Books

My Top 5 Favourite Books of All Time

Girl with the cover of God of Small Things

I’m someone that if I find an amazing read, I’d SHOUT it from the rooftops and urge all my friends to read it. Yet it’s funny that I’ve never shared about my favourite books on my blog. Let alone write a book review! In the month of May, I decide to share my top 5 favourite books of all time that I’d read and loved.

I also wrote this same post as a guest writer on Tiggy’s Books! Tiggy is a new friend I met through Instagram, and we clicked instantly. Just like me, she lives abroad (in Spain!) and shares my fascination for sniffing out the best reads from all over the world. Hop over to check out her blog 🙂

Favourite Book #1. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Book Cover of The God of Small Things by Arundathi Roy

Synopsis:

The novel takes place in southern India, Kerala during the Marxist uprising in 1969. Through a series of flashbacks and present day scenes, it revolves around the lives of Ammu, an upper-class, divorced woman, and her two zygotic twins, Rahel and Estha. The plot takes a dangerous turn when Ammu enters into a forbidden relationship with Velutha, a man from a lower-caste, along with a tragic event on the twins’ cousin, Sophie-Mol. These events culminates into disaster and changes the courses of the twins’ lives forever.

Why This is One of My Top 5 Favourite Books:

This Booker Prize winner is probably my dirtiest, most highlighted/ dog-earred book, because it was read and re-read so many times! I will never forget my first encounter with this book. It was during my first English Literature class, where we had to choose amongst four different assigned reads to study for the rest of the year. I chose The God of Small Things (mainly because I was intrigued by the title) and that was one of my best decision made in high school. Every lesson, we would huddle round our reading circles and discuss about the book’s plot, underlying themes, our responses to controversial topics, how we felt about the characters’ actions. Those times were pure joy and even felt therapeutic!

The God of Small Things revolves around many things: Love and loss, jealousy, taboos and social expectations, children’s imagination, and personal betrayal. But as the title itself suggests, the central theme zooms in on the “Small Things”. The little things that happened in passing: A brief glimpse…a curious touch, a careless word. All of these things are usually the trigger for the Big Things, the culmination of the events leading up to it.

Given the book’s non-linear storytelling, I’d admit that it’s definitely not an easy read, but it remains as one of my favourite literature because of the sheer beauty of the language: It was childlike, lyrical, yet tragically sad and unforgettable.

Favourite Quote:

” Do you know what happens when you hurt people?’ Ammu said. “When you hurt people, they begin to love you less. That’s what careless words do. They make people love you a little less.'”

Favourite Book #2. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Top 5 favourite books Book Cover of Pachinko by Min-Ji Lee

Synopsis:

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations. Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty.

Why This is One of My Top 5 Favourite Books:

This was the ONLY book that I joined a book club for, because I felt so emotional after finishing it, and craved to have like-minded people to relieve my thoughts and discuss the intricacies of the book with!

Book club in Singapore discussing Pachinko by Min-ji Lee

As someone who knows very little about Korean history, Pachinko was a major eye-opener. The book revealed the socio-political turmoil faced by Zaichinis (ethnic Koreans living in Japan), a part of history that isn’t always mentioned.

Every member of the Baek family experiences discrimination for who they are, albeit in different forms. Today in Japan, Zaichinis are still treated unfortunately as second-class citizens, living in an adopted country that remains hostile to their very identity.

The underclass female characters in the book stood out to me the most. Despite the hardships and gruelling conditions the faced, Sunja and Kyunghee sacrificed their all for their family. They were entrepreneurial enough to break societal conventions of their time, and even et up their own lodging and kimchi business to support their family. These were tough and resilient women: often even stronger than their male counterparts.

The book’s title itself also has strong symbolism. “Pachinko” refers to a pinball game in Japan, often negatively associated with lowly crooks, gangsters tricksters. This gambling machine doesn’t just reflect the discrimination which Zaichinis continue to face in Japanese society. Rather, I think it serves more as a metaphor for the ups and downs in the characters’ lives. Just as how one has to tinker with bumpers, kickers and slingshots to get the pinball into the right slot: the characters are all taking a gamble at life, never knowing what they will be dealt. 

Favourite Quotes:

“History has failed us, but no matter.”

“Living everyday in the presence of those who refuse to acknowledge your humanity takes great courage.”

Favourite Book #3. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

Top 5 favourite books Please Look After Mom Book Cover book review

Synopsis:

When sixty-nine year old So-nyo is separated from her husband among the crowds of the Seoul subway station, and vanishes, their children are consumed with loud recriminations, and are awash in sorrow and guilt. As they argue over the “Missing” flyers they are posting throughout the city – how large of a reward to offer, the best way to phrase the text – they realize that none of them have a recent photograph of Mom. Soon a larger question emerges: do they really know the woman they called Mom?

Told by the alternating voices of Mom’s daughter, son, her husband and, in the shattering conclusion, by Mom herself, the novel pieces together, Rashomon-style, a life that appears ordinary but is anything but.

Why This is One of My Top 5 Favourite Books:

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I highly recommend this book for the occasion. But remember to read this book at home, not in public. And to keep a box of tissue handy. Because it’s HIGHLY tear-jerking. I finished reading it at 2am in the night and sobbed my eyes right out at the end.

