As an English minor at Ohio University, I had to take many English courses, all of which required heavy reading. While most people dread the thought of reading countless novels, short stories, and poems, I find it exciting to read something new, even if it counts towards my grade.
In the last year and a half since I started my minor, I have read a myriad of books and finished many, wanting others to read them too. Here are five books I read in my English classes at OU that everyone should read at least once in their life:
“Another Country” by James Baldwin
First published in 1962, “Another country” by James Baldwin delves into the lives of a group of people living in New York City in the late 1950s. A raw and emotional account of race and sexuality, the novel is divided into several stories, beginning with Rufus, a black jazz musician. His story affects various characters after he kills himself early in the book, symbolizing how death, and especially the Black Death, can impact the environment, societal perceptions, and relationships. I personally loved this book because of Baldwin’s writing style, including the descriptive passages of his characters and the beautiful, heartbreaking imagery. Every book lover should read this at some point in their lives, as its themes are always connected to today’s society and make you think about how racial privilege affects a person’s daily life and experiences.
“Double Indemnity” by James M. Cain
“Double Indemnity” by James M. Cain is a juicy and sultry crime novel set in the 1930s. Walter Huff, an insurance salesman, is caught up in a murder scandal after stopping by a client, Herbert’s house Nirdlinger to renew his car insurance, meeting his wife, Phyllis. Phyllis lures Walter, asking him to take out a life insurance policy for her husband without his knowledge, sparking a plot between the two to kill her husband and receive the $50,000 from the insurance. When their calculated planning takes a turn for the worse, Walter begins to understand Phyllis’ motives and how attraction can have deadly consequences. If you’re a fan of detective stories or dramatic fiction, this is the perfect book to read, taking you through the novel at a fast pace. I really enjoyed this book because of the way it’s written, as Cain uses a lot of jargon and short, dry dialogue to make it sound like a classic mystery plot.
“Passing by” by Nella Larsen
Nella Larsen introduces readers to Clare and Irene, two childhood friends who lose touch as they enter adulthood after the death of Clare’s father and she moves in with her two white aunts. As Clare starts over in a new setting, her aunts allow her to “pass” as a white woman, given that she is biracial. Due to Clare’s ability to portray herself as a different race, she ends up marrying a white racist. Meanwhile, Irene ends up living in Harlem, participating in daily life as a middle-class black woman, eventually marrying a black doctor. The novel centers on Clare and Irene’s reunion and the unfolding of events as each woman is intrigued and ultimately seduced by their different ways of life. “Who passed” is one of many favorites I’ve read throughout my time on campus because it really pushes you to think about the limits and opportunities of racial shifting, and how that in turn affects relationships racial and gender.
“Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel
In the graphic novel, “Fun Home: A Family Comedy” by Alison Bechdel, Bechdel creates a memoir about her difficult relationship with her father. His father becomes the focal point of the story as Bechdel describes his experience as an English teacher and director of the funeral home in their town, which his family called the “fun home”, hence the title. While Alison comes to terms with her own sexuality, it isn’t until college that she comes out as a lesbian, which sees her questioning her own father’s sexuality. Bechdel learns that his father is gay after confiding in his mother, and a few weeks after this revelation, he dies. From there, the novel turns into a journey between Bechdel to uncover the true motive behind his father’s death, as well as his past. Coming from a queer perspective, this book felt really authentic and unlike any graphic novel I had read before. I really enjoyed seeing Bechdel reflect on sexuality and masculinity, and how, therefore, they can conflict when confronted with social gender norms.
“Sula” by Toni Morrison
“Soula” by Toni Morrison tells the story of Sula, a young black girl who grows into a strong and determined woman in the face of adversity, hatred and mistrust towards her by the predominantly black region of Medallion, Ohio, also known as the name of The Bottom. Morrison also focuses a lot on Nel, Sula’s best friend. Although she is obedient and cautious, and Sula is rebellious and impulsive, the two get along well. When the two break up and live separate lives, Morrison recounts their childhood memories together until they reunite as adults. Sula does things that betray Nel, as well as her own family, and this in turn causes conflict throughout the novel. To me, Toni Morrison is such a prolific writer, and the way she discusses the internalized racism between Sula and Nel is something that many 1970s novels didn’t address, which makes for a much more impactful read now.