degrees of significance. If that kind of marathon novel bothers you, TGWLTG is a great way to get into reading King.
The story centers around Trish, a nine-year-old girl who gets lost in the woods while hiking with her mother and brother. That sounds like a pretty cheesy plot device for a scary story, but these woods are not only physical, but also of the mind, and the horrors Trish begins to experience are especially frightening because it cannot be said for sure whether they are real or in her head – or both. She has only her radio as a connection to the world, and takes comfort in listening to baseball broadcasts in between fighting for survival… but it becomes clear that there is something out there, something that is following her and that she is going to have to face all on her own.
I love the way King can write a story about a nine-year-old and yet make it appeal to grown adults. Trish is a child dealing with very adult problems, like the disintegration of her family structure and her struggle to maintain her sanity. The reader is with her every thorny, muddy, bug-bitten step of the way, as she fights for her life against the forces trying to destroy her.