Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make You Think About the World

Posted September 11, 2012 by Kara in Uncategorized / 24 Comments

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This weeks top ten is books that make you think about the world.

I love this topic because I read a lot of cultural fiction, but I have hardly read that much. I talked this topic over with my husband and he gave me some ideas and I think this list will be easier to put together than I originally thought. But either way, I’ll try to do the best I can. They are not in any particular order, FYI.

Top Ten Books That Make Me Think About the World

1. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden


In this literary tour de force, novelist Arthur Golden enters a remote and shimmeringly exotic world. For the protagonist of this peerlessly observant first novel is Sayuri, one of Japan’s most celebrated geisha, a woman who is both performer and courtesan, slave and goddess.

We follow Sayuri from her childhood in an impoverished fishing village, where in 1929, she is sold to a representative of a geisha house, who is drawn by the child’s unusual blue-grey eyes. From there she is taken to Gion, the pleasure district of Kyoto. She is nine years old. In the years that follow, as she works to pay back the price of her purchase, Sayuri will be schooled in music and dance, learn to apply the geisha’s elaborate makeup, wear elaborate kimono, and care for a coiffure so fragile that it requires a special pillow. She will also acquire a magnanimous tutor and a venomous rival. Surviving the intrigues of her trade and the upheavals of war, the resourceful Sayuri is a romantic heroine on the order of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara. And Memoirs of a Geisha is a triumphant work – suspenseful, and utterly persuasive.

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        2. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff


A DYING LAND The Shima Imperium verges on the brink of environmental collapse; an island nation once rich in tradition and myth, now decimated by clockwork industrialization and the machine-worshipers of the Lotus Guild. The skies are red as blood, the land is choked with toxic pollution, and the great spirit animals that once roamed its wilds have departed forever.


AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST The hunters of Shima’s imperial court are charged by their Shōgun to capture a thunder tiger—a legendary creature, half-eagle, half-tiger. But any fool knows the beasts have been extinct for more than a century, and the price of failing the Shōgun is death.

A SIXTEEN YEAR OLD GIRL Yukiko is a child of the Fox clan, possessed of a talent that if discovered, would see her executed by the Lotus Guild. Accompanying her father on the Shōgun’s hunt, she finds herself stranded: a young woman alone in Shima’s last wilderness, with only a furious, crippled thunder tiger for company. Even though she can hear his thoughts, even though she saved his life, all she knows for certain is he’d rather see her dead than help her.


But together, the pair will form an indomitable friendship, and rise to challenge the might of an empire.



3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

In 1922, F. Scott Fitzgerald announced his decision to write “something new–something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” That extraordinary, beautiful, intricately patterned, and above all, simple novel became The Great Gatsby, arguably Fitzgerald’s finest work and certainly the book for which he is best known. A portrait of the Jazz Age in all of its decadence and excess, Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation and earned itself a permanent place in American mythology. Self-made, self-invented millionaire Jay Gatsby embodies some of Fitzgerald’s–and his country’s–most abiding obsessions: money, ambition, greed, and the promise of new beginnings. “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning–” Gatsby’s rise to glory and eventual fall from grace becomes a kind of cautionary tale about the American Dream.

It’s also a love story, of sorts, the narrative of Gatsby’s quixotic passion for Daisy Buchanan. The pair meet five years before the novel begins, when Daisy is a legendary young Louisville beauty and Gatsby an impoverished officer. They fall in love, but while Gatsby serves overseas, Daisy marries the brutal, bullying, but extremely rich Tom Buchanan. After the war, Gatsby devotes himself blindly to the pursuit of wealth by whatever means–and to the pursuit of Daisy, which amounts to the same thing. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says admiringly, in one of the novel’s more famous descriptions. His millions made, Gatsby buys a mansion across Long Island Sound from Daisy’s patrician East Egg address, throws lavish parties, and waits for her to appear. When she does, events unfold with all the tragic inevitability of a Greek drama, with detached, cynical neighbor Nick Carraway acting as chorus throughout. Spare, elegantly plotted, and written in crystalline prose, The Great Gatsby is as perfectly satisfying as the best kind of poem.


4. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.


Over the next four years, as she endures the deaths of family members, starvation, and brutal forced labor, Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of childhood—the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father. In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival.


Displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language, In the Shadow of the Banyan is testament to the transcendent power of narrative and a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience.

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5. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker


With a voice as distinctive and original as that of The Lovely Bones, and for the fans of the speculative fiction of Margaret Atwood, Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is a luminous, haunting, and unforgettable debut novel about coming of age set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.

“It still amazes me how little we really knew. . . . Maybe everything that happened to me and my family had nothing at all to do with the slowing. It’s possible, I guess. But I doubt it. I doubt it very much.”

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

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        6. 1984 by George Orwell


A masterpiece of rebellion and imprisonment, where war is peace, freedom is slavery, and Big Brother is watching…
Thought Police. Big Brother. Orwellian. These words have entered our vocabulary because of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, “1984.”
The story of one man’s nightmare odyssey as he pursues a forbidden love affair through a world ruled by warring states and a power structure that controls not only information but also individual thought and memory, 1984 is a prophetic, haunting tale.
More relevant than ever before, “1984” exposes the worst crimes imaginable–the destruction of truth, freedom, and individuality.


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7. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail


A powerful, blazingly honest memoir: the story of an eleven-hundred-mile solo hike that broke down a young woman reeling from catastrophe—and built her back up again.

At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 

Strayed faces down rattlesnakes and black bears, intense heat and record snowfalls, and both the beauty and loneliness of the trail. Told with great suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild vividly captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.


