Staff Writer Victoria Borlando finds a classic, yet direly needed, hobby to pass the time.
Hello, reader! It’s me! Another reader!
When I was younger, I used to read books at millions of miles an hour, averaging at about a book a week. Nowadays, with school, work, clubs, and more, I simply couldn’t find the time to continue my old reading habits…
Well, lucky for us, all our plans have gone to shit! Now that we’re forced to stay inside and not do anything, I decided: What the hell, now it’s finally time to read some more books! And I encourage you to do the same!
So, from my library to yours, along with some recommendations by fellow Bwoggers, here’s a really long recommendation list of books, both famous and soon-to-be-loved, if you want to kick back, relax, and read for fun like you did in the good ol’ days!
THE BWOG BOOK CLUB BOOKLIST:
Series/Collection of Short Stories:
- A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams: As a series, this is a really solid choice. There’s excellent humor, cool sci-fi concepts, and fun existential dread for the whole family! It was also written in the 80s, so everything is cool and zany. If you like Gary Larson comics, you’ll love this easy-to-read series. Read them all in order, but my favorite is the second one, named The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
- Agatha Christie novels: Read them all before Hollywood keeps making shitty movies of them! She’s (arguably) even better than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And Then There Were None is an EXCELLENT book, and my top recommendation. They’re all easy to read.
- Short Stories and Poems by Edgar Allen Poe: This edgelord wrote some excellent short stories. Read them all. “The Masque of the Red Death” is extremely topical in these trying times of social distancing. “The Fall of the House of Usher” is another fascinating and short read.
- Short Stories by Leo Tolstoy: Russian lit is depressing, but so are we! Curl up with these bad boys (which are LONG short stories), and have a fun time worrying that love is dead and arbitrary customs are the only thing we have left! Everyone talks about “The Death of Ivan Illych”, and while that story is excellent, I’m more akin to “Family Happiness.” “The Kreutzer Sonata” is also a fun time (and by ‘fun’, I mean ‘dreadful.’ It’s, unsurprisingly, really sad and violent.)
- Arthurian Legend: This is the best mythology you need. If you love fairytales that are ACTUALLY entertaining, then read about our funky boy, King Arthur! The Merlin stories are really interesting too, and if you can tolerate Ye Olde English, then you can do anything.
- Bloodchild and Other Stories, Octavia Butler*: “I will sing Butler’s praises until the end of time and this book of short stories showcases how versatile she can be.” – Fellow Bwogger
- Drown, Junot Diaz: This amazing collection of short stories is semi-autobiographical and about a Dominican family trying to understand the concept of the “American Dream” in the 1980s. For a debut collection of work, Diaz really went off.
Literary Embodiments of the Word “Commitment”:
- On Heroes and Tombs, Ernesto Sabato: This four-part SAGA is what I like to call the “Les Mis” of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It’s magical realism, a signature style in Latin America, and has to do a LOT with psychoanalysis. Furthermore, all the imagery and frenetic concepts and anxieties are well-written. It’s an excellent read if you want to know about the darker side of Argentinian history.
- The Jungle, Upton Sinclair: Who DOESN’T want to read a really long book about Lithuanian immigrants dying in the Chicago meat-packing district before the US cared about worker’s rights? The imagery is so good it will make you throw up! Literally! You will be able to smell the animal blood and health code violations!
- Les Misérables, Victor Hugo: Ok, this isn’t because I like the musical. This novel is actually really good. Sewer systems are fun! But this book is a Moby Dick–level of commitment. Read at your own risk. Real sadists read the unabridged version.
- War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy: Okay, this is a book I read because of a musical based on 72 pages of the whole thing. Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 was probably one of the best book-to-musical adaptations I’ve ever experienced, and THAT 2-hour extravaganza, as batshit crazy as it is, is only based on 72 pages of the whole book. This commitment touches upon class differences, rich-people problems with the war as a backdrop, rise of anti-czar politics, artifice, Napoleon, and more! It has everything and more!
- Doctor Faustus, Thomas Mann: This is a 1945 adaptation of the 1592 play written by Christopher Marlowe. Instead of a magician, this book deals with a musician who makes a pact with the devil to become the most original composer. This book has everything! Anti-Nazi commentary, musical references, really long exposition (the first 15 chapters are just backstory), syphilis, witchcraft, gay love, and the poisonous consequences of apathy!
