1. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami: Murakami’s magnum opus should probably be the Bible’s competitor. This novel runs about 900 pages and is so enjoyable that it is impossible to put down. What other book could top that? There is an element of life imitating art and art imitating life in this novel. The novel is made up of three parts and is told through 3 different people alternately: Aomame, Tengo and Ushikawa. Ushikawa does not come in until the 3rd volume. Aomame is a massage specialist leading a double life as an angel of death employed by the Dowager. Tengo is a mathematics whiz teaching at a cram school while writing his first novel. An unpolished novel called Air Chrysalis written by a 17-year old comes out of nowhere to be made as an entry in a literary contest. Tengo ghost-edits this novel and becomes a commercial success. This novel turns out to be as mysterious as the author and comes to the attention of a secretive religious organization where there is suspicion of prepubescent girls being sexually abused. It also turns out the Dowager is also investigating this religious organization and send Aomame to kill its Leader. All these are happening in a parallel universe meant to somehow bring Aomame and Tengo together; hence the 1Q84 title (a Q referring to a question mark and 1984 as a reference to Orwell where 2+2=5). Ushikawa is an agent of this religious organization tasked to investigate Aomame and Tengo and find their connection. You would have to read this book to find out more. Since the novel is divided into chapters depending on the point of view, it could probably be read from only one character’s point of view (like Dante’s Divine Comedy which could be read all at the same time canto by canto). For literary buffs, there are a lot of references (subtle and explicit) to the literature that you might enjoy.
  2. Faithful Place by Tana French: I picked this up from a list of best books of 2010.  I actually did not know it was in the crime/detective genre until I read the prologue. An undercover cop chooses to define himself according to the events of 22 years past. The love of his life did not show up at the designated point in Faithful Place (sounds like Fateful Place) to elope and start a new life. Now, the burden of the memory of family somehow brought him back again to place where the event happened and stumbled upon the dead body of his love (who actually never left the place).Who killed her and why? The answer turns out to be interspersed in a big web of lies, secrets, differing accounts and memory gaps that are somewhat related to family, background and a lot of irreversible choices. Enough to hold you to your seat.
  3. What We Believe But Cannot Prove: Today’s Leading Thinkers on Science in the Age of Certainty edited by John Brockman: Nonfiction entry consisting of short responses and explanations to the book’s title. Some nice answers include how unique human life is, the purposefulness of evolution, whether the speed of light could be beaten, and whether Nature is a willing participant in uncovering its own secrets. For bedtime reading.
  4. Sideways by Rex Pickett:A novel that was later made into an Oscar-winning movie featuring Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen and Sandra Oh. The novel is really a road trip of two friends in print. A lot of comedy and insight into marriage, relationships, work in middle life and moving on. One of them is getting married after the road trip and trying to shake off every last bit of sexual ooze from his system while the other is dealing with his divorce and his friend’s attempts to set him up on a new relationship. Read the resulting mayhem. I suggest watching the movie first, then reading the novel later.
  5. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller: One of the most emotional plays I have ever read. The play is quite short but should be read as slowly as possible. You probably would become a socialist after reading the play. An aging traveling salesman (Willy Loman) is left behind by the American dream. He taught his kids (Biff Loman and Happy Loman) about the need to push to achieve this dream despite Willy not being able to attain it. Willy tries hard to figure out why his kids are not pursuing the dream to become successful and great and ultimately resorts to soliloquy and tracing out what went wrong to a youthful indiscretion. Biff acknowledges his limitations and wants to pursue happiness instead of success and Happy wants his father’s approval so much that he pursues the dream but has no ambition. If there is a play you have to read, this is it. A tragedy that shows that a capitalist society has its limits and has its own “victims”. Most people interpret the latter as something that would give socialism an edge but the past century is a testament to the failure of socialism.