When I started reading (yes, I’m a very late bloomer by reader standards as I didn’t finish my first book until I was a freshman in high school and not again until after I graduated), books didn’t interest me. They took too much time and effort. After all, that’s what they invented television for, right?
Then I stumbled upon All Quiet on the Western Front. I remember very little of it. But I do remember having to put it down countless times to retrieve my senses. To this day, my wife will not let me read it because of what it did to my psychologically. Three years ago, my wife threw a book at me by Haruki Murakami and said, “This is the way you have to write.”
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle stuck with me less like a popcorn kernel between the teeth than the indescribable sensations after watching a thought-provoking movie or reading some philosophical work. The strangest part, however, was that Murakami makes you feel that way after the very first page. He makes you feel what the character feels rather than just feeling for the character. I know I’ve said this before elsewhere, but it bears repeating for different reasons.
I love the way some books stay with you after you put them down. I prefer those that make you feel that certain something after page one. I don’t even have to like the story, or the style of writing. As long as it sucks my soul out, wrenches it in all directions, and returns it to me in a mangled mess. I want to feel comforted, yet dirty. I want it to make me understand the world better, yet make the world so less clear and more convoluted. I want the cool sensations of mint on the tongue, but have it burn with alcohol on the way down my throat. Books that satisfy this twisted need have something about them that reaches beyond plot.
And the stories don’t have to be dark and disturbing. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is in no way dark or disturbing. But still, it leaves you with want, need. Your body feels both empty and full, sad and satisfied, calm but agitated. These contradictions are the closest I can come to describing such novels actual abilities.
Here is a short list of such books. Each of which I highly recommend on a variety of levels:
Haruki Murakami: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and/or 1Q84
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
P.D. James: Children of Men
Erich Maria Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front (Though this is not for the squeamish)
Lois Lowry: The Giver
Toni Morrison: Beloved
Emma Donoghue: Room: A novel