Please…For My Sanity…Read at Least ONE Book by a Woman…Please…
- God-tier Level Books
- Beloved, Toni Morrison: I can’t stop thinking about this book. Like, I won’t even give you a tiny, humorous preview because you need to experience it with no prior knowledge. CC kids – no, everyone in this goddamn establishment – read more Toni Morrison.
- Dalloway, Virginia Woolf: This is her most technically perfect book (in my opinion, of course). This book captures the fear of getting old, of not knowing your worth, of regretting the things you didn’t do in your youth, of coming to terms with your sexuality and patterns of attraction, and more. It weaves two different, seemingly unassociated plot lines in a goddamn excellent way you wouldn’t expect AT ALL. Hot take: To the Lighthouse’s place in the Lit Hum canon should be replaced with this book.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston*: This one needs no description because this novel, both rich in history and style, has become essential in the literary world. If you haven’t already, you definitely should read it, if only just for the culture.
- A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka*: Let’s be real, do you really know about the Ukrainian-American Experience™? Well, the truth is, no one except a Ukrainian-American does, but reading more about them could open your eyes even more to the cool, diverse world around you. Give this book a chance!
- Pachinko, Min Jin Lee*: “I have never had more trust that an author would not let me down. This is about a Korean family in Japan throughout the generations during the 1900s. just let her take you on this ride.” – Fellow Bwogger
- The Girls, Emma Cline*: “Evie is a 14-year-old girl who gets caught up in a Manson Family-like cult at the end of the 1960s. Emma Cline makes you feel like you’re tripping acid when you read this book: her descriptions are surreal and nothing like any I’ve ever read. The plot itself is dark and violent but is cut with moments of clear innocence that feel reminiscent of a cheesy coming-of-age book.” – Fellow Bwogger
- Yes, Women Are, in fact, Three-Dimensional Human Beings:
- To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf: The painting of the portrait plot line ALONE really makes it clear how societal pressures affect how women act and perform. Also, accurate portrayals of women expressing love toward other women? Excellent! The rage in this novel…so accurately written. Also, Woolf is way too good at stream of consciousness.
- All the Emily Dickinson Poems: Do YOU want to know what it’s like to feel like a woman who’s an introvert yet full of emotion, especially that of love? Then say no more! Her poems are short yet profound, giving you an afternoon of entertainment!
- Persuasion, Jane Austen: This book is all about a woman named Anne making her own decisions and developing agency, not conforming to the pressures laid upon her by her father and her prettier, less likeable older sister. Everyone says Pride and Prejudice is the best JA novel, but I have all my money on Persuasion. It’s way too good. Also, I won’t say much, but…Wentworth’s letter shaped me as a person.
- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott: Pennsylvania native (Alcott, not the characters) makes it very clear that women cannot be seen as people and have to fight 1000x harder than men to get half the recognition for their intelligent, complex ways of thinking! And yes, this story is more than its, albeit incredible, movie adaptations!
- A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley: It’s an adaptation of King Lear that takes place on a farm in Iowa post-Vietnam War. It’s about three sisters dealing with their crazy, abusive father’s property and all the fun stuff from the original play with a Midwestern twist. Fun fact: there’s a terrible movie adaptation from 1997 with Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Colin Firth. It’s an absolute tragedy this cast was stuck with this movie, but it’s even more of a tragedy that I watched it.
- Books that make women’s standards for men impossible
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen: If you don’t sob violently when you read, “I love you most ardently”, then you have no soul. I just wanted to make this category for this book specifically because I’m still mad Mr. Darcy is fictional.
- Straight White Men, Young Jean Lee: This is an interesting read (and an underrated play from the author) because even though the title is aggressive and sounds like it will poke fun at straight, white men, it actually discusses how mental health affects everyone. It also talks about toxic masculinity’s effect on mental health and family relationships in a family without a mother.
- Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley*: This play can best be described as a twisted, darker version of Little Women. It is a complex story of sisters, but this play is not for the lighthearted. It deals with serious issues, including murder, violence, and graphic scenes of suicide. It is excellent, it just deals with very heavy, sensitive issues.
- Father Comes Home from the Wars, Suzan-Lori Parks*: This book is new in the Lit Hum canon, so all you geezers (as well as you lovely GS/SEAS/Barnard people) have not experienced this yet. There’s a reason Columbia is so obsessed with this woman; she’s incredible.
Books You Want to Read if You Want to Manifest Rain and Gloomy Weather, or Dark Academia:
- Frankenstein, Mary Shelley: Listen…this book was going to end up on this list no matter what. This is my favorite book of all time, and I could talk about it for hours. Read all 191 pages.
