4 Inspiring Novels to Read in Celebration of Book Lovers Day
Sometimes, a little fiction is all your subconscious needs
Those boring days I was having in my childhood, those desperate times I needed the inspiration to dream, those gloomy nights I didn’t wish to live in cruel reality — my bookshelf was my only friend, lover, family, my source to smile.
I knew books would always lighten my path. I was overthinking a decision (one that needed time) and realized it was August 9. I started to smile and said:
Forget everything, you have your books, dive into them, your subconscious needs it.
Here I am, nourishing a desire to share four of my favorite literary pieces — from which I learned to care for humanity, embrace diversities, and love each individual for who they are (including myself) — with you.
The Handmaid’s Tale — Margaret Atwood, 1985
A new republic built on patriarchal structures and the Old Testament — Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale gives us a new world in which fertile women are made slaves and raped regularly while homosexuals, transsexuals, and old and infertile women are killed, slowly.
The novel is categorized as a dystopia because of its extreme and inhumane system but Atwood reminds us that the female body, women’s rights, and subjectivity have always been ignored, politicized, and controlled to the extreme. The society is governed in Foucault’s panopticon system which observes everybody and leaves no choice for freedom.
Political and social systems often change — these changes about women and their bodily autonomy have been decided by men. Misogynists have prevented women from having desires and identities. Atwood shows how detrimental the consequences of social and political changes can be. Atwood’s dystopia is as fictional as it feels so real. Everything in the novel was inspired by cruel reality.
As long as we do this, butter our skin to keep it soft, we can believe that we will some day get out, that we will be touched again, in love or desire. We have ceremonies of our own, private ones.
Unless — Carol Shields, 2002
Unless is one of the more successful novels that tackle the perturbed relationship between mother and daughter. The novel is about a female writer writing about another female writer. The protagonist Reta is described as a woman with no reason to be unhappy — a loving husband, beautiful children, a cozy home, and a successful career — at the beginning of the novel. However, things take a dramatic turn when her elder daughter decides to sit and beg on a Toronto sidewalk with a cardboard sign around her neck saying “goodness.”
The opposite of traditional literary texts that exemplify and idealize a daughter’s identification with her mother, Unless emphasizes why mothers and daughters should learn how to separate from one another — Reta goes through a quest to search for her selfhood with her daughter’s decision.
Carol Shields doesn’t provide much dialogue for the daughter, Norah. Yet, Norah symbolizes the angry voice of daughters confined to patriarchal environments in which men are great and women can be only good.
Unless alludes to the reconstruction of the mother/daughter relationship in terms of female solidarity and the importance of feminine writing (écriture féminine) in the male hegemony.
The world is split in two between those who are handed power at birth, at gestation, encoded with a seemingly random chromosome determinate that says yes for ever and ever, and those like Norah, like Danielle Westerman, like my mother, like my mother-in-law, like me, like all of us who fall into the uncoded female otherness in which the power to assert ourselves and claim our lives has been displaced by a compulsion to shut down our bodies and seal our mouths and be as nothing against the fireworks and streaking stars and blinding light of the Big Bang.
Brick Lane — Monica Ali, 2003
Brick Lane presents the story of a Muslim female immigrant in London, who struggles with restrictions on her gender, culture, and caste. Nazneen, in an arranged marriage and with a lack of individuality, finds herself confined in both the social and domestic spheres — she’s only expected to clean, breed, and feed her husband and children.
Nazneen is manipulated by her patriarchal society that misinterprets religion and forces people to believe in their social interpretation. In her culture, marriage means ownership rather than partnership, and respect is a single-sided act fulfilled only by women. In her journey, Nazneen breaks the image of archetypal homemaker as daughter/wife/mother.
She interprets her religion individually.
She gets a job and gains her financial independence.
She learns the language of her host nation.
She gains bodily freedom and meets her sexual desires as a woman.
Ali makes Nazneen eager to grow up and gives her the dignity she needs in her journey towards self-discovery as an independent, single mother.
Monica Ali shows us a racially different heroine in the mainstream feminism — helping us recognize and embrace diversities and hear the stories of every individual. She emphasizes the need for more female heroines of diverse race and religion.
What could not be changed must be borne. And since nothing could be changed, everything had to be borne.
Small Island — Andrea Levy, 2004
Levy tackles a story of post-war Caribbean experiences in England. But what makes the story touching is her exploration of four diverse perspectives and backstories — two Jamaican immigrants and a British couple. With her polyphonic narrative mode, the characters’ stories merge with one another throughout the novel. Levy deconstructs the notion of being a singular and authoritative voice in life. The backstories also widen our sympathies towards conceited, cold, angry, and bigoted persons because these feelings aren’t inherent to them.
Hortense, Gilbert, Queenie, and Bernard are individuals who have internalized social ideologies such as white supremacy and blatant prejudices against people of color. While Hortense and Gilbert grow up with the dream of England as the ideal country, Queenie and Bernard have been dictated the justification of violent racism. The novel gains its readers’ sympathy when the Jamaican characters realize that their loving Mother Country is actually an embodiment of racial hostility that has no place for them.
We see silent agreements or acknowledgments among characters once they have to live together — they have feelings for one another and realize that nothing is different, but the society has made them believe they’re different. Andrea Levy skillfully shows us the pervasive racism and how it’s not inherent to individuals’ minds or hearts. The novel teaches, despite the racial environment they have grown up, individuals can eventually abdicate this hostility.
Anthropoid — I looked to the dictionary to find the meaning of this word used by Hitler and his friends to describe Jews and colored men. I got a punch in the head when the implication jumped from the page and struck me: “resembling a human but primitive, like an ape.” Two whacks I got. For I am a black man whose father was born a Jew.
Regardless of the genres, the books I read have always been my fellow travelers.
Happy National Book Lovers Day.