I’ve had, like, over a thousand personalities in my 25 years on this earth. When I was younger, I was an awkward pre-teen, unsure how to define God. There was a fat girl in my class who everyone else made fun of, but I didn’t know if I should too. I had a baby in high school after being raped, but my daughter was shot and killed before she could even walk. I lived a whole other life in the Florida swamps, being married to proper men whom I didn’t love, before falling for a much younger man that I’d eventually have to kill.
And I’ve done it all while lying safe and calm in my bed, or curled up on a couch on rainy afternoons. Those narratives, sometimes filled with unpleasant events that I wouldn’t wish on myself, are the reasons why I’ve always loved to read.
A couple of decades ago, I was a smart kid with a precocious older sister who happened across a news special on illiterate people. I, at 4 years old, fit the bill, which scared my only sister because the television had just stated that people who can’t read struggle their entire lives. So, Brittany sat me down on one step of our grandfather’s StairMaster (she took the other) and proceeded to teach me the words to Nancy Drew’s Secret of the Old Clock, one of the few books on our grandparent’s book shelf that had pictures.
Of course, the real work of learning the alphabet, vowels and consonants, long o’s and short o’s came throughout the next several years and continues today. And, really, beyond the escapism that reading presents for me, and most lifelong readers, the idea that I am continuing to learn every time I pick up a novel, a biography or some historical text is one of the greatest benefits to the practice.
This, however, should be noted: I am a book snob. I am not one of those people who salutes every text just because it’s ink on bound strips of paper. As a person who studied both journalism and English in college and now writes both news and fiction, I believe in the idea of book writing being laborious. I believe that characterization, plot, setting, symbolism, all that good stuff, as not only fluffy words they throw around in Cliff’s Notes, but ways to analyze and further understand a well-thought tome.
Fortunately, there are a lot of great works out there, some of which I’ve read and others that are on my Goodreads “To-Read” bookshelf. Whether you don’t really fancy yourself a reader, or you read voraciously, hopefully one of these books will spark renewed interest in my favorite pastime.
Books I know to be great, plus books that I’ve heard were great:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Breath Eyes Memory by Edwidge Danticat
Fruit of the Lemon by Andrea Levy
The Stranger by Albert Camus
Jazz by Toni Morrison
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
The Brief and Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Gin Closet by Leslie Jamison
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Colossus of New York by Colson Whitehead
Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books by Azar Nafisi
Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume Edited by Jennifer O’Connell