- The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde: Short read, excellent commentary on beauty and self-worth. It’s slightly homoerotic (which is excellent) and has beautiful text (Oscar Wilde writes everything, even the grotesque, in such a beautiful style). There’s a guy named “Basil.” Need I say more?
- Steppenwolf, Herman Hesse: An estranged man lives in an attic (excellent practice of social distancing) because he doesn’t feel like anyone will ever love all of him, both the good and the bad. This was written in the 1920s (rise of Nazism in Germany), so it’s really interesting to see the commentary on innate aggression inside everyone and how to cope with that, not letting it get the best of us.
- Dracula, Bram Stoker: Blood is cool, and so are vampires.
- House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne: I read this book after visiting the house this was based on, and it’s about a haunted house! With seven gables! So much death! It’s a good read, though. Fun Fact: Hawthorne actually lived in this house with his lesbian cousin, and I think that’s neat! Another fun fact: Every Hawthorne piece of literature can be traced back to his generational guilt of being related to Revered Hathorne, who killed a LOT of people during the Salem Witch Trials. Also, I really like Hawthorne.
- Turn of the Screw, Henry James: Literally for some reason, everything in 2019-2020 is based off this short book, and I’m HERE for the revival of this wacky tale. It’s Victorian England, and it’s about a governess going crazy. The fun part: Is she really crazy, though? There’s also a young boy named Miles, and he’s a little shit. This book also had a Colin Firth adaptation.
Dystopian Novels that are better than 1984 (seriously…read ANY other book)
- Brave New World, Aldous Huxley: this is FAR superior to any anti-fascist literature that surged after WWII. This critiques industrialism, the toxic craving for efficiency, Nazism, authoritarianism in general, apathy, and more. This book makes you imagine a pain-free yet loveless world and HATE it. Newsflash: Feelings give life meaning!
- Anthem, Ayn Rand: This book discusses the terrible consequences of Communism, specifically Soviet Communism. She does a really good job of portraying the idyllic parts of total equality overshadowing the deep, psychological trauma of an unknown leader taking everything from the majority of the people. It’s a great book for thinking about your own individualism and small things you take for granted like the ability to use personal pronouns, naming yourself, discovering technology, and finding your own identity.
- Any book by Isabelle Allende: These books really make it well-known that authoritarianism, especially the Pinochet regime in Chile, was terrible. These technically aren’t dystopian because they’re not made up worlds, as they actually took place in her lifetime, but the anti-authoritarian messages really do come across and fit in with the others.
- Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury: Enjoy this Bradbury book while you can because it’s the only good one you’re going to get (hot take: Ray Bradbury is a one-hit-wonder). This book, for those who haven’t read it, is about the power of censorship and how it limits our ability to learn and improve. Fun fact: US libraries actually banned this book after its release, demonstrating that none of these people actually read the goddamn book. Thankfully, the ban has since been lifted (probably because they finally read the book).
- The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood*: This feels like a necessary dystopia to know/read at least once. Why pay for another streaming service when you can just read the original text?
- Parable of a Sower, Octavia Butler*: “This is the creepiest dystopia I have ever read because it feels way too close to home. The protagonist Lauren is great. Also, she’s a prophet!” – Fellow Bwogger
“My Country ‘Tis of Thee” Books, or Books that Capture the American Spirit™, Whether the Good or the Bad (not including The Great Gatsby because you all need to read another goddamn book)
- All My Sons, Arthur Miller: This is an underrated play, and quite frankly, my favorite of Arthur Miller. It’s morally challenging and deals with PTSD, ethical dilemmas, family relationships, mourning, and more. Moreover, Arthur Miller is scarily good at subtext and stage direction. Read this if you want to weep.
- The Crucible, Arthur Miller: Yes, everyone (including myself) has read this book in their American Lit Class OR saw the Winona Ryder/Daniel Day-Lewis movie (God-tier, by the way), but…It’s just so excellent and a perfect subtext of McCarthyism set in the time period of the Salem Witch Trials. Besides a few edits due to poetic license, you can tell Miller did his research on the actual event, and, as a history major, I think that’s quite sexy of him.
- Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams – Anything by Williams is a good read, but this one talks about greed, repression, social and moral decay, sexual desire, and all that fun stuff that went down in the 50s.
- If Beale Street Could Talk, James Baldwin – 1970s Harlem, family relationships under times of moral dilemmas, excellent movie adaptation…what more could you ask for?
