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  • Writer's pictureNayanika Dey

7 Favourite Books I Can Read Again and Again

Over the years I have read all kinds of books (running a little low on the non-fiction front). Everything from old classics, to contemporary short stories, to rom-coms to historical fiction to bio-horror to absolute trashy novels to fill time on trains (looking at you, Jackie Collins).

Running my own blog means, I can now ponder and list down some of the stories that have stayed with me for long. From across a variety of genres, these are books I have enjoyed, cried over, sniffed and stored safely. Have a look at 7 (for now) books that I'd suggest anyone and everyone read.

Written in 1868 by Louisa May Alcott and published in 2 volumes, Little Women remains one of my all-time favourite books. It's the story of 4 March sisters - Jo, Beth, Amy and Meg living with their family in a modest American home during the Civil War. The story follows the sisters into adulthood and is suitable for both young and old readers. Young, because most chapters come with some moral. Old, because it tackles important questions regarding feminism and characters that struggle with a coming-of-age identity crisis.

When published, Little Women was immensely popular among various classes. The idea that simple domestic struggles could form the basis of a popular book normalised feminine ambitions and allowed spinsters to become social characters instead of "fringe" members of society.

The movie by Greta Gerwig also remains one of my favourite Little Women adaptations simply because it is so aware of everything Alcott faced during publication in those times. Little Women is a warm and lovely read, and Jo March will forever remain an icon!

Betty Smith mentions that Little Women was one of her primary inspirations for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. But I had known that anyway within the first 50 pages. In many ways, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was my adult substitute for Little Women - something to fill the void of reading such a book for the first time again.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of Francie Nolan and her family, while growing up in the Brooklyn slums. Published in 1943, it is a semi-autobiographical account of Betty Smith's life and was hugely popular during its time. In fact, so much so that a smaller Armed Services Edition was released that could fit into the pockets of soldiers (WWII was on at the time).

At its time, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn broke gender roles and brought forward a female lead who was forward, brave and determined. The story deals with many topics - growing up in poverty, dealing with an affectionate but alcoholic parent, sacrifices made for family, the courage to follow one's dreams and more. It also questions one's accepted versions of right and wrong when faced with such issues. On the whole, this is a classic and one I would highly recommend to anyone fond of coming-of-age stories.

This book is popular enough for me to not write an entire paragraph dedicated to it. All I know is that despite being written over 60 years ago and dealing with a subject I had hardly knowledge of before, To Kill A Mockingbird is an enduring tale that warms one's heart while reminding us - if there's injustice, we must stand up to it. No matter how trying the times!

Suggested randomly by a friend, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki runs in 2 parallel worlds. One world is that of Nao, a 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl - ill-fit and a foreigner in her country after years of living in California. On the other hand, reading Nao's found diary is Ruth, a novelist.

When Noa begins writing the diary, she is on the verge of suicide, the diary begins as an escape. Ruth on the other hand finds the diary washed up on a shore. Could it be a result of the 2011 tsunami? Is Nao still alive or have circumstances taken her?

As we read ahead, both their worlds coincide, but not before Ozeki weaves a compelling narrative exploring what it means to be alive. Nao's diary in many ways reminds me of my own journal - haphazard, non-linear, dealing with immediate, frilly issues I considered important. As such, it deals with many, many issues from a teenager's inept and curious perspective. It's a step back in time, but one I dearly loved.

A very weird addition to a list, which I now realise has become a list of coming-of-age books. Death's Acre is a non-fiction, sort-of-autobiography of Dr Bill Bass - a leading anthropologist. He is credited with creating the Body Farm - a lab in Tennessee where human corpses are allowed to decay naturally under different conditions to observe the various phenomenon. Before this, we had very little understanding of how human bodies decompose. The findings from the Body Farm have gone on to help various labs and scientists identify things like the time of death much more accurately than before.

If you're someone who gets queasy with the mention of gore, this book is not for you. But if reading about how bloated bodies look in the sea is your cup of tea, you could give this one a try.

The chapters are full of curious cases Dr Bass faced - bodies caught in fires, buried on top of another, ground to bits and more. Dr Bass approaches it all with a tinge of humour and talks equally about his successes and failures.

This was a very interesting read. I did go on to read some of the other fiction books he co-authored that used this Body Farm knowledge such as Carved in Bone. However, the original remains the classic!

Perhaps one of Slyvia Plath's best-known works (and her only novel), The Bell Jar is the story of Esther Greenwood, a former talented child who now finds herself bereft and ambitionless in the big city. Despite earning an internship there, Esther is now drawn out, tired, anxious and passionless. The chapters chronicle Esther's life and those of her roommates in a comedic vein. Though there are some incidents that are serious, Plath does not dwell on them.

When Esther returns, she recognises that academic excellence had been at the forefront of her life - and without it, she is aimless. She falls into a rut and is prescribed a stay at a mental hospital. Much of Bell Jar mimics Plath's own life, including Esther's response to treatments in mental facilities. Parts of the book will seem dated today. Parts of Esther's life to a modern reader may seem oppressive, the "treatments" given bordering on cruel and incidents of sexual assault are glossed over. However, The Bell Jar reads like a teenage journal filled with black comedy and is an excellent lens of the life of the times.

A result of 2 and a half years of work, The Memoirs of Cleopatra is a 1000+ page tome by Margaret George and one of my all-time fiction favourites! As the name suggests, it is a fictionalised narrative from Cleopatra's own point of view, starting from her childhood to her untimely death. Thanks to the Romans, no existing autobiography of Cleopatra exists, and much of her narrative now come from rulers and generals who bore contempt for a woman equal to them in wit and power.

Equally balanced on all fronts, the book gives compelling descriptions of Alexandria of its time, and meticulously explains Roman warfare strategies while balancing it out with Cleopatra's charm and day-to-day interactions. Despite my soggy description, it is not boring by any means. Every page brings forth new information, but at no part does the book feel like it is long. A must-read for history nerds - and I think we all did have an Egypt phase at some point!

This list isn't exhaustive by any means, so here are a few other special mentions

  1. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

  2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

  3. If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

  4. IT by Stephen King

  5. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

  6. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

  7. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

  8. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

  9. The Ramayana: A Modern Retelling of the Great Indian Epic, translated by Ramesh Menon

  10. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Let me know what your favourite books are!

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