Tuesday, 12 January 2016

5 Books You Need To Read


I’m willing to bet that any kid born in the late eighties – late nineties will have this series on their ‘life changing books’ list. Harry Potter was a game changer for all of us – it opened us up to this world of fantastical fiction, of magic and wonder and dramatic collisions between good and evil. It taught us the value of friends and family, and how nothing good tends to come from megalomania. We all grew up living through Harry’s journey, devouring every last printed page, and then every second of film, until we knew his life better than our own. The fact that we still continue to do so today, and probably will force it all upon our own kids in a decade or two, is a true sign of a damn good work of fiction. Thanks, J.K.


The Fault in Our Stars gets quite a lot of slagging round the web these days, so hear me out on this one – TFIOS was the first John Green novel I’d ever read. At the time I was going through my last two years in school – which is one of the hardest things your average 17-18 year old goes through at the time – and I was sick and tired of consuming nothing but schoolwork. I was hooked from the second I started reading TFIOS, and it was the first book in a very long time that brought me on such an emotional rollercoaster – one that really, brutally, tugged on my heartstrings, made me fall in love with fictional characters again, and the art of story-telling. Not only that, and I don’t think I’ll be alone in saying this, but John Green gave me a new perspective on the way we perceive people with illnesses. It’s very, very difficult to resonate with someone who’s going through something like terminal illness, when you’ve never experienced it before. In the past we would have simply labelled them as 'Sick Kids' and bombarded them with slightly patronising sympathy. For me, at the time, Green’s story really personified the ‘cancer kids’, and helped me look a little deeper into the lives of people my age, albeit fictitious ones, going through that illness. It sounds silly to say, but unless you’ve had direct experience of a life-threatening illness like cancer, or have been directly involved with someone who has, it’s hard to be anything but distant from it, y’know? It’s difficult to explain but I hope I’m not alone in thinking it – John Green has helped a lot of kids personify cancer a little more in their minds, and to understand what these people go through, with TFIOS, and that’s why I think it’s such a damn important book.


I first encountered Plath’s work when studying for my Leaving Cert. (final year exams, like A Levels), and since then, she’s held the Favourite Author crown with little threat of losing it. She’s awesome – and not just because of her incredible talent, or beautiful, heart-wrenching poetry. The Bell Jar is an autobiographical novel, documenting her life as a late-teen / early-twenty-something, in which she goes by the name of Esther Greenwood. The Bell Jar is so important because it documents the struggles of a young girl trying to get through an incredibly pressured life – building a career, struggling with identity, insecurities, self-confidence, love, etc., and also, a very ruthless and honest account of her breakdown, and mental turmoil. It’s harrowing, emotional, sometimes a little upsetting but it’s so damn important because, like before, mental illness is very complicated and difficult to grasp if you’ve never experienced it. Reading the words straight from the mind of someone going through such a thing is not only incredibly insightful, it helps make things a little clearer, and more understandable. It genuinely saddens me that Plath’s work was not so greatly appreciated until after her death, because she was a genuinely gifted and incredible writer, and a very important voice on issues of feminism and self-esteem.


A couple of summers ago, I went on a mini book buying splurge and bought a bunch of the old 'classics' secondhand, for little over a euro or two each. None of them struck such a chord with me as To Kill A Mockingbird did - I wasn't expecting to fall so in love with this novel, yet here we are. TKAMB is told through the perspective of five year old Scout, and is set in Alabama, in the 1930's. It deals with issues of race, class, gender and rape, through the eyes of an innocent child. I loved Scout's feisty character, how we can see her grow and change in the novel through her own eyes, and of course - you can't really help admire her wise father and lawyer, Atticus Finch. (I've yet to read Go Set A Watchman, the sequel published last year, and judging by the reviews and spoilers I've read, I don't think I really want to...). Classic novels are often difficult to read because of different styles and more difficult language, but that's not the case with TKAMB. Just go read it, you'll love it.


Another no-brainer when it comes to must-read books - Anne Frank's diary is one of the most famous books of modern history. Anne receives a diary as a gift on her thirteenth birthday, in 1942 and details her life from this moment, to the days where her family are forced into hiding to avoid capture, right through the two years they spend hiding in a 'secret annexe' in Amsterdam, to her final days, before her family (bar her father, Otto Frank) are captured by the Nazis and sent to various concentration camps. Again, the innocent perspective plays a big role here - it's enthralling to read of such a violent and horrible part of history through the eyes of a thirteen year old. You don't really get much closer to learning about life during WWII than this. Through it all, Anne's observations are often surprisingly witty, and she records the tensions and struggles of life in the annexe. We learn of her inevitable fears, anger, confusion and despair towards the bleak world outside of her hiding place. It's fascinating, really, and that's why it's made this list!

Ciara Pollock © . Design by FCD.