Let’s get LITerate: Reflecting on a Book a Week

Annie CRUSHED her summer reading list

by Annie Muscat

Arts Editor

Between utilizing my every last brain cell to decipher Kantian philosophy and feverishly skimming outdated textbooks, I realized I had forgotten how to love reading. Just as the U.S. education system sucks the joy out of learning, forcing students to extrinsically memorize material over actually understanding it, reading became exhausting. In an effort to remind myself that reading isn’t a laborious task, but rather something to be enjoyed, I read a book per week this summer.

Although I felt like I was being counterproductive at times, calculating how many pages I needed to read each day to finish in a week, the overall experience was rewarding. After the first week, I found myself wanting to read during my free time. It became a form of relaxation as opposed to a chore. Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram turned into flipping pages, immersing myself in the protagonist’s captivating reality instead of a cringe worthy video of Brad juuling with his bros.

My library card became my most prized possession. I spent hours just gazing at the spines of books and browsing the digital catalogue in search of my next read. But enough clichés. Here’s a list of the books I read this summer and brief takeaways. Do with this information what you may:

Lust for Life by Irving Stone
I kicked the summer off with one of my favorite books. I had read it before and wanted to relive the tumultuous life of Van Gogh. Stone humanizes Van Gogh through carefully crafted dialogue and description, not painting (ha!) the artist as the mentally ill caricature he has become today.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Despite the problematic notion that a white man is telling a Japanese woman’s life story and at times mystifying it, this was one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read. Golden’s vivid figurative language was captivating and while I know that Sayuri’s experiences do not represent those of all geishas, I feel that I gained a deep appreciation for these women and their culture.

The Koran
The intricacies and history of Islam have always fascinated me, so I was motivated to read its most fundamental teachings. Since I thought learning the entire Arabic language would be slightly difficult, I read a translation. At the risk of being blasphemous, I have to admit that it was an extremely repetitive text. It probably could have been about three hundred pages shorter and relayed the same messages.

Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability by Jack Halberstam
I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in gender studies. In fact, some college courses are using it as their required text. It is comprehensible, and Halberstam weaves in some of his own personal insight as a trans man. The ending is especially memorable because Halberstam compares the ideal future of gender conceptions to the shifting identities of legos.

Walk Through Walls: A Memoir by Marina Abramovic
I did not think this iconic performance artist could get any more intriguing, but then I read her memoir. Her writing style parallels the intensity of her performances. She ruminates on the human condition, relationships, and boundaries. Abramovic is deeply emotional yet stoic. She details her creative process, formative experiences, and personal philosophies.

Devotion by Patti Smith
Patti Smith is one of my favorite human beings. She has such a way with words, so I was ecstatic when she published this new short work. Through poetry, essays, photography and reflection, Smith delves into her passion for writing and reminded me why I love it too.

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class by Ian Haney-López
If you are someone who likes to be angry, read this book. Not much has changed since Reagan’s racially charged rhetoric about “welfare queens.” Racism and corrupt, power-hungry politicians are unfortunately very much alive and well.

Playing to the Gallery: Helping Contemporary Art in Its Struggle to Be Understood by Grayson Perry
Infusing humor and art, Perry interprets the contemporary art world and grapples with his own place within it. He does so without being pretentious. He ponders some really interesting questions like what makes art good or bad.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson
This was probably the densest book I read this summer. There was a lot of vocabulary that I was not familiar with and tons of big numbers. Thompson thoroughly examines auction houses, the art market, and dealership. Basically, I learned that art is really f*cking expensive.

The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara
It’s riveting to read Che’s thoughts and observations before he became the revolutionary we remember him as. He is deeply pensive about the plight of disadvantaged people throughout Latin America. It is as if the reader is along for the ride, literally.

Matar a Pablo Escobar by Mark Bowden
I gave myself two weeks to get through this one since I read it in Spanish. Narcos is one of my favorite shows so I was excited to learn even more about the notorious Colombian kingpin. Bowden really did his research with this book. No perspective is left out. Also, my poor mother probably thinks I am going to become a drug lord.

The Female Man by Joanna Russ
I cannot believe I have lived this long without feminist science fiction. Even though I had trouble following the plot, Russ constructs an extraordinary reality with sharp commentary on sexism and misogyny.

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