Updated Book Recommendations Post

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 MorrisonSlide1

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.

Slide2The 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 ParkSlide3

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.

Slide4The 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.


3 Days, 3 Quotes Day 2: Fitzgerald, Books, and Belonging

Wooh, it’s day 2, and I’ve got another quote for you all today! If you want to look at the rules again, read yesterday’s post. Again, thank you Carly and The Daily Geekette for the nomination!

fitzgerald quote


Even this cat found a home with books (and magazines).

This quote really needs very few words. I feel like you have either experienced this with books and wholeheartedly agree with Fitzgerald, or you don’t. I’ve written a lot about belonging and what home means to me on this blog. I’ve struggled with loneliness considerably during my lifetime, which is why this quote resonates with me so much. So often during my life, I felt like I was on the margins. I need an invitation to feel like I belong, where it seems like other people just create a space for themselves and call it home. But books? Books welcomed me. They said, “Hey there, wandering soul. Find a home here.” Books gave me the human connection I was craving. And they have done that for countless others.

I think we all want to belong. We all want to be at home somewhere, with people who really know us and care for us and tell us that we are welcome and wanted. And it’s really wonderful that books can alleviate loneliness for people, even people who wouldn’t consider themselves very lonely.

I hope you not only find a kindred spirit in the pages of a book but also on the streets of your life. I hope you know that you belong.

Here are the people I’m nominating today:

Enjoy your quotes, everyone!

Let’s Talk About Love

So, I had to read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for English. At the beginning, I thought it was adorable. Here was a deep shepherd who was about to embark on a journey that (according to the back cover) would lead to some profound experience and personal revelation. I was excited, because I’d heard a lot of good things about the book. Half-way through, I was not so excited. 

You see, while I like books that are philosophical in nature (check out Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis), I did not like this book. And that was because the book was saturated with philosophy. And I really do mean saturated. Every page spoke of our Personal Legend or the Language of the World or listening to our Heart, even the Introduction. If you asked me to tell you the theme of the book, I could literally take a quote from the book and that would be it. And I wouldn’t have to search hard for that quote because it was repeated everywhere. And I found it annoying and almost insulting to be told the theme everywhere. 

I also think it was insulting to Coelho’s main character, a boy named Santiago. I already mentioned that I liked the beginning of the book. That is because he was just a shepherd who would speak to his sheep because he knew they understood him. He had deep thoughts, and I liked that. But because of the saturation of philosophy in the book, the reader got annoyed at him. We have a glimpse into his thoughts, and if his thoughts get annoying because they’re so repetitive, we get annoyed at him. So, I don’t think it was fair to Santiago, because by the end of the book, the reader could no longer appreciate what a profound person he was.

It’s not that I didn’t agree with what was said, although some of the things were pretty far-fetched and/or cheesy. I just didn’t appreciate how it was portrayed. I did like some of the themes. I liked that it spoke of understanding people and the world around us in a deeper way: “Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life, where the histories of all people are connected, and we are able to know everything, because it’s all written there.” I liked that; I really did. I liked when it spoke of how people can communicate and understand each other, even when they don’t speak the same language. Because we’re all people, and we should all be able to connect to each other. 

You don’t need words to comfort someone who’s crying. You don’t need words to read the emotions on someone’s face, whether they are of fear, anguish, love, or laughter. Even though I love words, I have to admit that they’re not necessary. Celine Dion sings a song called “Let’s Talk About Love.” The song goes to say that “there’s a thread that runs right through us all and helps us understand.” Coelho didn’t need to saturate his book with philosophy to tell us that. I can hear it in a song. I can see it in my friends. Granted, we have the tendency to forget how very similar we are. We like to think of how we are different from others, especially when we don’t like them. But we are all human; we all experience love and anger and sorrow. And as Coehlo would put it, we all speak the Language of the World.

