Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by the folks over at The Broke and the Bookish!
You probably know what today is, and what happened 11 years ago. I don’t know if that’s why the topic for today is what it is, but I suspect the two are related. Most of the books I read are escapist, because the world we live in is hard enough and sometimes (or a lot of the time) I just want to retreat into a fantasy world.
Occasionally, however, I pick one up that challenges me to somehow change my perspective, to confront an issue I’ve been hiding from or acknowledge a truth that hurts. Books that do this aren’t my standard fare, but through some twisting avenue, some find their way into my hands. So those are the books I’ll be featuring today.
These will be in no particular order, as that seems like prioritizing thoughts, which I can’t do.
[WARNING: Seriousness ahead]
Top Ten Books That Make Me Think (About The World, People, Life, etc.)
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
I have two books on this list that take place during the Holocaust. This one is fiction, the other is not. Neither, interestingly enough, features a Jewish protagonist. This book was quiet, pensive, and detached in how it conveyed the events taking place in Liesel’s small town in Germany during World War II. I didn’t so much read this book as drift through it, and the imagery feels almost dreamlike. But at the same time, it really brought home the feeling of a family living a regular life in the midst of horror, which made it somehow harder to read. This period of human history hurts my heart the way few things can, and this book really brought it home.
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
This is the non-fiction Holocaust book, and this one is told from the POV of middle-aged spinster Corrie, who lives with her sister and her elderly father in Nazi-occupied Holland during World War II. The family takes it upon themselves to offer shelter to their Jewish neighbors; they are eventually caught and thrown into concentration camps. This one not only conjured the horrors of war and hate and evil, but also the power of deep faith and love. I’d have a hard time thinking of a book that inspired me more than this one.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I don’t read a lot of books about cancer, and I’m blessed that I haven’t had a lot of close personal experience with cancer either. I know many cancer survivors, and of course I also knew people who were taken by cancer, but it’s not a disease I feel I have a strong connection to. However, this book not only made me think about the devastating nature of the disease, but about the almost surreal changes it makes in the lives of those who are taken and those who are left behind. It also made me think about the inevitability of death, and how closely it is tied to a life truly lived.
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
I read a lot of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction, but this is one of the few that struck me as feeling almost tangible. It made me realize how much I take for granted, and how unprepared I am, and we are, to deal with anything truly devastating happening to our world or our country. It made me think about sacrifice, about perseverance, and about strength. The character I identified with most in this book was actually the mother, trying her best to keep her family safe and provided for even in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. I thought a lot about her long after I finished this book.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I’ve read a decent amount of books where segregation and racism was a prevalent theme, and while this one was much more lighthearted than many of the others, for some reason it’s also one of the ones that stuck with me the most. Maybe it’s because of the alternating points of view, or maybe it’s because sometimes humor sharpens truth, or maybe it’s just because the story was engaging. The thing that struck me the most, beyond the obvious, was the loving relationship between a black maid and the little white girl she’s helping to raise, and it gutted me when that relationship was somehow made less because of the colors of their skin.
A Time to Kill by John Grisham
I spent a good portion of high school reading every one of John Grisham’s books, and while most of them are just your typical pulse-pounding legal thriller, this one (his first, and in my opinion, best) was different. It raises hard questions of race and prejudice, even in more modern times where we’re supposed to be past segregation and racism. The question posed at the beginning of the book, which it takes the entirety of the book to address, is if there is a crime so heinous as to justify cold-blooded murder, and if anyone is truly impartial enough to make that call. And while the jury in the book does reach a decision, the ultimate decision is left in the hands of the reader.
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
This book made me want to notice everything. To not drift through life oblivious of what was going on around me, and to make each day count, because who knows when it is the last day. Sam has the benefit — and curse — of getting seven shots at her last day, but I’m guessing most of us won’t have that opportunity. And while she really does manage to make a huge difference in the lives of many over the course of 24 hours, I couldn’t help but wonder how much more of a difference she could have made if she was really paying attention for each day of the preceding few years.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This book was hard to read. It’s painful and harsh and doesn’t ever really give you what you want. It raises hard questions of life and souls and worth. Society easily accepts the sacrifice of the characters’ lives for the enhancement of others, and none of them ever think to question if they really are less worthy of life than the people receiving their donations. We only ever get to view the world through the sad and resigned eyes of the donors, who — even at their most desperate — only ever dream of the luxury of a couple more years before they’re asked to die for someone they’ve never met. It’s tortuous, and has stayed with me for a long time.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
I haven’t written a review for this one yet, because I’m actually still thinking about it. Much like with Before I Fall, this book really made me think about how life can change, or end, in the blink of an eye. But although reading about Mia’s struggle in this book was definitely heart-wrenching and painful, I again felt myself drawn to her flashbacks of her parents. Because while it was obvious she loved her parents, and they loved her fiercely, and that she thought they were amazing parents…I wasn’t so sure. I kept seeing things in their actions that made me wonder if they were hurting Mia in the long run, and now that they were ripped away from her, they would never get a chance to correct it. And that terrified me, because I’m sure I’m making mistakes with my kids, and I hope I get a chance to correct them. It honestly made me examine my decisions and my interactions with my children closer, so that if I were taken from them, they’d still be okay.
I debated whether or not to put this on the list, since it’s not really “a book” the way these others are books, but it is words written on paper and bound between two covers and you get the information through reading, and therefore I decided I really should put it on, since it makes me think more than all the other books combined, more often, and about more issues. I’ve read the whole thing cover to cover several times (it takes a while), and new thoughts surface and swirl around each time.
Okay, this was a heavy week and now I’m tired. But thinking is good, and now I’ve thought about all these books again and I feel full of the desire to go out into the world and live life to the fullest and make the world a better place, and also learn more science so I can go cure a disease but not so I can clone people and harvest their organs. Just so we’re clear.
Can next week’s post be something fun and fluffy please?
Oh good. It is.