Charles Eliot once said – ‘Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.’ In this article, I have compiled a list of four books which come under the must-read category.
- Norwegian Wood is a 1987 novel by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The novel is a nostalgic story of loss and burgeoning sexuality. It is told from the first-person perspective of Toru Watanabe, who looks back on his days as a college student living in Tokyo. Through Watanabe’s reminiscences, we see him develop relationships with two very different women — the beautiful yet emotionally troubled Naoko, and the outgoing, lively Midori.
The novel is set in Tokyo during the late 1960s, at a time when Japanese students, like those of many other nations, were protesting against the established order. While it serves as the backdrop against which the events of the novel unfold, Murakami (through the eyes of Watanabe and Midori) portrays the student movement as largely weak-willed and hypocritical.
Murakami adapted the first section of the novel from an earlier short story, “Firefly”. The story was subsequently included in the collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.
Norwegian Wood was hugely popular with Japanese youth and made Murakami something of a superstar in his native country (apparently much to his dismay at the time).
A film adaptation of the same name was released in 2010, directed by Tran Anh Hung.
- Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialized in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach in February 1922, in Paris. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature, and has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement”. According to Declan Kiberd, “Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking.”
Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel, with structural correspondences between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus, in addition to events and themes of the early twentieth century context of modernism, Dublin, and Ireland’s relationship to Britain. The novel imitates registers of centuries of English literature and is highly allusive.
Ulysses is approximately 265,000 words in length and is divided into eighteen episodes. Since publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from early obscenity trials to protracted textual “Joyce Wars”. Ulysses’ stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose — full of puns, parodies, and allusions — as well as its rich characterisation and broad humor, made the book a highly regarded novel in the modernist pantheon. Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
- Infinite Jest is a 1996 novel by David Foster Wallace. The lengthy and complex work takes place in a North American dystopia, centering on a junior tennis academy and a nearby substance-abuse recovery center. The novel touches on many topics, including addiction and recovery, suicide, family relationships, entertainment and advertising, film theory, United States-Canada relations (as well as Quebec separatism), and tennis. The novel includes 388 endnotes that cap almost a thousand pages of prose, which, together with its detailed fictional world, have led to its categorization as an encyclopedic novel.
In 2005 it was included by Time magazine in its list of the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923.
Infinite Jest is a literary fiction bestseller, with 44,000 copies sold by the end of its first year of publication. The book has continued to sell steadily and attract critical commentary. As of 2016, worldwide sales of Infinite Jest have exceeded one million copies.
- Cloud Atlas is a 2004 novel, the third book by British author David Mitchell. It consists of six nested stories that take the reader from the remote South Pacific in the nineteenth century to a distant, post-apocalyptic future. It won the British Book Awards Literary Fiction Award and the Richard & Judy Book of the Year award and was short-listed for the 2004 Booker Prize, Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and other awards.
A film adaptation of the same name was released in 2012.