Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Top Ten Books That Make Me Think...

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and Bookish

Top Ten Books that make me think how different life could be* 

One of my favorite things about reading is learning about different places and times, and about people who live differently from me. What would my life be like if I was born into that family? or country? or time period? Sometimes the answers can be sobering. Some of these books are fiction, some are memoirs or biographies. But all of them opened my eyes and impacted me in a big way.

NOTE: I apologize in advance for any mistakes in the details of these books. Some of them I haven't read recently, and I am writing from what I remember. Also, I realized after compiling this list that it is a bit heavy and depressing. 

In no particular order:

1) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (fiction)
The story of a friendship between two girls, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a fascinating look at life in rural nineteenth-century China. Probably the part of the book that I was the most blown away by was the section on foot-binding. These women truly believed that the practice made them more beautiful. It had a very real impact on their marriage prospects (the smaller the bound foot the more desirable). But it is also one of the most horrifically painful beauty practices the world has known. 

2) Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller (memoir) 
This is the memoir of a white girl raised in Africa by colonialist parents, during the Rhodesian (now Zimbabwe) civil war. The author does not critique her family's behavior, and the book has been criticized because of that. But that is actually one of the things about this book that made it so interesting to me - it's unapologetic honesty. Everything about Alexandra "Bobo's" childhood is different from mine - the violence, vermin and scenery, and her family's perspective on life. I am still thinking about it. 

3) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (fiction)
Most of my childhood was spent in the south, but it was still nothing like Scout's upbringing during the first half of the twentieth-century. Amidst amusing anecdotes of life in a southern town, it is a very serious look at racism. What happens when a black man is accused of a crime by a white man? Will he be convicted even if the evidence points to his innocence? I don't know if there's anything I could say about this book that could do it justice. It remains one of my favorite books of all times. 

4) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (fiction)
I cried more reading The Kite Runner than I have during any other book before or since. How different my life could have been if I was born in Afghanistan - and class really does matter. I realize this is a work of fiction and maybe this author piled every bad thing that could happen to a person in one book. But maybe this was close to the reality of someone's life and that is what moved me. 

5) Sold by Patricia McCormick (fiction)
13 year-old Lakshmi lives an ordinary life until she is sold into prostitution by her step-father. Told she can return home when his debts are paid off, she soon learns it's not that simple. Lakshmi lives in modern-day Nepal when this story begins, so this is not a historical novel. Children are still being sold into slavery today (even in the US). Although painful to read at times, Sold is written in free verse and I think it made the material more palatable. 

6) King Leopold's Ghost by Adam Hochschild (history)
This book tells the history behind the region of Africa along the Congo River (Belgian Congo or now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) that is hinted at in books such as Heart of Darkness and The Poisonwood Bible. It is more horrible than you could ever imagine. In the 1880s King Leopold of Belgium claimed the land, looted its rubber and carried out a genocide that killed over ten million people. This region is still suffering the affects of the decisions of one man. 

7) The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (memoir)
Aren't parents supposed to be responsible? And create stability for their children? Not Ms. Wall's parents. Essentially nomads, they traveled their large family all over the southwest and eventually into West Virginia and NYC. It isn't that they never had the opportunity to settle down, it's that they seemed mentally unable to do it. What is most impressive is that despite all this, the author was able to survive and thrive and make something out of herself. 

8) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (fiction)
At 9 years-old, a young Japanese girl with blue eyes is taken from her small fishing village and sold to a geisha house. There she is trained in the arts so that she can be skilled enough to entertain men. Her virginity is literally auctioned off to the highest bidder, and it is a huge honor to be 'kept' by a man. I just cannot imagine living this life. 

9) Giants in the Earth by Ole Edvart Rolvaag (fiction)
Oh goodness, I hated this book when I had to read it in high school. I cannot imagine the desolation and difficulty of moving from a small fishing village in Norway to the vast untamed prairie of the US. Living in a sod house, having very few neighbors and facing unending winters. I truly enjoyed none of it. But it made me think that perhaps everyone's life in the mid-west wasn't quite like Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie. And that opened my eyes. 

10) Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (fiction)
Okay, I got a bit depressed by my list so I had to add a book that isn't quite so heavy. Anne Shirley made me love Prince Edward Island and one room schoolhouses and Gilbert Blythe. Sometimes wonderful things do happen to older children who are adopted. Thank goodness for Marilla and Matthew. 

