Want to know something scary? Twenty-seven percent of Americans did not read a book in the past year. That means that 86.1 million Americans haven’t read a book since the Royals won the 2015 World Series and Adele released her 25 album. What were you all doing?! Rescuing kittens from trees? Curing the Zika virus? Watching videos on Vine? Well, Vine is dead now people, time to expand your brain by cracking open a book.
Your elementary, middle school and high school teachers probably preached at you a lot about the benefits of reading. Well, allow me to pick up where they left off.
We are often told that readers are leaders. Psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano, at the New School for Social Research, have proved that reading literary fiction enhances the ability to sense and comprehend other people’s emotions, an essential skill in navigating complex social relationships. You can read more about their work here so you know I’m not making it up.
Reading allows us to travel outside of our personal world to explore new places, problems, and people. It opens our minds and allows us to empathize with others. Empathy is vital to creating a fair society. I want to live in a world full of empathizers. It sounds like a nice, chill place.
Also, winter is a great time for reading! (Baby, it’s cold outside and dark at 5:00 p.m.) For your reading pleasure, here is a list of books that changed the way I thought about specific people, places and issues.
I first read this book in fifth grade after it was recommended to me by my friend Dawson (I think. Anyway, hi Dawson!). I’ve reread it every few years since. It is the story of Paul-Edward, who was born shortly before the end of the Civil War. His mother was his father’s slave. Being mixed-race during the Reconstruction era was extremely difficult. Black people distrusted him because he looked too white. White people scorned him when they learned of his ancestry. We watch Paul-Edward grow up with alongside his white brothers and wonder why the world insist that they are kept apart. We see him rebel from his parents, and stowaway on a train he thinks his heading west that actually takes him back to the Deep South. Paul-Edward is determined for one thing, however, land of his own. And he will do whatever it takes to get it.
Then she said to me, “You know, Mitchell done thought the world of you, Paul- Edward. He said he done figured you his family.” “Figured him the same,” I said. “Y’all was good friends.” “No,” I said. “Not just friends. Brothers.”
Marcelo is a 17 year-old on the autistic spectrum. He experiences life differently from everyone else. His father wants him to learn how to function in the “real world” or the world outside of his special needs school, Patterson. For Marcelo to prove that he can survive in the “real world,” he spends the summer working at his father’s law firm. If he succeeds, he can attend Patterson for his senior year. If not, he has to go to public school. At his father’s law firm, Marcelo meets Jasmine, Wendell, and Ixtel. Suddenly his world where everything was logical, structured, and black and white, is full of gray area.
“It was like a fire. Here. And here.” I touch the top of my stomach, where my rib cage ends and then the middle of my chest. “It was like I wanted to fight the people who hurt her. But then I realized that might include my father.”
Representing an often forgotten group of World War II victims, those from northeast Europe, who were caught between Hitler and Stalin, Sepetys weaves together the stories of four fictional people who end up on the real MV Wilhelm Gustloff, which was carrying German refugees and was sunk in the Baltic Sea by Soviet submarines (Relax, not all the characters die, although most of the people on the ship do). I read this book in about 18 hours- couldn’t put it down. The MV Wilhelm Gustloff sinking the largest maritime disaster in history, and therefore, something we all should know about.
What had human beings become? Did war make us evil or just activate an evil already lurking within us?
HeLa cells, the first immortal human cell line, were instrumental in many scientific and medical advancements throughout the past 65 years. However, they were taken from a black woman named Henrietta Lacks at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore without her consent in 1951. Lacks died of cervical cancer that same year, and despite the buying and selling of her cells, her five children have seen none of the money. Skloot explores the racial, political and societal issues that plagued Lacks’ life and the black community, as well as the ethical issues of race and class in medical research.
“You know other countries be buying her for twenty-five dollars, sometimes fifty? Her family didn’t get no money out of it.”
Arnold Spirit Jr. (known as Junior) is a quirky, bright teenager living on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His family is very poor, and his dad is an alcoholic. Junior was born with hydrocephalus, a condition that causes him to lisp, have seizures, stutter and see poorly. He is also small for his age thanks to hydrocephalus. Due to a lack of opportunities at his reservation school, Junior decides to go to the all-white school off the reservation. That’s when things get interesting. This book is hilarious. It is full of awesome cartoons and your heart will break and soar with Junior’s as he copes with the problems of being the only Native American kid at his school, poverty, family issues, and general teenage drama and awkwardness.
I grabbed my book and opened it up. I wanted to smell it. Heck, I wanted to kiss it. Yes, kiss it. That’s right, I am a book kisser. Maybe that’s kind of perverted or maybe it’s just romantic and highly intelligent.
Confession: This is the first book of poetry that I have read in years. Sad, I know. Kaur is 24, so she is an at similar place in life as me, making her painfully relatable. Her book is divided into four sections, each describing different experiences. Her words are so real, I thought they would slide off the page. Kaur talks about love, loss, violence, femininity and abuse like she is talking to a friend. Read this book or give it to the young woman in your life. It has a message for all of us.
“The kindest words my father said to me
Women like you drown oceans.”