Readin' Tough (Top Ten Tuesday)

Alright NKOTB fans, sing it with me,"Woah oh oh oh oh - Readin' Tough!"

Okay.  Maybe not.  For those who never quite got into boy bands of the late 1980's, I'll spare the cheesy intro and jump right to this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, books that deal with tough issues.  As always TTT is hosted by the awesome bloggers of The Broke and The Bookish.  For those visiting Her Book Self for the first time, thanks for stopping by and I hope you'll check out some of my more regular content as well!  I have eighteen books to spotlight today - and yes I know it's Top TEN Tuesday, but this is a list of eighteen books on ten tough issues.  I tried to pull a sampling of both fiction (f) and nonfiction (nf).  All of them are amazing books and the majority of them did make me cry - if it's underlined, it's linked to my review here or at LibraryThing.  Without further ado (in no particular order):

Top Ten Books Dealing with Tough Issues
(Or Top Eighteen Books Dealing with Ten Tough Issues)

1. The Holocaust
It's hard to think of a more appropriate tough topic to read about than the Holocaust, similarly it's difficult to think of just one book that deals with this topic amazingly well.  For that reason, I've chosen three:

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (f)
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (nf)
  • Night by Elie Wiesel (nf)
Anne Frank's Diary and Wiesel's memoir are both incredibly powerful and moving works, while Zusak's The Book Thief, albeit fictional, takes such a different perspective on World War II Germany that I had to include it in my list as well. 
2. Slavery and Racism in America
These should probably be listed as two separate tough issues but the length and strength of the books I came up with for all the topics on this list prompted a combine here.  These two could also be listed under the very best books I ever had to read for schoolwork and there's a reason that a decade and a half after encountering them they remain two of my all time favorite works of literature.

3. Darfur and the Lost Boys of Sudan
I went with a nonfiction and a fiction pick for this one since I know some people are polarized about which they prefer to read.  Both books are told with an excellent narrative voice (one real and one drawn) and though the stories in them are sometimes difficult to hear, they are stories that need to be told and need to be heard.

4. Genocide in Rwanda
Speaking of stories that need to be heard... Paul Rusesabagina's autobiography was the basis of the movie Hotel Rwanda and as powerful as Hollywood is at telling harrowing stories, there is little impact as great as reading from Rusesabagina's own words.  Left to Tell is another first-hand account of the horrific events and the unconquerable nature of the human spirit.  Meanwhile, Parkin's novel is a story of Rwanda recovering and rebuilding, a warm story of daily life that still includes the scars of the past but looks to a hopeful future.

5. Women in Afghanistan under the Taliban
Yes, I could have talked about The Kite Runner as a book dealing with a number of tough issues, but I'm one of few that enjoyed Hosseini's second novel even more than his first.   Though Afghanistan is rife with tough issues to tackle in literature, I wanted to spotlight these novels as dealing specifically with women living under Taliban rule.  For those that want a nonfiction take, Rodriguez chronicles the experiences of an American woman living as an expatriate in Kabul and shares her own stories as well as those of her friends who grew up in the city. 

6. Alzheimer's Disease (specifically Early Onset)
Remarkably told from the first person perspective of a female scientist suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease, this book takes an emotional and fully humanized inside study of the disease and its effects on the individual and all of the loved ones impacted by the degeneration of the mind.  

7. Clashing Cultures in the World of Modern Medicine
  • The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (nf)
This one is borderline nerdy-science but also tells a fascinating story of a Hmong child with epilepsy.  In the traditional culture epilepsy is seen as a gift where the seizures represent a communing with spirits but in Western medicine it is a disease to be cured.  Fadiman's book looks at the communication break-down and lack of respect that occurs when two cultures clash and the life and health of the child caught between the factions. 

8. Race, Poverty, and Inequality in Urban America
  • There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz (nf)
When people rave about Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City,  this is the book that I respond with as a "Must Read" book about Chicago.  (Not for anything against Larson's work, but this one to me speaks much more intensely about the city.)  Following the true story of two brother's growing up on Chicago's West Side, the title comes from a quote in which their mother states, "There are no children here.  They've seen too much to be children."

