It is no surprise that I am an avid reader, seeing that I spend most of my time disconnected from reality and daydreaming.
Just kidding. I’m not totally disconnected (I think).
But I guess I learned along the way that tending to write and read fiction is my way of coping with the world. I don’t believe I am running away from my problems or the challenges life is throwing my way. Reading is my tool to make sense of the world, and writing is my tool to make sense of myself.
Even though I tend to look for fantasy stories and magic incorporated in historical fiction, some of the books that have left a great impact in my mind (an impact that did not fade with time) and how I view the world and myself do not have magic or blazing unicorns (except for Harry Potter and Outlander, though Outlander has more reality in it than Hollywood magic).
As I was going through my library yesterday, trying to reorganize it because of the number of new books that I bought while traveling, I revisited and smiled at the titles that made me cry, scream “revolution,” and empathize with people I do not know but probably exist somewhere in the world.
Here’s a list of inspiring and heartbreaking books that have left me staring at the ceiling for hours after closing them:
1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.
This dystopian novel is set in near-future New England where patriarchal, white supremacists take over and create the Republic of Gilead that overthrows the United States government. It highlights the lives of enslaved handmaids whose only job is to get pregnant and have children with the commanders of Gilead and increase the reproduction rates.
The style is introspective and nonlinear, showing the past life of the main character, Offred, who was a free woman with a full-time job, and her present life as a captured handmaid.
If we truly think about it, many women in several parts of the world live (or have lived) similar lives as the handmaids, bearing the harsh punishments that follow their refusal to be enslaved by a system that doesn’t care about their person and health.
“The problem wasn’t only with the women, he says. The main problem was with the men. There was nothing for them anymore…I’m not talking about sex, he says. That was part of it, the sex was too easy…You know what they were complaining about the most? Inability to feel. Men were turning off on sex, even. They were turning off on marriage. Do they feel now? I say. Yes, he says, looking at me. They do.” ~ Margaret Atwood
2. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.
The novel follows the story of the two Afghan women, Laila and Mariam, during the Taliban rule. I remember crying my eyes out when reading a particular chapter (which I won’t mention so as not to reveal spoilers for those of you who choose to read it).
This story makes me think of all the things we’re unaware of around us. It is a reminder for us to get out of our safe bubble and learn more about the struggles of other people and other countries. It is a reminder for us to read and try to make a change in any way possible.
Khaled Hosseini did not hold a gun and go fight for the rights of women there, but he did something just as powerful. He wrote books to depict those struggles and raised awareness around the world.
I strongly recommend reading this book and giving it the time it deserves.
“Marriage can wait, education cannot.” ~
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.
I am partial to canonic literature and everything classic. A year ago, I wrote an article about this book and the lessons I learned from it, so I’ll write the summary I wrote before here again:
In the dystopian world of Fahrenheit 451, firemen are used to burn, not kill fires. More specifically, they are used to burn printed books and the houses in which they are hidden. People who read those books and preach about them are arrested as well.
The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman who, at first, blindly follows the government’s rules and feels ecstatic while watching the fire devouring the papers. However, one day, he meets his neighbor, Clarisse, a not-so-law-abiding girl, who induces him to start thinking critically and seeing the error of the government’s agenda. Ever since, Montag starts questioning everything.
I couldn’t help rereading it with time, highlighting sentences and paragraphs that stuck with me. The word is something we need to protect. It’s something we need to defend. And this book teaches us that we need to protect all “words” not just the ones that suit our political agenda.
Thus, freedom of speech.
“‘Why is it,’ he said, one time, at the subway entrance, ‘I feel I’ve known you so many years?’ ‘Because I like you,’ she said, ‘and I don’t want anything from you.'” ~ Ray Bradbury
4. The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon.
This is a nonfiction book where Fanon explains the dehumanizing effect that colonization has left on the colonized. It represents the main “touchstone for civil rights, anti-colonialism, psychiatric studies, and Black consciousness movements around the world” as described by the Grove Atlantic.
As I read this book, I could feel the pain of the colonized, and how not only did colonization affect them physically, but also mentally, leading to generational trauma.
“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.” ~
5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
I believe most of Elephant Readers are already familiar with this novel. It won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and many other awards.
It is the epitome of feminist works about abused and uneducated African American women and how they struggle for power. What I love the most about it is its use of Black English vernacular language, which adds to its authenticity and novelty in the world of fiction.
“I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way…I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to… We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful…We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose.” ~
6. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.
When I first read the novel back at the university, and being the typical literature student that I was, I felt offended on behalf of Charlotte Brontë, since Wide Sargasso Sea is a rewrite of Jane Eyre. And, oh my God, do I feel differently now!
I still adore Jane Eyre and would read it over and over again, but still, Wide Sargasso Sea had to be written. Someone had to write the story of the “madwoman in the attic.” Someone had to represent her as a Creole woman.
With time, the term “madwoman in the attic” became a term used by feminist critics, specifically, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, who wrote an entire book on the topic, examining Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. They study the situation of women writers in the 19th century who were confined in their writing and forced to represent women as either the “angel” or the “monster,” which reflected men’s tendency to categorize women as such.
“Justice,” she said. ” I’ve heard that word. It’s a cold world. I tried it out,” she said, still speaking in that low voice. “I wrote it down. I wrote it down several times and always it looked like a damn cold lie to me. There is no justice.” ~
7. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran.
Yes, it’s Khalil not Kahlil. I’m not really sure why his name keeps being written as “Kahlil.” Probably because of pronunciation issues.
Anyway, The Prophet brought tears to my eyes, but they weren’t tears of sadness or strong emotional distress after reading about the struggles of others. Gibran’s words and style and passions and perspective and art make me cry because of how beautiful it is.
Not only is this book internationally celebrated, but it is also universal. It covers the most important themes of life in such a poetic and beautiful and spiritual way.
“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
I finished the book in a day and revisit it every now and then just to shake my soul.
Tell me which book is your favorite, whether it’s in the list or not!