Only four books?
Irony aside, it's a start.
There's an enormous stack of books I want to tell everyone to read, right away. Surprising stories. Amazing writing. With a four-book limit, there's a bit of constraint on this impulse.
The theme this time: a crazy little thing called -- well, you know.
Love is a little thing shaped like a lizard./ That runs up and down and tickles your gizzard. Or so they* say.
Persuasion is my favorite of the Austen novels.
In the interest of honesty, I have to say that this cover
<---MIGHT have colored my first reading of the story, back in junior high.
Who knew it was a classic?
Still, I stand by my affection for this novel, even over Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. Why? Well perhaps because, unlike so many "romantic" stories, there is a pretty strong possibility that the two lovers will NOT get together. Plus, the emotional connection makes sense: they are attracted not just because of a pair of fine eyes or a lovely face, but because of their history, how they act under pressure, and what they hope to become.
In Fingersmith, the love story sneaks up on a reader. This brick-thick book, set in the 1850s in England, begins with a nod to Oliver Twist and then piles on the suspense and complications of a dastardly plot to steal a family fortune. Betrayal, twists of identity, and the fate of two orphan girls in this milieu that denies the most basic of rights to female people -- this is the best of suspense. Conventional expectations about love and happy endings get a good cage-rattling (or at least mine did) when the story comes to its conclusion.
Endless Love, on the other hand, explores that most traditional of romances: first love of boy meeting girl and losing her. Complete with all the sexual frankness and over-the-top emotionality that makes our teen years a joy to behold (...from the safety of an artillery bunker). Though it was made into a rather dreadful movie with a baby Brooke Shields, the book is feverish, compelling, beautiful, and sad. Hemingway said it: "When two people love each other, there can be no happy ending."
At 120 pages, Abel's Island is a miniature masterpiece about survival and finding meaning in the wild world. A gently bred young mouse is whisked away from his beloved by a big storm, and spends a year alone, trying to escape his predicament. With eloquent illustrations by the author, of New Yorker cartooning fame.
* In this case, the "They" who rhyme lizard with gizzard is a character in a book by Madeleine L'Engle. Not her most famous book, A Wrinkle in Time, but from a novel about the very square Austin family, A Ring of Endless Light. Because there are always more books...
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