Book Recommendations

Thought I’d share a couple of book recommendations written last year. These were published in Paper Magazine’s first issue.

SUM by David Eagleman

If traditional views on the hereafter leave you cold, if you believe you’re meant for more than worm fodder, or if fountains of milk and honey don’t really grab you, then step right this way, for David Eagleman has an afterlife for you that will not disappoint. Sum is a collection of forty short stories, each a re-imagining of what happens after you’ve been excused from life as you currently live it. What if one was reborn to discover that life had to be relived, only in reverse? What if you died and were given the option for another shot, with the ability to ask for just one thing to be different? What if God turns out to be even better than they said, but no one is prepared to accept a version different from their religious beliefs? This odd and provocative little volume will keep you enthralled and wanting more.

Eagleman, a neuroscientist in addition to being a writer, has brought this rather morbid topic into the realm of the fantastical with a twisted sense of humour and a lot of ingenuity. This imaginative and insightful book has won fans across the world, including Philip Pullman, Stephen Fry and Alexander McCall Smith.

Best devoured in greedy little bites, with thoughtful mastication to follow.

As Time Magazine puts it – “Read Sum and be amazed. Reread it and be reamazed.”

The City & The City by China Miéville

China Miéville’s intelligent and highly original volume begs to be compared with Kafka and Orwell, in that it creates a nightmarishly bizarre vision of a totalitarian dystopia fraught with a maddening bureaucratic framework, sure to engage fans of either author.

Initially it appears to be set in a perfectly acceptable fictional city, culturally reminiscent of south eastern Europe, with its mix of Balkan refugees and some Germanic and Slavic language thrown in for good measure. Told from the perspective of a police officer, this could be an otherwise believable detective story, with all the fixings of murder and conspiracy. However, it soon becomes apparent that the city of Beszel has an unconventional and extraordinarily intimate relationship with the city of Ul Qoma, which is not a neighbouring city, as one would rush to imagine, but in fact exists in the same physical space as the former. Citizens of each place are psychologically conditioned to ‘unsee’ anything that doesn’t belong in the city they call their own for fear of the secret police. Now add a city-less murder victim and some power politics and you have a truly different animal. (Yikes! If you’re already perplexed you may want to give it a miss, but if you’re a fan of the quirky and ready to tangle with this new ‘urban surrealist’ genre, you won’t find a better story than this to do so).

It’s hard to escape the parable that we all choose to ‘unsee’ the parts of reality we don’t want to acknowledge or accept, but Miéville follows through with his page-turning detective story rather than flouting our demons in our faces too obviously. So take a leap and try out, what Neil Gaiman calls, ‘the fiction of the new century’.


2 responses to “Book Recommendations

  • batul tunio

    Mieville tends to be a little twisted, but if his imagined city fascinates you, and you ponder over seeing and ‘unseeing’, then you must read ‘Invisible Cities’ by Italo Calvino.

    It’s poetry in prose
    Sometimes I find myself walking in the sketches of Calvino’s imagined cities, because they remind me of the many roads, stairs, tiles, sands and waters I have crossed. They exist in perspective; which happens to be where we all exist.

    Based on ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’, Calvino sets up a dialogue between the ageing emperor Kublai Khan and the explorer Marco Polo: Polo telling the Khan, often lying, telling half truths or describing only parts of the many cities in his vast and crumbling empire.

    Cities are mapped out in the hearts of the ones who pass through them in their lifetimes. Once lost, they are remembered through feelings, details, balconies and lamp posts… and one is never fully able to explain what those times, those people or those moments felt like. As Calvino writes, “memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased”.

    If read, this book will always stay with you. You will be fascinated by it, then reluctant to complete it, but once you do, you will find yourself coming back to it like second nature.

    160 pages, short descriptions, bound to inspire.


  • iamwatercolor

    Thank you for the suggestion, Batul. I will keep an eye out for it

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