“Americanah,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Literature is at its best when it moves you. A good novel will elicit an emotional response of some kind. A great novel reaches out and slaps you in the face. It might be depictions of harsh reality, or emotionally charged character behavior. But it nevertheless needs to not only reach you, but also affect you.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie possessed this quality in droves.

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“A Thousand Mornings,” Mary Oliver


People often shy away from poetry, thinking it’s too complicated, saying that they just don’t get it. Worse: that it’s boring or old. Fair enough. I can’t say it’s for everyone. But, I am a firm believer that any avid reader who decries poetry just hasn’t read the right poems yet.

In Mary Oliver’s A Thousand Mornings, we see the space in which traditional poetic themes are gracefully met by modern sentiments and feelings.

“I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what shall—
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.”

I Go Down to the Shore, p. 1.

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“The Glass Castle,” Jeannette Walls


The first chapter begins mundanely enough. An adult Jeannette Walls, sitting in the backseat of a taxi in NYC, catches sight of her mother rooting through a dumpster. The mother and daughter meet up for a meal, and Walls asks her mother what she needs. Her mother recoils, accusing Walls of having lost her priorities. On the next page, Walls is three years old and on fire.

The Glass Castle is a fiercely detailed memoir about her nomadic upbringing with free-spirited and often reckless parents. What struck me immediately was the way her experiences show the dark side of being free-spirited, the toll it can take, especially when children are involved. The idea of living on the road, or constantly relocating is heavily romanticized making it easy to forget the many downsides.

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“Fun Home,” Alison Bechdel


My introduction to this book was gradual. First, a friend started sending me songs from the musical. They were of course great, but I don’t think my brain made the connection that the musical was based on a memoir. The first time the book itself was recommended to me was during a coffee date with friends. At some point, conversation meandered to books, which was odd but refreshing. We all enjoyed reading, but our friendships each pre-dated us being Adults Who ReadTM, and books weren’t a typical topic of conversation for us. That being said, the recommendation slipped my mind, and by the time I picked it up, I’d forgotten it was ever mentioned to me. Either way, I’m glad it made its way onto my bookshelf.

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a graphic memoir dealing with her struggle with her sexual identity, her father’s hidden identity, and his death. Continue reading

“The Bell Jar,” Sylvia Plath


This book first came into my possession years ago, during an inexplicable burst of motivation to educate myself. I wanted to be someone who had read The Classics, to be well versed in literature that transcended time and remained relevant. I bought The Bell Jar alongside 1984 and Catcher in the Rye. First, I kept them on my nightstand to encourage myself. Over time, they found their way to my dusty bookshelves. It’s only now, years later, that I’ve successfully completed any of them.

I’m glad it was this one.

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The “Persepolis” Memoirs, Marjane Satrapi


I’ve decided to discuss both of Satrapi’s memoirs in one post, not because I want to reduce their individual importance, but because they complement and bookend one another so effectively. It doesn’t make sense to me to talk about one without the other, because, to me, Persepolis and Persepolis 2 feel like a novel divided by a distinct before and after. Together they operate the way many of my favorite novels do: beginning with rising, sure-footed fire and ending with the uncertainty, consequences. Continue reading

“To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee


Let me just start by saying: I cannot believe this was not in my high school’s English curriculum.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is a poignant coming-of-age story set in a town torn apart by discrimination, racism, and dangerous ignorance.

I’m glad I read it now. Its relevance today is both striking and disappointing—mainly because it’s a 55-year-old book about racism and bigotry still rings true. So much of the ignorance found in the people of Maycomb is still seen in people young and old today. I’d have hoped for more progress in that time. There have been steps, for sure. But the malicious mindset still exists. I’m getting carried away. Anyway.

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I’m not a fast reader. This was problematic for me, as an English major. In the four years of my undergraduate degree, I frantically motored through countless chapters of fiction, as well as theoretical material, and had to devote every spare moment to it.

It burned me out.

Since graduating, I’ve been trying to introduce reading for fun back into my life. Life and anxiety still hold me back, but still I try. Coming back to books after such a long time has meant having to determine what exactly I like to read. It had been so long since I’d chosen a book for myself. So I decided to fill in the gaps. It started as an attempt to read the classics—beginning with To Kill a Mockingbird—I’d never read in school. Luckily, as  a bookseller with a tidy employee discount, I could (almost) afford to fund my own literary exploration. The effort, however, was quickly waylaid by the realization of what had really been lacking in my academic career.

Female authors. Where were they?

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