Mind-Bending Books to Knock Your Socks Off

The Thinking Laughing Person's Collection of Books

Below follows a rather incomplete list of books I'd recommend. It is incomplete because there are so many books I've fallen in love with that it's hard to keep track of all them. This list was written after having more recent exposure to some of them while other books are merely enduring classics that roll off my tongue without a second thought. In the world of books, I guess you'd say I was a player. And the appeal of doing yet another hub on more books I'd recommend is too alluring to pass up. So keep an eye out for more lists to come! Provided for your convenience is the first line or lines of the book.

Sophie's World: A Novel About The History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

"Sophie Amundsen was on her way home from school. She had walked the first part of the way with Joanna. They had been discussing robots. Joanna thought the human brain was like an advanced computer. Sophie was not certain she agreed. Surely a person was more than a piece of hardware?"

When Sophie comes home, she discovers a letter in her mailbox asking two questions: Who are you? and Where does the world come from? This begins her journey into the history of philosophy. In this journey, many letters begin to show up at her mailbox addressed to Hilde. Why? Sophie doesn't know, but maybe with the help of a philosopher she can unravel the increasing complexities of her life. For anyone who has ever wanted a snapshot understanding of all the philosophical movements and thoughts without the tedium of reading the philosophies in overpriced textbooks, this book is a must have.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

"I was born with water on the brain."

After a disappointing incident on his first day at high school on the Rez, Junior decides to leave his school for one where the only other Indian is the school mascot. His odyssey toward what he terms hope encapsulates his struggle between the people who think he's betraying them and the people who seem to have it all. Unflinchingly honest, Sherman Alexie's semi-autobiographical account in this YA work of fiction offers many unexpected occasions for laughter in the midst of some very real tragedies. For anyone who has ever silently protested the onslaught of depressing literary works taught in high school, this book is a must read. And after one is done reading it, people should hasten to youtube to see the author reading a passage from this book because the questions that follow are quite hilarious.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

"First the colors.

Then the humans.

That is usually how I see things.

Or at least how I try."

The narrator doesn't like to look at the faces of people passing by but instead focuses all energy on colors, a strand of sky, a bit of soup, or any detail that isn't human. The narrator, consequently, is Death, and the story Death tells is that of the book thief, or Liesel Meminger. Set in Germany in a time when books were being burned, the narrative begins when Liesel Meminger, while on a train ride to a new life in Germany with new parents, steals a book from the most unlikely of places: the grave site of her newly deceased younger brother. With the help of her "foster" father, she endeavors to learn to read. Using A Grave Digger's Handbook as her primer, she begins to adjust to her new life with new friends and new challenges. Yet the backdrop of World War II begins to become increasingly more inescapable in her day-to-day life when her father hides in his home a Jew, Max, a man determined to box with Hitler. Besides the highly lyrical poetic devices that characterize the beautiful language of this book, the narrative contains characters so human and complex as well as a story that is as tragic as it is uplifting. Consequently, my mom's book club said that of all the books they had read, this by far was the best one.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

"It was a pleasure to burn."

As a firefighter, Guy Montag's job isn't to put out fires but to start them. In a dystopian society where books are illegal and television dominates life, Guy Montag begins to question how his society came to be and just what makes books so dangerous. Most famously known for its anti-censorship theme, this book ironically was itself censored and edited for some time, with a more appropriate version given to high schoolers and the original given to adults. Even more ironic, a parent even sought to have this book banned during banned books week. What drives this novel is the harsh criticisms that accompany how the society arrived at the point where materialism ruled all and book burning was the norm. To read this novel is to forever question the banning of literature and the value of free speech.

A Brush With Darkness: Learning to Paint after Losing My Sight by Lisa Fittipaldi

"On a crisp cloudless morning in March 1993, the world disappeared before my eyes as I drove to work at an Austin hospital."

