First, let's set the scene:
Feeling inspired to dive into great books yet? Good. Let's get started.
1. Sula by Toni Morrison, originally published in 1974. The story of two friends, this is my favorite of Morrison's books and the one I reread most often. Nel and Sula grow up together, the prim and proper good girl and the child with no inhibitions, sharing comic moments, dark secrets, loyalty, and then betrayal. Morrison's novel captures the intensity of best friends as well as the potential for pain that comes from loving another person. All of the elements that made Morrison a Nobel Prize Winner are on display in this masterpiece--beautiful writing, eccentric characters, passion, pain, and that feeling that you're reading something profound that requires thought and discussion.
2. An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, originally published in 1995. I am not bipolar, but I am far too introspective and obsessed with my mind, so of course I've read Jamison's classic memoir of her struggle with bipolar disorder. This book is a landmark example of how to write a personal narrative that transcends one's own particular story, and in reading about her struggle and work with mental illness, I found greater compassion for myself and others. I highly recommend all of Dr. Jamison's works, but definitely start here.
3. Hiroshima by John Hersey, originally published in 1946. What did the first nuclear weapon do to the people and city where it was utilized? Note the date--Hersey was interviewing people who survived the atomic blast of Little Boy just after it was dropped and the war ended. I'm fascinated by the impact of nuclear weapons on the world in the last seventy years, and Hersey's book is critical reading for understanding a nuclear world.
4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, originally published in 2014. Last year's Man Booker Prize winner is a novelistic wonder. Set mostly in a Japanese POW camp during World War II, Flanagan combines the struggle of POW Dorrigo Evans as he struggles to survive and keep his fellow POW's alive in increasingly horrifying conditions while building the Burmese railroad. The narrative jumps to contemporary Australia and to before the war when Dorrigo was in love with a girl before shipping out; it shows the humanity and inhumanity of the POW's as well as their Japanese captors. When I read this novel last year, I remember thinking "THIS is why I love working with books and with Knopf."