Monday, December 22, 2014

Recommended Reads for My World Literature Students

This semester, my classes in world literature read several books, stories,and poems, some of which they liked better than others. I always have more trouble narrowing down the syllabus than adding to it, a habit my students adore, I'm sure.

They especially enjoyed two contemporary novels, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Several students asked at the course's end if I had more books I could recommend.
Why, I'm so glad you asked! I brainstormed the following list for them, but I thought I'd share it on the blog, too. 

Two books I wanted to add to the syllabus but didn't have the room for:
Americanah by Chimimandah Ngozi Adichie
The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Books I've Read in the last Year that I'd Recommend (World Lit-ish)
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje (I'm reading The English Patient now, and so far I think I like it better)
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
The Secret Scriptures by Sebastian Barry

Old Favorites: Books to Films (of which you should read the books first, Always, always, always.)
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

New-ish Releases That I've Been Telling People About
Swamplandia! By Karen Russell
Tenth of December by George Saunders
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Books You Might Have Read in High School (and if you didn't you should)
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

That's off the top of my head for now, and this is by no means an extensive list. Get started here, tell me what you like, and I'm happy to make more recommendations.
My husband, Kern, has been telling me about NPR's book concierge, which I haven't tried yet, but I think it's a stellar idea. I'll let you know if I figure it out.
Happy reading!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

This poem, which I read this morning before my writing time, perfectly captures the pleasure of diving into a big book. I'm a fan of big books. I fell in love with my husband because of many reasons, but partly because of Lonesome Dove, I wept (the ugly kind) over Les Miserables, and my idea of God will be altered forevermore by A Prayer for Owen Meany. Of the books I've read this year so far, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, at 864 pages, is my favorite.

Not sure which big book I'll tackle next, but when I do, I hope it feels something like this:

"Birthday" by Billy Collins 
Before it was over
I took out a pencil and a notepad
and figured out roughly what was left--
a small box of Octobers, a handful of Aprils, 
little time to waste reading a large novel
on the couch every evening
a few candles flaming in the corners of the room.
A fishbowl of Mondays, a row of Fridays-- 
yet I cannot come up with anything
better than to strike a match,
settle in under a light blanket,
and open the first sentence of Clarissa
Look at me setting off on this long journey
through ink and tears,
through secrecy and distress,
anticipation and swordplay. 
As the darkness thickens
and the morning glory puts down the trumpet,
as worms begin to sing in the garden,
and Christ looks down from the wall, 
I will begin inching toward the end--
page one thousand five hundred and thirty-three
in this paperback Penguin edition,
introduction and notes by one Angus Ross.

Your turn: any big books you'd like to recommend?