One of the hardest things I’ve experienced in my English MA program is finding a bookish balance. I know it seems weird, but when you spend your extra time juggling memoirs and English drama, it can be hard figuring out what you want to read. I experience a lot of fear and hesitation: what if I pick something too similar to what I’m doing? What if I start this book and it isn’t good enough to keep my attention? I hate to admit that I spent a lot of time determining what I needed, and then more time trying to create strategies to meet those needs — but that’s another post for another time 🤓
For the purposes of this post, I’ve excluded those books I read for grad school. Now, did I manage to fit these “free time” books into discussion? Of course. I wrote a post about Tropic Thunder, identity, and conflict that my professor loved. Being able to work “unrelated” books into conversation is an English grad student’s bread and butter and probably why reading this blog appeals to you!
I spent more time with fiction than non-fiction, and almost all of these were recommendations or gifts. I thought it was pretty cool that I ended up investing time with pay-it-forward books.
Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars was one of the first books I read this year, and a pleasant surprise gifted to me by my husband. I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic fiction and I’ve read a ton. What I liked about The Dog Stars was that it bridged a lot of gaps: a different type of story and plot (the
protagonist is a pilot!), while still feeling familiar; universal but intimate; lyrical and approachable. I highly recommend this one for those who love post-apocalyptic fiction, or for those who are looking for something unique from the genre. It’s a short read, but it packs an emotional punch. If you’ve listened to the audio version, I’d love to know what you thought – this one screams for an audio listen.
My next read was a recommendation I got from Gin Jenny’s blog! I read The Dark Net by Jamie Bartlett and referred to it a ton in my digital literacy class. I had a slightly different experience while reading it; it ended up falling more into “academic interests” than personal ones. It’s more a series of essays than anything else, and I would have loved if the book felt more connected. It almost seemed like Bartlett didn’t realize the purpose until the conclusion, or at least didn’t reveal it to the reader. Also, it should be noted that the Dark Net in question isn’t so much a darknet as it is the darker side of global web connections. If you’re looking for an in-depth exploration of what the darknet is, this might not be the book for you. And major trigger warning: this book features instances of hate messaging, self-harm, and sexual violence/harm to children.
I will rave about Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older as the day is long. I listened to this as an audiobook and I highly recommend it to anyone with interests in YA/YA fantasy, diverse literature, art, and meta storytelling. This is the book I wanted to get when I read Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments. THIS. Also, educators looking for an engaging, quick read that has deeper themes about heritage, identity, and cultural appropriation couldn’t find a better book. I honestly can’t rec this one enough; it’s my Pointe of 2016, and I would love to get Sierra and Theo in a room together. There is not a love triangle, but I hesitate to call what exists a romance — it’s a kissing book, but Sierra and her love interest feel more like partners and allies than anything else. This is the first in a series, but it’s a standalone novel and it honestly didn’t feel like a first book setting up a larger storyline. Learning that there would be more adventures for Sierra and her friends was a pleasant surprise (sorry I ruined it), and I hope you’ll give Shadowshaper a try so we can enjoy the next book together! Also, look at that cover. That cover is everything.
Check back in Thursday for Part II!
What books would you recommend to an English grad student? Leave a comment!