In which Bwog continues to gush over required reading that was surprisingly decent. 

There are those moments, however rare, when the book you need to read for class grabs your attention and leaves you wanting more. Bwog knows this feeling all too well and is itching to share it with you via this excellent list!

  • L’Événement (or Happening) by Annie Ernaux (read for Composition and Conversation): Published in 2000, the memoir takes place in 1960s Paris when abortions were illegal. Ernaux explains how she was pregnant at 23, not wanting to keep the child because of the shame of having a child at that age without a husband. She details her journey to find an illegal abortion through whatever means possible and the struggle and shame women experienced. I was entertained by her wit and sarcasm, yet incredibly moved by her social commentary; reading about the process of searching and eventually receiving an abortion through dangerous methods (because they were illegal at the time) was gut-wrenching. 
  • Night in the American Village by Akemi Johnson (read for Introduction to East Asian Civilizations: Japan): Easily one of the best books I’ve had to read for a non-literature class. It’s a portrait of eleven women living in Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture with a long and violent history of independence as the Ryukyu Kingdom, then subject to Japanese imperialism and American occupation following the end of World War II. American bases still exist in Okinawa, and Johnson explores the incredibly fraught and violent, but occasionally beautiful consequences of that. It is a heavy book, with lots of discussions of sexual violence, violence against women, and stories of World War II, but also incredible and thoughtful and truly invested in sharing these women’s stories.
  • Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley (read for Introduction to East Asian Civilizations: Japan): Okay, technically I didn’t have to read this for class, but it was a recommendation given by my Japan Civ professor as a supplement to the class, and I really enjoyed it, so I’m adding it in here. 19th-century Edo (modern-day Tokyo) was kind of the place to be back in the day if you could get there, and Stanley goes through the different levels of Edo life through the story of Tsuneno, a four-time divorcee who runs away from her home in the country/middle of nowhere to go make it in Edo (and she kind of succeeds). There are a lot of wonderful things about the way Stanley presents her piecing together of Tsuneno’s life, but what honestly got me the most about this book is its meditation on record-keeping and the past: whose stories get preserved, by chance or by intention, by personality or by position; what we can make of the brief moments in time when someone’s life is recorded, vividly, before disappearing from the record altogether. So many people have lives we never know about! But we know a little about Tsuneno, and Stanley presents it in such a compelling way.
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (read for Tipping Points): I won’t spoil this book for you, but it is a deeply existential and profound novel that is nevertheless written in a highly accessible and conversational style. You’ll start reading this book and be like “wait, what was this supposed to be about?” and then you’ll hit the last couple of chapters and be fully sobbing your eyes out. It’s essentially a meditation on humanity, childhood, memory, and the possibilities of change, but that’s really all I feel qualified to say about it. Basically, it’s just a masterpiece.
  • Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (read for Tipping Points): This book is written in a unique style that blurs prose, poetry, and narrative; it’s essentially the story of a woman’s marriage, but it touches on so much more than that. It’s about writing, love, mental health, and beauty, but also not really about any of those things. It’s not very long; I read it in one sitting, which I think is honestly the best way to consume it, as its lack of a linear narrative makes it more of an atmospheric experience than a traditional reading experience. I’m really glad I read this book for class and I probably would have enjoyed it if I’d just picked it up on my own!
  • Washington Square by Henry James (read for American Literature 1871-1945): This novel is fairly short, clocking in at a little over 200 pages. I was kind of dreading having to read James, as for some reason I had it in my head that his writing was dull and stilted. I found the opposite experience, however; Washington Square is a narrative that is, in turn, amusing and heartbreaking, following the story of a unique female protagonist, Catherine Sloper, who has to balance her love for her suitor and her father’s command that she not marry the suitor. Despite the simple plot, the book manages to be suspenseful, and James’ writing style has a subtle wit that reminds me a lot of Jane Austen if a little more understated. I will definitely read more James in the future!
  • House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (read for American Literature 1871-1945): Another New York Novel about women and marriage, although even more heartbreaking. House of Mirth follows the character of Lily Bart, a beautiful woman who is poorer than her companions—who are of the upper echelons of society that Lily aspires to enter into—yet can’t follow through on her plans to marry to secure that status. This book is a love story and a tragedy, but still entertaining. I think it qualifies as a page-turner, despite its long passages of description and its focus on the social rituals around the turn of the century.
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (read for Literature Humanities): It literally converted me from computer science back to an English major. I feel like a lot of people have read this so I’m not going to summarize, but I was especially stunned by the rich symbolism and the ending. It’s an absolute must-read for everyone. 
  • Fieldglass by Catherine Pond, My Baby First Birthday by Jenny Zhang, and Evolution by Eileen Myles (all read for Intermediate Poetry): Incredible poetry books! Changed the way I write forever with their strength, intensity, and honesty. Cannot recommend these three enough.

a nice looking bookshelf via Bwarchives