Many of my friends who have just graduated college are getting back into free reading. A few even joined book clubs. As a consequence, I’ve been asked by a lot of people for book recommendations. This makes me feel like a fraud – I actually don’t read as many books as my friends think I do. I’m much more an essay/short story/Aeon/New York Times person. Out of the recommendation list below, there’s only two full length novels – the rest are collections of short stories or a novella. I blame my impatience and/or inability to sift through long-winded allegory for meaning.
Anyway, the following are my favorite books that I’ve read after college graduation, listed in the order in which I read them.
Books and Novels
Honestly, The Unbearable Lightness of Being was much better. But to uphold the integrity of this post graduate reading list, I had to leave that Kundera novel off and replace it with this one instead. This book is a classic Kundera – set in communist-era Prague, with a bunch of cheating husbands and wives and spies scattered around. For those new to Kundera, he writes like a philosopher whose primary concern is to explain a concept. His focus is not in realistic character development or tantalizing plots. He’s perfect for those who dabble in existential crisis.
Buzzwords – orgy, horoscope, ostriches
This is a very simple story about a girl and a boy and a mom persevering through life despite hardships. However, the context in which I read this book gave it incredible meaning to my life. I borrowed it from Angela to read during the five-hour ordeal that is college Commencement, and then I finished it on the plane to Beijing just two days later. It’s one of those stories that soak up and illuminate the environment in which you read it. I bet if I reread it in less terrifying, less daunting circumstances, I would experience a different interpretation and mood.
Buzzwords – pineapple, katsudon, taxis
Zadie Smith is non-stop wit and satire in this novel. At its heart, this is a story about family relationships, but a mixed “modern” family with transatlantic roots, from England to New England. It does a wonderful job of depicting the diversity of experiences within black communities. I especially recommend it to my college friends because it paints such a vivid picture of the pretentiousness and hypocrisy in elite higher education. Certain one-liners had me snickering out loud.
Buzzwords – slam poetry, aesthetics, Haiti
I recommend this collection for those who want more Asian characters in fiction but don’t want the entire plot to center around the struggles of being Asian and born in a non-Asian country. (God I wish this book took place in America so then I could have written Asian-American instead of writing that convoluted sentence, but it’s important to acknowledge the difference between the Asian-Canadian and Asian-American experience).
Buzzwords – premeds, purple birds, Canada
Coming clean here: I am still reading this. But I knew from page one that I had found the voice(s) of my generation. In this non-fiction memoir, two best friends keep in touch through detailed, charming emails about their new post-grad lives in Beijing, New York, Paris, and more. Of course, terrible dates and awful jobs are analyzed in detail. Quite a few of my friends have scattered across the world in search of adventure and work, and I know we all get pangs of loneliness from all the unfamiliar. Reading this is like reading emails from your best friend and being home again.
Buzzwords – Beijing bikini, beard brother, grad school
I know, I know. Given that it’s been over four months since graduation, my book list is rather paltry. But since I’ve been abroad for that entire time, getting my hands on a physical copy of a good English-language book (I refuse to join the Kindle revolution) has proven difficult. The selection has been limited to discarded books from faculty and hostels. I made up for it by reading a lot of online short stories and essays sourced from my friends (many thanks to @thenarrowroad). I would just load them on my laptop for times when I had no wifi, which was way too often. Sometimes, I read an idea that actually changes my life. This happens more with short stories and essays than it does for full-length novels. I think it’s because essays are more direct and to-the-point. In times of distress, certain lines from an essay would pop into my head and I would repeat it like a mantra to calm down. I love essays – they can save you. The best part about essays is that they can be easily shared with people for free over the internet.
The following pieces all introduced a new perspective to my life – my routines, purpose, relationships, etc. Or I just found them to be fantastic writing that made me really feel something. I hope they do for you as well.
- Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang
- Blessed Bodies, by Dorothy Tse
- If I Vanished, by Stuart Dybeck
- Kino, by Haruki Murakami
- Romantic Regimes, by Polina Aronson
- Letter to an Undergraduate , by Toni Dorfman
- Goodbye to All That, by Joan Didion
And of course I’ve been a total basic bitch and reading quotes off of tumblr. But whatever. Words are words. Here’s the most recent:
“Sometimes we must undergo hardships, breakups, and narcissistic wounds, which shatter the flattering image that we had of ourselves, in order to discover two truths: that we are not who we thought we were; and that the loss of a cherished pleasure is not necessarily the loss of true happiness and well-being.” – Jean-Yves Leloup
Finally, great books and stories spark unforgettable conversations with friends and loved ones in real life. So please let me know if you have read anything amazing recently. I would love to expand my reading list. Or if you also read any of the stuff listed above, in which case I want to pick your brain for your reaction and thoughts.