One thing I missed doing in college was reading for pleasure. Words and terms became facts and concepts to be memorized instead of stories and ideas to be enjoyed. Take a break from studying and curl up with of these must-reads for winter semester.
1. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward (fiction): Winner of the National Book Award for fiction, Jesmyn Ward tells a story about poverty, sexual abuse, violence and survival from the perspective of 15-year old Esch as she endures Hurricane Katrina with her family.
2. Leche by R. Zamora Linmark (fiction): Noted author of Asian American canon, R. Zamora Linmark follows up the classic Rolling the R’s by revisiting the now-adult Vicente de los Reyes, runner-up in a Hawaiian pageant for Filipino American men and winner of a trip to Manila.
3. We the Animals by Justin Torres (fiction): A patchwork of vignettes, memories and short stories about the three sons of a mixed-race couple. The narrator, nearly 7, travels in a pack with his brothers. Together, they hide from the disorder of their home life and from the exclusion by the working-class children around them.
4. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson (non-fiction): Pulitzer Prize-winning Isabel Wilkerson chronicles the decades-long migration of almost six-million black citizens who moved northward during the period of 1915-1970. See history through the eyes of three unique individuals as they leave the South in search of a better life.
5. A Tiger in the Kitchen by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan (memoir): Mouth-watering recipes aside, this culinary memoir is packed with anecdotes about how food and cooking helped Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan reconnect with family and tradition and reclaim her cultural identity.
6. The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam (fiction): Tahmima Anam asks, What is a good Muslim? After Bangladesh’s War of Independence, characters Rehana, Maya and Sohail grapple with the country’s new identity as well as their own. Rehana searches for the balance between religion and everyday life while Maya and Sohail fall on opposite sides of religious extremes. Along the way, Anam openly discusses women’s sexual violation through the narrative of Piya, a victim of traumatic sexual assault.
7. Open City by Teju Cole (fiction): Teju Cole’s debut novel reads like a diary about national identity, race, liberty and surrender. Set in New York, the half-Nigerian, half-German narrator (Cole himself is Nigerian-American) walks around the city and meets a range of people: a Liberian who was imprisoned in Queens; a Haitian shoeshiner who works in Penn Station; and a Moroccan student who mans an internet café in Brussels.
8. Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka (fiction): Nearly a century ago, eight young women were brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’. Otsuka traces their lives, writing about their overseas journey together, their work as fieldworkers and maids, their struggles to master a new language and culture, and their experiences as mothers.
9. One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina (memoir): Follow Binyavanga Wainana’s journey through Kenya as he grows up during turbulent political realities. He stumbles through the chaos of adolescence and finds refuge in words and books. An illuminating story about the complexities of life but bursting with the love of coming home.
10. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling (memoir): Writer and executive producer of The Office,Mindy Kaling, brings her tongue-in-cheek personality to her blithely candid memoir that is part childhood memory, part Hollywood confessional and part cultural commentary.
11. Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable: The late African-American Studies professor, Manning Marable, offers a humanizing biography of Malcolm X with an unvarnished, but still inspiring, version of Malcolm’s life. Through letters, diaries and interviews, Marable introduces new information about Malcolm X that repaints America’s version of him as a heroic icon into a struggling, complex human being.
12. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley (fiction): Meet ninety-one year old Ptolemy Grey, determined to live forgotten with only his memories. Trying to fight dementia and unlock secrets from his past, he unexpectedly meets Robyn, a young girl without a family of her own, who challenges him out of isolation.
No time for a full novel? Try a “mini-book”. Recently, there’s been a growing trend in micro-fictions and short novellas for quick, but satisfying, reads. Amy Tan’s Rules for Virgins is a 44-page story set in 1912 Shanghai about a practiced courtesan giving her protégée a list of instructions.