Updated: Nov 17, 2021
Happy November! Today’s post is about reading, which is actually loosely related to college admissions (schools sometimes ask applicants about their favorite outside-of-class books). Whether or not you’re currently applying to college, and as we head into the holidays, I hope this post inspires you to visit the library or bookstore and cozy up with a juicy read:)
I’ve always been a big reader. I majored in English in college and later went on to teach it, mostly at the high school level, where class discussions on The Great Gatsy, Huck Finn, and The Things They Carried were some of my favorites. Outside of work, I dabbled in book clubs and tried to make time to read for fun, but between raising three kids and teaching high school, there weren’t many spare moments.
When I transitioned from teaching to college counseling five years ago, I began to prioritize reading in my spare time. It was so rewarding to explore books that were not part of a prescribed high school curriculum! And then when March 2020 hit and we were all locked down, I began to read novels voraciously. Don’t get me wrong: Like everyone else, I binge-watched Tiger King and The Witcher in those early weeks, but reading, especially fiction, really got me through the doldrums.
I’ve continued to read pretty extensively since then, though obviously not at the same pace. People often ask me how I decide what to read next. Great question! I get my recommendations from a few “bookstagrams,” most notably @fictionmatters, and from friends whose tastes are similar to mine. Also, I like to mix things up. I generally alternate between “beach reads”/fun books, more intellectual novels, nonfiction, and classics that I’ve either read in earlier days or never at all.
So, without further ado and in no particular order, here are some favorites that I’ve consumed over the past year and a half. I’ve only provided a brief description of each, so for more detail, visit Amazon or Goodreads.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The story of two lovers, this novel is set in Nigeria and the United States. It follows the couple together and apart, from childhood to their mid-30s, and keenly addresses issues of racial hierarchy. Adichie weaves the story lines together seamlessly and her writing is captivating. I also loved her two other novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
As a self-proclaimed book nerd, I can’t believe I had never read any Stegner until recently. The beautiful “then and now” style, which alternates between Grass Valley, CA in the early 1970s and various locations in the late 1800s, earned this novel the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This is not a beach read by any stretch; hunker down and be ready to think. It’ll be worth it.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennet
Biracial twin girls become separated in their teens and go on to lead very different lives. Between the highly compelling story line and the well-developed characters, I couldn’t put it down.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
This historical fiction masterpiece reimagines the life of William Shakespeare and his family, and in particular, the tragedy that befalls them when the bubonic plague hits Stratford. Wow. Have your Kleenex handy.
Long Bright River by Liz Moore
Suspenseful and at times heartbreaking, Long Bright River follows two sisters, one a Philadelphia police officer and the other an addict living on the streets that her sister patrols. I also really enjoyed Moore’s Heft and The Unseen World.
Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau
This is a delightful, (mostly) funny novel set in the 1970s about a 14-year-old girl whose world gets rocked when she starts nannying for a family VERY different from her own. Total page turner!
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Benjamin chronicles the lives of four highly likeable siblings from the time they visit a fortune teller as children, to their adulthood, as they grapple with the fortune teller’s predictions. I loved these characters and how they juggle choice and destiny, reality and illusion. This is not a light read, but it’s so compelling.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Makkai beautifully and poignantly captures Chicago’s AIDs crisis and the art world of the early 80s. The incredibly detailed character descriptions in this multigenerational family saga won me over.
The Midnight LIbrary by Matt Haig
This book was a charmer! The protagonist, filled with regrets about her life, gets the chance to go back and choose an alternate path until she finds the one she likes best. This is an easy, feel-good book:)
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
I’m currently reading this one, but I’m far enough in to know that it would’ve made this list if I’d finished it already. Shipstead alternates between the story of a female pilot in the 1920s and 30s, and that of the actress who plays her in a movie decades later. Love it so far!
Happy reading and Happy Thanksgiving!! As always, please reach out with questions about the college process or, of course, if you want to chat about books!