Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly -- they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.
Huxley’s ingenious fantasy set in the future, sheds a blazing light on the present. Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone in feeling discontent, harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. Is there a cure for his distress?
There are a myriad of ways in which Brave New World still holds a mirror to our own society, despite being published nearly a century ago. As Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death: ‘What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.'
Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
'All this happened, more or less' reads the first line of Slaughterhouse 5, and it could happen again.
Vonnegut's powerful masterpiece is as timely now as when it was first published in 1969. Slaughterhouse 5 is an anti-war science fiction classic that packs a serious emotional punch, while deftly interweaving slapstick and dark satire.
The book is Vonnegut’s response to his experiences as a prisoner–of–war in Germany, where he witnessed the fire-bombing of Dresden by Allied forces. It took Vonnegut years to put this experience into words, but the words he chose and the story he told have become one of the most famous in the English language: powerful and resonant of his unique worldview – weary but bursting with artistic energy, pessimistic but buoyant, playful and wise - and always, deeply relevant.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.
The Handmaid’s Tale has sold over eight million copies since it was first published in 1985. 2019 saw the release of a sequel,The Testaments, and heralded a global literary celebration amongst fans old and new, while the television series originated by Hulu is now on its fourth season.
Offred is a Handmaid in the repressive state of Gilead. Like her fellow Handmaids, she must breed on behalf of her Commander and his wife. If she deviates, she will be hanged like her fellow dissenters.
The novel has chilling echoes of twenty-first century America where men are making decisions about women’s bodies and it gives full rein to Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit and astute perception. Slogans such as ‘Make Margaret Atwood fiction again’ have been used at protests around the world, and Handmaid costumes have been worn in silent protest in American courts. Whether it's on the subject of totalitarianism or climate change, Atwood's words seem ever prescient and relevant. As she writes it in The Testaments: 'history does not repeat itself but it rhymes'.
From acclaimed works of fiction and poetry to unforgettable memoirs and eye-opening non-fiction, these are our readers' favourite books to mark International Women's Day.
They broke boundaries and challenged conceptions. We asked you for your must-read classics; from iconic bestsellers to lesser-known gems, these are your essential recommends.