Or we can just talk about love

Epylle Spydre

To Be a Hero

Oh gosh, have I missed this. Yay! School’s out, and I can blog everyday again! It’s time to get ready for all those college applications *groan*. But I didn’t write this to talk about school. On the contrary, I’ve had the theme of this blog post in my brain for ages, that theme being redemption as seen in my favorite tv show, Once Upon a Time. So here we go!

I don’t know about you, but I generally put books into 3 categories: books that are kinda good but not exceptionally amazing; books with really engaging plots but aren’t particularly meaningful; and finally, books that are really meaningful, regardless of how engaging the plot is (they usually go hand in hand with books that make you cry). I actually blogged about one of my favorite books that belongs in this last category, so you can check that out here if you want. Anyways, we have been blessed with wonderful minds who created these books that mean so much. And usually, the biggest difference between the stories with amazing plots and small meanings and the stories with great meanings and perhaps average plots comes down to redemption.

These are the stories (because they don’t have to just be books) that give us hope for the world and hope for humanity. We all know that we live in a fallen world and that we are flawed. We just can’t escape that. But there is hope. We don’t have to be slaves to our fallen nature; we can rise above it and be heroes. That is what these stories show us. They say that we may have failed, but we don’t have to let that failure define us. Since I was inspired by the Once Upon a Time season 2 finale, I’ll use it as an example.


The so-called Evil Queen Regina just wanted someone to love her. After her fiancee, Daniel, died, she had no one. But then Henry came along. Henry, her adopted son, saw beyond all her lies and less than honorable actions. Henry believed in the goodness of Regina, but Regina kept failing him. When the trigger that would destroy Storybrooke falls into the wrong hands (somewhat due to Regina), Regina has a choice to make. She could continue on the self-serving path she had created for herself, or she could be noble and save everyone in Storybrooke. Regina makes the choice to sacrifice herself in exchange for everyone else, showing that Henry was right all along. 

This moment was so beautiful it legitimately made me cry. The beauty of her sacrifice coupled with the profound change of character she had in that moment was just too much for me. I don’t really expect you to understand unless you know the story, but that doesn’t really matter. Redemption plays a part in almost every truly meaningful story. In The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo, it was in the forgiveness of Despereaux’s father. Some stories, like The Great Gatsby, find meaning in showing painful truths. But the best ones are the ones that say you don’t have to slay dragons or destroy the Ring of Power to be a hero. 

Believing in the Unbelievable

A friend asked me to make up a story recently, so I did. Unfortunately, I had to send him the story in a text, so I didn’t get the chance to elaborate on it. So I’m going to do that here! (I actually also took out one part because it wasn’t important. All good fun.)

Once upon a time,—I know that’s cheesy start, but bear with me— there was a squirrel named Maximus. This particular squirrel was courageous and dreamy, unlike all of the other squirrels. Fancies would pop into his head, and he would follow them on many wild goose chases toward nothing. Everybody knew him as Crazy Max, but he didn’t care, for he lived in a world full of fairies and dragons and all sorts of fantastical things that the others didn’t believe in.

One day, Maximus saw a brilliant rainbow. So brilliant, he decided, that he would go out and find the end of it. Everybody wished him a fond farewell, sure that he had gone completely off his rocker. But Maximus didn’t care, for he was filled with courage and faith.

Off Maximus went, and before he knew it, he ran into a fox. Since Maximus didn’t know how to find the end of the rainbow, he decided to ask the fox. The fox, thinking he was a very stupid squirrel, didn’t answer him, but instead tried to gobble him up. And while Maximus wasn’t the brightest, he was one of the fastest squirrels, and was able to get into the safe branches of a tree. The fox soon left, and Maximus decided to keep going, though more warily than before.

Still in search of the end of the rainbow, Maximus found an owl. Knowing that owls were supposed to be the wisest creatures, Maximus hastily approached the owl and asked him how to get to the end of the rainbow. The owl was a firm believer in reason and logic, and therefore, thought the “poor little squirrel” to be “completely and absolutely deranged”. Considering it his civic duty to dispose of the creature that was “probably rabid”, the owl also tried to eat Maximus. This time, Maximus couldn’t hide in a tree, so he found a hole in the ground. He was thoroughly terrified of the owl and couldn’t believe his bad luck. Eventually the owl left out of frustration, but Maximus stayed in his hole, cowering in fear. But eventually, his exhaustion won out on his fear, and Maximus fell asleep.

