Lists

6 Books that Gave Me Existential Crisis

Have you ever had an existential crisis because of a book?

For me, it all started with Samuel Beckett’s Endgame back in college. My drama teacher had us students choose one random playwright from her list and of course, I chose Beckett because absurdism sounded really interesting. So, that was one rabbit hole I fell in, and it resulted in me having to sit down, thinking and rethinking just about everything I knew of myself and the world for quite some time.

After Endgame, the books I read didn’t tip me into another unexpected existential crisis. That is, until Han Kang’s The White Book when the English translation finally came out 😂 

Anyway, existential crisis aside, here’s six really good books that are worth reading! …Though, if you’re an overthinker like me, you might wanna brace yourself 😅

1.  Endgame by Samuel Beckett

endgame

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Synopsis

Published in ’57, Endgame is one of Beckett’s most important works. It is a one-act play with four characters: Hamm, a blind and elderly master who cannot stand; his servant Clov, who cannot sit; and Hamm’s legless parents Nagg & Nell, who live in rubbish bins.

They exist in a tiny house by the sea, though there’s likely nothing left outside—no sea, no sun, no clouds. Mutually dependent, they’ve fought for years and live the day-to-day in a cycle, waiting for an unspecified “end”.


2.  The White Book by Han Kang

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Synopsis

Writing while on a residency in Warsaw, a city palpably scarred by the violence of the past, the narrator finds herself haunted by the story of her older sister, who died a mere two hours after birth. A fragmented exploration of white things – the swaddling bands that were also her shroud, the breast milk she did not live to drink, the blank page on which the narrator herself attempts to reconstruct the story – unfolds in a powerfully poetic distillation.

As she walks the unfamiliar, snow-streaked streets, lined by buildings formerly obliterated in the Second World War, their identities blur and overlap as the narrator wonders, ‘Can I give this life to you?’. The White Book is a book like no other. It is a meditation on a colour, on the tenacity and fragility of the human spirit, and our attempts to graft new life from the ashes of destruction.

This is both the most autobiographical and the most experimental book to date from South Korean master Han Kang.


3.  The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin

the ones who walk away from omelas by ursula k le guin book cover

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Synopsis

Some inhabitants of a peaceful kingdom cannot tolerate the act of cruelty that underlies its happiness.


4.  The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh

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Synopsis

In an interrogation room in an unnamed totalitarian dictatorship, Katurian Katurian, a writer, is being interrogated by two detectives. Next door, Katurian’s mentally disabled brother Michal waits. The detectives want to know why Katurian’s stories feature gruesome plots about child murder and torture, and in particular, why they seem to mirror a string of recent child murders in the area.

This brutal dark comedy from Martin McDonagh, the master of the horror-comedy, poses unanswerable questions: Can stories hold the power to cause atrocities? Where is the line between truth and fairy tale? Is a life of horror worth living at all? Drawing on inspiration as diverse as Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Kafka, and Antonin Artaud, The Pillowman is a dark, twisty, and utterly unforgettable masterpiece from one of Ireland’s most treasured writers.


5.  Tokyo Ueno Station by Yū Miri

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Synopsis

Born in Fukushima in 1933, the same year as the Emperor, Kazu’s life is tied by a series of coincidences to Japan’s Imperial family and to one particular spot in Tokyo; the park near Ueno Station – the same place his unquiet spirit now haunts in death. It is here that Kazu’s life in Tokyo began, as a labourer in the run up to the 1964 Olympics, and later where he ended his days, living in the park’s vast homeless ‘villages’, traumatised by the destruction of the 2011 tsunami and enraged by the announcement of the 2020 Olympics.

Akutagawa-award-winning author Yū Miri uses her outsider’s perspective as a Zainichi (Korean-Japanese) writer to craft a novel of utmost importance to this moment, a powerful rebuke to the Imperial system and a sensitive, deeply felt depiction of the lives of Japan’s most vulnerable people.


6.  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

a clockwork orange by anthony burgess book cover

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Synopsis

”It is a horrorshow story…”

Fifteen-year-old Alex likes lashings of ultraviolence. He and his gang of friends rob, kill and rape their way through a nightmarish future, until the State puts a stop to his riotous excesses. But what will his re-education mean? A dystopian horror, a black comedy, an exploration of choice, A Clockwork Orange is also a work of exuberant invention which created a new language for its characters.


Have you read any of these titles and experienced an existential crisis? Or, is there another book you’ve read that made you question what you know about yourself and/or the world? 

As always, thank you so much for reading 💜

Until next time~

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