A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
This is my comfort book. I re-read it every year or so. It's a sprawling novel about middle class Indian families in the 1950s and takes place over a year. Seth is a genius of characterization. And a subplot about two friends is what made me open my eyes and see the beauty that is slash in the first place.
Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond.
Diamond explores the geographic and environmental factors behind civilization to offer a compelling and non-racist view of why some societies dominated others. I learned some cool stuff about plant and animal domestication. Also, when I read this book on the bus, people would talk to me about it, so it could be useful in picking up women.
How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
This a strange novel, about a woman, her husband and children, some very weird people, and a lot of thinking about what "being good" really means. I read this on the advice of a friend, but haven't had a chance to discuss it with her yet. Hornby is very entertaining.
Phantoms In The Brain by V.S. Ramachandran.
Ramachandran is a leading neuroscientist who discusses phantom limbs, anosognosia (denial of paralysis), and other weird and wonderful things. He doesn't just recount case studies, but draws fascinating conclusions from them. I'm always looking for books to help me understand the brain better and this is a gem.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
If anyone hasn't already read the diaries of this bespotted, bespectacled English schoolboy, go out and do so right away. Secret Diary was published in the early 80s and there have been several books since then, tracing Adrian's journey as he ages.
Adrian is a self-styled intellectual, but unfortunately, isn't very intelligent. He's dragged down by his lower-class parents and obsessed with his middle-class girlfriend, Pandora. The books are funny and poignant and I can't say enough good things about them.
Except...and this is something I'd planned to write about anyhow. I recently re-read all my Moles -- besides Secret Diary, there's The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole, True Confessions of Adrian Mole, Adrian Mole and the Small Amphibians (only in collections, I think), and Adrian Mole: The Lost Years.
Lost Years finds Adrian in his twenties and it ends on an optimistic note. Although Adrian is rather a failure, it looks like he's going to make it. And that made me happy. When I read it, in my twenties, I felt like I was going to make it too.
Then last week, I read Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years. This was published in 1999, but I only just learned it existed. And I wish I'd just left it alone.
Adrian is in his early 30s now and far from having made it, he's back with the same old same old. Probably most people aren't so invested in Adrian as I am, but it made me sad to read it. One incident in particular just made me sick with sorrow for him. I guess I'm too close to him to laugh at his failure.
But read it I did and now I'm bound to read through all the Adrian Mole, Secret Diary of a Provincial Man archives from the Guardian.
Oh, Adrian. :( I wish I knew how to help you. Even if you don't really exist.