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.

These are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that I love books. The written word is incredibly precious to me and I hope to you as well. So today I just wanted to share a little about my 5 favorite novels! Oh, and I also included a favorite quote from each book!  

Jane Eyre by Charlotte BrontëJane Eyre

While my listing of these books aren’t in an exact order, this one is by far my favorite. I adore Jane; she’s my fictional kindred spirit, my literary doppelgänger. I connect with her on so many levels, and that’s an incredibly justifying experience. But aside from our similarities, she inspires me. She’s an incredibly strong, honest, eloquent person, and she’s my imaginary role model as well. And of course, there’s Edward Rochester, our wonderful byronic hero. Their story is beautiful and heartbreaking, made all the more exquisite with Brontë’s rich language. Every sentence is dripping with meaning, and it’s nearly impossible to pick a quote because they’re all so gorgeous. In short, I absolutely adore Jane Eyre. Oh, and if you’ve read the book, make sure you check out the BBC Masterpiece 2006 movie version because it’s wonderful!


The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit is probably the book (other than really short books) that I have digested the most. I’ve listened hobbitto it at least twice, and I’m pretty sure I read it once by myself. Anyway, I probably would have just said the Lord of the Rings trilogy, except that I’m reading The Return of the King for the first time right now, and I read the other two when I was too young to appreciate them. There is a magic to Tolkien’s language, and the world he created is so lavish and full of intricacies. And Bilbo is an adorably honest and hardy character, and Martin Freeman does justice to the character in the movies (probably the best part of the movies, actually, what with all the borrowing and adapting that goes on). Add that to adventures of escaping from trolls, riddles with Gollum, and a jail-break out of Mirkwood, and it should be easy to see why this is such a beloved classic.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

I actually already wrote a post about this book, a series of memoirs from the VietThings they carriednam War, so this will be brief. Basically, what really makes this book so valuable is the real, raw glimpse into what war is like. It’s the horror we see in movies like 12 Years a Slave and Amistad, where we want to look away, but doing so feels too cowardly. But it’s not just out there to make us feel horrified; O’Brien asserts many times that there is a grotesque beauty to war. Like many things in life, war isn’t a black and white issue, and this poignant piece of literature portrays that elegantly. 

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Yup, I know this choice is overused and not original, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t legitimate. What really sells this book is the protagonist, Holden Caulfield. Yes,  he’s obnoxious. But he’s also deeply complex, and that’s what makes this book so meaningful. At the beginning, I was merely amused by all of the unusual thoughts that go on in his brain. I said, “It’s interesting to see a guy’s perspective like this.” But he’s actually really unusual because he’s iCatcherncredibly vulnerable with the readers even if he isn’t with other characters. He’s lonely, and he just wants someone to listen to him. And that is what makes this book so  universal and so loved. While our states of loneliness may not be as deep as Holden’s, we still know the feeling, and it’s comforting to know that we’re not alone. Check out John Green’s crash course videos (make sure you watch them both) on this stuff, because they are genius! 

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

It’s difficult to articulate what I love about this novel. Out of all the novels I’ve listed, this is the most endearing (The Hobbit comes pretty close, but it’s still primarily a novel about adventure). Like Tolkien, Lewis creates his own world, except instead of being strictly fantasy, this one is grounded in our own reality–in space (Mars to be precise). And the descriptions of this world are wild but beautiful. The beauty of this novel lies also in the characters, particularly the made up creatures. In a Silent Planetplace where fear doesn’t exist, the people are gallant and compassionate and wise in the purest sense of the traits. Lewis does the fantastic feat of not only creating a place that is intellectually interesting to read about and adventure in, but a place where I would truly love to live. That doesn’t do this book nearly enough justice, but it’s all I’ve got for right now. 


Do you have any book suggestions? I’m trying to read as much as I can this summer while I have the time, so I’d love to hear what your favorites are! 

Epylle Spydre

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. 

The Light Inside Us All

I haven’t done much research on this topic; I’m only relating to you what I learned in history last year. This mysterious topic that I’m speaking of is that of the philosophers’ view of  human nature. Thomas Hobbes believed that humans are evil by nature, and Jean Jacques Rousseau believed that humans are good by nature. We also spoke of this when we were reading Lord of the Flies by William Golding: are people good by nature and corrupted by society, or is it society that is good but corrupted by people??

I cannot answer this question without bringing faith into the question. It’s impossible not to. My faith tells me that humanity was sinless before the Fall, but because of the Fall, we are all born into sin. Another literary allusion I can make is to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Read it, and tell me what you think of the baby’s significance. But that really isn’t the point. The point is that because of my faith, I believe that human nature is flawed, even from birth. That would point more to Hobbes’ idea of humanity, but Hobbes is widely thought to have medieval philosophies that are cast aside and only good as a way to see what our inferior minds thought before the Enlightenment.

The answer, therefore, is much more sophisticated. Well, maybe I can’t say “therefore”, but my mind isn’t satisfied with “people are sinful by nature and that’s that”. I mean, I believe it’s true, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that people are evil. I’m doing work for AP psychology next year, and they’re talking about where we get our personality from: our genes, or our experiences? It’s a legitimate question. I haven’t finished the reading, so I don’t actually know which one is “more correct”, but I do believe that both are correct. In a reference to human morality, it’s even more difficult. Are people bad because it’s in their genes or are they bad because of their experiences?? I’m a science nerd, don’t get me wrong, I believe in the power of genes, but I would say experiences is more prevalent. People may be born into sin, but that doesn’t mean that people are born with evil personalities.

Sorry, I believe I’ve digressed. I’ve been thinking about a line in the movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Sirius Black says to Harry, “The world isn’t split up between good people and Death Eaters. We all have both light and dark in us.” I think that is the best answer to the question I posed above (the one with the philosophers). We all have characteristics of good and evil in our hearts. We all may be born into sin, flawed beyond any hope of perfection, but just because we cannot be perfect does not mean we are so bad.

I side with Rousseau on the matter, because I believe that even in the hearts of the wickedest of people, there is a scrap of goodness in them. It may be hard to imagine that little piece of hope in Sauron, or where a serial killer might have good intentions, but I believe that they’re there. Now, this may not be true in all cases, but I believe that most of the people who wreak havoc and harm around the world are the ones who are the most broken. They are the ones in pain. Something in their past broke them beyond repair, like Roscuro in The Tale of Despereaux. Roscuro was said to have his heart broken, and when your heart breaks, it doesn’t come back quite right, to paraphrase the book. I believe that this is the case with the world’s villains. They’re just broken inside, and they hid the little light of goodness in them. And I pity them, because most of them don’t have the opportunities to find those little lights again.


Epylle Spydre