Cover Elaine Lau and Fong Min Hun (Photo: Courtesy of Lit Books)

Over the last 10 years, authors have satiated the literary world’s desire for enthralling, thought-provoking stories. Fong Min Hun and Elaine Lau, founders of Lit Books, share their favourites

How does a book make an impact? Does the secret lie in its fascinating word play? Do the twists and turns of its plot bestow it immortality? While the answer remains varied from reader to reader, many agree universal appeal plays a strong role – beckoning fans to devour its pages, landing a special place in their hearts. The founders of Lit Books have chosen 8 books - in no particular order - that made such an impression in the last decade.

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Min Hun’s picks: 

We, the Survivors by Tash Aw (2019)

Despite having won or been nominated for prestigious awards including the Whitbread First Novel and the Man Booker Prize, the contemporary Malaysian writer continues to divide opinion. His most recent book should win over doubters who claim his work panders to Westerners, overshadowing its literary qualities, and is likely among the few Malaysian novels written in English that marry literary and internationally commercial success.

See also: 8 Outstanding Malaysians Who Received International Honours, And Why They Matter

Seasonal Quartet (Autumn, Winter, Spring) by Ali Smith (2016, 2017, 2019)

What will likely be her magnum opus, Seasonal Quartet is an experiment of sorts, chronicling the passage of time and change in four standalone but interconnected novels. Smith is a favourite, not only because of the grandiosity of the experiment – to capture change, one must be expedient; she pushes the boundaries of publishing by finishing her book and getting it to print within a month or two – but also the versatility of her prose, capturing melancholy, humour, wit and echoes of the seasons in sparkling precision. 

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (2014)

Written in its native Chinese in the early Noughties but only translated in 2014, the first Asian novel to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel takes established and speculative scientific theories to their fullest logical consequences. A sweeping saga that takes place over millennia of human civilisation, it is reminiscent of past masters yet remains distinctive as an Asian construct. A splendid herald of the arrival of the Asian voice in science fiction. 

The Absolute Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman (2018)

While the Absolute Sandman series was first printed in the Noughties, the Overture functions as a natural bookend to a marvellous series that reads anew with its re-release. The doyen of speculative fiction is perhaps better known for American Gods and his later books, but it was his work on DC’s Sandman that established his reputation. Described by Normal Mailer as “a comic strip for intellectuals”, Sandman paved the way forward for the fantasy and graphic novel genres, through sheer creativity and re-inventing the scope for both. 

Elaine’s picks: 

The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)

This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of cancer is a breathtaking, comprehensive book by the physician and researcher. It is an expansive, multi-perspective examination of the disease: scientifically and medically, but also historically and from a human interest angle. We discover that the story of cancer is one of human ingenuity, resilience, and perseverance, but also of hubris, paternalism, and misperception. This thoroughly researched, profound and eloquent chronicle of an ancient disease is riveting and illuminating.

The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew (2015)

Liew’s multi-award-winning graphic novel presents a most imaginative way to retell history. On one level it depicts the life of fictional political cartoonist Charlie Chan Hock Chye and his five-decades-long career spanning from pre-independent Singapore through three Prime Ministers. On a deeper level it is a searing, critical depiction of the city-state’s changing political and economic environment. The comic artist’s stunning drawings employ a range of styles that pay homage to iconic works. Subversive yet highly entertaining.

See also: Dato’ Dr. M. SHANmughalingam on his book of short stories, Marriage & Mutton Curry

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne (2018)

The Irish author knocks it out of the park with this clever tale of dark ambition and the extremes an aspiring writer would go to attain success. Salacious, scandalous and shocking, the story is told chronologically through the perspectives of different characters. This makes for a varied and rich story, woven with amusing literary criticism, provocative dialogue, and characters who leap off the page – the book dazzles in complexity and audacity.

Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans (2017)

Two cousins transported into a storybook have to save it from a tyrannical rabbit. Evans uses fantasy and humour to tackle complex themes (from loss to the beauty of diversity), and the result is an enjoyable yet wise and emotionally intelligent book. Peppered with puns and jokes with depth of meaning, it has a therapeutic message to boot. Ostensibly written for children, adults will find plenty to mull over as well. 

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