As an ambitious, often exhaustingly so, and anxious seventeen-year-old girl, literature has, unfortunately, become less of a regular character in the routine of my life. I am immersed in literary analysis in English class, of course, and I adore it, but reading solely for pleasure is something entirely different. I have found myself desperate to revert to the girl I used to be, consuming a different book every week, staying up till two in the morning to plunge myself headfirst into a story. I’ve been reading a lot more recently, because nowadays, I’ve come to understand that creating space for what energizes and ignites you should not be an afterthought, it should be a priority. It is easier said than done, but for a lot of us, mental health is reliant upon finding a unique, creative way to survive high school without utterly losing ourselves. Although we are certainly trained to produce work, it is a transcendent experience to allow yourself to read someone else’s words without planning an essay in your head at the same time. Let yourself absorb and engage without feeling guilty for doing something that isn’t an “extracurricular” or resume-booster, for once. For me, reading is the key to re-recognizing myself. I am always at home in language, and the written word helps me remember that high school is one universe, but I am more than capable of creating and inhabiting other ones.
So, here is my month’s worth of fantastic lit to get you through the last few months of school.
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I originally thought this would be like all of the other dystopian literature I’ve read- escapist in the clear incredulity you feel at the wrecked, damaged worlds beyond repair, the this can’t happen here that series such as Divergent and the Hunger Games cultivate. I’m not intending to devalue those kinds of books, though, as they’re interesting and engaging in their own ways, and sometimes escapism is exactly what we read to find- but Station Eleven is completely different. It is unadorned, thoughtful, and unnerving. It intertwines a myriad of seemingly random stories human connection, and the unraveling of those connections, humanizing the characters that we come to realize have been affected by the nightmare that destroyed civilization. It is beautifully written, and damn smart.
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I personally scoff at the mockery and hate that YA fiction receives. I am as pretentious as any other lit-lover, and the general scope of my taste is certainly centered around nonfiction and what would be considered “serious literature,“ but I also unabashedly love a good number of YA books. The dismissal, and paternalism, of the largely white/male publishing/lit establishment towards young adult literature as a serious genre is frustrating. As an adolescent girl, I’m accustomed to my interests being invalidated no matter what they are- somehow, my political fervor, literary nerdiness, simultaneous adoration for Pitchfork-approved music and One Direction- all of the supposedly “contradictory” aspects of what make me a multidimensional, human teenager are mocked and invalidated. This is an awesome YA novel that artfully embraces cliches, and gives us some of the most well-developed, complex, badass (and finally, minority) characters I’ve read. This book will genuinely make you feel warm inside, but don’t feel ashamed of that gushy frenzy of happiness. Embrace it, please.
The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics by Sean Wilentz. I’ve kept up with most of of Wilentz’s work, and thoroughly enjoy his ideas and nuanced, unexpected understandings and analyses of American politics from a very curt, unsparing historical standpoint. I do not agree with him on everything- the apologist-nature he has exhibited for white behavior regarding racism and slavery is certainly frustrating, but he is a brilliant, eloquent writer and I loved reading this book. It’s particularly fascinating given the absurdity of our fractured politics at the moment, giving us insight into the fact that democracy’s intended functions were never completely cohesive or agreed upon.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay. If you want to stereotype me as the prototypical queer-as-hell feminist killjoy, or what many like to call a “libtard snowflake,” it should be no surprise that I adore Roxane Gay. I adore the way she writes simply, curtly, and brutally about “difficult women” without passing judgement or even necessarily tidying them up and giving them some female “likeability” at the resolution of her stories. Her stories rarely have resolutions. They are extraordinary not necessarily in their language, but in the simplicity of the plots, of regular parts of life- sex, relationships, family, adulthood, transitions- that become nauseating and haunting quickly through the lens of womanhood. I love this collection of short stories particularly, because as wonderful as Bad Feminist was, this is evocative in the way that only fiction can be. It does not necessitate an understanding of feminist concepts, just a demand for attention to be given to the grotesque, uncomfortable, disillusioning, experience of femaleness. Read it, especially if you think feminism is unnecessary or frustrating. It’s quiet in its pain, and that’s why it cracks things open so effectively. And, of course, I myself have been called a “difficult woman/ (more usually, girl)” many times, and I like being able to smirk back at those who say it to me now.
Those are just a few of my selections for the month, but start with one and finish it, even if you feel stagnated halfway through. Read on.