The newest Facebook trend these days, at least among my network, is the “15 Books That Sticks With You” list. I’ve been tagged by a handful of friends for which I am thankful, but while I’ve enjoyed reading their selections, I never really conformed to this fad mainly due to two reasons: first, I am too lazy to do it; and second, I’m not Facebook-active enough to participate.
Eventually, I figured that I can still share my own list on my blog where I can set and follow my own rules. So I scoured through my Goodreads shelves to find the top 15 books that really stayed with me. In no particular order, here are my entries and the reasons as to why these books have held so much power over me for many years:
1. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West by Blaine Harden
I nurse this unhealthy fascination with holocausts. I have always been curious about the Nazi’s Final Solution that wiped out millions of Jews, and quite recently, I learned about the genocide that is happening today in the hermit kingdom of North Korea. Escape from Camp 14 details the hellish life of Shin Dong-hyuk, a North Korean defector, within the walls of the country’s concentration camps. The torture that Shin and other prisoners experienced was so cruel and grisly; sometimes I forget that it’s fact, not fiction. I never thought that this book would be available in the Philippines, so imagine my happiness when I stumbled upon this at the bookstore.
Favorite Quote: “And so Shin’s misery never skidded into complete hopelessness. He had no hope to lose, no past to mourn, no pride to defend. He did not find it degrading to lick soup off the floor. He was not ashamed to beg a guard for forgiveness. It didn’t trouble his conscience to betray a friend for food. These were merely survival skills, not motives for suicide.”
2. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
One of the first books that I read on my short-lived Nook e-reader. Set in 1930s Nazi Germany (again, the holocaust reference), the story of young Liesel Meminger is beautifully told from the point of view of an unlikely sympathetic character, Death. This is also one of the few books that has left me crying and depressed for an entire day. Remember when Rudy Steiner died? And that bombed that killed Mama and Papa? Those hit me like a brick right in the feels.
Favorite Quote: “Even death has a heart.”
3. A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin
ASoS is widely regarded as the best book in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series [so far]. Filled to the brim with jaw-dropping revelations and heart-wrenching deaths, this book took me on a cruel roller-coaster ride of emotions. One minute, I was so angry that I threw the book against the wall when Robb Stark died; the next, I was laughing with joy when Tyrion Lannister killed his father Tywin and that bitch Shae. And don’t tell me about spoiler alerts. You should’ve watched this part of the show by now.
Favorite Quote: “A harp can be a dangerous as a sword, in the right hands.”
4. Ang Paboritong Libro ni Hudas by Bob Ong
While its predecessor ABNKKBSNPLAko?! features a more entertaining story, there is something that draws me to Ang Paboriting Libro ni Hudas‘s dark humor. So far, this is the only book I know that talks about fear of the pesky flying cockroach, one of my biggest fears. Plus points for the creative book jacket.
Favorite Quote: “Istorbo sa pagtulog ang ipis. Lalo na yung tipong magigising ka dahil merong nagla-live show sa mukha mo. Kaya isang mumunting kaluskus lang alam ko kaagad kung ipis. Bumabangon ako kaagad, nagbubukas ng ilaw, at nag-aamok kahit alas-dose ng madaling araw.”
5. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
To be honest, I have this love-hate relationship with Murakami. Some of his books I really like, but some I never even bother to pick up. Norwegian Wood, featuring the bittersweet love triangle between Watanabe, Naoko and Midori, is different because of its mysterious hold on me. Murakami’s description of the places and the characters gives off a truly Japanese vibe not found in other books. Plus, I can never listen to The Beatles’s song of the same title without my mind drifting to that quiet forest frequented by Watanabe and Naoko, and Midori’s house-cum-bookstore, an inspiration for my future abode.
Favorite Quote: “But who can say what’s best? That’s why you need to grab whatever chance you have of happiness where you find it, and not worry about other people too much. My experience tells me that we get no more than two or three such chances in a lifetime, and if we let them go, we regret it for the rest of our lives.”
6. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
I can never forget how I hungrily devoured this book — which is 400+ pages long, by the way — from start to finish, and loving every single part of it. Of course, there’s something strange about the family saga of Cal/Calliope Stephanides. It’s not hard to be swept away from the slopes of Mount Olympos to the crowded streets of New York while learning about the intriguing and incestuous story of the Stephanides family.
Favorite Quote: “Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in ‘sadness’, ‘joy’, or ‘regret’. Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling.”
7. Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
One word to describe this book: delicious. Tita Dela Garza’s romance with Pedro Muzquiz is not perfect — in fact, it’s annoying and very frustrating — but, in the end, you still yearn for them to be together. Esquivel’s use of Mexican cuisine and the art of cooking to describe and symbolize Tita’s life is masterful and amazing. As one of the books that I dissected down to the tiniest core for my high school English class, this is also the book that introduced me to one of my favorite literary genres: magical realism. I still read excerpts of this book to this day, and yes, the magic is still there.
