Here are some of my book suggestions. Unfortunately, most of them are depressing and emotionally draining at times. But I still hope you enjoy them!
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Very engaging, poignant (though sometimes detached) description of reliving and studying the sudden death of a loved one (in Didion’s case, her husband) at a New York hospital and how things preceding such a death seems too ordinary. It also does not help that their daughter was in a coma a few days earlier. An excerpt on how she was very forthcoming with an autopsy but was stunned by the suggestion of an obituary: “I remember a sense of shock. I wanted to say not yet but my mouth had gone dry. I could deal with “autopsy” but the notion of obituary had not occurred to me. “Obituary,” unlike “autopsy,” which was between me and John and the hospital, meant it had happened. I found myself wondering, with no sense of illogic, if it had also happened in Los Angeles. I was trying to work out what time it had been when he died and whether it was time yet in Los Angeles. (Was there time to go back? Could we have a different ending on Pacific time?) I recall being seized by a pressing need not to let anyone at the Los Angeles Times learn what had happened by reading it in The New York Times.” Highly recommended.
The Long Goodbye: A memoir by Meghan O’Rourke. A tearful depiction of life before, during and after the passing of the author’s mother. The narratives across time are interspersed and one could see the development of the author and how her family manages to survive the passing though in very different and conflicting ways. It also shows how even if one could talk (especially approaching it academically or worse clinically) about death, facing it close to home is a whole different league.
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. Highly distorted by the temporal shifts in storytelling and the interrelatedness of different characters (mostly in the music business) across time, this novel is about what it means to grow old, to deal with the problems associated with looking back and evaluating past choices, to wrestle with being relevant when it is no longer your time and to accept limited forms of happiness. The goon squad here seems to be Lady Time and her shifting temperaments. Probably needs to be read twice.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. Fun to read but could a teenage boy have this much angst? Adrian Mole is from a lower class background in Britain during the 80s and lives with his dysfunctional family. As you could guess, he ends up taking care of things at such a young age while struggling with acne, teenage relationships and the need to be an intellectual. Particularly funny are his attempts at poetry, his correspondence with the BBC and his on-off relationship with a girl named Pandora (Who wouldn’t fall for the girl’s name?). Self-recommending.
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart. Don’t let the book’s title mislead you. Although there is a love story which is really super super sad, the love story itself was quite predictable. The love story between Leonard and Eunice provides the structure for the novel. The almost twice Eunice’s age Leonard keeps diaries and books (in paper form) in a futuristic society where media and marketing dominate all spheres of human life. On the other hand, Eunice has a GlobalTeens account (similar to Facebook) where she records her conversations with a close friend about her family and her relationship with Leonard. Everyone in this novel has a PDA-like thing called an apparat (spelled with umlauts and text smileys in the novel) where anyone could physically (!) scan anyone for their profile, compatibility, sexuality and other usually private stuff at the touch of a button. While living in a society where youth is a commodity crucial for success and upward mobility, Leonard and Eunice pursue a relationship despite their baggage–from the need to recapture one’s youth to the obligations one has to family–and the pending collapse and the Chinese buying out America. A social critique about excesses and the virtues of growing old. Recommended.
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt. A gripping, haunting but beautifully written account of postwar Europe. Strongly differs from usual world history treatments of enumeration. There are a lot of angles blending into a mosaic of European insecurities, struggles, self-interested peoples and states, the restoration of confidence and the repudiation of the past by forgetting. Try answering this: What will you do the day after the war ended? Finished almost half of it continuously. A big source of research ideas, especially those into quasi-experiments. Powerful enough to stir one’s emotions and outrage. Must be read for the consequences of the interactions of different personalities in a broken Europe trying to forget its past. Highly recommended nonfiction entry.
Whores for Gloria by William Vollmann. Though a slim volume, this novel is a highly disconnected rendition of a man’s search for his perfect love in the streets of the prostitute-filled Tenderloin district by collecting bits and pieces of stories from each prostitute. One will ultimately wonder who Gloria is. The novel also has a lot of implicit and explicit violence, degradation and humiliation backing the basic plot. Written by the author in an almost journalistic and 24 (the TV show) way, mixing different points of view, time and reality. The author actually smoked crack, paid prostitutes for their stories just like the main character. How do you think this would end? The appendix contains extracts of interviews of prostitutes, including a glossary and price list. Parts truth, parts fiction. Not for the prude. This Amazon review is also worth reading.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. Made into a movie starring Leonardo di Caprio and Kate Winslet. Some say that this is The Great Gatsby (which incidentally is being turned into a movie also starring Leonardo di Caprio as the title character) of the 60s. This novel is an account of a couple’s beginning and how they have fallen apart over time. A lot of domestic violence here despite the beautifully described suburban life. It is also a very beautiful though bitter account of how dreams and yearnings could transform people who are not prepared for the realities of those dreams and yearnings. Are there second chances in life?