Today is September 6, which means only one thing – it’s National Read a Book Day! I have a huge collection of books, and I have read many more outside of that collection. So, what better way to ring in Read a Book Day other than to give you some recommendations?
Let’s begin with one of my favourite authors, Stephen King. He can be a bit hit and miss having written over 70 books over his career, but he has written some absolute stormers. I could be here all day listing my favourites (you can see some of the others I like here) but instead I will stick to an absolute classic.
Stephen King’s The Stand
Ignore the awful film, not only was that a bad film, it was a bad adaptation. This is well worth a read, even if the book is thick enough to beat someone around the head with. It tells a story that, by now, feels like putting on a worn but well loved pair of slippers. A superflu called Captain Trips, created by the government, accidentally gets out of the secure facility it’s stored in and spreads throughout the world.
It all begins with Charles Campion, a solider that manages to escape the facility thanks to a malfunction in the security. Meaning only to rescue his family, he unknowingly carries the superflu and begins a chain of events that wipes out a huge amount of the population. The story mainly focuses on the survivors, and how they deal with the fallout of the virus and begin to band together.
There is an overarching plot of good vs evil, as the survivors are drawn either toward Mother Abigail (an all-round “good” figure), or to Randall Flagg, a villain who has made repeat performances in King’s works. While the overarching story is gripping and well told, The Stand’s strongest moments are the struggles of the characters. Two moments that stand out in my mind: Fran, a survivor, struggling to carry her father’s body downstairs and into the garden alone so that he can be properly buried. Also the tale of Stu Redman, a man in a government testing facility due to his immunity to the virus.
If you’re going to be picking this one up, I recommend the complete & uncut edition, as numerous things were added back in and the pop culture references updated from the original 1980 setting to 1990.
Let’s move on from horror to the more surreal, with a recommendation of the wonderful Haruki Murakami. I have my second year creative writing tutor to thank for this, as he was the one who had as read The Elephant Vanishes for the course. Haruki’s stories usually feature ordinary people in ordinary places dealing with extraordinary happenings and surreal events.
Again, it’s hard to pick just one book out his many, but here we go…
Haruki Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart
The theme is this one is much simpler than King’s sprawling tale of post apocalyptica – it’s one of unrequited love, growing up emotionally stunted, and how to stop one’s dreams from taking over their day to day life.
The story is told from the perspective of K, who is in love with a woman named Sumire, who does not share his feelings. Sumire soon meets Miu at a wedding, and instantly finds herself attracted to her. She ends up working for her, and Sumire soon begins to transform before K’s eyes.
She begins wearing nicer clothes, gets a better flat, and quits smoking. However, she also finds that she has writer’s block. Things only begin to take a strange turn when K receives letters from Sumire in Europe, who is doing business with Miu. They soon decide to to spend some extra time on a Greek island to enjoy some time off.
K begins to get concerned when he calls Sumire’s house and only gets an answering machine, even past the point where she should have returned. He soon gets a call from Miu, and eventually discovers that Sumire has vanished without a trace. Thus begins a journey to find out what happened to Sumire, and soon events begin to get even stranger…
This is a story that is unique, charming, and surreal – just like most of Murakami’s works. It is is a journey well worth taking.
Next up is another one that I read as part of my education, but way further back than university. This one I read in upper school as part of English Literature, and I think it stuck in my mind as it was one of the very few books I actually enjoyed reading as part of that course. This one is a classic, and has a rightful place on many “must read” lists – 1984.
George Orwell’s 1984
I think one of the reasons this book continues to be recommended to this day, is that it is truly timeless. Even though this was written in 1949, it is scarily reflective of our society in many ways. Of course, the dystopian world that George depicts is not something we live in, but it is frighteningly possible…
The setting is Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain, a province of the superstate Oceania. This world is one of perpetual war and complete government surveillance, ran by “Big Brother”, the leader of the party of English Socialism which dictates the country.
It’s not merely surveillance, though, one of the strong undercurrents of this book is one of propaganda. The book is full of it’s own language called Newspeak, which often uses words like “doubleplusgood” to replace words like excellent, or splendid. The amount of newspeak is intensive, and according to Orwell “the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible.”
This propaganda theme is also expressed by the main character, Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth. His job is to rewrite newspaper articles, so that historical record always supports IngSoc’s party line. Despite being good at this, Winston has a love for the past and tries to get more information on it. He even writes a secret journal criticising Big Brother in a place he believes he can’t been seen, which in itself is a thoughtcrime and punishable by death.
Soon, he meets other characters and begins to get dragged into a larger plot, involving a secret revolution which intends to destroy the Party. If you somehow haven’t read this classic, you are missing out.
So, there you have it – three recommendations which should keep you ticking over for some time. Later on, I am going to put out a list of top 10 books to read but for now, enjoy!