As the year of 2016 winds down, I wanted to share a short list of my favorite books that I read this past year. So as you head into the holiday season and the boredom of being away from school sets in, look to this list if you find yourself needing something to do.
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
What it’s about: Sickness, while noted for its ability to decimate and infect populations worldwide, is rarely treated in the same manner as an intervenable human. Mukherjee challenges that notion in his work known as the ‘Biography of Cancer.’ Mukherjee portrays the debilitating pestilence of cancer as the center of a medical narrative that stretches back to the times of Egypt. Crossing continents and time periods alike, cancer’s footprint leaves no civilization unscathed. Mukherjee chronicles cancer’s history and how its impact figures into the undulating scope of our history today.
Why you should read it: In this modern age, the typical family is seldom left untouched by the horrific effects of cancer. Mukherjee notes the overarching influence that cancer has created throughout its existence. Aided with personal anecdotes from patients during his time as a doctor and research performed on cancer patients, this biography will challenge the reader to view cancer in an atypical fashion. Even if you are not particularly fond of the sciences, Mukherjee’s history of medicinal practices and unorthodox methodology used to combat cancer helps better understand and appreciate medicine’s evolution as a whole. While the disease still wages its war on humanity, Mukherjee remains optimistic about mankind’s resolve and desire to defeat cancer.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
What it’s about it: A human of the female gender willingly steps onto a mechanical structure capable of movement. Falling in the same vein as Gillian Flynn’s, Gone Girl, Hawkins first literary work combines film’s noir genre with a deceit-filled literary storyline. Similar to Flynn’s novel, The Girl on the Train is told through the eyes of multiple narrators. Providing different points of view, the muddled story keeps the reader second-guessing and suspended in curiosity. Rachel, the main narrator daily commutes to work while people-watching out her window. Until one day, something catches her eye that she can no longer keep to herself. Rachel’s unraveling of the ensuing mystery only becomes more unreliable and blurred with each diverging account. Hawkins’ characters’ paranoia convinces the reader that any and every character may be guilty.
Why you should read it: Much like its contemporary mystery novels, The Girl on the Train succeeds in its ability to thoroughly enthrall and captivate its reader. Yet, what Hawkins’ novel effectively accomplishes is the ability for the common reader to connect with the narrative. Everybody can recall a time they stared for a second too long during a people-watching excursion and saw something they shouldn’t have. Hawkins’ novel is a similar scenario taken to the extreme. The novel, recently adapted to the screen, is a go-to gift for the reader in your family this holiday season.
The Sickness Unto Death by Søren Kierkegaard
What it’s about: Written in the mid-1800s, Kierkegaard’s exposition laid the framework for future philosophical studies and awakening worldwide. Kierkegaard’s work contains religious influences and is commonly viewed in a religious sense, but even if you are not particularly religious, this work will present diverging views of the human condition. Harkening back to the philosophers of Greece and Rome, Kierkegaard explores the relationship between the self and the spirit, the infinite and the finite, and hope and despair. A man married to duality, Kierkegaard flings metaphors and allusions at the reader like it’s a middle school lunch fight and his life depended on it, and for him, it does. Kierkegaard outlines the three levels of despair and how every human is bound to a specific level depending on their awareness and overall mental state. Kierkegaard argues that achieving complete consciousness is an eternal journey of self-discovery and his work frames the necessary steps to ascend the spiritual ladder.
Why you should read it: Philosophical? Yes. Frustrating? Yes. Dictionary Required? Yes. But despite the intimidation that comes with a metaphysical work such as Kierkegaard’s, the effort put into understanding a work of this stature is immensely rewarding. Upon navigating the waters of temporal and infinite existence, new ideology arises. While this exposition may convince you that you are utterly helpless at times, his work set the framework of most contemporary religious philosophy. Widely accepted as the “Father of Existentialism,” Søren Kierkegaard heavily influenced the climate and direction of philosophy and The Sickness Unto Death is his ‘magnum opus.’
Terrorist by John Updike
What it’s about: As is common with most John Updike works, the state of America’s society is dissected on both a microscopic and holistic level. Updike’s 2006 novel explores the effects of American capitalism, school system and peer pressure on the adapted Muslim teenager. Ahmad, the protagonist of the story, faces the world’s materialistic influence begin to intrude on his religious ideals. The ensuing effects culminate in Ahmad’s decision to either divert from his newfound devotion or prove his dedication to his beliefs.
Why you should read it: Broken American livelihood and security wasn’t the only stipulation to emerge from the rubble of September 11, 2001. Innocent Muslim-American families fell prey to unjust stigmatisms as well. Updike’s novel visualizes the aspiring Muslim teenager’s yearning to make an impact in the world. Updike creates a riveting tale of pressure, compulsion, and ideology that chills the reader to the bone. Ahmad’s overzealous strivings perfectly communicate Updike’s negative sentiment regarding the American civilization.
Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
What it’s about: Written in the late 1800’s, Sister Carrie mirrors the life of its author’s sister, as do most of his works. This tale follows the life of Caroline Meeber as she reluctantly leaves her pastoral country home and ventures into the industrial city of Chicago. Carrie, youthfully innocent, falls prey to the cosmopolitan trap of extravagance. Through encounters with idyllic gentlemen, Carrie is exposed to the elevated lifestyle she quickly comes to desire. Wrapped with naturalistic and deterministic properties, Sister Carrie carefully probes the typical coming of age narrative with an elegant foot.
Why you should read it: As most classic literature succeeds in doing, Sister Carrie’s narrative is timeless. The novel’s overall theme is as influential to modern day society as it was to the farm families at the turn of the century. Carrie’s relationships with handsome men and her unquenchable desire to become the picturesque ideal of a woman closely identify with the modern reader. A naturalistic tale that transcends decades, Sister Carrie never fails to excite and surprise.