When he woke, Maximus decided to continue his journey. Tired and scared and starting to believe that maybe he was wrong about the rainbow after all, Maximus’ motivation had left him. He blundered on, still following the rainbow, but not even bothering to look at the rest of his surroundings. That is, until he stumbled on a mountain of toadstools. Confused, Maximus looked around him. He had found the end of the rainbow! And here, at the end of the rainbow, was the fabled city of the fairies. Along with the mountain of toadstools, they also had beds made out of cobwebs and the whole place sparkled with dewdrops. All the fairies, blue, pink, green, red, and many other colors, surrounded Maximus. One regal-looking fairy came up to him and asked him how he had found the place. When Maximus responded out of the honesty in his heart, this fairy told him, “Because of your great faith and courage, we will make you our king!” Maximus was honored and delighted, and he lived the rest of his life with the fairies, resolving many of their conflicts with the squirrels and other creatures of the rest of the world.

The end.

I enjoyed writing that. I hope you enjoyed reading it. Now, I’ll only do a little bit of philosophizing, because I don’t want to make this post super long. I guess if you could give that story a moral it would be about the virtues and wisdom of faith, even when faith goes against wisdom. Because faith is built upon that which does not have experience or logic to back it up, it can often go against wisdom, or rather, reason. The book I just finished this morning, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, agrees with me: “If you say that you believe something to be true, you might mean one of two things—that you’re still weighing the alternatives, or that you accept it as a fact. I don’t logically see how one single word can have contradictory definitions, but emotionally, I completely understand.” Once again, faith goes beyond logic, but as Picoult points out, it makes perfect sense in our emotions. Faith is a part of our souls and by its very definition, goes beyond logic. But just because it doesn’t make sense logically doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Just a thought.

Enjoy your lemonade,

Epylle Spydre

To Choose or Not to Choose? That is the Question

Hey guys! Sorry it’s been awhile. A very long while, and I’m sorry about that. I’ve just had work that I didn’t think I was going to have and after working all day, it takes an awful lot of motivation to get onto the computer and write a blog. It’s just so much easier to watch a movie or read a book, which I’m actually really enjoying. So yeah, I’m sorry. I’ll try to be more regular with my posting, but school starts soon. So this place will probably disappear for a little bit, only to be resurrected during Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter breaks, etc.

As I said, I’m really enjoying my book, My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. I’d really recommend it, it’s lovely food for the brain. Now, I could go and talk about ethics and human life, but I already did that in another blog post, “A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small”. So, I’m going to go on the other route, and talk about choices. Why are we given the pure gift of choice? When can we make good choices?

Choice. Why do we have it? If you believe in a God, you ask, “Why did my God give humans the gift of choice? We’re so STUPID!” (just as a note, I’m not trying to exclude all you polytheistic people. I’M NOT TRYING TO BASH YOUR RELIGION, I’m just trying to make it easier on myself by not having to deal with awkward tense situations.) Back to the topic, I believe the answer is very simple: if we didn’t have the gift of choice, we wouldn’t be able to choose that God. In practically every religion you come across, God doesn’t just let people go on and live their life (except Deism, but that’s really complicated). More often than not, God wants something from people, whether that is obedience, love, service, worship, etc. But think about it, if we didn’t have free will, we wouldn’t be giving those things willingly and whole heartedly. It’s like if you made robots or puppets worship you. It doesn’t satisfy you, because it’s not the subject’s choice. It all came from you, but that doesn’t help you know that you’re a good god, or a scary god, or whatever type of god you wanted to be. By giving choice to humans, God gives us the ability to choose Him, and therefore we are the evidence of His success. There’s my answer to that one. And if you don’t believe in a god, then well, I can’t really help you there. (Once again, not trying to bash your beliefs. Please don’t get upset at me. I didn’t do it on purpose. I love you anyways, please love me, too.)