*I may have interpreted the theme incorrectly this week. It's possible that I just made up my own topic, but I picked a specific Thing to think about. If that is the case, forgive me.


  1. Anne of Green Gables is one of my all time favorites, I loved the whole series!

    1. I know, right! I haven't read it in forever. But I think I need to again soon.

  2. I have read very few of these! However, Anne of Green Gables was also a personal childhood favorite of mine. I had to read To Kill a Mockingbird for school as well. Still want to check out Memoirs and Snow Flower!

    My TTT

    1. Those are both wonderful too! I think I enjoyed Snow Flower more than Memoirs though. But they are very different and both worth reading. I love Anne of Green Gables.

  3. I really enjoyed so many of these books ~ I agree, Don't Lets Go To the Dogs Tonight was amazing. My stepmother spent a few years living in Africa while her father was a professor in Ethiopia. She actually gave me this book, its is one of her favorites as well. Thank you for sharing your thoughtful list, I have a few to add now to my TBR. :)

    1. I have never been to Africa personally, but would like to someday. I was afraid that no else had even heard of that book, but I'm happy to hear that someone else also found it fascinating. There are definitely some heavy books on this list. But they are so worth reading!

  4. I've seen To Kill a Mockingbird on a number of lists. I wish I had remembered to add it to my list. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. I LOVE To Kill a Mockingbird. It's one that I get something new out of each time I read it.

  5. What a great list - so many wonderful books. I think your theme was just perfect :-)

  6. WOW. THIS LIST. Just, wow.

    Totally agree on The Glass Castle. I read it ages ago and still cannot get over it. Righteous anger, but yet compassion for the parents. I went back and forth between those emotions while I read.

    The Kite Runner: I have this book because I found it at Goodwill for next to nothing. And every time I mention it, everyone says they cried SO HARD when they read it. Which makes me absolutely afraid of it. But I NEED to read it. But I'm afraid of it. It's a vicious cycle, you see.

    And Sold: You may have been the one to tell me about this one first. I want to read it because I love verse, first of all. But I have some dear friends that work as missionaries to America in human trafficking and it always makes me interested in the subject, even though it is not really a positive one. It makes me understand their work more.

    1. I totally understand what you mean about the Kite Runner. I actually picked it up right before one of the harry potter books came out and started to read it while I was waiting, but I got HOOKED and couldn't stop reading (or sobbing) until I finished it. I'm so glad I read it, but it's not one that I would ever want to read again. Plus it was nice to have HP to read after. ;)

      And I would really recommend Sold to you. It is EYE opening, but I'm shocked at how well I was able to take the material - the verse really helped. Human Trafficking is a big horrible problem in the US and all over the world. Our church has ties to a organization that runs place that is short term housing for victims just escaping. It is in Boston, and I was horrified to hear that the city near me is a big hub for slave trading.

      Also on that note. Have you ever heard of the book Sempre? It is self published, and I read it this year. I think you'd really like it. The main character, Haven is a modern slave in America and she ends up working for a mob family. It is a star-crossed lovers book with gritty, real characters. And it made me think A LOT about what it would be like in her position. I will review it on here one of these days (I already did on GR). But those characters are some of the few that I STILL think and worry about regularly

    2. Yes, I'm totally gonna get brave to Kite Runner one day. I am.

      And that is why I love verse novels so much - because they make stuff that is a little hard just a little easier with their style. At least they do for me. I just finished Ellen Hopkins' Burned over the weekend (WOWSERS) and it is hardcore. I don't know that I could make it through Hopkins' stuff if it wasn't in verse, for example.

      I just looked up Sempre. I had not heard of it. But you're so right about the trafficking and modern-slave stuff. I want to try and work that one in sometime too. Thank you for telling me about it. Otherwise it might have totally slipped by me.

    3. And just so you know, Sempre is not as dark into the modern slavery as it could get. Although it hints at some of it and gives a great perspective on the human side of it. Also, I think you'll enjoy the characters. However, I don't know if this will turn you off, and I don't even want to mention it (plus I didn't find this out until AFTER I read the book - and even now don't see much of a comparison) BUT...Sempre started off as Twilight fanfiction. YIKES it hurts me to even say that.


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