Seeing as I graduate from undergrad a week from tomorrow (eek!) I thought I would share 5 books that influenced me as a college senior. These are books that I’ve read throughout this academic year–assigned or otherwise–that have made me think about myself and world a bit differently. In no particular order:
Without a Name by Yvonne Vera
Yvonne Vera is one of two Zimbabwean women novelists I wrote about in my honors thesis. Going into this honors thesis I was not prepared for how intense, unsettling, and moving Vera’s novels would be. I remember reading the pivotal moment in Without a Name when the full force of the act of violence is revealed: I was sitting in South Station in Boston waiting for the last train of the night after attending a comedy show. (Yes, a rather odd setting to be reading this in!) I audibly gasped and then had to explain to my friends the shocking scene I had just taken in. Physically reacting to a novel like that and feeling the need to immediately talk to someone about it reminded me of the sheer power of literature and the significant influence they can have on whatever you’re going through at the time.
The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde
This brief essay collection was a gift from a friend that I finally got around to reading this past winter break. I remember reading it in a parking lot while waiting to go into an appointment and actually tearing up a bit. These essays are powerfully striking, so much so that I can see myself going back to them in the future for encouragement, motivation, and inspiration. Even the simplest statements–such as “there are no new pains”–are striking in their trueness, in the way they deeply resonate with the reader. I’m so grateful that my friend gifted me this book!
My friends and I decided to reread this old favorite of ours this past winter break. I hadn’t read it since I was fourteen or fifteen years old, so my memory of it was pretty foggy: I vaguely remembered a catering company and a car breaking down and a mom that was a real estate agent (aren’t they all?), but other than that I was basically going in as a clean slate. Reading this book after seven or eight years made me simultaneously realized how much has changed and how much has stayed the same in my reading tastes. Although I’m now more removed from the age of this book’s protagonist, I nevertheless found myself relating to her dilemmas, albeit in a different way from when I related to them years ago. Now I saw them from a nostalgic perspective, of looking back on that time in my life when I didn’t know what graduating high school or being 20 years old would look like. All in all, rereading The Truth About Forever was a lovely trip down memory lane.
I was assigned to read this book for my Latinos in the U.S. history class early on this semester, and it really changed the way I look at representations of Latinos in the media, on the big screen, and in what I read. The Latino Threat Narrative (the discriminatory idea that Latinos are dangerous, lazy, criminal, and are only in the US to “take advantage” of the system) is shockingly pervasive in our society today, and it seems almost impossible to not run into it in some capacity on a daily basis. Reading this book was also a fantastic way to start this class, as it really summed up a lot of the points that my professor wanted to make throughout the semester. I wish this book–or at least this concept–was mandatory material for high school students. I think having a specific name for this phenomenon really helps you pinpoint it, therefore allowing you to better challenge it in the world around you. Chavez also really forces you to think about how the Latino Threat Narrative plays into where our country is headed in the near future.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I was assigned to read this book for my Postmodern American Fiction class about a month ago and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. This memoir recounts the year after the death of writer John Gregory Dunne, Didion’s beloved husband. We see her grapple with loss, identity, and the strong pull of the “vortex” of memories as she writes this narrative. Although I often cry while watching movies, it’s actually rare that I cry while reading books; however, I cried twice while reading this book, both times in front of other people. (If that’s not a testament to how stirring this book is, than I don’t know what is…) What strikes me the most about this book is how there is no resolution at the end–grief is not a linear process recovered from after a single year, which The Year of Magical Thinking really reflects.
Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts on them? What’s a book that greatly influenced you recently? Let me know in the comments section below!