required reading

haha, got you! you wondered what that "more stuff" thing was all about and your curiousity led you straight into my required reading page! now that you have swallowed my bait (the cliffhanger quality of the page title - "more stuff") you have to read at least one of the books in my list here - or the red ogre from the highlands will come and get you. scary huh? luckily i have many good books for the list, and i can always put up some more if i have to.

friends and neighbours, don't worry about my mental health. i'm quite sane apart from a slight whackiness, and i do know there are no red ogres, within or without the highlands. i also realise that "more stuff" is not actually a page title with any thrilling cliffhanger qualities - the above paragraph features irony.

a suitable boy - by vikram seth

this book is one of the required readings because it is one of the richest books i've ever met. "a suitable boy" is a world in itself, full of small stories inside the story. the characters you get to meet are all interesting in their own right and they're all worth getting to know.

the book is set in india in the 1950s, and the main story goes roughly like this:

mrs mehra, widow with four grown children, is anxious to see her young daughter lata married. lata is a strong and independent girl and not equally interested in marriage. three young men turn up to play a major part in her drama: kabir, cricket player and highly unsuitable since he's a muslim while lata's family are hindu, amit, poet and unsuitable because of his personality and his unusual and liberal family (besides, he long claims that jane austen is the only woman in his life) and haresh, the suitable but not so interesting (or is he?) boy. apart from all this, there's music, angry mobs, murder and silly verse making - you just have to read it!


the thursday next series, by jasper fforde

the thursday next series are required reading mainly because they could have been written especially for bookworms like me - they're full of references to other books and to whole genres of books. jane eyre is very important for the plot of the first book (the eyre affair) and jane austen's work figure in all of them. but don't think it's all about classics - we get to meet emperor zhark, a true space tyrant from the cheaper domains of science fiction, we get to meet humpty dumpty (the old nursery rhyme egg, you know) and mrs tiggy-winkle (of beatrix potter fame) and we're very close to meeting harry potter.  fforde uses shakespeare in a cool and inventive way and he's just as handy with edgar allan poe.  this is just the litterature side of the books, of course. there's also a strong heroine named thursday next, cheese smugglers, migrating mammoths and a big bad company called the goliath corporation. see why you have to read them?

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, by mark haddon

this book should be required reading for everyone, not just for the geeks who visit my page. it's a story of dramatic changes in the life of an ordinary everyday family, told by the son, who is fifteen years old and has asperger's syndrome. how would someone who doesn't have access to his emotions tell a story of divorce, betrayal, distrust and despair? here's a very plausible answer. i've met people with asperger's syndrome, most of them kids, but some grown-ups too and i can't imagine any of them writing a personal and sensitive novel - but if they did, i really think their style of writing would be a lot like the one mark haddon uses in this book and i really admire haddon for this stylistic achievement. and then of course the story is good in itself, a realistic and touching family drama with something resembling a happy ending. read it, good gentlefolk, read it!

rabble-rouser for peace, by john allen

"rabble-rouser for peace" is john allen's biography of former arch-bishop of south africa, desmond tutu. i'm not too enthusiastic about biographies in general, but i was caught up in this one. the story of desmond tutu's life is also the story of south africa under the days of apartheid and it's told with a heart and a brain by john allen. in this book you get to meet mr tutu in widely different situations, like when he gets an answer back from a cheeky girl who later becomes his wife, when he giggles with his classmate in the university in britain where he studies theology, when he travels the world to talk about the injustices of the apartheid regime and, time and time again, when he stands in the middle of the struggle for freadom, peace and justice. required reading, most definitely.

wild swans, by jung chang

while i'm at it, here's another book in the biographical genre. strange that i should put two biographical books on this list since i don't normally like them - but these two are good. this story of three generations of chinese women caught me from the first. did you know anything of what life could be like for a concubine in china in the beginning of the 20th century? i have to admit i did not, but the book soon changed that! a sixteen year old girl, sold by her father to a warlord, how could you not be caught by that story? and then the warlord's concubine raises a daughter who joins in the great revolution and marries another revolutionary - and falls pregnant in the middle of a long hard walk between battles. and she in turn raises a daughter in post-revolutionary china, where it is a well-known fact that the western world is a place of eternal hardships and that the people in the west may be so poor they don't own an umbrella to protect themselves against the rain. and that daughter joins the red guards and goes to honour president mao in beijing, only to realise she's been fooled and he's after all just an ordinary man. what happens to her, her mother and grandmother after this is best found out by reading the book of course.

