The top five books that you are forced to read

Most Oles read a lot. We set aside time in our busy schedules to parse out David Hume and John Caputo, but we rarely do so for pleasure. I am sure that all of us can recall a time spent reading dry, patriarchal literature; such works often dominate the homework sphere. On the other hand, this is not always the sort of book that we’re assigned to read.

Below, you will find a list of my top five favorite assigned works –both fiction and nonfiction. They are engaging, lovely, heart-breaking and thought-provoking. They are different and diverse and they all deconstruct the assumption that assigned readings are boring and dry. If your philosophical, religious, anthropological, sociological, biological or historical readings are becoming overburdening, or if you are finding yourself increasingly disinterested in or frustrated with assigned texts, then I suggest that you check out some of these books. You won’t regret giving the following texts a try:

“The Canterbury Tales”

In Middle English, Geoffrey Chaucer successfully conveys to his contemporary readers an array of dirty jokes and adult humor bound to produce a laugh in even the most stressed-out college student. If you are looking for a text filled with wild scandals, provocative characters who break traditional gender norms and subtle albeit crushing critiques of patriarchal social structures, then go no further: “The Canterbury Tales” is the book for you. Challenge yourself with the Middle English edition rather than reading a translation. If you fall in love with Chaucer and decide to take English 223, “Old and Middle English Literature,” you’ll have to buy that version anyway.

“My Bright Abyss”

Based on his essay about the ambiguous relationship between faith and death, Christian Wiman offers a moving account of his life – one filled with cancer, sorrow, love and religion – in prose and poetry. It is a beautiful meditation on the nature of a feasible contemporary faith, which I was fortunate to parse out last spring in Religion 244, “The Death of God.” The text is dense but doable, just 182 pages. If you are wanting to read something artistic or poetic, then I recommend that you give this book a try.

“The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Written By Himself”

Composed in 1789 by the freed slave, Olaudah Equiano, “The Interesting Narrative” offers an in-depth account of the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade. Equiano recounts his life before slavery in Africa, his kidnapping and enslavement and his involvement in abolition and social reform after slavery. The text is short, beautifully-articulated, and the first slave narrative to have been written. Though the book’s historical accuracy is debated (learn about this in greater detail when you take English 232, “Writing America”), Equiano captures his reader’s attention through this fascinating, horrifying, heart-wrenching account of his life.

“No-No Boy”

Japanese-American author John Okada’s only novel, “No-No Boy” is the story of Ichiro Yamada, whose divided loyalties keep him from participating in American war efforts. Set in Seattle, we follow this omniscient narrator as he attempts to rebuild his life after his refusal to fight for America in World War II results in a two-year prison sentence. Through Ichiro, Okada gives a voice to those Japanese-Americans who have historically found themselves voiceless. The text is thoughtful, thought-provoking and a fantastic piece of literature that scholars have only begun to discover within the last few years. If you cannot take English 203, “Asian American Literature,” on your own but are looking for an unexplored but classic work, this could very likely be the perfect book for you.

“Wieland”

A second text from English 232, “Writing America,” Charles Brockden Brown’s novel, “Wieland,” tells the story of Clara Wieland and the mysterious events that befall her and her family. It is one of America’s first gothic novels, a mixture of mystery, science-fiction and horror, that kept me fervently reading long after I should have been in bed. If you are still entrenched in the Halloween spirit and are in need of a good, scary book, or if you are out of Cage dollars and need a free stimulant that works just as effectively as caffeine, be sure to check out “Wieland” from the library today!

miller2@stolaf.edu

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