         8. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by  Katherine Boo

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

Annawadi is a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport, and as India starts to prosper, Annawadians are electric with hope. Abdul, a reflective and enterprising Muslim teenager, sees “a fortune beyond counting” in the recyclable garbage that richer people throw away. Asha, a woman of formidable wit and deep scars from a childhood in rural poverty, has identified an alternate route to the middle class: political corruption. With a little luck, her sensitive, beautiful daughter—Annawadi’s “most-everything girl”—will soon become its first female college graduate. And even the poorest Annawadians, like Kalu, a fifteen-year-old scrap-metal thief, believe themselves inching closer to the good lives and good times they call “the full enjoy.”

But then Abdul the garbage sorter is falsely accused in a shocking tragedy; terror and a global recession rock the city; and suppressed tensions over religion, caste, sex, power and economic envy turn brutal. As the tenderest individual hopes intersect with the greatest global truths, the true contours of a competitive age are revealed. And so, too, are the imaginations and courage of the people of Annawadi.

With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects human beings to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds, and into the lives of people impossible to forget. 

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9. Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard


It all begins with a stupid question:

Are you a Global Vagabond?

No, but 18-year-old Bria Sandoval wants to be. In a quest for independence, her neglected art, and no-strings-attached hookups, she signs up for a guided tour of Central America—the wrong one. Middle-aged tourists with fanny packs are hardly the key to self-rediscovery. When Bria meets Rowan, devoted backpacker and dive instructor, and his outspokenly humanitarian sister Starling, she seizes the chance to ditch her group and join them off the beaten path.

Bria’s a good girl trying to go bad. Rowan’s a bad boy trying to stay good. As they travel across a panorama of Mayan villages, remote Belizean islands, and hostels plagued with jungle beasties, they discover what they’ve got in common: both seek to leave behind the old versions of themselves. And the secret to escaping the past, Rowan’s found, is to keep moving forward.

But Bria comes to realize she can’t run forever, no matter what Rowan says. If she ever wants the courage to fall for someone worthwhile, she has to start looking back.

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      10. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail


Back in America after twenty years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes–and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there’s the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz’s overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods is destined to become a modern classic of travel literature.

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And that’s my list! Books that go on this list are cultural reads, travel literature, or books that just make you think about the world at large and how it works. There are so many different ways that someone could interpret this list. So I am really curious to make my way around to the other blogs participating this week and see what kind of books they came up with. What do you think about my picks? Leave me a link and I will come visit your lists!

24 responses to “Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Make You Think About the World

  1. I really love how well thought out your list is! Just browsing through the choices made me think about travel, control and power…

    Also, I could not be more thrilled that you chose to highlight Wild, because I literally just downloaded it on my Kindle this morning!

    • Thank you, Allison! I worked hard brainstorming this one and I’m glad it shows. Wild was fantastic! It’s great travel literature, and even though it wasn’t a perfect book for me, there is no denying it was definitely worth the time I spent reading it. It’s SO memorable.

    • Memoirs of a Geisha is my favorite book, Nemo. I’m not sure I could MAKE a list without that book on it. LOL!

      1984 is kind of dry. I mean, it’s a good book but that whole middle section is a siesta. 🙂

  2. The Age of Miracles and 1984 almost made my list too. 🙂 I’m pretty sure The Age of Miracles mostly just made me think about how beautiful language is, but it really struck me.

  3. The Age of Miracles really made me think too – especially how much our time is dictated by clocks and by the convention that daylight is for being awake and dark for sleeping. I spent the whole thing wondering about how I would choose which way to live!

  4. What a great list! I’ve only read one from it (1984) and own two (The Great Gatsby, The Age of Miracles) so I’ve had to add a few to my wish list. Both Stormdancer and Behind the Beautiful Forevers sound really, really fascinating – and thought provoking!

  5. Sam

    Great list, Kara! Wanderlove and The Age of Miracles sound most like my sort of books. I’ve heard great things about both but I haven’t read them yet. I’ll have to check out Wild and Behind the Beautiful Forevers too – I don’t think I have come across either of those before.

    • Yeah, almost everyone loved Wanderlove, so I think that one is a winner. 🙂 The rest of them are good too but they are very different from the usual sort of books I read. I hope you love them!

  6. Amy

    Fantastic list!! I am going to be reading Stormdancer in a few days!! I loved Memoirs of a Geisha. I will have to check out some of the others.

    • I hope you like it better than Giselle and Jenni did! I think you might. Who knows? But I certainly hope you do.

      Memoirs of a Geisha is my favorite book so you will see that book on almost ALL the lists. LOL.

  7. I really love this list and the idea itself, Kara. 🙂 Wanderlove totally made me feel nostalgic since traveling is my life- long love, and I also agree with you about 1984. Never shall I forget it… *shivers* Memoirs of a Geisha and The Great Gatsby are on TBR list too. 🙂

    • Thanks, Leanne! Wanderlove is SUCH a special book. It is definitely my favorite YA contemp. of all time.

      1984 is probably in the top 5 of my most disturbing books of all time.

      I hope you really like TGG amd Memoirs when you get a chance to read them. TGG is my favorite classic thus far and Memoirs is my favorite book period.

      Thanks for stopping by again! 🙂

  8. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Wanderlove! It is one of my top favorite books! If you can’t tell 😉 Stormdancer is on my the top of my TBR reads for the next month. Another book that comes to mind is The Kite Runner.

    I need some help getting back on my blogging feet after half a year in China.  Please stop by and visit one or more of my review posts to help out.

    Confessions of An Angry Girl  Thirteen Reasons Why   Eve and Adam  are my newest reviews.

    Mad Scientist @ Steampunkery & Book Reviews

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