Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, Watchmen was intended to showcase the unique artistic power of the comic medium.The radical aesthetic, the layout of the panels on the page, even the design of the word balloons, pushed the boundaries of the period’s conservtive formatting. Alan Moore’s multi-layered, non-linear story structure reveals much about our conceptions of time as well as the messy world these characters operate in. Yet somehow, through all the clutter, something frightfully honest lunges from the panels. All the subtext and narrative complexity would be too much for most writers, but in the capable hands of Alan Moore it works. Watchmen started off as an experiment of what would happen if these comic superheroes were real psychologically complex individuals existing in the real world – a world dominated by Cold War paranoia. Simultaneously a celebration of the medium of comics and a criticism of the traditionalism which they were approached with, Watchmen is a seminal work not only of Moore’s career, but for the graphic format as a whole.
– Johnny Chern, Online Screen editor
Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods is a fairy tale for grown-ups. The tale brings you face to face with all the well-known characters of your childhood, twisting their stories together into a new, thrilling, and surprisingly modern adventure. Unlike the fairy stories of Disney, not all the princes in Into the Woods are quite as charming as they seem: in the woods, you will learn that princesses aren’t always happy, big bad wolves can be sexy, and even if all your wishes come true you may not find your happy ending. Into the Woods takes the fairy tale cues from the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault, presenting us with a realism that allows us to relate the heroes; heroes who aren’t perfect and don’t always make the right decisions. But amongst the cheating and lying and corruption, Into the Woods is also a tale of love and friendship, a coming-of-age story that from which we can learn how to be a better people. Through the music and lyrics of Sondheim’s genius, you will take back from the experience many valuable things. Just remember – be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.
– Emma Hewetson
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
The coming-of-age novel Norwegian Wood is perhaps the most acclaimed work of Japanese author Haruki Murakami, and for good reason. Its pages contain a cornucopia of meaning, exploring themes of sexuality, mental illness and growth against a backdrop of tragedy and civil unrest. The plot follows the recollections of Watanabe, a middle-aged man reliving the tumultuous events of his youth that took place in the 1960s. An unexpected suicide shakes the characters, permanently shattering their calm lives and setting them on journeys of self-discovery. Some are set on a downward spiral of mental anguish whilst others develop conflicting affections that force them to make decisions not just about who they want but about what they want their future to look like. It is a powerful story, which illustrates the random cruelty of the world but the astonishing beauty that exists alongside, almost as if in contradiction. If you are looking for an uplifting story at the end of a long week, this may not be the book for you; on the other hand, if you thrive on dark yet authentic narratives then this is the book to read.
– Alexandra Luca
The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
In the late 80s, Stephen King was standing with pride upon the peak of his success. Already a cultural icon of the decade, the man could not be stopped – he still hasn’t stopped. But it’s rare to see people talking about The Eyes of the Dragon, King’s tribute to fantasy tradition. While it’s difficult to describe the book as an essential and influential part of the Stephen King canon, it is still worth reading. At only 326 pages, The Eyes of the Dragon is one of King’s shortest and least indulgent works. The premise is simple, traditional: an evil magician (named Flagg, a reference to King’s aforementioned magnum opus, The Dark Tower) poisons the king of Delain in order to usurp his power, and the sons must work together to take revenge. The story is told in retrospect from the perspective of an unnamed narrator, who adds their own commentary and repeatedly breaks the fourth wall. This all adds a layer of charm and love over the bulk of the story, which is tight but traditional. In the end, a whole fantasy package is created; nostalgic, romantic, and wonderful.
– Ryan Allen
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
If Noel Fielding were a book, he’d be Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The humour, ingenuity, and good-natured English oddness of Douglas Adams’ better-known Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy series can be found in this book too. Fans will recognise Adams’ comic blending of the ridiculous with the mundane, and the unobtrusive profundity which underpins it. Part murder-mystery, part ghost story, part 2001: A Space Odyssey, the book concerns time travel, quantum space, Coleridge, a gentle mockery of belief systems (religious, scientific, and alternative) – and lots of pizza. It spans the timeline of life on Earth in under 300 pages – and there’s a sequel. Unfortunately, Adams’ death in 2001 left the third book unfinished, but his whole body of work ensures his place amongst the best English authors of the twentieth century. Occasionally dark but never harrowing, baffling but never frustrating, Adams’ inoffensive, gentle, and genuinely funny tone makes this a wonderfully diverting read.
– Chris Allen