5 Books That Changed My Life
I'm a big fan of book lists myself, as I like to discover new fiction books through things like the Pulitzer Prizes, the Booker Prizes, etc quite often. So here is a list of my own recommendations, which are all fiction (but I do like non-fiction too), and all strongly impacted me both mentally and emotionally.
1. Colourless Tsukuru Tatami and His years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
The story starts by portraying five teenage friends including Tsukuru. All of a sudden his friends cut ties with him and never told him why. This left him feeling lonely, suicidal, and "lacking in colour and identity".
Tsukuru survived, then went on to meet his love, Sara. She filled the existential hole of Tsukuru’s heart and encouraged him to track down the four who abandoned him for no reason, or else she wouldn't commit to him (in fear that he couldn't move past this issue). So he begins his quest for truth and happiness by visiting his old friends one by one.
Haruki Murakami is famous for portraying character's solitary, this is especially true in 'Colourless Tsukuru Tatami', as he wrote his solitary out in a very mundane way. This book touches my heart when Haruki describes Tsukuru Tatami as a person who is colourless, which I deeply related to, as I was once bullied for no reason. You don't only feel alone, but also like you are invisible. It's as if people can’t see you, or don't even don’t realise your existence.
2. A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
"A Wild Sheep Chase" starts with an unnamed narrator describing his failed marriage and the decline of his own business. On a normal day he was visited by a mysterious wealthy businessman (a political/economic innuendo), whom paid the narrator to go Nagoya and find a sheep with a star shape on it's body. He was given 30 days to find the sheep with just one photo, or his career and life would be ruined.
The story then moves to a snowy mountain in Nagoya where the narrator was in a house alone, before encountering people from his past, bizarre characters, and others who have seen sheep before. This development fits Haruki Murakami's way of writing as a spiritual tale. He pulls you into this magical but postmodern realism world, leaving most up to your own interpretation.
It is an adventure. I have really vivid images in my head of when I was reading this book. I often imagine myself alone in the house listening to tick tock of the clock. The solitary that Haruki Murakami portrayed deeply touched me, it is very different from his other books, even “Colourless Tsukuru Tatami and His Years of Pilgrimage”. I always feel the want to reread it, imagining myself curled up in a wood cabin with a cup of tea.
3. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
"A Little Life" starts with a group of friends (four young teenage males), one a lawyer, one a painter, one an actor, and one an architect. They are all bright, intelligent, ambitious, and moved to New York together. Hanya Yanagihara used 1/3 of the book to describe the four character's development in New York, then gradually two characters rapidly recede into the background, before focusing on one protagonist.
1/10 of the book is spent on the protagonist talking about depression, and his self- harming habit. The reader then learns about how he was abused in his childhood, and the possible reasons why the protagonist turned out this way. This makes the story no longer just about friendship, but also about love, sex, the struggle of being in New York, and self- hate.
It took me three years to finish it, not only because it has 700 pages, but also because of how heavy the content is. I often had to stop and retrieve myself back to reality. During the whole three years of reading this book I was alone in London, trying to have another life, trying something new. London is somewhat like New York, it's an international city filled with people who dream, and a lot of opportunities. As I read along, I easily got drawn in and compared the book to my situation at that time, as I also struggled with depression, anxiety, and self- hatred. Despite this, I would still strongly recommend everyone to read this book, “A Little Life” is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read.
4. The Stranger by Albert Camus
Albert Camus wrote “The Stranger”, originally in French (“L’Étranger”) in 1942. The book starts with the famous phrase “Mother died today. Or maybe it was yesterday, I don’t know.” The story continues by following Meursault at his mother’s funeral, how he feels nothing, and shows no outward distress. All this made his mother's friend feel relatively uncomfortable and confused. After the funeral Meursault and his friend, Raymond, come across a man, ‘the Arab’, who tries to revenge Raymond on the assault of his mistress. Raymond was stabbed and hurt, then Meursault shoots and kills ‘the Arab’. This ends the first part of the book.
The second part starts with Meursault being put on a trial. He mentions shooting the man not out of revenge, but the disorientation of the heat and the brightness of the sun. His lack of guilt combined with his lack of sadness towards his mother's death was used in his trial, and did him more harm than good. He eventually got sentenced with the death penalty.
This is the first book that made me profoundly interested in reading things about existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasises individual existence, freedom, and choice. It is the view that humans define their own meaning of life, and try to make rational decisions despite existing in an irrational universe. Albert Camus' writing makes philosophy easier to be absorbed and understood. The absurdities in life really do exist, and this book taught me that sometimes it's fine to feel different from the 'normal' emotions that we are taught to feel.
5. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Milan Kundera writes about a man torn between his love towards his mistress, whose free spirit attracts him, and his humbly faithful wife who always stays by his side. In my opinion the title, “Unbearable Lightness” refers to the lightness of love (to be in a relationship and the associated burdens) vs sex (freedom). Also on a deeper level, it's the essence of "being" through the different journeys of four main relatable characters. “Lightness” is also a challenge towards Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence (a theory that the universe and all existence has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a similar form infinitely across time or space).
The book is not solely about love and difficult relationships, as it also dives into the political background of communist Czechoslovakia between 1968 and 1980 (It is set in the years of the Cold War). 'Lightness' somewhat means accepting the lack of an ultimate goal in life, and just living in momentary beauty. People who wish to live a life of lightness would most likely not be involved in political parties, as they are more free in spirit.
The book was later made into a movie, directed by Philip Kaufman, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Juliette Binoche. I often find it easier to understand a book through a movie, but this book is both easy to read and easy to watch. Although the title is “Unbearable Lightness”, it explores whether being 'light" could be a positive thing when looking at it through a lens of politics, love, self-worth, and human existence.