9. Child Abuse
I have a hard time reading books about all these topics, but child abuse especially is one that I would prefer to close my eyes to.  However, I realize that no good comes from ignoring difficult topics and being aware of an issue is the first step towards doing something to stop it.   I chose both a fiction and a memoir selection for this topic and though neither was pleasing, they both tell really important stories.

10. Deaf Culture, Animal Rights
I can't say enough good things about this book and animal rights and deaf culture are just two of the intense topics dealt with in this emotional and wonderful story.  Character driven and beautifully told, this is the kind of book that manages to be heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.

So there you have my choices.  As always, I'd love to hear which ones you agree and disagree with and I look forward to reading everyone else's lists too!

16 Response to "Readin' Tough (Top Ten Tuesday)"

  1. BookGal says:
    July 26, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    I love how you classified your picks. The Book Thief is one of my favorites.

  2. Lisa says:
    July 26, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    I love how you put things in categories...I love great organization skills.

  3. lisa :) says:
    July 26, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    BookGal, Lisa - Thanks! It's much more a mark of my indecisiveness than organization but glad you liked it!

  4. Ellen aka Ellie says:
    July 26, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    Number 8. I thought of this book when writing a post in response to Waiting for Superman, and I thought of it again when Mayor Emmanuel (sp) said he was sending his kids to the U of C elementary school.

    So, agreed!

  5. Ashley Holstrom says:
    July 26, 2011 at 1:29 PM

    This list is fabulous.

    And I highly recommend all the books on my list; they're all incredibly insightful, even if they are all young adult books.

  6. Laurie @ What She Read says:
    July 26, 2011 at 2:07 PM

    I admire the depth your list here, and applaud the way you organized it according to topic instead of title: well played!
    Your category #8 made me wish I'd put Robert Coles's books on my own list: Amazing Grace or Savage Inequalities still resonate today.
    And as both deaf culture and animal rights are enduring interests of mine, Hurt Go Happy's got to be on my Read It Now list.
    Thanks for your stellar picks and a great blog overall.
    Following too!

  7. Anne@HeadFullofBooks says:
    July 26, 2011 at 2:27 PM

    Nicely organized and well-thought out. I have read many of the books but need to explore others. Good job.

    New follower!

    Please visit my blog and sign-up for my first ever giveaway!


  8. Marce says:
    July 26, 2011 at 3:08 PM

    Happy to see Still alice on your list, that is an all time favourite. I enjoyed The Last Bridge also.

    My Top Ten

  9. Enbrethiliel says:
    July 26, 2011 at 3:33 PM


    I like your categories, too! I didn't join this week and won't try to catch up, but if I did, I'd take your category-based approach, too. =)

    Substance Abuse: Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
    Eating Disorders: Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig

    And so on . . .

  10. BabyBird says:
    July 26, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    I also had Still Alice on my list! That book was the first one that popped up in my head when I saw the topic.
    A Thousand Splendid Suns is also a fantastic choice/read! :)

  11. Lark Andrea says:
    July 26, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    This is a pretty impressive list. Thanks for putting it together. It gave me some new items for my TBR list.

    Reading Lark's Top 10

  12. Megan says:
    July 26, 2011 at 8:08 PM

    What a fantastic post! Love how your picks are organized by issue. You've chosen many that I've been meaning to read for quite a while and a few that I'd like to get my hands on. Will bookmark for virtual equivalent of folding it up and stuffing it in my wishlist notebook. ;-)

  13. lisa :) says:
    July 26, 2011 at 9:26 PM

    Thanks for all the comments and I'm so glad to have the chance to share these important books with a larger audience. They're definitely all books that have stayed with me long after I've finished reading them.

    And I am slowly making my way through everyone else's pages too... at great detriment to my already massive TBR pile!!

  14. Lauren B says:
    July 27, 2011 at 4:47 AM

    Wonderful choices. Some I've heard of and others not but they all look like great reads.
    Thanks for stopping by my Top Ten.

  15. Jen (@ Jens Book Closet) says:
    July 27, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Left to Tell was an amazing book, albeit so sad. I really did love it and I learned so much from reading about her experiences. Still Alice I also liked. That one was harder for me though. Nobody wants to see someone deteriorate to that level. Plus, her hubby kinda made me super angry. Definitely a tough issue.

    In the Closet With a Bibliophile

  16. Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic says:
    July 27, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    Love the list. Very thorough and informative. I like how you broke it into categories.

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