By Bhawna Sharma
I can never really get over the excitement of sniffing the fresh pages of a new book for the first time and gingerly flipping over its pages one by one. I have grown up reading books for as long as I can remember. I have lived a thousand lives through the written word, from Gogol’s struggle to reconcile his Indian heritage with the American Dream in Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, all the way to Anne Frank’s quiet acts of teenage rebellion while hiding in an attic one bookshelf behind persecution. Here are five books that particularly tickled my imagination, and left me with more than just another collector’s item on the shelf:
Wordporn in my Tiffany’s Limited-Edition The Great Gatsby
I could fill a whole page with my favourite quotes from this romantic American gem. For the unacquainted, The Great Gatsby is a novel set in the 1920s during the heyday of America’s growing economic and cultural prosperity, and narrates the adventures of an elite few residing in Long Island. What struck me most about this novel was the sheer prolificity with which Fitzgerald uses imagery as a literary device, and guides readers through his characters’ emotions. It’s almost as if every word and every sentence was exactly where it was meant to be. Beyond just a literary feast, The Great Gatsby helped me appreciate the beauty of prose, and made me a more conscientious writer in terms of my writing style.
All the feels in The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner can be a pretty emotional and mature read for a thirteen-year old, which probably explains why I was a bit overwhelmed when I first read the book. I would only realise the heart-wrenching ethos of Hosseini’s story-telling four years later after a second read. Exploring the painful relationship between two brothers, this book transports the readers all the way from Kabul to America, and delves into the cruel misunderstandings that play out between its characters. It’s after reading The Kite Runner that I realised how fortunate I am to be living in a country like Singapore where we tend to take our basic needs for granted. I couldn’t possibly begin to imagine the hardships faced by families in Afghanistan living in constant fear of the Taliban, who regularly stage attacks on innocent civilians throughout the country.
1984, social media, and China’s social credit system
Books are never really contained within themselves in the sense that authors draw inspiration from their personal experiences or happenings around them. What I find absolutely incredible is their uncanny ability to become prophetic goldmines years down the line. George Orwell’s 1984 left me with a sense of foreboding about a world where every microscopic move we make is tracked and monitored. Not surprisingly, the world we inhabit today seems to be filled with those very same chilling Orwellian tropes: think about the way social media is an omnipotent force that detects our every move, gesture, location, and preferences, and has completely distorted the concept of ‘truth’. China has taken Orwell’s allegorical Big Brother one step further by implementing a mass social credit system in which it will monitor the behaviour of its vast population, and punish citizens who behave badly. Apart from expanding my knowledge on current affairs and social issues, books like these humbly remind me about the grim overtones of living in the twenty-first century.
The quintessential badass female protagonist in Harry Potter
Dear book lovers, I’m sure you’ve all had that OMG moment when you just fall in love with a character either because of the values they stand for or their strong personalities. My favourite would be badass female protagonists, because they’re the ones who defy gender stereotypes and remind girls that they are more than what society tells them they are. Escaping from the Devil’s Snare, punching Draco Malfoy in the face, and looking a Basilisk straight in the eye are just a few of Hermione Granger’s heroic feats in the Harry Potter series. At the tender age of fourteen, she taught me what it really means to be brave, loyal, and selfless. So when the tides are gloomy, my favourite badass female protagonist inspires and empower me to persevere in the face of adversity.
C.S. Lewis once said that we read to know that we are not alone, and I couldn’t agree more. For me, reading is an all-encompassing sensory and mental journey that takes me to places I never knew, a therapeutic way to escape the mundanities of life. You might be thinking, why not just watch a two-hour movie instead? Well, because it’s just not the same as reading words for yourself, or flipping the pages one by one, or above all, letting your mind roam free with the power of writing.