Writers tell stories for a multitude of reasons and people read stories for a multitude of reasons. I think what we get from the reading experience is very personal, and sometimes we simply want to use that story as a method of entertainment or escape. I don’t there’s anything wrong with that (actually, I think it’s awesome). But what about books that don’t bring entertainment or escape, but instead challenge us? I mean, books that are just plain hard to get through, both philosophically/thematically and narratively. How do we approach those? I’ve been thinking a lot about this very topic since I finished The Power by Naomi Alderman. It’s a book with a lot of strengths, but I also found it, to be frank, quite challenging on a number of levels. And yet, if someone were to ask me if I would recommend it, I would emphatically do so. To me, The Power fits into a larger canon of books that I think are necessary specifically because they are challenging to read. And I’d like to talk about why that is.
Tag Archives: reading
Hi everyone! I’m back. At last we’re moved in and I’ve made it through my first week at my new job. It’s a very exciting time for me and my husband. It’s also a very busy time; with all the new happenings, I’ve barely had any time to read! I’ve decided that this cannot stand, so I’m starting a new reading list to help me stay organized. Reading lists aren’t inherently difficult or complicated. But, thanks to trial and error and the suggestions of a few friends, I’ve come up with a few tips that make my list so much more useful.
List Title and Author
One of the many reasons I keep a reading list is to help me find the books I want in stores, particularly used book stores. Many times I’ve walked in with a book title in my head only to find myself lost because I can’t remember the author’s name. Occasionally, I’ve been recommended an author by a friend, don’t have the book title on hand, and have to guess on a whim what title I will read. Of course, sometimes solving these conundrums is as easy as finding a knowledgeable store clerk with a computer. However, book stores can be busy (I’m looking at you, Powell’s), and sometimes a knowledgeable clerk is hard to find. For me, it’s best to save myself trouble later on and make sure I keep both author name and book title on my list.
Organize by Category
I owe this tip to my friend Anne. There are many ways to organize a reading list, some more helpful than others. I’m organizing mine by genres and subgenres, starting off with a split between fiction, non-fiction, and YA, and working down from there. But, as long as your categories work for you, organize in whatever way that you please. Organizing by category is helpful for a few reasons: 1) it helps you decide what to read next (e.g., your last book was a fantasy novel, so maybe you want a non-fiction memoir), 2) it helps you locate the book in a bookstore, 3) you get to impress all your friends with how organized your reading list is.
Keep a Copy with You
If you’re going to go to all this trouble to make a nice reading list, it makes sense to use it to help you locate your next reading adventure. In this age of smart phones and tablets, it’s not even that difficult. Just make sure you keep a copy in your email, cloud drive, or on whatever notes feature your phone/tablet uses. If you’re old school and prefer using a hard copy list, I suggest typing your list in columns in a Word document or spreadsheet. That way, after you print it, you can fold it in such a way to fit in your wallet while still allowing you read the book title and author. Also, you’ll want to keep a pen or pencil handy so you can put a check mark next to books you find or are finished reading. Then, periodically update your electronic list and print off a fresh page.
Do you guys make reading lists? If so, do you have any useful tips to share?
Recently, a friend asked me if I had any good book recommendations. My brain started to shut down as I was left to wonder: “Books? What are books? Can I read? I have no idea.”
So, now that I have the time, and I’m not in “deer in headlights” mode, I happily offer the following three book recommendations to said friend and anyone else.
Contemporary Fiction: Americanah
Americanah, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is a gorgeous story about two young people, Ifemelu and Obinze, as they journey away from their homeland (Nigeria) and each other. The story, told in limited third person perspective, switches between both character’s lives as they fall in love, grow frustrated with their country’s economic problems, and seek to find better choices in foreign lands. The book then follows them back to Nigeria as they look at their old home with new perspectives.
This book is really honest about a lot of things, sometimes brutally so. Race is a big topic, especially comparing the American understanding of race and how that differs from the UK and Nigeria. The characters also struggle with the concepts surrounding immigration, mental health, love, friendship, personal growth, and politics. However, while honest, the book never strays away from offering something to be learned about these difficult topics. I haven’t read anything like this book before, which makes me want to recommend it all the more.
Fantasy: The Slow Regard of Silent Things
If you haven’t read The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, may I humbly suggest you do, even if only to lead up to my actual recommendation, The Slow Regard of Silent Things. However, while it’s predecessors do provide some context and background information, The Slow Regard of Silent Things can be read on its own.
The Slow Regard of Silent Things is not a long read, clocking in at a whopping 150 pages. However, it’s a wonderful book that almost feels more like poetry than prose. This is the story of Auri, her daily life, and how she sees the world. She’s a little broken and a little sad. She’s also fierce and filled with a deeply held belief on how the world should work. Rothfuss wrote her with a loving sort of tenderness that makes me admire him immensely. I will warn you that there’s no dialog in this book, and one of the most engaging scenes surrounds the process of soap making. However, I hope this only peaks your interest, because books like this don’t get published very often.
