As your wonderful summer has reached it’s (roughly) midway point, you are probably thinking that you haven’t done enough reading this break. Never fear, you can get started with these picks from our Editors-in-Chief:
‘The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America’ by Erik Larsen
This book examines two very different historical events at the same time; the Columbian Exhibition and the murderous career of H.H Holmes. Larsen’s writing is sweeping yet detailed, leaving the reader immersed in the hopes and crises of late 19th century America.
‘Secondhand World’ by Catherine Min
This novel deals with the isolation and conflicting identities of a young girl raised by Korean parents in America. Told in a sympathetic and compelling voice, this book implicates the insensitivities of both Korean and American culture that leave the main character stuck in a cultural no man’s land.
‘Catch-22’ by Joseph Heller
If you haven’t yet read this classic, there’s a reason it makes everyone’s list. Heller’s satire rips the American military and its ethos to shreds. A living man is declared dead and can’t do anything, a dead man can’t be moved from his tent because he hasn’t arrived yet, if you’re being questioned you must be guilty and an innocent man shouldn’t mind answering a few questions. It’s a catch-22.
‘Going Postal’ by Terry Pratchett
Pratchett is a fantasy/satire writer responsible for the Discworld, an alternate universe so rich he’s written dozens of books about it. Any one you read with be fun and decidedly un-minimalist, full of politics, magic, chaos, alternative quantum mechanics, a librarian who is also an orangutan, and other highly improbable events, but I especially recommend this one because the main character’s name is
Moist von Lipwig.
‘Everything is Illuminated’ by Jonathan Safran Foer
I will put this book on any book list unless physically restrained. It is set in the Ukraine and narrated by the completely lovable Ukrainian thesaurus-abuser Alex. The author himself emerges as a character, looking for a lost Jewish village and a woman who may have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Foer also tells the story of his ancestors in the village in dreamlike prose reminiscent of magical realism. This book is funny/sad/amazing and I recommend it to anyone.
‘The Golden Compass’ by Phillip Pullman
This book is the first in the ‘His Dark Materials’ series, and is classified as young adult fantasy, but many of the themes latent in the text are very adult. I would describe it as a more complex and subtle atheist/secular humanist answer to the Christian undertones of the Chronicles of Narnia series. This book leaves its protagonists in a world of war with nothing to believe in, and yet gives them a simple hope in the beauty, wonder, and adventure of life.
‘The Things They Carried’ by Tim O’Brien
Many people may have been asked to read this for a class, but it deserves a private re-reading. I have a soft spot for books that defiantly blur the lines between fiction and reality, and O’Brien’s prose is beautiful, elegant, and raw. This book has value both as art and a document of what it might have been like to be a soldier during the Vietnam War, and it’s perfect for the reader who wants both of those experiences at the same time.
‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green
This book is young adult fiction, and it is a story about cancer, and it is a story about love. This synopsis paints the picture of something very trite and melodramatic, but Green has written an unusually perfect little book. These other questions, of being young, cancertastic, and besotted, are really just frame questions for much bigger ones: “What is my life worth? Who is it for? What do I do with it?” This book is human and real and intensely touching.
‘The Elegance of Hedgehogs’ by Muriel Barbery
This very French novel is narrated by two highly intelligent, alienated females living in the same high class apartment building in Paris, who have a penchant for savoring and dissecting the nature of life and its little moments. The difference between them is that one is a widowed, unattractive, fifty-something concierge, jealously guarding her intelligence from the bourgeois residents, and the other is a twelve year old girl convinced that life is not worth living, jealously guarding her intelligence from her bourgeois family. Their narratives run along parallel lines that begin to converge, creating fascinating commentary on the microcosm of life that is their apartment building.
“Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell
‘Outliers’ is an investigative look into the nature of success, which American society has branded to be the product of hard work and talent. Gladwell peels away at this fiction by looking into the factors behind the success of various individuals and groups, and the cultural backgrounds, random advantages, and dumb luck that made that success possible. This book is a fascinating read and an eye opener to any subscribing to the ethos of rugged individualism.
‘A Night in the Lonesome October by’ Roger Zelazney
This is the book I find myself coming back to when I want to unwind. Set in the rural English countryside during the 19th century, this book follows Snuff, the dog familiar of the cursed Jack, as he and Jack participate in the Game. The Game is a ritual where the Players act to either keep the violent Old Gods out or bring them to Earth. A highly amusing tale told almost exclusively from the animal familiars’ points of view, the story also includes cameos such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Sherlock Holmes.