- The American Dream is Going Outside to Find Yourself
- On the Road, Jack Kerouac: I complain a lot by how misogynistic, racist(ish), and idealistic of toxic character traits this book is, but you got to hand it to Columbia Alum Jack Kerouac – he can write pretty damn well. This book made me want to go on a road trip with my closest friends from NYC, through Detroit, and to San Francisco to get the Experience™.
- Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau: Transcendental literature is unique to America, and, if I’m being really honest, really sexy. Anti-industrialist literature is always a fun time; “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us” is SUCH a raw line.
- Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman: He is the West™. He is Rugged™, he is an Individual™, he is Nature™. In all seriousness, his poems are gorgeous, demonstrating that you can write an autobiography in verse and through nature symbols.
- Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Yes, foolish consistency IS the hobgoblin of little minds! Fun Fact: Emerson is a TOTAL sell-out, crushing his star pupil’s (Thoreau, who’s lowkey a better writer) dreams and going back to be a normie after getting rich and famous.
- Any book by Willa Cather*: some of the Bwog favorites include:
- My Antonía – the most classic of her novels, this is about a family of immigrants moving to the prairie.
- Death Comes for the Archbishop – A niche tale about Catholicism in New Mexico.
- One of Ours – This book, a personal favorite, is about a restless, classically American spirit named Claude Wheeler and the first World War.
- The Lost Continent, Bill Bryson*: “In the 80s, Bill Bryson went on the Great American Road Trip. He recounts the glitz, despair, commercialization, and barrenness that exist in this country, with incredible wit. (Side note: he absolutely goes OFF about my hometown and what a sorry state it’s in. Love that for me.)” – Fellow Bwogger
- The American Dream is Dead
- Maggie, a Girl of the Streets, Stephen Crane: This is a novella written in the Realist era of American literature but beginning to describe it would take me forever because this is my favorite short story. Essentially, it’s about a girl who lives in a poor household in the Bowery of 1890s New York. Fun Fact: MAGOTS had the word “Hell” appear like…85 times in the original, unedited text. It has a lot of swears.
- Anything by William Faulkner: This man was the epitome of “I hate my town and the South, but I’d rather hate my life here trying to fix the unfixable then just move to the North.” Here are my top three recommendations (in no particular order):
- “A Rose for Emily”: a terrifying short story about an old lady named Emily that’s one big metaphor for the Reconstruction South attempting to maintain the rotting Antebellum spirit.
- The Sound of the Fury: I’m reading this right now, and it’s a really wild book about farmers and bestiality and more gross, revolting shit that is, again, about the depravity of the Reconstruction South trying to keep its outdated customs.
- As I Lay Dying*: The *chef’s kiss* of Southern Gothic. It really makes you think, “Yeah…my mother really is a fish…” All jokes aside, this is Faulkner’s most famous novel – and for a good reason, too!
- Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck – The truth is that I hated this novella. John Steinbeck is boring and plain, thinking that all his ethical dilemmas can be solved through self-serving ways (which isn’t true). Everything John Steinbeck writes is about the Great Depression and the motherfucking Dust Bowl. Everything. However, you won’t be able to look at hugging puppies in the same way ever again. And yeah…this novella is important in American Literature, so you should probably read it anyway.
- Moloka’i, Alan Brennert*: This book is about the forced quarantine of lepers in Hawai’i, as well as American imperialism. Fun topics to share at the dinner table!
- Angry Black White Boy, Adam Mansbach*: Although this is less of a “classic American” novel, this gives a good look at racial politics in the US. On the plus side, it’s set at Columbia, so if you ever miss campus (but are still angry at white supremacy), give this book a chance!
- Don’t Call Us Dead, Danez Smith*: “Smith’s poetry is so incredibly powerful. They deal with themes of Blackness, queerness, and modern American politics unflinchingly while also having an absolute mastery of the musicality of the English language.” – Fellow Bwogger
- Kindred, Octavia Butler*: “Consider 1) she is a genius and 2) this book, about a young Black woman who travels back in time to repeatedly save the life of her white ancestor, shows the evil of slavery in America and the impacts it still has on this country and the people who live here.” – Fellow Bwogger
Yes, Some People are, in fact, Interesting:
- The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: Come see what all the fuss is about toward this Founding Father without a musical!
- The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass: No wit needed; I wasn’t able to put this book down.
- Storm of Steel, Ernst Junger: This is a memoir of a German soldier written after World War I. From trauma to propaganda, Junger describes everything he experienced in a heartbreaking and earnest manner. Also, can you tell I’m a history major?
