As much as I hated my entire public school experience, I loved college. I loved the classroom environment and I loved talking about books and writing all the time. I was a creative writing major, but I took a lot of literature classes as well. Obviously, I had a lot of assigned reading. Most of it was okay; some of it was really bad. But a few wound up being new favorites. I’d like to talk about some of those today, if I could.
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: This book follows Jewish cousins Sam Clayton and Josef Kavalier as they create a series of successful comics during the original Superman craze. It follows them across decades as they deal with loss, love, and the crazy world of comics. Sam is also a gay man, though he remains closeted during the novel. I fell in love with Josef, comic illustrator and Nazi fighter (well, he tries to fight Nazis). It’s such a good story and I absolutely recommend it.
- The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich: This story follows Father Damien— the beloved priest who has worked with the Ojibwe tribe for years— as he becomes a priest and chronicles his life with the Ojibwe people. Father Damien is a recurring character in Louise’s books taking place in the 19th Century and this is his first starring role. Or should I say her? In this book, it is revealed that Father Damien has been a woman the entire time. And so, it’s really her story we’re being told. As much as I hate to recommend a diverse read starring the one white character in the story, this one was actually done really well (and, let’s be real, I recommend all of Louise’s books). It’s a moving story and gives Louise the rare opportunity to consider an outsider’s perspective. Easily one of Louise’s best.
- Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis: This story follows Clay as he returns home from college and dives right back into a life of sex, drugs, and looking for the worst. It’s about a generation so desensitized that nothing phases them anymore. It’s dark and fucked up and, contrary to what the movie says, no one learns a lesson or genuinely cares when things go bad for someone. Ellis is a misogynistic piece of shit, but this book is worth the read.
- Swamplandia! by Karen Russell: This story follows Ava, whose family runs a gator-fighting show. After the death of her mother, things go south for the family. Ava’s father disappears, her sister Ossie is dating a mysterious man who may or may not be a ghost, and her brother Kiwi leaves for the mainland in the hopes of making money to support the family. Ava, only thirteen, then goes on a swamp adventure of her own. It’s super weird and plays with your perception. I definitely recommend it.
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: My favorite classic of all time, this story follows Cathy and Heathcliff and their family of assholes. It’s a story told to an unreliable narrator by an unreliable narrator. Despite often mistaken for a romance, it’s actually a story about classism and abuse. But, more than anything, it’s about a bunch of assholes being assholes. And I love it. Definitely give it a chance, if you haven’t.
- The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien: Technically, this is a memoir about Tim’s time as a drafted soldier in the Vietnam War. But really, it’s a dissertation on story truths versus real truths. Tim readily admits that not all the events in this book happened exactly the way he says or even happened to him. The point he’s trying to get across is the feeling. And, at any rate, they happened to somebody. But, given the overall terror, embellishing specific instances isn’t quite a lie. It’s a story truth, conveying the heart if not the bare facts. In this way, it’s just as valid as the factual, no-nonsense truth. This is a book is about storytelling. That’s why I recommend it to writers more than anyone. It really changed my outlook on stories and it’ll change yours too.
What books did you read in college that you really enjoyed? Tell me about them in the comments!