by Josh Malerman, 2014
I’m not much of a horror genre reader, but I was intrigued when I heard so many people talking about Bird Box. Set in a world where mysterious creatures roam the earth, one must give up the sense of sight in order to stay sane. No one knows what the creatures are or what they look like, for every person who has set eyes on them has been driven mad, resulting in their violent end. We enter the story some four years after reports of gruesome attacks and ghastly suicides start flooding the news. The day has come when Malorie and her two children, known only as Boy and Girl, must leave their barricaded house and venture out into the world. It is a story as much about the breakdown of society and the lengths one would go to survive as it is about the suspense surrounding these horrific creatures.
by Imbolo Mbue, 2016
Ah, the American Dream: The idea that anyone can come to this country and build their fortune based on merit and hard work alone. Sadly, that dream has proven to be little more than that – a dream – and Jende and Neni Jonga in Behold the Dreamers find this out the hard way. What starts out as a promising change from the poverty of their native Cameroon soon becomes a hell from which they must escape. It is a turn of events that is the fault of no one, but it is one that seems all too common for those hoping to come to America to start over.
by Toni Morrison, 2003
Leave it to Toni Morrison to completely turn the idea of the love story on its head. If you were to judge this book by its cover, you’d likely expect the pages to contain something akin to an urban romance. Inside, however, you’ll find that this is a meditation on love in all of its forms – romantic, parental, platonic, envious, destructive – and how it can completely tear a person apart.
by David McCullough, 2001
In this second presidential biography, David McCullough provides a sweeping narrative of John Adams’s life. History seems to have largely forgotten Adams – there are no monuments to his name, his birthday is not a national holiday, his face does not appear on any form of currency. McCullough’s biography attempts to correct that mistake, giving modern readers a thorough account not just of his presidency, but all that he accomplished in the years leading up to it. If, at times, I felt a bit fatigued by the extent of McCullough’s detail, this was made up for by the fact that his life contained as much drama as, well, an HBO miniseries.
by Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2017
“Required reading” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot these days, but it’s still the phrase I would use to describe the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was with bated breath that I placed a hold on his new book a month prior to its publication and I gleefully picked it up from the library on the day it was released. I had thoroughly enjoyed Between the World and Me and was excited to get my hands on this collection of essays. Now, perhaps because I had just read Michael Eric Dyson, whose dynamism cannot be matched, or perhaps because I had such pent up anticipation, which never leads to anything but disappointment, I found I was less enamored of this book than I expected I would be. I hadn’t realized this wouldn’t be new material and, accordingly, it did not attack the subject manner in the way I had assumed it would. I don’t read The Atlantic, so while the material was new to me and I was glad to be able to access it in a collected volume, I felt that they didn’t quite come together to paint a cohesive picture. But, there is still so much to be gained from Coates’s words and I will argue with anyone that his voice is a necessary one in our world today.
by 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.
by 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.