Books I have read which appear on the list “1,001 Books to Read Before You Die.”

Life of Pi

Pi tells his story to the authorities (who are looking to understand why the ship sunk), but they don’t believe a word of it. Undaunted, Pi makes up a second story; this one much more believable including his mother, a ship’s cook, and a sailor substituted for the animals, and asks which they prefer. They prefer the story as told the first time (although they still do not believe it), and Pi remarks that it is much the same way with God – that those who choose not to believe miss out on the better story.

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The Reader

It has been argued that Hanna’s literal ignorance (illiteracy) is a metaphor for our generation’s ignorance of the enormity of the Holocaust. Once she remedied her ignorance, she was unable to live with herself when it was coupled with her real-life experience of the Holocaust. While I agree with the aphorism ‘those who remain ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it’, I disagree that Hanna would be unaware on a human level of the atrocities being committed.

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The Color Purple

She begins by blindly following the vengeful God of her fathers, casts off her entire past in an effort to find who she is, and rebuilds her relationship with God to fit with who she has become. Her later relationship to God is more spiritual than religious “People spend all their time trying to please God. Us don’t realize that God trying always to please us too. I think God don’t like it when us walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” (paraphrased) A reference, of course, to the title.

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Like Water for Chocolate (Como Agua para Chocolat)

On one evening after a particularly sumptuous meal infused with Tita’s desire for Pedro, Tita’s eldest sister Gertrudis becomes overcome with an unquenchable lust and runs away with a Mexican Revolutionary, furiously making love with him on horseback as they ride away. Mama Elena is furious, but Tita begins to realize that if Gertrudis can defy Mama Elena, perhaps she can too.

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Portnoy’s Complaint

Portnoy is a chronic masturbator and a sexual deviant with an oppressive mother, a chronically constipated father, and a crippling superiority complex. The book is less a story than an (often very funny) monologue by its titular character, who seems to blame many of his problems on his Judaism, and by default, the family who raised him that way.

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Although brilliant, Christopher struggles with many of the trappings of such a disorder. He is agoraphobic, afraid of strangers, dislikes being touched, dislikes any deviation from a predictable routine, cannot correctly interpret tone of voice or facial expressions, and very much lives in his own world. His tutor, Siobhan, has drawn a chart with faces on it displaying various expressions, which Christopher carries around with him so that he can compare it with the faces of those he interacts with; helping him understand if they are happy, sad, angry, etc.

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Choke

The first lines of Choke explain that you won’t love Victor Mancini, and they’re right. Victor is a medical school dropout who may be a sex addict. Anyway, he attends the meetings (and generally winds up in the bathroom, having sex with one of the other twelve-steppers.) His mother is wasting away in an expensive care facility which Victor has to pay for. He does so by supplementing his day job income (he works in a re-enactment museum which forces him to be in character for the 1800’s) by going to fancy restaurants and pretending to choke.

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The Virgin Suicides

The neighborhood is shocked when 13-year old Cecelia attempts suicide by slicing her wrists. She is rushed to the hospital and saved. Her doctor remarks “Why did you do this? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets.” Cecelia deadpans “Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year old girl.”

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