Recently, I decided to read more books about people, places, and things that are unfamiliar to me. As someone who has consistently reached for the predictable romance novel or the mysterious thriller, I’m looking to expand my horizons. Reflecting back, I think this reinvigorated enthusiasm for reading has stemmed from a few different things:
First, I grew up an avid reader, but lately I’ve found myself awake at 2 am down an Instagram vortex. I need something off my phone that will hold my attention, enrich my mind, and ultimately help me fall asleep (or at least I’ll be up at 2 am reading instead of watching videos about animals doing silly tricks or watching gourmet desserts get prepared). Reading isn’t boring, it’s just easier to put down a book than it is to turn off a Netflix binge sometimes.
Second, I used to think I was a “real book only” person, but I was given a Kindle for Christmas, and it has changed my world. I still refuse to pay for books, so I am connected to my local library online (unless I love them, then I like to support my favorite authors and #librarygoals). This is amazing because I can access any book in the large network, and I can browse the selection at any time of day or night without having to physically get to the library while it’s open. I can also search for books that have been on my list, place holds for popular titles, and browse for fun based on past selections or whatever I’m into next.
Third, I’m just growing up… I think? The best thing about loving to read is there’s never a shortage of material. You can always revisit your favorite characters or retreat to your comfort zone when it comes to genres, but it is good to mix it up. There’s a lot to learn! Also, most of my job these days is to stay connected to what’s going on in the world, which mostly means reading stories from and about people from all walks of life. Witnessing (and sometimes participating in) the conversations going on in the world right now is making me realize there’s even more that I don’t know, and I’m curious to learn more.
I’ve read several books already this year, but here are the top three that stood out:
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Full disclosure: I first heard about Chimamanda from Beyonce’s song ***Flawless, but this book was also recommended by the Harvard Book Store, so it has to be good, right? This novel is about a young, beautiful, and self-assured Nigerian woman Ifemelu who moves to America where she’s forced to deal with being black for the first time. The book describes her experiences in a way that made me want to know Ifemelu in real life. She is smart and speaks her mind, but she can be vulnerable, and questions and challenges the world around her. I can’t say this book completely strayed from my typical genre, as there are various relationships and love stories woven throughout (including Ifemelu’s first love, Obinze) but I certainly learned from recognizing the differences and similarities between us. I highly recommend this book and plan to read more by Chimamanda.
I probably never would have read this book if it weren’t for a recommendation via Twitter from my friend from college. He’s smart and interesting, so when he described it as a, “very good read depending on what you’re into,” I took a chance. This book is a personal account from a former marine and Yale Law School graduate about his upbringing in a poor Rust Belt town that also shares a broader look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Growing up in Massachusetts, this book helped me begin to understand how vicious cycles of addiction, abuse, poverty, alcoholism and trauma can create a level of hopelessness I never knew – just a few states away. The content was captivating, but J.D.’s style and voice kept me hooked to the very last page.
- The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
I’ve had an obsession with Chicago lately, so when I learned there was a book that combined my love of history and architecture (Chicago World’s Fair -1893) with murder mysteries (H.H. Holmes – 19th century serial killer) set in Chicago, it was a no-brainer. This book weaves together the stories of architect Daniel H. Burnham and Dr. H. H. Holmes, a con artist who lured his victims (mostly young women) to their deaths in his elaborately constructed “hotel.” The book covers what’s happening in Chicago in 1890-1893 as the Fair is planned and constructed, then continues in Philadelphia around 1895 as a detective tracks down H.H. Holmes. My fellow Brookline resident Frederick Law Olmsted had a role in developing the fairgrounds, lagoons, and gardens, and I learned factoids like the Ferris Wheel was introduced at the World’s Fair, designed by George Ferris. I loved learning about this moment in history and following the different characters, but this book is long, and Erik’s style is a bit verbose, so I found some parts hard to get through.
While I know this certainly isn’t the most provocative reading list, it is a place to start. Tell me, what’s on your reading list these days? What should I add to mine?