‘Animal Man Volumes 1-3’ by Grant Morrison; Illustrated by Chas Tuog, Doub Hazlewood, Tom Grummet, Steve Montano, and Mark McKenna
These volumes are the collection of issues #1-26 of the DC series Animal Man, which constitute the Grant Morrison’s reimagining of the hero, who can take on the powers of animals, for Vertigo Comics, an offshoot of DC Comics. Animal Man faces supervillains, fox hunters, corporations, ethical dilemmas, and eventually Grant Morrison himself. Told with daring, insight, and heart, this story also contains the greatest use of meta I have seen and was a game-changer for Vertigo and the genre.
‘Call of the Wild’ by Jack London
The classic novel that is hailed as London’s masterpiece follows Buck, a pet dog who is kidnapped and sold as a sled dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. Buck is forced to adapt to the harsh and unforgiving Yukon so different from his original home in sunny California. Although there is the risk of anthropomorphism, London portrays Buck realistically as a dog, without over-sentimentality but also without pretending he does not possess “human-like” intelligence.
‘Missing You, Metropolis’ by Gary Jackson
A collection of poetry that won the 2009 Cave Canem Prize, ‘Missing You, Metropolis’ examines the world of comic books through a poetic lens. It features many well-known superheroes and villains as well as anonymous bystanders and autobiographical pieces, blending together our world and the comic book world. The poems shed a different light on the heroes and villains, adding a layer to the already textured field of today’s most popular mythology. Poetry and comic book lovers alike will love this collection.
‘Platte River’ by Rick Bass
Three amazing novellas are in this stunning collection. Each of the characters the novellas center around are simple people who are surreally larger than life. The collection contains an aging preacher taming the passions of the town, a Paul Bunyan-like man who tries to join a family, and a former football player who is trying to cope with loneliness. Stories of everyday life mixed with tall tales, each novella is refreshing and provoking, and Bass’ blending of the natural world and human nature is incredibly satisfying.
‘Pride of Baghdad’ by Brian K. Vaughn; Illustrated by Niko Henrichon
Based on the true story of a pride of lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo during the Iraq war, this graphic novel follows the pride as they travel through the war-torn city. Their journey is told with compassion and knowledge, and is gut-wrenching, provocative, and philosophical. Henrichon’s study of anatomy and Vaughn’s research into lion behavior makes the protagonists believable as lions and not simply characters.
‘Raptor’ by Andrew Feld
This book of poetry focuses on one of the author’s obsessions (and mine as well), birds of prey. However, this book is for lovers of poetry as well as lovers of birds. Following themes of environmentalism, falconry, historical significance, and the difference (and similarity) between wild and domestic, raptors are used both in their natural state and as symbols to further the poems. Feld’s poems are a combination of free verse and difficult form poetry crafted expertly.
‘The Foundation Series’ by Isaac Asimov
Set in the far future, the Galactic Empire is collapsing after twelve thousand years of rule. The only hope to avoid thirty thousand years of interplanetary warfare is Hari Seldon’s, the creator of psychohistory (a scientific field that uses mob psychology to predict the future), plan. Thus Foundation, a planet with virtually no natural resources besides the minds and knowledge placed there, is born. ‘The Foundation Series’ follows this galaxy throughout generations, as the people of Foundation attempt to follow Seldon’s plan despite any opposition. A delightful, thought-provoking series that looks into politics, violence, and the concept of freewill, with a believable view of the future that Asimov is so good at.
‘Watchmen’ by Alan Moore; Illustrated by Dave Gibbons
‘Watchmen’ is a classic graphic novel, and with good reason. This epic story follows a group of superheroes in New York City during the tumult and fear of the Cold War. As the heroes, inactive for years due to the ban on vigilantes by the Keene Act, start to be killed and discredited the nature of power, humanity, and what is right and wrong is examined in such stark detail that I felt dazed for a few days after my first time finishing it.
‘Watership Down’ by Richard Adams
A masterpiece of fiction, ‘Watership Down’ tells the story of a group of male rabbits who leave their warren after one of them has a prophetic vision of its doom. Thus starts their quest to find a new warren, in which they must oppose predators, humans, and other warrens as they strive for a home. These rabbits are not the cuddly ones you imagined when you were a child, but fierce survivors that fight for freedom. With a nuanced culture and incredible characters, ‘Watership Down’ is a must read.