At heart, I’m your quintessential book nerd. My favorite word is “bibliophile.” I get giddy going to the library. (Sorry to everyone out there who has received Snapchats of piles of recently checked out books.) I think reading is more fun than watching TV. I read seven books in seven days this summer, just to see if I could.

And if there’s anything that I find more exciting than delving into One Hundred Years of Solitude — although, come on what’s more exciting than reading about the intricate details of an entire familial generation living in a fictional town set in a world of magical realism? — it’s tear-jerkers, my ultimate guilty pleasure. A good cry is like a cold glass of lemonade on a hot summer day: It’s refreshing. And sometimes, watching Titanic for the 20th time doesn’t do the trick.

Looking for Alaska by John Green is technically a young adult novel, but don’t let that dissuade you. After all, the Harry Potter books were classified as children’s novels and are still perhaps one of the most important book series and cultural phenomena of our generation. Set in Alabama, Alaska tells the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter, who uproots his life in a Holden Caulfield-esque pursuit of “The Great Perhaps” at Culver Creek Boarding School. It is there that he meets Alaska Young — beautiful, brilliant and larger than life — whose wit, unabashed fondness for sex and self-destructive behavior quickly ensnare him.

It is a book about growing up — we’ve all been there, and I’m sure plenty of us can relate to hangovers during class and awkward first sexual encounters — guilt and forgiveness. It’s a book about friendship that reminds you that love is not when you care only for someone in good times, but also dark ones.

It will make you cry. And it will make you think. And it will make you feel hopeful. And it will also teach you a lot of famous last words.

Jodi Picoult’s The Storyteller is a fantastic book that weaves together multiple lives and stories to create a masterpiece whose sole purpose could be, arguably, to make you feel lots of different and challenging emotions. Set principally against the backdrop of a bakery with pastries that will make your stomach growl, the novel introduces Sage Singer, a baker who sees herself as the tragic catalyst of her mother’s death. Slowly, we are drawn into the world of Sage’s grandmother, a writer and Holocaust survivor, whose tale is rattling and realistically frightening. And just to spice things up, Picoult introduces us to a man whose shadowy past has roots as a Nazi officer at Auschwitz.

This is a book about people feeling sorry for themselves, which makes it less of a book and more of a representation of the human population. Like in Alaska, the characters are guilt-ridden, but this time, they are struggling through a labyrinth in search of redemption. Is it possible to forgive ourselves when the monstrous acts we have once committed are ones we would eternally punish others for? Is there any quantifiable number of good deeds that cancel out one abominable one?

Finally, written from the perspective of 9-year-old Oskar Schell, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer drags us into post-9/11 New York City. Oskar’s father was one of the victims of the attacks, and after discovering a key hidden in his father’s belongings bearing the word “Black,” Oskar sets out on a quest to discover the owner, even if this means searching the entire city.

This is not an easy book to get through. Not to say it’s difficult to read; the prose is in the precocious voice of a self-proclaimed pacifist, physicist — Oskar regularly sends letters to Steven Hawking — and adventurer. It is engrossing in its innocence. But the innocence also gives us a presentation of personal, adult problems through the eyes of a child. We get a view of the world from just above waist-height, and suddenly, we are handed a depiction of the human condition that is painfully accurate in its ignorance.

This is not an easy book to get through because it’s heavy. Oskar’s relentless hope doesn’t get a happy ending; the only victories are small, and any closure we get is sometimes even smaller. It is very realistic in how things don’t wrap up nicely together, and this is something we may not, as readers, necessarily want in our pursuit of literary escapism. Still, it’s absurdly and beautifully well-written, and I consider it a must-read.

Kim Bussing is a sophomore in the College. TOP SHELF appears every other Friday in the guide.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*