The history of literature often showcases the sad misconception that losing one's sight is synonymous with being extremely cut off from life (think Oedipus Rex when he blinds himself after learning his startling revelation about his wife). Yet for anyone who has ever wanted to check one of many built up stereotypes at the door, this novel is a must read. In the midst of a seemingly successful life, Lisa Fittipaldi, a formerly successful employer, becomes completely blind. Falling into a pit of deep despair and frustration, it isn't until her husband throws a watercolor kit and paper at her in a fit of frustration that her life begins to change. Because when Lisa is given that watercolor kit, she paints Jars, a piece of art so stunning that her friends and husband begin to encourage her to pursue painting. This autobiographical account of Lisa Fittipaldi's loss of sight and ensuing success in the art world offers the poignant, deeply insightful look at a woman who has learned and is still learning to overcome one obstacle we might all have in common: ourselves. At times humorous, at times sad, this is a must read for anyone who has ever struggled with their own demons and still struggles to overcome them. After reading this autobiography, one must then check out Esraf Armagan on YouTube as his story is also incredibly compelling and has the potential to break down other misconceptions that mainstream society perpetuates about people with vision impairment.

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

It goes by many names: "The Crisis," "The Dark Years," "The Walking Plague," as well as newer and more "hip" titles such as "World War Z" or "Z War One."

For anyone who remembers the good days -- the better days -- before the living dead changed the fabric of our society, this book endeavors to showcase the full spectrum of stories about the history of The Crisis from the first outbreak with Patient Zero in China to the following events surrounding the Panic as they happened across the world. Capturing the stories surrounding this event from the remote regions in Antarctica to the now fledgling regions of our society, all who have felt the sting of the wise words "Those who don't learn history are doomed to repeat it" will heed the mass of stories gathered in the post apocalyptic world that we must now live.

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

"Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence."

In the days when the world was flat, people thought that all swans were white. Imagine the uproar that happened when they learned that <gasp> there were black swans! This example sets the premise for this entertaining, intellectually stimulating look at the one example that doesn't fit into one's schema of knowledge about the world. With humorous anecdotes and insights, the book has so many challenges to the way people think about the world. Perhaps the most ironical that I've found so far is the one where the narrator protests in something political and then ends up on the media. When he is later picked up by a family member, he is not rebuffed for the politics that he is protesting but for not dressing well while he was protesting. Did he not know that being a part of his family meant he had to adhere to a stricter dress code? If you're looking for a way to deconstruct your knowledge base, then this is the book for you.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

"When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in hobbiton."

Besides the enormous influence this book had on opening up the genre of fantasy (Tolkien has been called the father of fantasy), this book continues to gain a worldwide following despite the intense neysaying by the critics. Take for instance this bit of publishing history: when a poll was done in Great Britain to determine the best book of the century and Lord of the Rings took first place, critics immediately thought the contest was rigged. Yet after the second time when a poll was done in another location with more strict conditions, Lord of the Rings won again and continues to win popularity polls in other parts of the world. While thought of as somewhat nerdy, for anyone who has ever loved Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter or any of the other bits of fantasy that have become ingrained in our culture, this book offers a mesmerizing world where one ring rules them all.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

"Who is John Galt?"

What makes this book compelling? Is it the way that this book completely challenged some of the most seemingly correct concepts, the passion of the characters for their work, the fiercely determined female protagonist or the engaging mystery that is John Galt? Or is it the way Ayn Rand has the ability to turn established forms of thought on its head that make this book such an intense read? Perhaps all these characteristics are what makes this book interesting. This book essentially looks at why some of the leading entrepreneurs to abandon their work in their society. Not without flaws, it will nevertheless make you think and find new ways to question our own society. Aside from the horrendous ramifications associated with the philosophy of the book, it also spins an irresistibly compelling yarn of a story. As it is a very intensely controversial piece, even if you despise Rand, it is also worth reading for the sake of being better able to deconstruct and tear apart the ideas the book presents.

Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov was the third son of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a landowner in our district who became a celebrity (and is remembered to this day) because of the tragic and mysterious end he met exactly thirteen years ago, which will be described in its proper place.”

Packing all kinds of punch is Brothers Karamazov, the pinnacle of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s work. The baseline of the plot centers on the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, the aforementioned character, yet the story provides much more than just a whodunit. In telling about the murder, Dostoevsky also tells the tale of the three sons of the dead landowner and in portraying the three sons in relation to each other and their father, it is impossible to escape the examination of nature vs. nurture. Why is Alexei good? Why is Ivan strictly logical? Why is Dmitri so rebellious? Famous for his psychological insights, this book also delves into the various theological debates and beliefs found in Orthodox Christianity and in Russia at that time. Through the character Alexei, Dostoevsky provides the deepest idealization of what he aspires to be in terms of his Christian faith. Yet Dostoevsky doesn’t reserve all his talent and genius solely for Alexei, for his characters all offer sufficient complexity and interesting aspects, some of the most notable, intriguing characters being Smerdyakov and Father Zosima. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to gain a variety of insights into suffering, Orthodox Christianity, theological debates and human nature.

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Comments 10 comments

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

You know, I've got 451, but I've never read it. My problem is that I've so much to say right now that I'm always saying it, and when I do, I think of even more that I think needs saying. Will this ever end? Will I ever read again? I wonder! HELP MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 5 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

Sounds like a great place to be! I'm in one of those states where I have a million books I am reading/want to read/ need to read still and my novel keeps getting neglected. Really, it's one of those things where I keep wanting to think about it, and then second guess how I'm thinking about it, and then realize that I still don't know exactly what I'm talking about so I get more books, do more research, and wonder if I'll ever really know the copious matter of my song (I was organizing old college stuff and so Milton has returned to me).

So I applaud the knowing and the having a message and then writing. It seems like a very good state to be in. Love it! Shout from the rooftops what's whispered in your ear, right? :)

Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 5 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

I keep expanding my thoughts on various themes. I think that when I do become (God Willing. . . .please God, I said "please!") a moderately successful article marketing guy.. . .then maybe I could combine those themes into books? I've also got one grand and horrific novel in my head about my hometown, and the drug culture there, and it's horrific effects on me and my damaged mind; but that will have to wait till I no longer live here.

I'd started reading a five dollar hardback from the dollar store(irony anyone?). . . .but it sucks, but I just . . . . .won't be able to let it go until I finish it, and I don't want to finish it, so what am I to do?

I am not allowing myself to NOT finish books that I've started anymore, not after a hundred pages in. Will you steal it from me, and burn it, please?

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 5 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

Perseverance, knowledge and talent...you've got all three, so keep doing it! I'd begin jotting down preliminary notes on the novel and start working on it now anyway, but that's just my thoughts. The sooner, the better, right? Anyway, I once swore that I'd never buy a book and not finish it...but some of them are just so awful that I feel like I'm killing my brain cells just reading them. Still, I hold onto them as a way to see what to avoid, what I dislike, that kind of thing.

But I am DEFINITELY burning the book for you! A horrible fate it is, to be stuck in a bad book. Bleh!

rickzimmerman profile image

rickzimmerman 4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

Hey, E! Love your book reviews! (You might enjoy my 'The Classic Detective Novel (and Film)'. Or my humor hubs, with cartoons. Regards, Rick

John 3 years ago

It can hardly get more bind bending than "The Prince and the Singularity - A Circular Tale", by Pedro Barrento.

Smilealot 2 years ago

Sophie's World is a great book for introducing a reader to the major concepts in philosophy....and written as a story, which makes it all the more interesting:-)

Elefanza profile image

Elefanza 2 years ago from Somewhere in My Brain Author

I really enjoyed that book! It's one I keep meaning to go back to.

Suman 22 months ago

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Samba 22 months ago

I bought the eitrne collection of books for my kids, and also for my nephews who live in California. The kids' ages range from 4-10 yrs. old, and all of them enjoy the books. My kids find the books to be funny and fun to read. My husband and I appreciate the creative way that the books reinforce the Armenian language and culture to our kids. Great initiative by the author to capture in story-form what we as Armenian parents have experienced during our youth. As more and more generations of American-Armenians grow farther away from our foreign-born parents' customs and rituals, these books allow us to bring the concepts back and share the funny anecdotes with our children so that they can continue to exist in their repetoire of the Armenian culture.

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