From Didion to Atwood, a peek into what Aggie Arts Writers spent their summers reading
Liz Jacobson, Arts and Culture Editor: “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
I bought “Between the World and Me” at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. this summer because I’m a fan of Coates’ pragmatic Atlantic essay “A Case for Reparations.” On par with Gayl Jones and Toni Morrison, Coates’ letter to his teenage son eloquently speaks to the black experience in America. His memories of his youth in Baltimore, Md., his intellectual awakening at Howard University — which he calls the Mecca — and his experiences as a black father, who is filled with so much love, and fear, for his young, black son are pure poetry. “Between the World and Me” forced an introspection of my own privileges and, in agreement with Ms. Morrison, it should be required reading.
Caroline Rutten: “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
Joan Didion grants the reader a personal account of her greatest life tragedy: the sudden death of her husband and the long-term sickness of her only daughter (side note: her daughter died shortly after the release of the book). The book reads as a diary, a longform thought process that grapples with mourning and grief of the most intense form. The opportunity to dive into the mind and masterful syntax of a great American novelist is only one reason to pick up this book; the opportunity to witness Didion come to some form of closure is another.
Andrew Williams: “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance
The true story of “Hillbilly Elegy” recounts the trials and tribulations of author J.D. Vance as he comes to terms with life in poverty-stricken Middletown, Ohio. Vance details life as a hillbilly, confronting drugs, domestic abuse and a seemingly unconquerable feeling of malaise seeping into his community. The main antidote to his hard-pressed environment comes in the form of a hotheaded, no punch-pulling grandma who he affectionately calls “Mamaw.” “Hillbilly Elegy,” written in straightforward prose, is a rags-to-riches tale packed with unlikely role-models, a whole lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. This book is well-suited for anyone who wants to glimpse into Appalachian values and the cultural obstacles that face one of America’s most despondent populations.
Alyssa Ilsley: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tart
Donna Tart’s “The Goldfinch” ambitiously spans 700 pages and details nearly 20 years in the life of Theodore Decker. While the novel can be described as both a coming-of-age story and a crime drama, it is ultimately about one’s recovery from trauma and loss. Tart introduces this theme in the beginning of the novel, when Theo survives a terrorist attack in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. His mother dies in the bombing and Theo lives his entire life obsessed with maintaining a connection to the moment it happened. Tart’s prose is impressive; the novel feels sophisticated, but not pretentious. There is a perfect balance between artistic language and traditional storytelling devices that keeps the plot moving forward. Finishing this novel is quite an undertaking considering the page count, but it’s worth the investment.
Itzelth Gamboa: “The Naturals” by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
Barnes’ series “The Naturals” is the perfect poolside read. Barnes focuses on Cassie, the daughter of a sort of fortune teller. Instead of telling fortunes, Cassie’s mother reads people: their nervous ticks, the way they dress and how they speak. Her natural ability to read others is passed on to her daughter. Cassie is soon forced to cope with her mother’s sudden murder, but then gets the opportunity to work with the FBI on cold cases. Fans of true crime murder television shows will be glued to the books as Cassie solves crimes and searches for the truth.
Gabriela Hernandez: “Oryx and Crake” by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is mostly known for her work “Handmaid’s Tale,” but this dystopian novel, the first in a three-part series, draws on our fears of the direction in which our world might be heading. The story is told through the eyes of Snowman, who, before the world changed into a genetically modified society, was known as Jimmy. We follow his past and present narration, as he reminisces about the time he spent with his friend Crake, who’s responsible for creating the genetically modified society. Snowman also longs for Oryx, a woman both men loved. Atwood leaves readers to uneasily contemplate what our future holds.