This next part is more connected to the book. The book is all about whether the main character, Anna Fitzgerald, can make choices about her health that could save or hurt her sister. That’s the gist, folks, and it’s not a spoiler. It’s a really good book, you really should read it. But the point is, what gives us the right to make choices? How do we and those around us trust to make good decisions? Just face it, we make TONS of bad decisions. So, why do we keep making decisions? Why don’t we just become paranoid and hide ourselves in a closet with tons of Purell? First, BECAUSE WHAT IF THAT’S NOT THE RIGHT CHOICE? Second, because frankly, we want to have a life. A closet won’t be the place where you meet your one true love. Unless they’re paranoid too, in which case, you guys will make a very unusual couple…. But third, because I think it’s just a habit of humanity. We can’t do anything without making a choice, even if they’re not conscious ones. Finally and perhaps most philosophically, we want to be able to continue making choices. Free will, the ability to choose, is what makes us different from animals. We admire animals: their beauty, strength, swiftness, cunning, cuteness. But we want to be different from them. So we make the choice to make choices. It’s choice-ception! And even though some of our choices don’t turn out to be the greatest in the world, they give us nice, little reality checks. They remind us that we do have free will, that it’s a gift, and that we should try to use it wisely. So can we trust ourselves to make good choices? Of course not! But we make choices anyway.


(cue lemonade clink)

Epylle Spydre

Some Words About Words

Actually, this is more than about just a few words, I want to talk about a book today. This particular book is called The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. It’s about the Vietnam War, but it’s surprisingly good. Actually, it’s not just good, it’s amazing. One of the best pieces of fiction I’ve come across in a while, which is weird ‘cause I’ve been reading a lot of good fiction recently. Maybe the fact that I thought I wouldn’t like it is the reason that I love it so much. Now, you’re probably thinking I’m crazy. If you know me, you know I’m crazy already, but that’s not really the point. The point is that it’s weird for me, probably the most anti-conflict person you’ll ever meet, to not only like, but love, a book about war. But this book really is very good.

The Things They Carried is comprised of many short stories, all relating to the author’s experiences in the Vietnam War. If after reading this you feel like reading it, but can’t get all of it, at least read the parts “The Things They Carried” (yes, it shares a name with the novel itself) or “How to Tell a True War Story”. Those two fill you with this deep, profound pain. Literally, after reading them, my heart is searing with that pain, but it’s so real. They break my heart, but there’s a certain beauty about them that convinces my heart that it likes being broken. I have some friends who want to join the military, and maybe it’s that fact that makes O’Brien’s stories so real for me. It really is so real, and you can feel the realness of the story just emanating from the words, touching your heart, and making you feel like those things happened to you.

There are some books that, after reading them, all you can do is sit and say, “Wow. That was so good.”  They’re so good that you don’t have the words to explain how good they are. Fellow book lovers will understand me, and I hope that the rest of you have experiences like this that convert you into being book lovers. But for me, I have had so few of those experiences recently. Those experiences are more grounded in my childhood with the books, Little Women, The Tale of Despereaux, and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light. But recently, I haven’t had those experiences. Until The Things They Carried. Like with all superb books, I can’t explain how good it is. There are some books that talk to your  head, but there are others that talk to your heart and make your heart feel. I know that sounds super cheesy, but that’s the best way I can describe it. I feel the emotions, and it’s just so beautiful, and unfortunately, I can’t explain that to you. I would recommend this book to anyone willing to glimpse the horrors of war. Every writer ascribes to get to that point where it’s not the writer speaking, but the words themselves that speak. Tim O’Brien has achieved that, and I love it. Thank you, Mr. O’Brien.

Epylle Spydre

p.s. sorry that I couldn’t be eloquent and figure out how to explain this well. I used to have good words for what I’m trying to convey, but every time I remembered one, I would forget it right after.

p.p.s. sorry for not posting yesterday, I was just very busy and didn’t have time to write.