Books That Are Better Than Twilight, for the Mind and the Soul

This is my second (or is it third?) late blog, and as I struggle to keep my head above water, convincing myself that I can work forty hours a week and complete finals, I feel like the light at the end of the tunnel is only growing dimmer. However, there is one thing keeping me going, and that is the prospect of summer reading. Although two years in the English major have introduced me to many, dare I say, life-changing books, it is often summer reads that I have time to slow down and appreciate that mean the most. I thought I would share some of my past favorites with you guys so that you don’t end of reading trash like, I don’t know, Twilight, again this summer.

If there is only one book you read this summer or one book you read ever for that matter, make it Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.

I had never read a graphic novel before this one and had no idea what to expect, but Bechdel’s marriage of visual and narrative forms created a textual world unlike any I had ever experienced. What the words didn’t say the pictures made up for and vice versa. The impressive vocabulary forced me to pull out my dictionary a few times, but it didn’t slow down my reading – once you open Fun Home, you don’t want to put it down. I read it once, put it down for a few hours, and then skim-read it, searching for new connections in the cyclical story. The book lived beside my bed for a few months, and then I read it again.

The best thing about Fun Home for me is the way in which Bechdel not only creates a voice in public sphere to tell her “queer” story, but goes back to claim spheres of the past that the GBLTQIQ community was once segregated from. For example, Bechdel reclaims the literature of James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and even Roald Dahl by comparing messages in the seemingly heterosexual texts to her bisexual father and lesbian self. She revisits vital moments in gay history, challenges gender norms, and weaves the entire story together in a touching family narrative that took her seven years to write and illustrate. How can you not read it?

               My favorite feminist will always be Jane Eyre.


                              This illustrated version is espeically fun.

Charlotte Bronte’s character Jane redefined what it meant to be a woman in Victorian Gothic fiction. This was no Pamela. Jane never let Mr. Radcliffe talk down to her or treat her less than his equal. She found her own way in the world, even when it meant spending the night in the woods. She understood the importance of love, but also knew that a vital part of love is loving and caring for yourself. In Jane’s own words, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me; I am a free human being with an independent will.” You go girl!

It’s a must-read for Emily Buck and all the rest of you who don’t know what the word feminism means.

Everything that John Irving has ever written is brilliant, but the book most ingrained in my memory is The Cider House Rules. The summer I read it, I changed my position from pro-life to pro-choice.

The story spans the lifetime of an orphan boy turned doctor named Homer, who grew up in an orphanage. The head of the institution (played by my love Michael Caine in the film) performs illegal abortions on the premise that without his help women would find themselves in dangerous and unsanitary facilities. Homer learns the value of his mentor’s lesson and eventually is able to help a young girl out of an incestuous pregnancy. Seems like I’ve told you too much? Don’t worry; it’s less than 10% of what goes on in this politically rich narrative.

There may be nothing overtly feminist about Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel, The Time Traveler’s Wife, but if you are craving a good love story this summer, read this instead of Nicholas Sparks.

It may sound sci-fi, but the story is actually the very believable tale of a man who travels through time and the women who loves him. Since he cannot control when and to where he will be whisked away, his wife has to deal with long absences and the risk of knowing he might never come back. It takes the tradition of sea-faring wives to a new dimension and aides in the feminist movement by giving a voice to women’s emotions and views on love.

I often claim Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides the best book ever written, but only one other person ever agreed with me. See for yourself.

Cal is an intersexed man raised female in Detroit, who escapes to San Francisco and later Europe in an attempt to find personal and sexual acceptance. However, before relating his own life story, Cal takes readers through the family history and gene pool, addressing the ways in which critical historical events, such as prohibition and race riots affected the family. I can’t say anything to give this book the justice it deserves; you have to experience it for yourself. Eugenides also wrote The Virgin Suicides, and although the Kristen Dunst Hollywood rendition is not half bad, it is not half as good as the original work.

Last but not least, I have been a little obsessed with Audre Lorde this past semester. Her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” really resonated with me during a time in which I was learning that activism is not a luxury. A book that confirmed this belief was her “biomythography,” Zami: A New Spelling of My Name.

Lorde takes readers through her life, beginning as a young, first generation American growing up in Harlem. We follow her through her teen years, coming out, and life as a young adult. She takes on issues of women and work, sexuality, racism, sexism, writing, family, and more. Lorde manages to demonstrate the double, triple, and quadruple binds that exist in her life, but does so in an empowering way. She takes on each new challenge with headstrong determination and will to find her place as she is in the world.  

I could talk books all day, but it’s back to the grind of work and writing late papers for now. Do yourself a favor and turn off the Top Model reruns this summer! Find a purse or bag big enough to fit your book and never let it leave your side! My townie self will be here all summer, enjoying the peace of no students, going to Beyond without a two hour wait outside the door, and best of all, reading. Book club anyone?

2 thoughts on “Books That Are Better Than Twilight, for the Mind and the Soul

  1. I so love how you write! I believe that one day, i’ll be claiming one of your books the best i’ve ever read.


  2. I’ve always loved and recommended Middlesex. Good choice! (And your post encouraged me to add a couple new books to my list!)


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