150 I Am Malala

malalaby Malala Yousafzai, 2013
narrated by Archie Panjabi

I recently moved from an area replete with public transportation to an area that, well, has absolutely no public transportation at all. This means that I’ve had to start to driving. While that’s brought its own challenges (the last time I drove was probably around 2005), it’s also taken away those precious minutes when I used to read on my commute. The obvious solution here is to start listening to audiobooks, but that isn’t as easy for me as it may be for some. One of the things I particularly love about reading is absorbing an author’s beautiful language and imagining the scene unfurl in my mind. That is taken away when someone else narrates and adds their own inflection to the words. I am also very much a visual learner and I often feel that I don’t hold onto information that I hear with nearly the strength that I do with information I see. Yet, spending the 30 minutes I drive to work each day listening to the radio seems a bit of a waste, so I am doing my best to convert myself into an audiobook lover. I Am Malala was my first choice for this, with the reason being that I believed I wouldn’t miss the experience of reading as much with a nonfiction book. I was also able to borrow the ebook from the library, so after my drive I could skim over the sections I heard and highlight what stood out to me. My audiobook conversion is still a process, but it’s one I’m hoping I master. Now, onto the book.

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149 The Performance of Becoming Human

performanceby Daniel Borzutzky, 2016

Part of the problem with loving books is that when you religiously read book blogs, listen to book podcasts on your runs, and watch booktube videos before going to bed at night, you end up with a lot of books that you want to read. And sometimes – let’s be honest, a lot of the time – you get distracted from what you want to read in the long term by the shiny new book you MUST READ RIGHT NOW. I’m not a huge fan of planning out everything I read, but I’ve found the Read Harder Challenge has been pretty good at getting me to read books that have languished on my TBR. I’ll say the same for my Year of Toni Morrison challenge – even though I’m spending the last quarter of the year catching up with her, I’m really quite delighted that I decided to do this. So, all of this is to say that I’ve decided I want to make more of an effort to read each year’s prize-winning books (from 2016 on). This decision is how I came to find myself reading this National Book Award-winning collection of poetry.

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148 The Taming of the Shrew

tamingoftheshrewby William Shakespeare, 1590(ish)

I was recently having a discussion with my English teacher friend wherein I revealed that I had never taken a Shakespeare class. He wondered how that could be possible, and I reminded him that, although my Master’s degree is in English, my Bachelor’s degree is not, and while I was getting said Master’s and the time came for me to take a Renaissance course, I chose Milton instead. (That is a choice I do not regret, for my Milton teacher was fantastic. She used to read Paradise Lost to us. She was ASMR before the internets knew what ASMR was.) Alas, I know little of the Bard. Save for Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, The Tempest, and Othello, I’ve not read much of him. I think it’s about time for this certified book nerd to remedy that…after all, I did pay a ton of money to say that I can read English good. (← Insert Derek Zoolander pun here.)

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147 Paradise

paradiseby Toni Morrison, 1997

Toni Morrison is, in the parlance of our times, like, whoa. And I feel that she has never been so whoa as she is in Paradise. Set in Ruby, Oklahoma, a town founded by the descendants of slaves and housing only black citizens, Morrison depicts a community whose reality is anything but what the book’s title suggests. I was recently discussing with a co-worker contemporary books that address feminism and gender studies in their literature, to which I offered, “Anything by Toni Morrison.” I think this proves my point finely. Her vicious pulling apart of destructive racial and gender oppression is brilliantly juxtaposed with her understated style, showing why Morrison is regarded as a master of her craft.

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146 Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

evictedby Matthew Desmond, 2016

Imagine not being able to call 911 for your son’s asthma attack because, if ambulances show up at your home, which has been labeled a “nuisance,” you might get evicted. This is the dilemma that has stayed with me after reading Evicted, this realization that many of the rights we take for granted are stripped away from those who need them most. Having hot water, a door that locks, a functioning toilet, the knowledge that I can call law enforcement to protect me without fear of losing my home – these are just some of the privileges withheld from the folks Matthew Desmond writes about.

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145 The Vegetarian

vegetarianby Han Kang, 2007

Set in modern day South Korea, The Vegetarian chronicles the spiraling downfall of a woman whose decision to stop eating meat has enormous consequences for those around her. When I first came to this book, I knew little about it other than its focus on a woman who chooses to be a vegetarian, and I wondered how such a mundane topic could generate such a buzz. I see now that this book is so much more than this, that Kang uses this decision to expound on the ideas of cultural norms, gender roles, and the constraints of marriage in a patriarchal society. It is thoroughly brilliant and I had a hard time putting it down.

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144 Jazz

jazzby Toni Morrison, 1992

One of the things I’ve come to love about Toni Morrison’s style is that I often don’t know what is happening at the outset. I’ve become accustomed to feeling a bit lost, to not knowing who our narrator is, to not fully grasping the meat of the story until Morrison’s vivid words unfurl the narrative across the pages. I enjoy this lack of grounding because I have not yet ceased to be amazed by how deftly Morrison pulls everything together and, by the novel’s end, presents a story that is greater than the sum of its parts. Alas, Jazz was the first time I found myself less than thrilled with this style. Instead of feeling rewarded in the end, I mostly felt, well, lost.

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