Favorite Quote: “Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can’t strike them all by ourselves; we need oxygen and a candle to help. In this case, the oxygen for example, would come from the breath of the person you love; the candle would be any kind of food, music, caress, word, or sound that engenders the explosion that lights one of the matches.”
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
I will never forget that fateful day when I was just 10 years old. My mother came home, holding a book about this unknown boy wizard and encouraging me to give it a try because it might turn out to be a good story. A few months later, I finished the book, demanded the second one, and the third one, and the fourth one… until I was already in college when I cried my heart out because I’d just finished the last book in the series. Reading is the treasure chest and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the key that opened it. This is the book that started it all.
Favorite Quote: “There will be books written about Harry. Every child in the world will know his name.”
9. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The only novel written by the great Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is semi-autobiographical in nature so… imagine just how dark it is. Also, imagine how I managed to read it without losing my mind at the tender age of 15. And managing to write a book report so excellent (yes, I’ve no qualms about praising my own work) that my great English high school teacher gave me a grade of 97 and exclaimed in front of the class, “Now that’s how you do a book report!” To be honest, I’d already forgotten most of the stuff that happened in the story of Esther Greenwood, but I’d be more than willing to re-read this now that I have a more mature mindset.
Favorite Quote: “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”
10. If Tomorrow Comes by Sidney Sheldon
There was a time when I didn’t think that cliffhangers could exist out of TV boxes and silver screens until I was introduced to the writings of Sidney Sheldon. If Tomorrow Comes was my first Sheldon book, and the first that made me squirm with anger and whoop with triumph in just 300 pages. Plus points for girl power.
Favorite Quote: “I will survive, Tracy thought. I face mine enemies naked, and my courage is my shield.”
11. The World According to Garp by John Irving
I’m not a fan of thick, fat books, but Garp is a huge exception. Mostly hilarious, often serious, and sometimes horrifying, this is one of the first books that opened my eyes to the ideas of feminism, rape and transsexualism as told through the story of TS Garp, his strong-willed mother Jenny Fields, his reserved wife Helen Holmes, and a whole bunch of strange but memorable characters. Thanks to this book, I still think of the ‘undertoad’ whenever I go to the beach. And yes, that scene with Helen and Michael Milton in the car? Still my favorite part of the story.
Favorite Quote: “Helen’s mouth was snapped shut with such force that she broke two teeth and required two neat stitches in her tongue. At first she thought she had bitten her tongue off, because she could feel it swimming in her mouth, which was full of blood; but her head ached so severely that she didn’t dare open her mouth, until she had to breathe, and she couldn’t move her right arm. She spat what she thought was her tongue into the palm of her left hand. It wasn’t her tongue, of course. It was what amounted to three quarters of Michael Milton’s penis.”
12. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Sometimes, I owe my obsession with a certain book to academic reasons, and The God of Small Things is another example. I was assigned to write a report about this for my HUM1 class in UPLB, and frankly, I had a really tough time reading this book. Not until my second or third re-reading did I finally understand the tragic lives of twins Rahel and Estha. The frequent interweaving of Malayalam words in the story complements the description of the culture and history of Kerala, India. And yes, I got a final grade of 1.25, thanks to this book.
Favorite Quote: “And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”
13. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Most people think of 1984 or The Hunger Games when they hear the word ‘dystopian’, but, personally, I associate that word with The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in the not-so-distant future where the government reigns supreme, human rights are optional, women’s rights are non-existent, religion is dead, and emotional freedom is unheard of, it’s amazing to think how Atwood conjured this terrifying world that somehow still reflects some parts of our present society. I’m still wishing that Offred has finally found her way to freedom.
Favorite Quote: “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”
14. The Count of Montecristo by Alexandre Dumas
The only one of its genre on this list, this is one of the first books that introduced me to that elite pedestal called the classics. I once had the impression that classic books are boring (I have to admit that most of them are really dragging though), but it was a different case for Montecristo, which I considered to be unputdownable. It’s not difficult to be engrossed as you read about the Edmond Dantès’s story of revenge while learning some things about 1800s France.
Favorite Quote: “The difference between treason and patriotism is only a matter of dates.”
15. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
I have no shame in tagging this book as my favorite of all time. No, I don’t love this book because I had to write a report about it. I learned about the iconic Holden Caulfield’s story during my teenage years, the perfect age for reading this infamous masterpiece. It’s hard to find the ultimate reason as to why this book remains on top of my list, but I would chalk it up to the feeling of relating to Holden, his feelings, and his thoughts. And maybe because I still can’t get over Holden’s wit and humor when he described dancing with Marty as “like dragging the Statue of Liberty across the floor”.
Favorite Quote: “I like Jesus and all, but I don’t care too much for most of the other stuff in the Bible. Take the Disciples, for instance. They annoy the hell out of me, if you want to know the truth. They were all right after Jesus was dead and all, but while He was alive, they were about as much use to Him as a hole in the head. All they did was keep letting Him down.”