13 Books And Their Meanings

This was one of the first photographs I took of my “huge” TBR pile. In hindsight that’s a very meagre pile of books, but considering it’s been ages since I’d last looked at this collection, I’d like to show you just how much books can affect a person, and how this meaning changes over time (I’m not telling you anything new, but I still think this change calls for blogging about).

1. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Despite having the e-book on every bookish app ever, I have yet to read past the twelve pages I have read of this. With years of reading around the subject, though, I have a greater resentment for Pip and who he becomes in the end of the novel. And I look forward to reading this (when time allows for it). Some books, it seems, don’t change at all.

2. The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Patrick Ness has “authored” a British Drama series: a spin-off on Doctor Who called “Class”. I remember reading somewhere that this spin-off is like Sarah Jane Adventures but in true Ness fashion it is definitely not suitable for under sixteens. It’s chock-a-block full of gore and in saying that it is brilliant. Patrick Ness is the kind of man who takes the great meaningful ideas talked about in Doctor Who and translates them into action. Only two episodes have been released (available on BBC Three online!) and so I can’t help but expect Ness’ writerly flexes in the following episodes.

(As of ‘The Ask and the Answer’? I still remember next to nothing about this middle book in the much-loved Chaos Walking series).

3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I remember picking this up because I was still reeling over the genius (the very obvious genius) that is The Handmaid’s Tale. Yet this book is humongous, and I have shorter books to read. I guess that’s the thing about “big books”, they take up all of your time and for the most part are a pain to read until you get to the end and realise exactly why the book is like that.

To be honest I don’t plan to read this unless I have to. The euphoria surrounding Atwood has faded away by a lot.

4. Orientalism by Edward Said

I am planning to read this still. In fact over the years I have gotten quite far with this. Said writes densely but this is an academic text so I’ve expected that. Orientalism has changed from a book whose cover I could not believe (because it features a black man with a sword-thing looking down at a white old man who was stooped down on a table writing something) to something very significant. It is to aid my understanding of postcolonial literary theory – my favourite literary theory so far in its special section of political and social protest writing – because one of my coursework pieces features using the theory. Also, Said is damn intelligent and I’d love to be able to fully grasp what he is saying (he crafts arguments excellently).

5. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

I love this book to bits but perhaps fate has it out for me because I’ve yet to finish it. I picked this up again and again because people have loved it and because Diaz is a very socially conscientious man. I like people who give principles such as truth, honour and kindness their due, and he is definitely one of those. Also the narrative style on this brilliant book? It gives the word “outspoken” a new flavour.

6. Beloved by Toni Morrison

This book formed the opinions of my life. This was before I knew postcolonial literary theory was a thing, or that protest writing was something that had a name, or that black history was so deeply alive in the world. I fell head over heels, okay? And I am still not over the euphoria surrounding Morrison despite not having read any of her other works.

My English teacher at the time remarked that this book was too raw. I still can’t get my head around why this was presented as a bad thing and not one of the aspects of the book that made it so undeniably potent. It leaves you reeling and it is raw, if only because black history is still very, very raw.

7. The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond

The reason this was there, in the picture, was because David Almond is a great children’s writer. This is the thing about Children’s Literature, people assume that there are picture books, then overly simple stories of good vs bad in the form of “chapter books”, and then you jump over onto the YA wagon. I don’t much resent YA (because how can you classify an age region as a genre?) but I do resent certain genres within YA for “dumbing down” content to suit teenagers.

The children’s authors I’ve read have never done that. There are simple books with their simple plots and limited grappling but then there’s David Almond whose handling of morality and the moral structure of the world and bringing this to the forefront of a child’s mind is expert. And he uses big words you’ll never understand (even at your age) without a quick google.

Consider how gory Michael Grant’s books are. They are for YA yet they are unimaginably queasy. Two whole books in the series was just death and gore and suffering with no real resolution whatsoever, just the temporary pause of death and gore and suffering. I like YA books like that, because it’s goddamn offensive when it is anything different. I don’t want good vs bad, I want the moral grappling the books I read when I was nine years old presented to me.

8. Ekattorer Dingulee (Of Blood and Fire, reads the English translation by Mustafizur Rahman) by Jahanara Imam

When I was studying for my (flop of a) Bengali A-Level, my teacher gave me this book. I’ve yet to go past the blurb jacket and the first day (May 1 1972), but I do want to read this. From my understanding it is an autobiographical piece by Jahanara Imam who died in the Liberation War which established Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan in 1972. I have heard stories from my mother about the War (it was a short but bloody one) and how my grandmother’s generation survived it. Ask any Bengali family, they’ll have a story to tell. And of course, I love war literature. It is full of wisdom.

9. The History of Argentina by [unknown]

I haven’t read this, and don’t know whether I plan to. I love the histories of nations now that I’m studying German Nationalism, but I don’t know if I’m curious enough to sustain a densely written academic piece such as this one. Also, I’ve forgotten the author (and probably donated this to the local charity shop).

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I remember when the controversy surrounding Go Set a Watchman emerged a year ago or so. Despite loving this piece, and having read it three times since the picture was taken (and cried each time, at the end, for no real reason that I could name) I don’t want to read Go Set a Watchmen. Ever.

It is Harper Lee, perhaps. But To Kill a Mockingbird means way too much to me for me to try to read the next one. I don’t want a next one. I think this is perfect in and of itself.

11. Guantanamo Boy by Anna Perera

I read this when the picture was taken. And I understood what it was about. And also, this was written in 2006? Yet I go on, and despite the sadness and the horror that comes (and the fear), I went on with life. Guantanamo Bay rose again in popularity in the news recently and it’s funny knowing that the book was published ten years ago and people seem surprised that I already know quite a bit about what’s happening there and with it.

12. Little Women & Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

I did read this. And I related to Jo March (and her entire family) a lot. She seemed so out there in her approach for the time, and even now I know girls (and even myself in some instances) that wouldn’t have been so outgoing as she was. The interplay between the boys and the girls (and the rich and the poor) was mirrored so well that I can’t help but grin wryly every time I think about this work.

13. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I gave up with this. Adichie once talked about the dangers of a single story, but Half a Yellow Sun seemed very single-story like to me. I was reading this alongside Small Island by Andrea Levy and I just couldn’t take literature anymore. I think at that point I wanted something raw and powerful like Beloved, but I didn’t realise that “raw and powerful” could happen in these stories as well.



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