- Book of Dreams, Jack Kerouac: Yep, you’re going to read exactly what you paid for. This is a book of all his dreams he records in vivid, sometimes too explicit detail. If you’re interested to see the inspiration behind his characters, read this book! If you’re studying psychoanalysis, you have SO much more material! If you want to read about Hartley, Butler Lawns, and the Avery Library, you’ve found the right book!
- The Autobiography of Malcom X, as Told to Alex Haley*: You live in Harlem; partake in the culture – at least intellectually.
- The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls*: “She’s a Barnard alum (BC ‘84), and spent her childhood on the run, squatting in mining towns and in the deserts of the American Southwest. This book breaks my heart but in a good way, and Walls is the epitome of the phrase ‘tough as nails and twice as smart.’” – Fellow Bwogger
- Yes Please, Amy Poehler*: “I read this book whenever I need someone to firmly but lovingly tell me to get my shit together. She talks about playing Hillary Clinton on SNL while incredibly pregnant, poor choices involving heavy drugs, and how to take what you want from life.” – Fellow Bwogger
- Becoming Odyssa, Jennifer Pharr Davis*: “The author holds (held?) the record for fastest woman to complete the Appalachian Trail, but the book is about the first time she hiked it as a kid. Wild by Cheryl Strayed is a more popular hiking autobiography but I don’t think it’s as good.” – Fellow Bwogger
Hot Take Machines, or Nonfiction:
- “Politics and the English Language”, George Orwell (still not putting 1984 on this list): This essay changed my life as a writer, demonstrating how vital words are in our life. He calls out a bunch of errors we make while writing speeches and books, but he mainly does so to show how an imprecision of language carries over into our actions, affecting politics and governance. If you’re at least an English/Creative Writing major, please read this (and stop making me edit out your pretentious diction).
- Utopia, Sir Thomas More: Imagine the exact midpoint between Plato’s Republic and the Communist Manifesto. This is a book, written by King Henry VIII’s Catholic adviser (who later gets beheaded for refusing to recognize the Church of England) about a made-up society that critiques King Henry VIII’s absolutist tendencies, capitalism, and British colonialism. There are two chapters that are burned into my skull: the chapter on jewelry and the one on religion. Just saying…man made some points.
- “Against Nature”, Joyce Carol Oates: A short essay about humankind’s lack of autonomy in an indifferent world. The “tall column of ‘I’” is an iconic moment in this essay.
- A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf: You may think you can empathize with women, but if you DON’T read this essay, you will simply never understand anything we go through on a daily basis. This essay changed my life and how I look at my relationships with both men and women. I personally think every person, regardless of gender, should read this.
- The Straight Mind, Monique Wittig: A 40-something page book explaining post-structural beliefs of gender and women in society. I know threw a lot of terms at you, but essentially, she talks about lesbianism being more than “being a woman attracted to women”, and how “one is not born a woman.” This is foundational for the modern feminist movement, and if you want to learn more about this, read up on it!
- Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich: This book is an exposé on the unsustainable world of the working class, written by an undercover journalist who decides to try to live solely on her earnings from a minimum wage job. I would recommend this to every econ major. Just ‘cause. :)
- Tell Me How It Ends, Valeria Luiselli*: This short book describes a fascinating and detailed account of the US Immigration System, focusing specifically on the USCIS.
- Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser: Yes, capitalism and fast food are interlinked, and there’s a reason the US is the epicenter of obesity issues. This book is horrifying and is almost as revolting as The Jungle! Come, throw up with me!
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates*: This book, written as a letter to her teenage son, is all about growing up Black in America, elaborating upon police brutality. This book argues that white supremacy is a force that will never disappear, and that Black Americans are forced to perpetually struggle against.
Oh, and here is a bonus category for some of the books mentioned if you want them organized a little differently:
- Books with a Movie Adaptation that Casted Colin Firth (in order of release date on his IMDb):
- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (Firth as Mr. Darcy, naturally)
- A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (Firth as Jess Clark, naturally)
- Turn of the Screw, Henry James (Firth as The Master, naturally)
- The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde (Firth as Dorian, naturally)
Now, I know these are a lot of books spanning a lot of genres, but don’t worry! We all have a lot of time! :) So, brew a nice cup of English Breakfast tea, find a comfortable spot in your house, and get reading!
*Recommended by another Bwogger
Oh, Look! It’s My Bookshelf! via Victoria Borlando
The Only Mr. Darcy We Need via The Evening Standard