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.

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An Open Letter to the Loudoun County School Board

*For those of you who don’t know, Loudoun County, the county I essentially grew up in, is1463585_848223821855895_8269696314325443692_n strongly considering enacting a plan to rezone elementary schools in Leesburg by neighborhoods. At first glance, this seems logical, giving students shorter bus rides and whatnot, but it will result in a highly stratified system for elementary schools, which is what I take issue with here. This is a copy of the email I sent to the School Board, and I decided to publish it here as well in order to publicize my critique. If you feel strongly about this as well, send an email to the School Board at lcsb@lcps.org before March 29th, because that’s when they’ll vote on the rezoning plans! Without further ado, here is my open letter:

Dear members of the Loudoun County School Board,

My name is Brianna Meeks. I am a former student of the Loudoun County public schools. I graduated in 2014, and I now go to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Northern Virginia, Loudoun County included, has quite a strong representation at William & Mary, and thus, people have created a stereotype for “NoVa” students: mainly, that we are all wealthy. While this stereotype fits many of the Northern Virginia residents, I do not believe it is the best stereotype. I believe that the most accurate statement that can be made of a Northern Virginia resident is that that student almost certainly went to a good school. I am impressed with the quality of my education in public schools in Loudoun County. I was able to attend the Academy of Science, do theatre and choir, and truly thrive while I was in the Loudoun County public school system, which has helped me to thrive here at William & Mary.

Plan 12 is a disgrace to the superior education I received in the Loudoun school system. This is segregation in today’s world, and I am shocked that such a plan could hold weight among a respected group of people as yourselves. Every child deserves the right to an excellent education, an education like the one I got, an education that Loudoun County can give them if you do not rezone based on neighborhoods. If you are making this decision purely for the ease of zoning in the future, then I respect that. However, to zone based on neighborhoods means to zone based on socioeconomic status and race. Making logistics simpler in the future may be a noble goal, but we cannot do so when the result is segregation. We cannot do so at the expense of the education of these children.

Not only are these students at a disadvantage economically and from a lack of proficiency with the English language; now you want to increase their setbacks in life. With society as a whole conspiring against them, the one thing disadvantaged students can count on to give them a chance to reach their full potential in life is a quality education. This plan would take that away, and I am ashamed of that. This plan sets up these students to fail from the beginning, and that is an injustice to them. This plan tells them that they are worth less than students who come from families with privilege, which, frankly, is despicable.

Furthermore, every student should have the opportunity to learn alongside students who are different from them. Diverse environments promote empathy, and empathy is one of the most valuable lessons a person could receive in an increasingly cruel world. Separating the disadvantaged from the advantaged not only severely hurts the disadvantaged, as I have mentioned, but it also steals an extremely valuable opportunity away from the advantaged and thus, hurts them as well. Just as sexism hurts men as well as women, so any form of discrimination hurts all people. If you do not have the empathy to care for the low-income and ELL students, care at least for the chance for your own children.

You are masking this plan under the guise of simplicity of zoning, to reduce the amount of changes that will be made in the future. I want to believe that you have pure motives, but I am forced to be skeptical. You as a board are not diverse at all, and you may not even be aware of the privilege you and your children have. Privilege affords blindness to those who have it, and it is time that those of us who do have it to look critically at the ease with which we can succeed and the difficulties we may never have to face. Maybe you are not explicitly xenophobic, but we all have implicit biases. This issue really comes down to racism, classism, and xenophobia. But diversity is not a weakness; it is a strength. We should not be afraid of differences but rather welcome them with open arms.

Thank you,

Brianna Meeks