the resttraint of beasts, by magnus mills

believe it or not, but i still meet people who haven't tried magnus mills. and what are their excuses, i wonder? "the restraint of bests" was his first success and the first one i read, so i put it up for required reading. it's a very unusual book to say the least! it all starts with a simple enough task: the protagonist is sent to england by his boss to oversee the work of to other employees as they build fences. but the other employees are not just any employees, they're tam and richie,two heay metal-and-beer-loving, english-hating neanderthals with a tendency to just disappear, without excuse or explanation. not a dream team, that's clear. and the whole thing starts before they can even take off for england with a farmer accidentally killed and buried under a fence pole...

all detective stories by dorothy leigh sayers

dorothy sayers is not a queen of detective fiction, she's the queen of detective fiction! i love every detective story she has ever written, so i make her entire work in this genre required reading. most of her work feature my literary love lord peter wimsey and some of it also features his (long unrequited) love, harriet vane. lord peter wimsey is everything a man should be: witty, humorous and fun - usually fun on the silly side, which makes him all the more endearing. but don't be fooled, it's just an act! - intelligent and respectful towards the deserving. among the most deserving of the deserving is harriet vane, the woman he rescues from the gallows by solving the murder she's wrongly accused for in "strong poison", and the interaction between these two is among my favourite descriptions of love in literature, right up there with some of jane austen's characters. for harriet vane is intelligent as well as strong, independent and deeply hurt by the scandal she has figured in and it would be hard work for any man to convince her of his respect for and appreciation of her mind, her work and her person - and it's only lord peter wimsey who could have done it.

apart from the lord peter wimsey novels, sayers wrote many short stories (some featuring her other hero detective, montague egg) and one crime novel, "the documents in the case", without a detective. that last one is unusual in the sense that we know from the first pages who the killer is, but the suspense is kept on a high level anyway by the hunt for evidence.

well, my lords and ladies, off to the library!


the birds, by tarjei vesaas

this is a sad story, but it is also a very good story, and very well told. according to wikipedia, vesaas' books are "commonly dealing with themes such as death, guilt, angst and other deep and intractable human emotions" and that's true of "the birds" allright. but it's not the only true thing that can be said about this book! i think it's most of all a story told in a gentle and undramatic tone that's pleasing and the descriptions of the surrounding nature shine like gems in the simple setting.  "the birds" is the story of a man with some sort of mental handicap. he lives in a small town somewhere in norway, together with his older sister and while the sister is generally kind and caring towards him, it's obvious both to the reader and to the man, mattis, himself  that she must sometimes see him as something of a burden. in mattis' eyes, most things that happen are mysteries and he spends a lot of time trying to be "sharp" and figure out what they mean. so when a woodcock is seen nesting in the forest near his house for the first time, he takes it as a sign that something grand is about to happen - but the great changes in life aren't always what we wish for in the end...

the mill on the floss, by george eliot

i had read "silas marner" and "middlemarch" by george eliot but none of them prepared me for the power of "the mill on the floss". it's an incredibly sad but masterly told story of young maggie, her life and relations and what i particularly like about the book is maggie herself. she's strong but by no means infallible - maybe she is a little too stubborn or hot tempered at times. and none of her relations are uncomplicated, she finds it hard to be accepted as a person in her own right and the choices she makes in life almost always cause conflict between her and those closest to her - especially when she falls in love with her cousin's fiancé. i make this book required reading because of maggie's impressive person and because it still says something about how men and women are treated differently.

cat's eye, by margaret atwood

"cat's eye" should be required reading for everyone, but especially for people who work with children. it has an important and often forgotten truth written into it: little girls are only cute from a grown-up perspective - to other little girls they are in natural size and they can be very cruel. elaine, who tells this story, hasn't played with other girls before she starts school and she's soon lost in the intrigues among her new friends and their behaviour towards her gets gradually more cruel. this is one of the best descriptions i've read about children's cruelty against eachother and it's especially interesting because it's about a group of girls. elaine grows up and forgets these parts of her childhood, becomes an artist and a mother and has a full life, but in a corner of her mind the old feelings of fear and helplessness from when she was harrassed by her "friends" still lives and i think that most people who, like elaine in the book, have experience of being harrassed by other children at school need to meet and make up with lots of old memories as grown ups. read this book, kind people, and don't forget to watch your kids closely - who knows how they treat their friends when they think you're not looking?