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From dark comedy and sci-fi to the spiritual, Shivam Chowdhary shares other worlds through great reads
Since I was little, I’ve always had an on-off relationship with reading. Either I would read a book a week, or I wouldn’t read anything for months on end.
During lockdown, I promised myself I would incorporate reading into my daily routine. It’s worked. There hasn’t been a moment where I haven’t had a great read on the go. I love getting lost in another world so finding a book you just can’t stop reading is the best feeling!
I’ve compiled a list of books I’ve read that I thought you all might enjoy. If you’ve read any of them already, let me know what you think!
If you’re looking for something darkly funny:
ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman
Visual from cover of novel ‘Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine’
This wonderfully bleak novel was written by newcomer Gail Honeyman in 2017 and follows the tumultuous life of Eleanor Oliphant, a 29-year-old Glaswegian. She is a mentally unstable woman who gets her kicks out of plonking herself down on her sofa every weekend with a bottle of vodka. She has terrible social skills, a traumatic past and her life seems to be bereft of any real emotional purpose.
However, this all changes when she meets a new colleague, Raymond, and he introduces her to the beauty of life. At times this book is disturbing, at times laugh-out-loud funny, but always riveting.
I loved this novel and finished it in three days. If you’re a fan of dark humour it could be the one for you. There is also a film adaptation of Eleanor Oliphant currently in production, starring Reese Witherspoon.
If you’re looking for something Sci-Fi:
CAT’S CRADLE by Kurt Vonnegut
Visual from cover of novel ‘Cat’s Cradle’
This is a brilliant book by iconoclastic writer Kurt Vonnegut, who is one of my favourite authors. I could choose anything from his bibliography, however, Cat’s Cradle stands out for me as his magnum opus.
The elephantine and largely satirical plot concerns Jonah who embarks on a global journey to find the children of atomic bomb creator Felix, who may hold apocalyptic secrets.
Vonnegut keeps his language simple, with chapters lasting about half a page each, so the story is incredibly fast-paced and consistently attention grabbing. The novel delves into themes such as free will, religion, and the pointlessness of nuclear weapons. Vonnegut conveys large philosophical themes in very elegant yet understandable prose without dipping into verbosity.
If you’re looking for something challenging:
INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace
Visual from cover of novel ‘Infinite Jest’
It’s incredibly hard to describe this gargantuan 1,000 page novel. It’s so hard to read that Wikipedia describes it as ‘encyclopedic’. Not only is the narrative complex, but the structure of the book is bonkers. It incorporates footnotes on most pages, and some of the footnotes have footnotes themselves, which in turn have footnotes. Confused yet?
Well, now throw in a film so entertaining anyone who watches it dies; a germophobe President obsessed with measuring things, a thief who likes to steal human hearts and a lot of confusion. Then you have Infinite Jest. Oh, and don’t forget about the fact there are 119 main characters in the entire novel!
David Foster Wallace had a mind like nobody else and his ability to weave different genres and storylines together so seamlessly remains unmatched.
Infinite Jest is both great and frustrating. I loved it and hated it at the same time. It took me about four weeks continuously reading to finish, but I would recommend it – if you have a lot of free time!
Here’s a 2-minute clip giving you some tips on how to read this novel.
If you’re looking for something spiritual:
THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE by Haruki Murakami
Visual from cover of novel ‘The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle’
This novel is about a man who loses his cat. That’s all I’m at liberty to tell you as the plot is so unique, so original and so wonderful that it should be experienced completely blind. Its genre is hard to define, delving into comedy, romance, murder mystery and spirituality interchangeably.
It’s really a story about human consciousness and coincidences, and it was such a joy to read, I couldn’t put it down. Murakami was awarded the prestigious Japanese Yomiuri Literary Award, which was actually given to him by one of his harshest former critics.
It’s life-affirming and full of vivacity making me feel optimistic about this harsh world we’re living in, especially at the moment. So if you want to read something eloquent, spiritual, heart-warming and slightly odd, this is the one for you.
If you’re looking for something short, here are three:
SIDDHARTHA by Hermann Hesse
This is a story about asceticism and the superficiality of the material world, inspired by the story of the Buddha. For anybody interested in Buddhism it is a wonderful novella.
POINT OMEGA by Don Delillo
This is an experimental short about a filmmaker who aims to produce a documentary starring Richard Elster, a secret war advisor, only for this to all go haywire. It deals with the nature of film, the morals of voyeurism, and sensationalism in the media. A striking critique of the infotainment industry and of war, this 117-page book is well worth a read.
THE METAMORPHOSIS by Franz Kafka
This is a classic short novel about a man called Gregor Samsa who one day finds himself inexplicably transmogrified into a large beetle. Most critics view this as allegorical for Kafka’s own dehumanisation as a child due to his relationship with his abusive father.
To wrap up, I thought it would be fun to share with you the last ten books I’ve read. Happy reading!
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Against The Day by Thomas Pynchon
Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
Snuff by Chuck Palahniuk
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon