Ages ago, I wrote about my favorite books. Now, exactly 4 years later, I am updating that list. Graduating with a minor in English means that I am qualified to give unsolicited book recommendations, right? Who knows, but here we go!
Beloved by Toni Morrison
While I have a hard time saying what my favorite book is, Beloved has no competition as the most important book I have read. Everyone American or person who lives on American soil should read this book, because it deals with one of the central traumas of our history: slavery. But so often we forget about that history, even though we are most definitely still living with the legacy of it. And I could go on about that (maybe it’ll become its own blog post?), but I promised to talk about books here. This book is so rich with everything; I could read it 100 times and get something new from it every time. There’s new symbolism every paragraph, and the characters and story are compelling (and it’s based on a true story!!). The main question of the book is: what would you do to ensure that your children won’t suffer as slaves? Don’t get me wrong, it’s devastating to read. I had the good fortune to read it in a class setting, and I would actually recommend you to read it in a group setting. That helps you to get more out of it and also helps it feel less heartbreaking. So if you get anything from this post, check out Beloved from your library; it’ll be worth it.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This is similar to Beloved in that it deals with a trauma in American history: the oppression of Native Americans. Except it’s not historical fiction, but rather a contemporary work looking at the legacy that left behind. Specifically, it’s about the mess that is tribal jurisdiction in this day and age and asks the question: what is justice, especially when the justice system is not built in your favor? Like Beloved, this book has its devastating moments (it seems I have a type), but it’s more manageable. Erdrich is a genius at using small details to highlight feelings of loss, so it’s a very organic compassion-inducing read, if that makes sense. But it’s told from the perspective of thirteen-year old Joe, which definitely gives it very welcome moments of comedy and light-heartedness. Content warning: this book does wrestle with topics of rape, murder, and death (no graphic descriptions though), so just be careful.
Re Jane by Patricia Park
In the past, I always used to say that Jane Eyre was my favorite book. And then I started looking at the colonial and imperial aspects of it, and now I’m not so sure. But I still adore Bronte’s writing style, so I would recommend reading it along with Re Jane as a companion text. Re Jane is a rewriting of Jane Eyre, from the perspective of a Korean American woman taking care of the adopted Chinese daughter of white parents. This book is refreshing and fun, and it fixes all of Jane Eyre‘s issues. Not only does it tackle issues of race in America, but it’s also very feminist, especially with the portrayal of the Rochester/Bertha replacements. It was especially fun for me to see the ways that Park took my favorite themes of liminality and belonging from Jane Eyre and reconstructed them for a biracial protagonist. The issues that Jane faces are unique to her racial identity yet still feels universal, and it’s a great read.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
You may recognize the title of this book, because it was made into a film last year. I actually still haven’t seen the film yet, but it’s on my to-do list. This is a memoir (love memoirs so much; it might be my favorite genre of book). Walls’ life has been so wild that it’s almost hard to believe that it’s not fiction. The book chronicles Walls’ poverty-marked childhood, moving across the country, ending with her in New York and her relationship with her homeless parents. The most moving aspect of reading it is the nuanced way that Walls honors the past that made her into the woman she is while also recognizing how painful it was to live through. It’s a riveting read and beautifully told, so go read the book and then watch the movie!
And while I focus on novels, here are some suggestions for other genres:
Nonfiction: The Language of God by Francis Collins. If you’re at all interested in learning more about how to reconcile faith and science (specifically on the topic of evolution), I highly recommend this book. Francis Collins is a fantastic writer, and his perspective is very compelling and comprehensive.
Poetry: My two favorite poets at the moment are Pablo Neruda and Layli Long Soldier. There is a purity to the simplicity of Neruda’s odes that’s just delightful and wholesome to read, and he also writes a lot of beautiful love poetry. Long Soldier is a Lakota poet whose works are unconventional and push the limits of what poetry is. Her response to the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans, a book of poetry titled Whereas, is incredible, and I highly recommend it.