Summer vacation is over, kids. It’s time to get down to business. With the shorter days and colder weather, I find myself spending more time inside, which for me translates to more reading! Perhaps because it’s traditionally back-to-school season, and I guess I’ve never left that mentality, this time of year makes me want to challenge myself and tackle books that are more complex. (Anyone get jealous when Harry Potter went to Diagon Alley to pick up his school books? I did!)
When some people think “studious,” they think of old, dodgy textbooks. I’m taking a liberal use of “studious” here, meaning books that are on the serious side and sometimes heavy, and works that are intricate and reflective. So, here is a list of books for when you’re feeling studious.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
It’s England, 1520, and the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon has produced no male heir. Henry wants a divorce his wife of 20 years to marry Anne Boleyn, an act that will have profound social, religious, and political repercussions. Told through the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, the king’s right-hand man, Mantell ambitiously profiles a tumultuous, fascinating time in history.
Full disclosure: I couldn’t get through this. I’m willing to give it another try because I’ve heard from those that have finished that it’s worth it.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Stay with me here. Ayn Rand may be a kook with her far-fetched philosophy (poor people are poor because they deserve it) and her novels are wordy and repetitive, but Atlas Shrugged fits the bill as a challenging but rewarding read. A sweeping novel encompassing societal themes such as industrialization, economy, regulations, and capitalism, as well as personal themes like reason, selfishness, individualism, ethics, even SEX, Atlas Shrugged is a mammoth work. Surprisingly, I found that it captured me almost at once and wasn’t hard to get through.
Ayn Rand described the theme of Atlas Shrugged as: “The role of man’s mind in existence.” So, you know, light fun reading.
Containing intricate, deeply written characters, a story that is realistic, depressing, and enlightening, and themes that will resonate with many readers, Freedom is a novel and sullen take on social realism. Franzen is a master at characterization. His characters are almost always unlikeable, yet, we feel drawn to them and compelled to understand their flaws. Freedom is not a likeable novel, but at the end, you may feel that it’s an important one.
The Shipping News by Annie Proloux
Quoyle, a newspaper worker from upstate New York, is trying to make a fresh start by moving to his family’s ancestral home in Newfoundland. Quoyle’s life has sucked big time and he’s a bit of a loser. However, he undergoes a terrific bout of spiritual and personal growth throughout the book. It’s uplifting to read a character tackle unsurmountable odds in a beautifully written narrative. Further, the landscape plays a vital part of the novel. Stark, cold, coastal, and utterly beautiful, Newfoundland provides a stunning setting for this remarkable book.
What is the What by Dave Eggers
What is the What is a heavy, emotional read. You will think about the heartbreaking story and its brave narrator long after you finish.
In this fictionalized memoir, Dave Eggers tells the story of Valentino Achak Deng, one of the ‘lost boys of Sudan’ who was forced to flee his home after an Arab militia destroyed his village. He and thousands of other children trekked hundreds of miles by foot, across desert and three countries, to find safety and freedom. During the journey, they had little food, water, or protection, and many perished. After years in a refugee camp, Valentino comes to the US, only to find a myriad of challenges and obstacles in this new country. An eye-opening, horrific, stunning piece of work, What is the What is an important and timely book.
Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
‘Where is the non-fiction?’ you ask. Obviously, there is a plethora of studious non-fiction out there. One book I like is Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Mr. Kristof is my favorite New York Times columnist – he not only highlights important human rights issues but does so with patience and compassion. Half the Sky, written with his wife, is about the oppression of women and girls in the developing world.
Happy studious reading! When you get through these, you’ll feel like this: