Most of us have had our own experience with the Mexican party god. Good or bad, there are stories to tell. I can remember a particular cab ride in Sydney—and having to pull over five times on the highway—also a life-changing moment on top of a mountain.
Like a sip of the golden fire, these books will make you feel invincible. They will stoke the flames of inspiration and imagination. For me, reading is both my anesthesia when the world gets bad, and my ultimate muse. My healthy addiction that has saved me from myself more times I can count. If I’m stuck with work, or am just feeling too much, stories can be the ONLY thing that really helps.
Some of these tomes will open you like a window and let it all hang out. Others will flash some skin. Others will make you weepy, with a whopping hangover after. And, some, I can promise, you just might hate. Whatever the response, this list will open your horizons for creating, doing and being better this year. In this time of uncertainty and meanness, let’s revel in our fictitious worlds. They just might change your life.
In no particular order—pass the lime and the salt….
This futuristic excavation of the white picket fence, prison, cheating and life-sized dolls will make you squirm in a way completely unique to Ms. Atwood. She will make your mind start the fuse on mini explosions. When I first read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale I was off-kilter for a week. She will make you see things differently. After meeting her at a book signing, she might remember my fan-girl moment of simultaneously tearing up and trying to hug her. Repeatedly. The dame of future fiction, as she likes to call it, does it again. With a movie option.
From the author of Cloud Atlas, Mitchell’s new work (think The Bone Clocks) is even better. A haunted house provides a menacing refuge for the different, for the lonely. This book spirits over time, genres, forcing a modern fairy tale to bleak charm. If you are a fan of fantasy and the strange, like I am, this book will be a perfect afternoon on a rainy day. You will start finding mysteries in all the shadows.
We’ve all heard of it. This is Harper Lee’s gloriously vibrant found manuscript, a first draft of TKAM. This piece of beautiful uncomfortableness quietly delivers in a time when we need it most. Anyone anywhere, this will help you understand our complicated relationship with race and self. You can cry; it’s okay. If it were me (bit meta), I would read TKAM again first (I did) before starting GSAW. You might want to have someone read the first chapter to you—Wally Lamb helped me out with that (name drop!).
Reading this is akin to drinking hot chocolate with chili, a little spoonful of absinthe on the side. Bittersweet, absurd, charming, spicy—the mirror to society will make your face grimace. But, you absolutely cannot look away from this Roman party. For me, this book is a bit like Shantaram after India, or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn after moving to NYC. It is fascinating in its modern essence of Italy, and despite having been there or not, you will be entertained.
This is not Bacigalupi’s latest endeavor (the equally original The Water Knife), but there is something that tingles your throat in this dystopian biome of Windup People and bio-engineered terrorism. Lovely, grating science fiction that needs to be made into a film. Now. This book makes me want to write science fiction. It makes me want to create science fiction. It almost makes me want to be science fiction.
Yes, Ms. Tartt did win the Pulitzer for The Goldfinch, but…this precious cosmos is an unexplored voyage of the soul. Entirely classical, even if you aren’t of the “bookish” sort, the slow burn to devastation will mean you can’t look away from this haunt. It gave me my first tragic catharsis, no joke. If you don’t know what a tragic catharsis is, no worries. It’s an Aristotle-y cool sort of cleanse to help purge emotions. For some very strange reason, I’m now thinking of one of the best movie kisses of all time in First Knight. See—it will do strange things to you.
Aurora is no different than Robinson’s other probes into social and political philosophy while colonizing space (see his epic Mars Trilogy), but for the first time, he begins to query whether we were really ever meant to leave earth. His generational ship thrusts us unrelenting into new territory. I have to admit, Robinson is not for the faint-hearted. He can get a bit tedious with scientific detail, but he will make you want to shoot into space, like yesterday. Want to start a new world? Develop one? He gives you solid things to think about.
The most charming book I have read in a good, long while. A journey of wit, love, loss, self-awareness, quirky characters, and lots and lots of books. This is exactly what you need when you need something. Have a cuppa, and the world will sparkle a little bit brighter. This little bubble of sunlight made me smile and feel all the way to my toes. If it doesn’t do the same for you, might want to get a soul replacement. Or, Clockwork Orange cute puppy videos, mixed with travel photos.
This American classic, a pioneer of Southern Gothic, is one of the most unique short story collections in existence. This is the savage truth of times, steeped in tragic comedy and haunting awareness. Challenge yourself to see things from vastly different eyes. I was actually exposed to this book through a question in my secret trivia league. Don’t judge…you know you’re a little bit jealous. Ms. O’Connor might just get you dreaming in haunted, sepia-toned montages.
This Japanese author is one of the most startlingly beautiful, uniquely peculiar voices of the past few generations. Murakami delves underneath the skin of reality, hunting for the fantastical, peeking at what is really inside the mechanics of our world. Start with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, Kafka on the Shore, or 1Q84, and float from there. Warning: Not for the tentative. This is one of my favorite authors, period. He’s my modern literature hero.