5. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger (1951)
What struck me first about Catcher is how funny it is, and how fresh it feels. Sure it’s not offensive by today’s standards despite the fact it enjoys a controversial reputation (as South Park famously pointed out), but it still feels like it could have been written today. Salinger performed a delicate balancing act with the novel – making his teenage protagonist, Holden, likable and easy to relate to but also easy to look down on. Holden may have wry observations that address the frustrations with the world that many of us have, but he’s also naïve and self-defeating. The reader is likely to spend a lot of time hoping Holden will wake up to himself. Whether he eventually does or not remains an open question.
4. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell (1949)
Depending on your world view, Nineteen Eighty Four is either an accurate (if a little exaggerated) prediction of the times we live in, or an unrealistic worst case scenario of what could happen if the government decided to throw all civil liberties out the window one day. The rise of CCTV and the post-9/11 wars (where the enemy seemed to change overnight) gave a lot of credibility to the first interpretation, but even if it’s taken as pure fantasy it’s a great read. The sense of fear and paranoia is almost overwhelming as the protagonist slowly dares to go against the wishes the powers that be, then as the reader becomes privy to the truth behind the supposedly all powerful Big Brother, the book is almost impossible to put down.
3. High Fidelity – Nick Hornby (1995)
Here we have a book about a man who’s obsessed with music and making lists of his favourite things (usually music related). Obviously there was a lot for me to relate to. There’s also a lot of great insights into the way relationships work (or don’t work) and the pros and cons of moving to the next stage of our lives (ie. growing up).
2. Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk (1996)
Relentlessly dark but thoroughly amusing. Highly disturbing but full of insight. Ludicrous but somehow full of realism (especially in the way it depicts the human condition). Fight Club is a unique and exhilarating beast. What you get out of the novel will depend on your state of mind at the time of reading – those experiencing frustration with modern society for all its confining and alienating side-effects will get the most out of it. But even readers who disagree with the philosophy should find it fascinating.
1. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh (1993)
Heroin addiction is one of those things in life that I have absolutely interest in experiencing. But like most people, when I’m in the safety of my own home I’m very happy to be transported to some very dark places through art, and Trainspotting does a marvellous job of it – throwing the reader headlong into the lives of a group of addicts in Scotland. In a way it shares a lot of themes with Fight Club, except that the Trainspotting gang aren’t concerned with breaking free of the restricting bonds of society because they were never really part of society to begin with. As such they experience great highs – hilarious escapades and moments of joy – but the price is paid in the many crushing lows. Tragedy, violence, sickness, crime, extreme boredom and poverty are daily routine, and it’s not long before antihero, Renton, is desperate to find a way out. Not that Renton is the only focus of the novel. One of the things I loved about the book is how the reader gets to see things through the eyes of almost every important character – even the villainous Begbie.
So, there you go. I’d also love to know about your own favourites so why not make a comment below?
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