by Charles Dickens, 1843
Oh, hey, nearly 200-year-old story that dozens of movies have been based on that is still a hearty player in popular culture, so much so that a character’s name has become a noun unto itself! Do you think it’s time I actually read you? Yeah, probably. Honestly, I likely wouldn’t have ever picked up this classic Christmas tale if it weren’t for the fact that I’m planning to do a podcast about the book and a couple of the film adaptations in December (seems like an appropriate theme for that month). I am, of course, highly familiar with the story because I exist in American pop culture, but beyond having fond memories of watching the Mickey Mouse version (to the point where I had to look up the name of the character [bear? cat?] who plays the devilish Ghost of Christmas Future because I couldn’t remember it…it’s Pete, if you were wondering), I don’t really interact much with the Christmas story genre. I am, to put it unironically, a self-professed Scrooge, and I hate all things Christmas. I hate the commercials urging everyone to buy, buy, buy lest they risk disappointing all their family members with the wrong gift. I hate being stuck in airports or train stations, traveling when literally every other person is traveling. I hate the forced sense of cheer, as if the proximity to December 25 means all of the world’s problems have magically disappeared. But, you know what? I didn’t hate this book.
by Zora Neale Hurston, 1937
Are there ever books that you hear are wonderful/genius/a masterpiece that you put off reading because you sort of don’t believe the hype, but then you actually read the book and you think, “Holy shit; that was wonderful/genius/a masterpiece!”? That was me with Their Eyes Were Watching God, a book read by most in high school or college that somehow eluded me my entire academic life. On my previously mentioned road trip, my friend showed me her face mask, which depicted 19 books written by black authors. I immediately purchased the same mask and, feeling quite proud that I’d already read 13 of said books, I made it a goal to read the remaining six. Hurston’s seminal work was an easy choice, as it had languished on my shelves for years. While the reason I finally picked up the book may not be the most highbrow, I’m incredibly glad to have read it. It truly is a masterpiece.
by Richard Adams, 1972
My first question about Watership Down is, why did no one ever tell me to read this?! You see, I love bunnies. Aside from Care Bears, I was not a teddy bear kind of kid. I was also never a doll kind of kid and the only dolls I had were ones that other people bought for me and not ones that I asked for. No, I loved bunnies, and it is still one of my greatest regrets that I have yet to adopt a bunny as a pet. I also feel a pang of regret for the fact that my childhood passed without ever reading this adventure tale about a gang of bunnies looking for a new, peaceful home. Society, you have let me down!
by Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
And so continues my education of reading books that I should have read, but haven’t. I was particularly interested in reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin to learn exactly where the term “Uncle Tom” originated. For the unaware, an Uncle Tom is a black person who is exceedingly deferential to whites. That’s the polite way of putting it; for a more piquant definition, watch Django Unchained. Samuel L. Jackson’s character? He’s an Uncle Tom through and through. But where does the term come from? Surprisingly, not directly from this book.
by Malcolm X, as told to Alex Haley, 1965
The great thing about books is that they help us understand not only others, but ourselves and our own place in history a little bit better. Growing up I knew little of Malcolm X. I was raised Catholic, owing to my mother, but my father (the black side of my family) was Methodist and the First Nation of Islam was so far off my radar as to be non-existent. It was something for other black people, the ones who changed their names and insisted they were African, not American. (Conversely, I know now that we were the “smug” and “intention-hungry Negroes” that Malcolm X detested.) I read maybe a few passages from The Autobiography in school, but Malcolm X was never studied in depth and overall I got the sense that, while he contributed to our history as black people, he was not to be admired. I could have gone my whole life thinking that had I not taken it upon myself to learn more.
de Gabriel García Márquez, 1967
[Scroll down for English version.]
Tengo que decirte un secreto. Cuando estaba leyendo esta historia, también leí un sumario en el web. ¡Tenía que hacerlo! No porque no quería leer el libro, sino porque ya sabía que iba a ser una historia compleja y con muchas vueltas y quería asegurar que entendía todo. La verdad es que creo que necesitaría hacer lo mismo aun si la hubiera leído en inglés. Que torcida es! Con muchos nombres iguales y muchos giros en el tiempo, necesitaba un mapa para seguir todo. Pero, al fin, estoy feliz de haber leerlo? Sí…supongo que sí.
Man, Pip can’t catch a break, can he?