Literature: Moby Dick
It’s hard to actually describe what Moby Dick is about. At one point, it’s about the whaling industry. In another, it’s about the friendship between an American white man and a Mauri from New Zealand who may or may not be a cannibal. There’s also a man named Ahab who happens to be obsessed with a whale, and a whale who is vaguely indifferent to that tiny human’s obsession. There’s a lot about whales in general. There are chapters of encyclopedia-like entries of whale types and biology.
This book is long and it’s not tightly structured. The story meanders here and there, sometimes forgetting all about what is probably the main plot. The chapters are named silly things like “Stubb and Flask kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him”, “Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales”, and “Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes.” However, I will say this: I felt more while reading this book than I think I have from reading any other book in my life. It made me shout out loud in joy. It made me cry. It made me passionately invested in the lives of sailors with ridiculous names like Starbuck, Stubb, Flask, and Queequeg. After reading this book, I felt hope for the future of humanity. I should probably write a post about just this one book. I’ll finish by saying Moby Dick is brilliant and is most likely the best book written in the English language.
So, do you guys have any book recommendations for me? I always like to add more books to my reading list.
Literature is full of great, timeless friendships. Currently, however, there is a scarcity of really great female friendships circulating publishing these days, especially YA. This is sad, because with all the great heroines we’re getting, it seems a massive oversight. Look at The Fault in Our Stars, a great YA book with a female heroine and no important female friendship of note. Or, even consider The Hunger Games. Again, there is a strong female character, but Katniss’s most important female friendship is with her little sister (who she sees almost as a daughter to be protected).
I’m so interested by female friendships because I see them as a key cornerstone in establishing more diverse books. If a story’s heroine has a solid relationship with her female friend, it also goes to say that the book has more than one female character. Also, the great friendships show that a woman can draw strength from her relationships without having to relate through a man.
So, to remind the world that lady friendships can rock in works of fiction, here are my four favorite female friendships from classic British Literature*.
Elizabeth Bennet and Charlotte Lucas: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The relationship between main character Elizabeth Bennet and her friend Charlotte Lucas offers a great example of a female friendship. Both women depend on the other for emotional support. Even though Pride and Prejudice is seen as a great romance novel, Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is not defined or motivated by either one’s relationship to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins, or any other man. Another reason Elizabeth and Charlotte’s relationship is so great is because it’s not even intrinsic to the plot. I feel a lot of writers worry that if they invest too much into a pair of characters’ relationship to one another, it’ll overshadow another relationship. However, with Lizzy and Charlotte we see a natural, important female friendship that does not overshadow any other aspect of the book. Another bonus to Pride and Prejudice is that Elizabeth is really good friends with her sister Jane as well. So, we not only have one great female friendship, we have two!
Jane Eyre and Helen Burns: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
I first read Jane Eyre at a point in my life when I still enjoyed reading romance, and petulant, Byronic male love interests were my favorite. However, if we look at the tragically short relationship between school-aged Jane Eyre and her friend Helen Burns, we see a beautiful female friendship. What I love most about Helen and Jane’s relationship is how much Jane grows from it. Jane has a hard upbringing, but from Helen she learns not just kindness, but also how to deal with the idea of people not liking her through no fault of her own. This is a hard life lesson, but a genuine one that Jane carries with her for the rest of her life.
Beatrice and Hero: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Cousins, Beatrice and Hero are an example of how even relatives can become great friends. Beatrice teases Hero about her affections for Claudio, and Hero schemes to get Beatrice and Benedick together. Their affection for one another is genuine and free of petty jealousies and rivalries. In fact, when Claudio accuses Hero of being *ahem* not a maiden and breaks off their engagement, Beatrice storms into one of my favorite lines in the play:
Is [Claudio] not approved in the height a villain, that
hath slander’d, scorn’d, dishonour’d my kins-
woman?–O that I were a man!–What, bear her
in hand until they come to take hands; and then,
with public accusation, uncover’d slander, un-
mitigated rancour,–O God, that I were a man! I
would eat his heart in the market-place.
You read right folks. Beatrice just threatened to eat the heart of the man who scorned her best friend. It’s just so awesome. There’s so much solidarity between Beatrice and Hero.
Clarissa Dalloway and Sally Seton: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
There’s a passion and uniqueness to Clarissa and Sally’s relationship. Clarissa loves Sally’s lack of inhibition and frankness. Clarissa even recounts Sally kissing her in the garden to relay an element of sexual tension in their relationship. What I love most about Clarissa and Sally’s relationship is how it spans years. It does not end with Clarissa’s youth, but continues on into their adulthood. Also, even though Clarissa and Sally have not seen each other for some time, when Sally arrives at a party Clarissa throws she still clearly considers Clarissa a very close friend.
So, what are your favorite female friendships? Can you think of any great friendships from modern literature, film, or television?
*I studied mostly British literature in college; hence, my favorites are all from British literature.