Unlike most wannabe Literature students, I didn’t get into Literature until a relatively late age. While yeah, I’d always enjoyed reading, my book collection had never strayed far beyond A Series of Unfortunate Events and Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. However, this all changed at the tender age of thirteen. It was at this age that the five-story Waterstones in the heart of Birmingham created a ‘banned books’ section, featuring an array of books that had been banned throughout history. It was this sense of danger, the controversy, this excitement that wove its way into my very being, with this raw passion still burning five years later.
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
The first book I dared to buy from this wondrous banned bookshelf was Salinger’s masterpiece, The Catcher in the Rye, and it is this book that has dictated my fate ever since. Salinger’s raw first person account of teenage isolation, through the voice of Holden Caulfield, is one that is enduring yet melancholic. Essentially, very little happens throughout the novel, with Holden aimlessly walking the streets of New York after having been kicked out of school. However, this lack of plot is really rather irrelevant. What makes TheCatcher in the Rye so tantalising is Salinger’s beautiful account of angst, isolation and depression. He perfectly captures a voice that sees so much futility in our ever-turning Earth that you can’t help but see the ‘phonies’ in the world that Holden despises at after reading the novel.
It was this book that taught me the power of literature. Even though five years have passed since first reading it, I can still say a little piece of Salinger’s presence still exists inside of me as a result.
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
Anyone who knows me knows about my passion for Burgess’ dystopian work of art, A Clockwork Orange. They will be sick to death of me going on about Burgess’ innovative use of language, his ability to brainwash the reader and, above all, his ability to make us sympathise with a protagonist who enjoys nothing more than a ‘good-lashing of ultra-violence’ and ‘the old in-out in-out’ – rape.
Burgess’ novel truly taught me the power of language. With Burgess’ creation of an entirely new language – ‘nasdat’ – that readers are slowly indoctrinated with protagonist Alex’s twisted views as readers slowly acclimatise to the language. A book that is poignant to me as it was recommended by an English teacher after she found me in tears on the playground in Year 11, it has since been one of my favourite novels – even to the extent that I am completing my Extended Project Qualification on whether the book is deserving of its negative reputation (with the answer being no, just if you were wondering). All I can say is to the little bitch that forced me into tears: cheers. Because without you, I wouldn’t have come across such an important novel.
The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
There are various books that stand out throughout my life, with The Picture of Dorian Gray being one of them. Wilde’s humour to mask a very dark subject matter (questioning the ethics of art, beauty and morality all in one novel) is always sharp and sublimely witty. Yet, aside from Wilde’s untouchable wit, there lies an enduring craftsmanship – lines like ‘The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.’ are filled with such tender beauty, making it impossible not to be controlled by Wilde’s every word. A captivating story line followed with a captivating style, The Picture of Dorian Gray really is a special gem of a novel.
Norwegian Wood – Haruki Murakami
I. Cannot. Praise. This. Book. Enough.
I was first told to read some work by Haruki Murakami by a friend, who would often message me saying; ‘omgomgomGGGGG JULIETTE U NEED TO READ MURAKAMI LIKE NOW PLS IM DYING ASDFGHJKL.’ While I could tell me friend was clearly impressed by one of Japan’s most famous authors, it hadn’t dawned on me quite how impressive he really is.
Norwegian Wood follows Toru Watanabe following the suicide of his best friend. Kizuki’s suicide impacts all that knew him heavily, and Toru and Kizuki’s bereaved girlfriend, Naoko, try to find solace in silent walks across the Japanese countryside. Unsurprisingly, Toru falls passionately in love with Naoko, but things are complicated after she is forced into a mental rehabilitation centre and Toru finds a blossoming friendship in Midori, a pixie-haired girl from his university. However, don’t expect this to be like any love story that you’ve read before. If you have a fascination with death, sex, and The Beatles’ classic ‘Norwegian Wood,’ then this book may be for you. Beautiful and spine-tingling – a must read book for everyone.
Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
My final book also comes from Haruki Murakami as I really cannot stress his talent as an artist. Sputnik Sweetheart is heart-breaking on so many levels: the male protagonist, K, is in love with a girl called Sumire, who is in love with a women named Miu, who is 17 years older than her and has a husband. Yeah, life sucks. While Murakami clearly deals with themes of sexuality, the novel centres more around the futility of love. After Sumire disappears while on holiday with Miu, K travels half the world to try and find her. His loves means he has no choice but to stand by her side, even if he knows she will never be able to love him back. A book that should come with a saying: ‘WARNING! THIS BOOK WILL CAUSE OUTBURSTS OF FANATIC TEARS!’ Sputnik Sweetheart must be accompanied with tissues and a teddy bear, at all times.
Without giving too much away, something that you should be aware of with any Murkamai book is how he always leaves his conclusions ambiguous. While I first found this quite fustrating, it has since changed my perception of ‘literature’. Why does the author have to provide a clear cut ending? Why does the final destination of the novel even matter? Surely the enjoyment of literature comes from the journey of such beautiful lyricism rather than the completion of the last page? Murakami has the ability to pick you up and rip you to shreds before gluing you back together with pieces of his beauty plastered inside you. Or, at least this is the impact he has had on my life, anyway.
Words by Juliette Rowsell