As an English minor at Ohio University, I’ve had to take a lot of English classes that all require heavy reading. While most people dread the idea of reading countless novels, short stories and poems, I find excitement in reading something new, even if it does count towards my grade.
Throughout the last year and a half since I started my minor, I’ve read a myriad of books and have finished many of them, wanting others to read them as well. Here are five books I’ve read in my English classes at OU that everyone should read at least once in their lifetime:
"Another Country" by James Baldwin
First published in 1962, “Another Country” by James Baldwin dives into the lives of a collection of people living in New York City during the late 1950s. A raw and emotional account of race and sexuality, the novel is sectioned off into multiple stories, starting with Rufus, a Black jazz musician. His story affects various characters after he commits suicide early in the book, symbolizing the way death, and in particular black death, can take a toll on one’s environment, societal perceptions and relationships. I personally loved this book because of Baldwin’s writing style, including descriptive passages of his characters and beautiful and heartbreaking imagery. All book lovers should read this at some point in their lives, as its themes still connect to today’s current society and make you think about the way racial privilege affects one’s everyday life and experiences.
"Double Indemnity" by James M. Cain
“Double Indemnity” by James M. Cain is a juicy, sensuous mystery novel set in the 1930s. Walter Huff, an insurance salesman, gets caught in a murder scandal after stopping at a client, Herbert Nirdlinger’s house to renew his auto insurance, meeting his wife, Phyllis. Phyllis attracts Walter, asking to take out a life insurance policy on her husband without his knowledge, beginning a conspiracy between the two to kill her husband and receive the $50,000 from the insurance pay out. When their calculated planning takes a wrong turn, Walter begins to realize Phyllis’s motives, and how attraction can have deadly consequences. If you’re a fan of mystery novels or dramatic fiction, this is the perfect book to read, causing you to fly through the novel at a rapid pace. I enjoyed this book a lot because of the way it’s written, as Cain uses a lot of jargon and short, dry dialogue to make it feel like a classic mystery plot.
"Passing" by Nella Larsen
Nella Larsen introduces readers to Clare and Irene, two childhood friends who lose touch as they enter adulthood after Clare’s father dies and she moves in with her two white aunts. As Clare begins again in a new setting, her aunts allow her to ‘pass’ as a white woman, being that she is biracial. Because of Clare’s ability to present as a different race, she ends up marrying a white racist. Meanwhile, Irene ends up living in Harlem, partaking in everyday life as a black, middle class woman, eventually marrying a black doctor. The novel centers around Clare and Irene’s reunion and the unfolding of events as each woman is intrigued, and ultimately seduced, to their different lifestyles. “Passing” is one of the many favorites I’ve read throughout my time on campus, as it really pushes you to think about the limits and opportunities of racial passing, and how this in turn affects race and gender relations.
"Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel
In the graphic novel, “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel, Bechdel creates a memoir about her difficult relationship with her father. Her father becomes the focal point of the story as Bechdel describes his experience as an English teacher and director of their town’s funeral home, which her family referred to as the “fun home,” hence the title. As Alison is coming to terms with her own sexuality, it’s not until college that she comes out as a lesbian, which in turn, sees her questioning her own father’s sexuality. Bechdel learns that her father is gay after confiding in her mother, and weeks after this revelation, he dies. From there on, the novel turns into the journey Bechdel takes to find out the real motive behind her 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 liked seeing Bechdel reflect on sexuality and masculinity, and how as a result, they can conflict when up against societal gender norms.
"Sula" by Toni Morrison
“Sula” by Toni Morrison tells the story of Sula, a young black girl who matures into a strong and determined woman in the face of adversity, hatred and distrust towards her by the predominantly black region of Medallion, Ohio, also known as The Bottom. Morrison also focuses heavily on Nel, Sula’s best friend. Though she’s obedient and cautious, and Sula is rebellious and impulsive, the two get along. When the two grow apart and live separate lives, Morrison gives background of their childhood memories together until they reunite in their adulthood. Sula does things that betray Nel, as well as her own family, and this in turn causes conflict throughout much of the novel. To me, Toni Morrison is such a prolific writer, and how she discusses internalized racism between Sula and Nel is something many novels during the 1970s weren’t addressing, making it much more of an impactful read now.