One of the things that has helped me a lot these past few weeks is getting out of my head and reading. I’m going to offer two categories of books in this article. The first is simply escapism. You want to just think about something else and enter another world? Try the books in the first category. The second category is books that are inspiring or will elevate your understanding in some kind of way. (Suggestions are fiction unless otherwise noted.)
The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling
There is nothing better than Harry Potter for totally removing yourself from the here and now. I’ve read the series many times. My motto is when in doubt, go to Hogwarts. You could also put the Harry Potter series in the second category because the themes that JK Rowling so beautifully wrote into her epic tale are not far removed from what we’re experiencing here in America right now — an evil dictator, racism, a grassroots activist movement. Hell, yes, we can all be Dumbledore’s Army. But the real reason to pick up Harry Potter again is to just relax and enjoy a damn good story.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
This is a story about a little boy whose parents are murdered and he ends up being raised by ghosts in a graveyard. It definitely meets the definition of escapism. Gaiman has an amazing way of creating other worlds that you can lose yourself in. The ghost characters are so uniquely written and fun. Give this a try if you really need to disconnect from reality for a moment.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This is the story of Wade Watts in the year 2044. He’s a gamer as is most everyone else on the planet by this time. Everyone uses a system called the Oasis which was created by a man who died before our story begins. The creator of the Oasis left an “easter egg” in the game which leads the gamers on an adventure. Whoever solves the riddle wins the creator’s multi-billion dollar fortune.
The Last One by Alexandra Oliva
I know that dystopian fiction may not really seem very comforting right now but I had to add this one because it is soooooo engrossing. The Last One is about a group of twelve contestants on a Survivor-like reality show but it primarily follows one female contestant. While the contestants are filming the show, a plague hits the country. Or did it? As our protagonist finds herself alone and struggling to survive, the question is this: Is this part of the game or not? Is the devastation all part of an elaborate set up by the show’s creators or is this real?
The Miss Peregrine Series by Ransom Riggs
The unfortunate thing about this series is that it is literally the whitest thing that’s ever been written. What is great about them, however, is that the world the “peculiars” live in is a matriarchal society. There is big time woman power in these books. These are fun, quick reads about kids with supernatural abilities who are, of course, being chased by the bad guys. To add to the fantasy element, the books are illustrated with vintage photos which, fun fact, were actually the inspiration for the characters. The pictures came first. Then the books.
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Inspirational & Thought Provoking Reads
The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
Nicola Yoon is a writer of young adult fiction who was born in Jamaica. She is well known for her first book, Everything, Everything, which featured an Afro-Asian protagonist. The Sun is Also a Star features a Jamaican female protagonist and a Korean male protagonist. Yes, it’s a love story and that does get tiring at times because the novel is essentially an argument that insta-love exists. But the amazing thing about this book is the way it beautifully illustrates the experiences of Natasha, who is an undocumented immigrant, and Daniel, who is a Korean American that doesn’t feel as though he belongs to either identity. For all of it’s romantic nonsense, the place where this book really shines is showing us the diversity of America and the value of immigrants.
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (Memoir)
I know people have feelings about Gloria Steinem. I saw her speak earlier this year and even though I’m always on the lookout for white feminism since I’m a Latina, I didn’t get that vibe from her. What I heard was a white woman who seemed to know what her role is and to appreciate the importance of listening to people of color to be an ally. What I liked about Steinem’s book was its focus on community organizing. This is a time when we’re all coming together to organize. Love her or hate her, Gloria Steinem has been at the forefront of the feminist movement for decades and she knows how to get shit done. Reading about how organizing happened in the past makes it feel possible for the future.
32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter
On the surface, you might say this book is simply a novel about a woman who’s obsessed with Molly Ringwald movies but you’d be wrong. This book, which I have recommended many times in previous articles, follows a black woman named Davie Jones from childhood to adulthood. She experiences racism, colorism, sexism, and abuse but she’s resilient and strong and complicated. She is not idealized but rather portrayed in a realistic way, a way that few women characters are written. Particularly for non-black folks, it’s important to read books where we can see the black experience through the character’s eyes. It’s not on our black friends to teach us what it’s like to be black. It’s on us to educate ourselves and that’s where good books written by black authors can help. This was a book that I felt really helped me understand better.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik (Biography)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is pretty fucking important. She always has been important but even more so now since what happens with the supreme court in the next four years could change everything. Notorious RBG is a quick read that gives the broad strokes of RBG’s life and accomplishments as the baddest, most amazing justice we’ve ever had. We’re counting on you, RBG! Stay strong!
We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Essay, 49 pages)
This is the written version of a speech that Adichie gave. What’s so important about reading feminist literature right now is to incorporate the voices of people of color. Adichie does a fabulous job of bringing her perspective as a Nigerian woman to the table. We are seeing a lot of white folks organizing right now in ways that don’t necessarily include women of color. Recently when I brought up how I felt that work strikes were exclusive of low income folks, particularly fellow Latinos and black folks, I was repeatedly told that I was being too politically correct, that I was discounting the importance of millennials, and that doing something is better than nothing which made me feel like white opinions and feelings were more important than my perspective as a Latina. When white people are organizing, they need to have a firm grasp on intersectionality because white feminism is the reason why people of color hesitate to join in. So, if you’re a white non-Latino, now’s the time to really check in with yourself about your privilege and how well you understand intersectionality. You can start by reading this book. After all, silencing people of color’s voices about the movement that is supposedly designed to help them is counter productive.
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There you have it. Whether you’re reading because you just need to get away from it all or you need to feel inspired, there’s something here for you so get reading!