So much of Mom’s life reminded me of my own mother, and made me realised how there’s so much of our own Mom that we don’t know of.

Our mothers’ lives are often dedicated to the world outside of themselves: Husbands. Children. Church, The community. Animals. Plants. Yet our Moms themselves are always taken for granted. Dismissed, unseen, ignored, often deemed annoying. Someone who only comes to mind when we are hungry, when we need help with the ironing the clothes or when we lose our stuffs. Even I myself am guilty of treating my Mom like that sometimes.

Mom “looks after” everyone and everything. She support us in our dreams and goals. But who looks after Mom? Who even knows about Mom’s dreams before we were born?

For me, this book was a powerful reminder to appreciate, look after the ones we truly love, and to never ever take my mom and family for granted.

(Shoutout to my dear friemd Xueqiang: THANKS for highlighting this real gem of a book to me way back in 2018! )

Favourite Quote:

I have so many dreams of my own, and I remember things from my childhood, from when I was a girl and a young woman, and I haven’t forgotten a thing.

So why did we think of Mom as a mom from the very beginning? She didn’t have the opportunity to pursue her dreams, and all by herself, faced everything the era dealt her, poverty and sadness, and she couldn’t do anything about her very bad lot in life other than suffer through it and get beyond it and live her life to the very best of her ability, giving her body and her heart to it completely. Why did I never give a thought to Mom’s dreams?

Favourite Book #4. The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

Top 5 Favourite Books The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton Book cover

Synopsis:

Anthony Ray Hinton was poor and black when he was convicted of two murders he hadn’t committed. For the next three decades he was trapped in solitary confinement in a tiny cell on death row.

Eventually his case was taken up by the award-winning lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who managed to have him exonerated, though it took 30 years for this to happen. How did Hinton cope with the mental and emotional torture of his situation, and emerge full of compassion and forgiveness? This is a story of hope and the resilience of the human spirit.

Why This is One of My Top 5 Favourite Books:

This is one of those books that will leaves its mark on you forever. It was my hardest read, and even more so because it’s based on a true story. Can you just imagine being convicted of multiple murders, imprisoned for 30 years for a crime you never committed? 30 years! That’s an entire lifetime robbed away from Mr Anthony Ray Hinton. I felt sick to the bones and so furious over the corruption, the racism and the broken criminal justice system that imprisoned him wrongly. And it didn’t even happen to me!

Yet what makes this book worth reading is Ray’s personality and his unwavering humanity and forgiveness. My admiration for this man simply went through the roof: Even on death row, he encouraged and prayed for the souls of his fellow death row inmates. He formed a bookclub encouraging others to read. He even befriended a former Ku Klux Klan member who had brutally murdered a black man and forgave him. Ray continued to trust in God that one day, the truth about his innocence will prevail and he will be set free.

How he saw light, even in the darkest of situations is a lesson in faith I’ll remember and carry with me. And if I can give a million stars to this book, I would.

Favourite Quote:

“Despair was a choice. Hatred was a choice. Anger was a choice. I still had choices, and that knowledge rocked me. While I may not have had as many Lester had, I still had some choices. I could choose to give up or to hang on. Hope was a choice. Faith was a choice. And more than anything else, love was a choice. Compassion was a choice.”

Favourite Book #5. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

top 5 favourite books the seven husbands of evelyn hugo

Synopsis:

Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. When she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now? Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Why This is One of My Top 5 Favourite Books:

I had one of the worst book hangovers of my life after finishing this read. It was such a page-turner with its strong Hollywood vibes. I devoured it in 1.5 days during my #stayhome period and wasn’t able to do anything else all day! And I still COULD NOT believe Evelyn Hugo was a fictional character. While reading I think I had Marilyn Monroe conjured up in my head. I even tried googling images of her in that emerald green dress on Google!

I loved Evelyn’s passion, drive, conviction – really everything about her. She ‘s glamorous, ruthless, and selfish all at the same time, yet she recognised that in herself inherently. And still she remained unapologetic for her decisions and behaviour. Evelyn simply lived by her own moral code and not afraid to do whatever that must be done to reach her own goals. She just wanted it all! WHAT. A. WOMAN.

Evelyn also spoke lessons to me I didn’t even realise I needed. About issues relating to sexuality, race, misogyny…and not conforming to society’s norms. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that life is damn short. And we shouldn’t waste it pretending to be someone we are not. That we should believe in ourselves and grab life by the balls doing and chasing after what we love.

Favourite Quotes:

So do yourself a favor and learn how to grab life by the balls, dear. Don’t be so tied up in trying to do the right thing when the smart thing is so painfully clear.

“Evelyn looks at me with purpose. “Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.”

“Don’t ignore half of me so you can fit me into a box. Don’t do that.”


There you go, my top 5 favourite books of all time! I really hope you’d give these books a read, and let me know your thoughts on them when finishing!

Feel free to also share with me your top 5 favourite books in the comments below, I’d love to add them onto my reading list 🙂

For more book reviews like this, check out my interview with Meantime Magazine, written by my friend Pang!

Love,

Ollie

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