This week’s prompt was actually to pick ten hidden gem books in a specific genre. But as I read quite varied books, if I were to go with just one genre I’d struggle to find ten and end up either not having very many, or using filler books that don’t really deserve to be mentioned. So instead I’m just going with hidden gems in a hodgepodge. Well, they did say tweak as needed…
A couple of notes on this week’s selections: I normally don’t go into describing the books I’ve picked for Top Ten Tuesday because it takes forever and they’re often books I’ve previously reviewed or that have been widely discussed. But this week I’m purposely choosing books that aren’t as well-known (I hope), so I feel like they need a bit of explanation as to what they are and why they’re here. Second note: I read most of these a long time ago – ten years or more. Many I read before I started the blog so they haven’t been reviewed (if they have I’ll link the review in the text description. If you want to read more about any of the books, click on the book cover to see the book on Goodreads), and some I barely remember. I just know I loved them and vaguely remember getting a certain type of enjoyment or learning experience from them. So if my descriptions seem a little vague or turn out to be completely wrong (I hope not, but who knows), please forgive me any errors and feel free to correct me in the comments if you’ve read the book more recently!
I picked up Like Water for Chocolate after watching (and loving) the movie. It was during a time in my life when I was surrounded by people from Latin America, and had started reading widely by authors from the area (as you can see from all three of the books above). It’s about a young girl whose emotions transfer into the food she makes, and anyone who eats the food is suddenly overcome with whatever she was feeling when she made it. A beautiful idea, and a novel that will evoke emotions.
Isabel Allende is one of my all-time favourite authors. I’ve read a good number of her books, and loved many of them, but Of Love and Shadows stood out to me as being a bit more realistic than a lot of the others – I think in large part because it deals with a very dark aspect of Chilean history, and is therefore close to her heart (she’s originally from Chile). To be fair I barely remember it now – I don’t even remember when I read it but it must have been over 13 years ago – but I do remember it sticking with me and deeply affecting me.
News of a Kidnapping is actually a non-fiction book written by Gabriel García Márquez, the man famous for his magical realist novels. It is the story of ten Colombian men and women (mostly journalists) kidnapped by the infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar, in an attempt to gain immunity from extradition for himself and members of his cartel. Again, I read this some time ago, but I remember it being very easy to read. What I loved is that García Márquez presents many different sides of the story and gives context to the events in the book in a way that demands that assumptions be revisited. I don’t know much about the underworld of drug trafficking, but this did ring true to me, and felt more realistic in its details and presentation of facts than some others I’ve read set in a similar world.
I discovered Q’s Legacy by Helene Hanff after reading her most famous epistolary novel, 84, Charing Cross Road – one of my all-time favourite films and, after reading it, books. But I actually enjoyed this more. While 84,Charing Cross Road was a collection of letters between Helene and Frank (Frank runs a bookshop in London that stocks cheap editions of the classic books Helene has a hard time searching out in affordable editions in New York, and over time the two become friends despite never having met), Q’s Legacy is actually a memoir she wrote about her self-education in literature. It’s a bit more accessible and flows better, and we get to know Helene’s background and inner thoughts more. It was a quietly brilliant memoir, and one I recommend for any reader or writer who likes spending time with an author who shares their passion for the written word.
The Naked Civil Servant by Quentin Crisp is as brilliant as it is important. It’s a memoir of Crisp’s life, after coming out (very dramatically) as a gay man in England in 1931, when not only was homosexuality socially unacceptable, but illegal. His flamboyance made him a very visible gay rights activist, and his sense of humour makes his memoir a delightful read – while simultaneously being an essential read for anyone interested in the history of LGBTQ+ rights. Read it. It’s excellent.
After reading and loving Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, I was on the hunt for more books about women taking to the road and experiencing different cultures and countries. These two books stand out amongst the many travel memoirs I’ve read (by both men and women) as being favourites.
Along the Inca Road by Karin Muller is a book I came across quite by chance. It was a gift from a family friend who stayed with me during his own travels. It’s the story of a woman who decides to travel the old Inca trade roads, starting in Ecuador and ending in Chile. On the way she has many adventures and meets many people who share their cultural history with her. It’s an inspiring book – not only for those looking to travel, but for women who are looking for a nomadic role model.
I barely even remember Nothing to Declare at this point, so forgive any inaccuracies. This is another memoir of a woman travelling alone in Latin America (I think she spends quite a bit of time in Mexico), but while it is a travel journal, it is also an introspective journey she takes on a quest to discover things about herself she has not yet faced. This might be one that appealed to me in part because of the time in my life when I read it, but worth a go nonetheless.
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett is a tiny, unassuming book that nevertheless gained a firm spot in my all-time favourites. It’s the delightful story of a literary journey embarked upon by the Queen of England when she feels a moral obligation to patronize a library truck that parks near the palace. Much to her own surprise, she discovers that she loves reading, and soon begins neglecting her duties in favour of spending time lost between pages. Written with Bennett’s trademark humour and ability to bring characters delightfully to life, this is one I heartily recommend that you pick up next time you’re feeling a little down. I promise you won’t regret it.
I’m not sure why Amanda Craig’s Hearts and Minds isn’t talked about more in the online book community, because it’s one I think is brilliant. It’s an intertwined group of stories about a diverse group of Londoners whose lives cross in unexpected and sometimes unacknowledged ways. A major theme in this book is immigration – legal and illegal – and the experiences of immigrants who are largely invisible to the world around them. It’s a a book that will give you a lot to think about, but is still an accessible and enjoyable read.
All Families Are Psychotic is not Douglas Coupland’s most popular book. In fact, it’s one other people who’ve read it have told me they didn’t like. But because I’m ornery and tend to like underdogs (as well as slightly absurd stories and characters) this is one of my favourites. Coupland is a local author to me – he grew up in the same city I live in and often sets his books here. This book is… I don’t even know how to explain it. I think what struck me is that it has a lot of “big” plot points and issues that have all been thrown together, as if Coupland decided to experiment with seeing how much his characters could handle. It’s not the most brilliantly constructed book, but I really enjoyed the extremity of the situations and characters, and the experimental nature of the decisions Coupland made. It reminded me a little bit of Tom Robbins, another of my favourite authors, who also enjoys extremist absurdity in his books, much to my delight. This won’t be for everyone – or even for most people – but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
That’s it for my Top Ten Tuesday picks this week. Hopefully you’ve discovered at least one book you hadn’t heard of! I’d love to know some of your favourite hidden gem books, so please feel free to share them in the comments!
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly link-up feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Every week TTT has a different topic, and everyone who links up has to create a link of ten items that fit that topic. To see past and upcoming topics, go here.