Mirabella Miller ’23
It’s surprisingly hard to read for fun: a practice that is supposed to be about leisure and learning becomes an afterthought when you are juggling homework, extracurriculars, jobs, and other activities. That’s why one of my goals for my leave of absence this semester has been to read all the books I’ve been meaning to read forever that I have previously not had the time to. In this monthly column, I’ll be highlighting some of my favorite books I’ve read in the past month, and making the case for why you should read them too. Below are my picks for March along with types of people I’d most recommend each book to.
“Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart
It’s trite but not untrue that there is always love in even the darkest places, and that through even the darkest times it’s love that makes living bearable. “Shuggie Bain,” Douglas Stuart’s debut novel and winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, is a heartbreaking and gritty portrayal of a working class family in 1980s Glasgow. Other characters come and go, but it is the relationship between Agnes Bain and her youngest son Hugh, nicknamed “Shuggie,” that drives this book. Agnes is a raging alcoholic who loses everything but her pride, and Shuggie is her loving and effeminate son with a gait and voice that makes people say he’s “no right.” Be warned that the book is over 400 pages, a length that matches the intensity of its plot and the monumental nature of the struggles endured by Agnes and Shuggie. A devastating portrait of addiction, poverty, and queer childhood, it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read in the past year.
Recommended for: everyone who can handle it
“Conversations with Friends” by Sally Rooney
After reading “Normal People” by Sally Rooney and watching the TV adaptation on Hulu during quarantine, I picked up her debut novel for another dose of emotional destruction. “Conversations with Friends,” published in 2017, revolves around disillusioned Trinity College student Frances and her gregarious best friend Bobbi, who through the arts scene in Dublin meet married couple Nick and Melissa. The novel isn’t as powerful of a gut-punch as “Normal People” (I still cried reading it, but that’s not a hard metric to achieve). However, something about the detachedness of Frances made the book especially gripping, her apathy like a puzzle to solve. As the relationships between the four characters grow more and more complicated, Rooney reveals a commentary on modern relationships with biting wit. As Frances struggles with a deep and familiar sense of indecision that plagues many young people, Bobbi tells her “You underestimate your own power so you don’t have to blame yourself for treating other people badly,” at which point I set the book down and audibly said “damn” to no one in particular.
Recommended for: Type 4 enneagrams, leftist podcast listeners, active Twitter users, and anyone whose emotions are trapped beneath seven layers of sarcasm and self-awareness
“A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan
The odd title of this book threw me off; before I opened it, I thought it would be sci-fi (like some intergalactic space mission visiting other planets) or comedy (the “goon” made me think of “The Goonies” movie). Turns out Jennifer Egan’s 2011 book “A Visit from the Goon Squad” is a little of both, plus much more. Not quite a novel and not quite a short story collection, it takes place through 13 interlocking stories that traverse decades and continents. They revolve around people who know Bennie Salazar, an aging record executive and former punk musician, and/or his troubled assistant Sasha. This genius use of form forces the reader to treat every character as important and worth recalling, because the minor character Sasha goes on an awkward first date with in one story is the main character of the next, and so on, reminding us that even the smallest brushes with the people we meet can profoundly alter their trajectory as well as our own.
Recommended for: city dwellers, people who root for the underdog, musicians (current and former), anyone who needs a reminder of our innate interconnectedness
Image Source: Amazon