Now that the spring semester has started, my spare reading time is going to drop dramatically. However, before my time becomes completely consumed by classwork and studies, I’d like to review what I did get a chance to read while on vacation. So, in no particular order, here are the five books I completed while on break.
5) The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs
What a book! I will admit that I started it over Thanksgiving, but for the three weeks at the end of the semester, I had to put it down and wait until finals ended. When I was able to pick it up again, nothing could part me from it, and I devoured the story. A memoir of sorts, The Year of Living Biblically follows secular, agnostic Jacobs on a year-long quest to follow
the Bible as literally as possible. If you are interested at all in faith or religion, no matter what faith or religion, I highly recommend this book. I recommend it even if you’re not into the God discussions. It’s humorous and well-written, unlike most books out there written about faith exploration. Because of his personable tone and attitude of discovery, you can easily become immersed in Jacobs’ search. If you’ve already read it and you’d like to read something else that is similar, check out The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose (you’ll remember Roose from Jacobs’ book as his ‘slave’). Both fabulous books that I highly suggest you pick up if you’re looking to think about religion or God. And again, even if you’re not into the God talk, you should read this book. The author is right there with you.
4) The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The House on Mango Street is a masterfully written, poignant story of growing up and changing, of coping with loss and difficulty. This short book, following the life of Esperanza Cordero as she grows up in a poor, racially segregated Latino section of Chicago, is written in small vignettes, some only half a page in length. Each vignette could stand alone, but
when put together as a whole, we see Esperanza’s heartbreaking tale come to life. At the beginning, the Cordero family moves to a house, the first house that they own, and it is significantly better than their apartment from before. Esperanza, however, is disappointed because it is small and brick and does not have a white fence; it is not the house she had always dreamed they would have. While living in the house on Mango street, Esperanza goes through puberty, sometimes fighting to remain childlike because of the different futures she observes in the lives of other women who live in her neighborhood. Esperanza is ashamed of herself and ashamed of Mango street for most of the novel, but realizes that it will always be a part of her life. I would recommend this book to anyone who is afraid of growing up, or too eager to get there. But don’t snub it if you’re past puberty; the lessons that Esperanza learns are universal, and you will be missing a fantastic piece of literature if you pass it by.
3) Doctor Who: The Taking of Chelsea 426 by David Llewellyn
I know it sounds ridiculous to most people, reading a Doctor Who novel, but the fact is that people have been reading them for the past fifty years, so hush if you want to criticize me. I only came across this book because my sister had borrowed it from the Muncie Public Library, so all credit for it goes to her. For you Doctor Who fans, this is a novel starring the Tenth Doctor as portrayed by David Tennant in the new series. He is traveling alone, I think sometime after Donna Noble leaves at the end of season four. The Doctor has decided to visit the first annual Chelsea Flower
Show, but not the famous flower show from Earth–this is Chelsea 426, a colony floating on the clouds of Saturn. As he spends time with the inhabitants of the colony, the Doctor realizes that something is dreadfully wrong with the vegetation, but until the Sontarans arrive, he cannot decipher it. Will the Doctor be able to stop the Sontarans from destroying the colony from the outside while at the same time trying to stop whatever it is that is plaguing the people from the inside? As the Doctor would say, Allons-y! (Also to be noted: this book’s title is incredibly witty and meant to sound like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, in case you didn’t catch that).
2) It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
I read this one because my younger sister said it was her new favorite book. I also read it because of my interest in mental illness/health and how it is portrayed in the media. If you’ve been following me for a while, you might remember the different posts I’ve written about depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and the musical Next to Normal. I also follow a blog about mental health. So It’s Kind of a Funny Story was right up my alley, and I have to say that I did like it a lot. Vizzini’s novel follows a boy named Craig, a freshman in high school, and his week-long stay in a
psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn. From the beginning, Craig lets the audience know that he wants to kill himself; he has been seriously depressed for a long while, and he has decided to take his own life. Late one night, he plans to ride his bike out to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge and jump off. Before he leaves, however, he picks up a self-help book and sees a number for a suicide hotline. Craig makes a wise decision when he calls the number, and continues to show bravery after he hangs up the phone and heads to a nearby hospital instead of the Brooklyn Bridge. He spends a week in psychiatric care, sorts through all of the different issues in his life that brought him there, and decides to change his school and find better friends in an attempt to keep up his new-found love of life. While at the hospital, he develops a relationship with another patient, a girl named Noelle who cut her face with scissors to cope with having been sexually assaulted. A film adaptation came out this past October, and I can’t wait to see it. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever struggled with depression, to anyone who has family members or close friends living with mental illness, to anyone who wants to see these people get better. There are too many taboos in our society about mental illness, and books like It’s Kind of a Funny Story being read does amazing things in helping to end the silence.
1) Nine Stories by JD Salinger
In my high school, junior year English class (where my younger sister might be sitting right now) is all American literature. I never had that class; I was too busy studying abroad. So last spring, I read The Catcher in the Rye for the first time. It was brilliant, but overrated. What was that book by the same author that my older sister liked? What was it called? Oh, yeah: Franny and Zooey. The summer began. What else did this Salinger guy write? Franny and Zooey was one of the best books I’d ever
read, and I wanted more. That was when I first found the Nine Stories. I read them last summer, and re-read most of them this past winter. It was like giving an old friend a big hug to slip back into Salinger’s New York. From “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” to “Teddy”, these stories are some of the best short stories I’ve ever read. My personal favorite is “For Esmé–With Love and Squalor”, about an American soldier who meets a young girl, Esmé, in England shortly before being deployed. After the war is over, the soldier suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and depression. He receives a package from Esmé and it helps him regain some of his mental faculties. I can’t even explain how amazing these stories are; you should just read them. Since I started reading Salinger, he has become possibly my favorite author of the twentieth century, and his writings are some of the best I have ever read. I’m not quite through reading everything he published during his lifetime, but I’m starting in on Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and Seymour: An Introduction. It is my personal opinion that everyone should read something by JD Salinger.