So far, of the few DIY projects I have done, my favorite has definitely been the reading journal. The journal combines three of my passions: reading, writing and art.
The first book that made me interested in reading was Patricia MacLachlan’s Sarah Plain and Tall. I was in the second grade and it was my first chapter book; a kid remembers their first chapter book!
Soon I began swallowing books whole. There was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and Jerry Spinelli’s Maniac Magee. Indian in the Cupboard, The Giver and The Diary of Anne Frank opened my eyes to worlds real and imagined. I learned about a darkness that could consume men’s hearts and alter the course of history. I learned about friendship, faith and ethics. Books, fiction and non-fiction helped me to understand that the world as I experienced it was not true of everyone. I learned that rules were not hard and fast. I learned that sometimes things have to fall apart in order to be rebuilt stronger.
I relished in classroom library visits. I would pour over the shelves in search of the perfect book and would check out as many as I possibly could. In the fifth grade at age eleven, a teacher who believed in the magic of reading introduced me to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. Mrs. Burroughs, wherever you are, thank you. Thank you for introducing me to a series that has left a mark on my heart forever.
In honor of World Book Day and to say thank you to the many talented authors who have shared their imaginations and life experiences with the world, here is a list of 10 books that I believe ought to have place on every bookshelf.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl—Anne Frank
“I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.” A young Jewish girl still believed this at the height of the Holocaust. Despite everything, Anne Frank believed in a future that would sadly be striped from her. Detailing what it was like to have her human rights taken from her and her family’s eventual hiding, Anne’s diary entries tell the story of a young, precocious girl with a wit and sense of humor that could rival any writer. Reading Anne Frank’s diary is to feel that you knew her.
To Kill a Mockingbird—Harper Lee
Told through the eyes of a woman remembering her childhood in the 1930s south, we follow Scout and her older brother as they learn what compassion, envy, faith, prejudice and courage are—how such attributes divide people and can shape a community. The novel that introduced us to the pivotal figure of Atticus Finch, Harper Lee schooled audiences on their willful ignorance. By telling the story through childhood memories, Lee helped to teach her readers that we all need each other, no matter the color of our skin.
The Waves—Virginia Woolf
Most celebrated for her novel Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s The Waves is a work entirely written in the stream of consciousness. Following six characters from childhood to old age, the voices of the characters are as loud and powerful as the waves of the sea, a location at which the story takes place. An experimental novel that should receive more acclaim, Woolf proves her writing prowess here in more ways than one.
The Razor’s Edge—W. Somerset Maugham
A young man who having been spared his life during World War I at the sacrifice of a fellow soldier, Larry Darrell returns from Europe to tell his sweetheart that he must leave a journey to find the truth of life. Embarking on a spiritual quest, Darrell’s sweetheart chooses riches over love and all but murders an innocent by her own hand, an old friend who would have love to a life of torment. Maugham illustrates that experience shapes a man, for better or worse. Choice, or lack there of, is everything.
Brave New World—Aldous Huxley
Given the current political climate, this selection is no doubt obvious. In a world where technology and genetic engineering has shaped society, Huxley writes in his novel that if we get lost in tech, pharmaceuticals and machines, we will lose our humanity in exchange for a life of morose abject expression.
The Hours—Michael Cunningham
Told in three parts from the viewpoint of three different women, this novel is a modern-day retelling of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. Cunningham follows three connected women in a single day of their lives. In one day of the characters’ lives, the reader is shown what it is to love and to despair. The poet’s life is made up of extremes; but the three protagonists of the novel show that life is a spectrum of wonder and terror.
The Underground Railroad—Colson Whitehead
A 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner, Colson Whitehead’s fantastical piece of historical fiction chronicles the escape of a young slave girl named Cora in her pursuit of freedom. Too often students are taught that white abolitionists are the heroes of the Underground Railroad. Not so with this award-winning work. Though this is a work of fiction based in part on true events, Whitehead has illustrated the hidden history of the running slave’s courage, grit and determination. If found the slave faced certain death. Runaway slaves were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. This novel helps to show the humanity of the situation in a way that history books have failed. This should be on the curriculum of every high school English course.
The Joy Luck Club—Amy Tan
Generational experiences can prove trying on mother-daughter relationships, especially when both have been brought up in different cultures under vastly different circumstances. Tan’s novel follows four mother-daughter relationships in their search for companionship and freedom—in their search for acceptance and forgiveness. Tan’s strong storytelling shows you what it is to understand, but not conform. Above all, Tan’s novel shows readers that women are strong, vigilant and human.
Renascence, and Other Poems—Edna St. Vincent Millay
An American poet who I believe is greatly unappreciated, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s seminal work demonstrates what it is to love and be loved. Unlike other poets who hide behind a buxom vocabulary in the hopes of distracting the reader from the mediocrity of the poem’s message, Millay’s work is succinct and to the point. For anyone who has ever said, “I hate poetry,” read Renascence; you’ll find it sets fire to your understanding of what poetry is or can be.
Sacré Bleu: A Comedy d’Art—Christopher Moore
A fantastic blend of mythology and art history, Moore’s work of fiction follows the suspicious death of Vincent Van Gogh. Despite his death having been classified as a suicide, Van Gogh’s contemporaries believe he was murdered. A mysterious “color man” who sells an indigo blue paint that embodies a radical spirit and ensnares the artist, was Van Gogh driven mad by the muse?
Though it’s a cliché to say, it’s nevertheless true: reading takes you on an exploration of the world. Find a book that will challenge the way you think. To get going, join a book club!