It usually happens spontaneously, barrels at me without warning, a single question that leaves me um-ing and ah-ing: ‘What’s your favorite book? Suggest something for me to read!’
I have a degree in English literature and people would (wrongly) describe me as ‘well-read,’ so I suppose there is an expectation that I simply know what’s good. Let me tell you now: I don’t. Most of the things I read in university, I had to consume quickly because I was overloaded with novels and academic articles and poems and x-y-and-z. I forgot how to savor literature, and I suppose, I began to fall out of love with it. I probably fell asleep reading A Winter’s Tale on more than one occasion and I’m pretty sure there’s a Dickens’ novel tucked away somewhere that I still haven’t finished. Don’t get me wrong, I worked hard for my degree and held high expectations for myself but there are plenty of people who know more about literature than I do. Talk to them. They’ll have better advice.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an endless list of books I adore. Books that remind me of rainy mornings and hours gone by; books that remind me of people and places I have loved; books that evoke a bit too much nostalgia.
Astragal by Albertine Sarrazin will always remind me of summer rains in London. A recent discovery, it felt oddly right at this point in my life as I float between countries and cities and have yet to find a sense of stability. This semi-biographical memoir follows the romance between two runaway convicts with big dreams to settle down in Paris.
Beloved by Toni Morrison will always remind me of chokecherry. I have so much respect for Morrison’s writing, her strength and her ability to change a reader through her words. A story of a haunting, this novel takes you from slave ships to the North where freed blacks cope with tragedy and guilt.
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair by Pablo Neruda will always remind me of heartache and whiskey. No explanations needed.
Selections from Blow Up and Other Stories by Julio Cortazar will always remind me of falling in love. Reading Cortazar’s work was like discovering what it was to fall head over heels – except it was rekindling a romance with literature. When reading these stories, expect to enter into dreams, encounter strange creatures and indulge on the fantastic.
Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood will remind me of Christmas in Istanbul, Turkish breakfast, Mass in Korean and listening to the aazan while opening Santa-wrapped-gifts. I found this book in a beautiful bookshop off Istiklal Cadessi in Taksim and spent the following days – through a snowstorm and bitterly cold mornings – entranced by the tales of pre-war Berlin. Dare I say it? Better than Gatsby.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf will always remind me of carnations and lonely mornings in L.A. A novel of aging and death, Mrs. Dalloway may seem like a simple story about one day in a woman’s life but it’s really about human interaction, relationships and could-have-beens. It’s also about madness and expression and finding purpose when there seems to be no reason for anything – you live and you continue, but is there a meaning to it all?
The Hours by Michael Cunningham See previous.
The Book of Salt by Monique Troung will always remind me of hunger. This novel follows the life of a Vietnamese chef, Binh, working for Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in expat Paris. It’s delicious, colorful and one of the best contemporary novels I have read in a long time.
Selections from Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde will always empower me. Audre Lorde was a brilliant feminist, lesbian writer and activist and her essays always help to give me focus when I’m feeling defeated.