Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Top Ten Tomes Tackling Tough Topics

'What are your top ten books that tackle tough issues?'

For once, without too much cogitation, here are the first ten titles that sprung to mind when I asked myself this week's question from The Broke and the Bookish's Tuesday Top Ten blog hop meme.  Once a book presented itself to me, I tried to articulate the tough topics on which it might offer its particular perspective.  No doubt, I've not provided a comprehensive accounting of all the issues explored in these books, but at least my first thoughts are a start.

I can also state with confidence that these are gritty enough, surprising enough, and well-written enough to stick with you for your entire life, so they have that in common as well. 

1. Night by Elie Wiesel.  Tough Topics: Genocide, the Holocaust, loyalty vs. survival, cruelty.

2. The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.   Tough topics: coming of age today, poverty, living as a Native American in the contemporary U.S.

3. What Is The What by Dave Eggers.  Tough topics: Genocide, violence in southern Sudan, violence in the U.S., cruelty, survival, transcendence.

4. The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.   Tough topics: cruelty, betrayal, the impossibility of truly knowing another person, women's deception/manipulation of other women, men's complicity...

5. The Man Who Fell In Love With The Moon by Tom Spanbauer.  Tough topics: racism, incest, the fluidity of sexuality, prostitution, search for identity, you name it... This little-known novel is as edge-y as edge-y gets, as in some extremely 'adult' content.  Be prepared to be stunned, appalled, provoked.

6. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Juno Diaz.   Tough topics: obesity, suicide, family dysfunction, obsession, effects of war.

7. Middle Passage by Charles Johnson.   Tough topics: cruelty, slavery, the Middle Passage and the repercussions of slavery in the U.S.

8.  "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.  Yes, it's a short story, but it's one that sticks with you.   Tough topics: effects of patriarchal culture, feminism, madness.

9. Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie.   Tough topics: Terrorism, colonialism, how and why individuals choose violent or illegal actions, revenge, family dysfunction.

10. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid Tough topics: U.S. economic colonialism/world dominance, Pakistan's relationship w/the U.S., how a peaceful, tolerant individual becomes radicalized into a desperate fanatic.  The best part: It's not what you think...

This time there are far more men on my list than usual.  Perhaps it's just my mood today?  What are your theories as to why fewer female authors drifted to the top of my "tough topics" list?  (I did think of a few more, but they seemed over-worked in the past few top tens, so I chose not to include them this time in favor of perhaps lesser-known or less-frequently-posted titles.)

For what I'm sure will be a particularly wide-ranging set of offerings today, do stop by The Broke and The Bookish to see what other bloggers choose as their "top ten books tackling tough topics".


AND ON A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NOTE... I'm taking nominations...

I just joined the Fairy Tale Challenge over at Tif Talks Books, and I need your help:

Please tell me your favorite book and/or movie that features a modernized version of a fairy tale.

I'm especially interested in books and films appropriate for teens and non-Western fairy tales, but any and all ideas for stellar books and films are most welcome and appreciated!

Have you reviewed a modern - or even a classic - fairy tale?  Go ahead and leave the link in your comment; I'll be sure to visit.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions: I'm looking forward to catching up on this challenge! 

To begin, I've already got two fine texts in the house:  Deerskin by Robin McKinley and the DVD version of Terry Pratchett's Hogfather.

Now what comes next?  It's up to you!



Dead Trees and Silver Screens said...

I love that you picked Night as your first pick. It is such an amazing book and you never quite forget it.

For your fairy tale challenge, I would say Beastly, Cloaked, The Princess Frog, Enchanted or Red Riding Hood. I'll be following you to see what you pick!

Here is a link to my post:

Anne Bennett said...

I am amazed by the depth of your Top Ten List. Good Job. Unfortunately I haven't read most of those books so I can't address them specifically.

My favorite book related to Fairy Tales is The Book of Lost Things by John Connelly (sp.)

lisa :) said...

I had Night and What is the What on my list - both amazingly powerful and impacting books!

Glad to see you're joining the Fairy Tale Challenge too! I'm not big on challenges, but that's one I couldn't resist participating in (plus, I love Tif's blog)! I've been reading mostly classic tales (Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm) with some multicultural ones mixed in. If you care to check out my blog I have a Fairy Tale Friday label - FTF that marks all the posts I've written for this year's challenge as well as last year's meme.

Looking forward to checking back and following your progress!

Sidne,the BCR said...

not familiar with the list of books, but i have written two down that interest me. fairy tale challenge. I was going to say Princess Frog but i think i read that someone said that one.

Marce said...

The Man who Fell in love with the Moon, Wowsa, definitely adding to Wishlist.

My Top Ten


BookGal said...

Great list. What about Mirror, Mirror for the Fairy Tale Challenge. I haven't read it yet, but I really enjoyed Wicked.

Enbrethiliel said...


I didn't join Top Ten Tuesday this week because I thought "Tough Topics" was too close to "Required Reading"--although the books on my required reading list aren't at all springboards to tough topics! =P

Anyway, great list! =) What book would you recommend for the tough topic of substance abuse?

Lissa said...

very interesting choices, and not ones i would have thought of. it's interesting to me to see what everyone picked, and the different ways we approached this. the yellow wallpaper stuck with me for quite a while after i read it. still not completely sure what i think. great list!

Laurie said...

DT & SS - Thanks for all the great fairy tale suggestions!

Anne - Ooh: I didn't know about that Connelly - Time to go get it!

Lisa - Glad you're in the challenge too, and looking forward to your posts about it.

Hi Sidne - Long time, no see! Well, if two of you liked Princess Frog, it's time for me to rent it.

Marce - That one's definitely not for the faint of heart, and not perfect, but it'll stick with you.

BG - You're right: I should check out which Maguires I haven't yet read and try one.

E - Fair enough, and good question. If it's alcohol that's the substance, maybe Augusten Burroughs or the recent memoir I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (very lyrical/associative/imagistic writing, if you like that sort of thing).
Drug abuse, I can't think of one, off the top of my head... Anybody else?

Lissa - I too have seen such variety in this particular set of lists, as predicted.

And now I'm off to make sure I've gotten to all your lists; so glad you visited today!

Andrea said...

I love using The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian in my classroom. It really makes the kids think. Great list.

Reading Lark's Top 10

Enbrethiliel said...


Substance abuse just came to mind because I once had a student who read every book about drugs she could get her hands on. She wasn't using anything, but addicts fascinated her. (No comment.) She and I had some good discussions of Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting (the only one I've read), but it's not one I'd recommend for a whole class with readers up and down the literarcy spectrum.

Anonymous said...

I've only read two on your list- the Robber Bride and The Yellow Wallpaper. You're right, the yellow wallpaper really sticks with you. I don't remember The Robber Bride so much.

I tend to read classic fairytales, but Briar Rose is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. Here's the link to my review from a couple of years ago: http://carolsnotebook.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/briar-rose-by-jane-yolen/

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