Cover Books To Read 2021 (clockwise): Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Kawaguchi; The Double by Saramago; Almond by Sohn; Inconsolable Memories by Desnoes

From classics, top-of-the-shelf picks, and even some surprises. Here are a few titles to pick up as you wade through one lockdown after the other

1. Before The Coffee Gets Cold (2015) by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

A solemn afternoon, beautiful weather, and your favourite cup of joe on the way—who doesn't love a healing trip to a café?

Toshikazu Kawaguchi's two-part novel taps into every coffee shop lover's dreams. In a nondescript spot in Tokyo, every order comes with a complimentary travel pass. . . back in time. The catch? You have to return to the present just before your coffee gets cold. In the first book, four characters take their chance at fixing their previous fumbles but things turn out to be much more complicated than they expect. 

Those looking for newfound meaning in life may be delighted in this book's thrilling and engaging plot. If you've no patience with extrapolation and unnecessary descriptives, you'll definitely enjoy Kawaguchi's literary style: succinct, heartfelt, and effortlessly poetic.

See Also: The Most Beautiful Coffee Shops in Asia

2. The Double (2002) by José Saramago

José Saramago's The Double (O Homem Duplicado in original Portuguese) offers a unique thrill perhaps reserved only to those who remember the analogue days of VHS and cassette tapes. Lead character Tertuliano Máximo Afonso mindlessly drifts into a video rental store for a movie of the night. As he pops in the tape at home, he notices something quite odd. The person in the film is him. Thus begins his journey to find out what exactly is going on. 

In 2013, Denis Villeneuve adapted the novel into a film titled Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Both iterations offer their own engaging experience for the reader/viewer. Though it may be best to pick up the book first to understand the idiosyncrasies behind Villeneuve's visual interpretation.

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3. Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre is not only an entertaining read, it's also recognised as a novel that revolutionised literary fiction. The first-person narrative employed by Brontë was refreshing and extended an intimacy previously sparse in works of the time. The character's moral woes and self-awareness influenced writing for years (even decades) to come. Despite its age, there's still a lot of tidbits to glean from this 1847 classic. 

 

4. Inconsolable Memories (1968) by Edmundo Desnoes

Inconsolable Memories (also known as Memories of Underdevelopment or Memorias del Subdesarrollo in original Spanish) offers 'a Cuban view' of the revolution and subsequent missile crisis in 1962. The lead character, Sergio, recounts what it's like to live in a country he calls 'underdeveloped and soft', caught in an identity crisis much like he is. The story is written much like a diary, giving a fictional insight into the tumultuous era. Desnoes skillfully uses Sergio's character to problematise nationhood versus selfhood and what it truly means to survive. 

Interestingly, this novel may prove to be relatable even today. Its theme and setting may be far in the past but its intellectual breadth occupies universal themes of panic and loneliness—feelings all too familiar during this unfolding pandemic. 

5. Almond (2017) by Won-pyung Sohn

This recent novel gained popularity when BTS members RM and Suga were filmed reading it in their limited-run reality series In The Soop.

Not without its own merits, Almond follows Yunjae who is born with alexithymia, a brain condition that makes it difficult for him to process emotions. Faced with a sudden violent incident, Yunjae struggles to understand the world around him. He forms an unlikely friendship with a school bully, Gon. Together, they seek to understand each other's troubles and what it means to be good people in an otherwise unkind world.

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6. A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) by Khaled Hosseini

If you've tuned into the news lately, you may have encountered the heart-wrenching stories and photographs of the United States' pull-out from Afghanistan. Khaled Hosseini's 2007 novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, follows a young woman's journey against the backdrop of the country's sociopolitical troubles. This retrospective read may offer a new perspective into the heartbreaking events unfolding today.

Hosseini is also the mind behind the 2003 hit Kite Runner and he lends his masterful prose to A Thousand Splendid Suns as well. Speaking from experience, it takes very little effort to finish this book's 400-something pages (even in the span of just an evening). 

 

7. Mixed Plate (2021) by Jo Koy

If you're looking for a lighter read during this lockdown, Jo Koy's Mixed Plate will have you cackling even by your lonesome. In the novel, the comedian recounts his awkward and embarrassing tales as a young Filipino migrant in America. It's not all fun and laughs, though. For the first time, Koy opens up in detail about his brother's battle with schizophrenia and what it truly took for his family to survive in a new environment. To mix things up even more, the comic adds his favourite Filipino recipes in between chapters. All in all, Mixed Plate offers a layered story about family, love, and finding one's passion amidst adversity. 

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