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It’s officially finals week at my university and I am so pumped for this semester to finally be over. While it’s been a rough ride, I did get something good out of these hectic few months: my professors recommended some pretty great books to me, and I’m excited to share them all in this collection of mini-reviews.
Some of these books were required for the classes I took, and others I just happened to read during this semester, but either way, I’d totally recommend that you add these books to your reading list:
1. The Bell Jar | by Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s only “novel” isn’t really a novel at all—although one could argue that it’s closer to fiction than it is nonfiction. The Bell Jar takes place in the mid-to-late twentieth century in America, and chronicles the life of Esther, meant to represent Plath herself, through college, internships, and into a bout of apparent psychosis. The reader gets to experience her internal struggle between two opposing forces: societal pressure and the discovery of what she really wants to do with her life, both in her career and her relationships.
The work is a roman á clef, which means it’s an autobiography with some minor details changed to protect anonymity of the narrator and the characters. I had to read this for a class on American autobiographies, but it was my favorite book from the semester, and it really reads like a story more than a linear narrative of facts. It’s also really interesting to fact-check the work, and learn what Plath decided to alter and keep, so if you’re interested in psychology and history, this is a great way to tie those fields into your reading.
I would recommend this book to anyone just because it’s a good story—the fact that it’s autobiographical is a bonus that doesn’t take away from the narrative, and doesn’t even have to add to it if you choose not to delve into that.
2. A Moveable Feast (Restored Edition) | by Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway’s autobiography is quite the opposite. It doesn’t read like a story from start to end; rather, it reminds me of a lyrical essay in that it is divided into several, unrelated sections. My professor for this class liked to say that if we dropped all the sections of this work on the floor, it’d be impossible to put them back in order—but it may not be necessary!
An interesting bit of info that you’ll learn if you read the introduction to the restored edition of A Moveable Feast is that Hemingway’s final wife, Mary, made a lot of editorial changes to the original edition of this book, and this new version does its best to reverse those changes. Since the book covers the happenings of Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, it’s no surprise that Mary wanted to do this, although Hemingway’s ancestors are pretty adamant about changing it back to the way Hemingway intended. (Although, to be fair, Hemingway died prior to its publication, so we won’t ever really know if he had plans to make further changes, additions, or omissions to the book.
What I loved most about this book was that it really took me on a journey through twentieth century Europe. While reading, I smelled the scents of Paris and groaned with Hemingway about forgetting meals in order to finish writing projects. It was super relatable and full of imagery, so if you’re into that kind of book, this is the story for you!
3. Spiral of Cynicism: The Press and the Public Good | by Joseph N. Cappella & Kathleen Hall Jamieson
This nonfiction title was published almost 20 years ago, but it has a lot of merit as a piece of political and media commentary, nonetheless. I loved that it seemed to predict the result of the 2016 presidential election, blaming the press for constantly fluffing up stories and pitting politicians against one another.
Spiral of Cynicism opens with a discussion about the civility that we see among politicians when behind closed doors, observing that the press often doesn’t know what to do when this occurs; they prefer to make politicians seem like separate armies that would never work together toward a common goal. If you’re interested in politics, media, or societal commentary, you should definitely check this book out!
4. Master of the Cinematic Universe | by John Bucher & Jeremy Casper
I’m not interested in film in the slightest, but when one of my favorite professors passed this book out to the class, I was thoroughly impressed by its relevancy. It explains not just the nuances of film, but also the importance of including a story in your videos, whether you’re doing a short YouTube video or even a Vine. It provides timeless tips for videographers who want to hone their craft, but even writers can benefit (I know I did!)—and this was even passed out in a media writing class!
I also got a chance to speak with one of the authors over Skype, and he was phenomenal and so well-versed in his industry. This book is a super informative, quick read by true industry experts. You can’t miss it!
5. Writing Creative Nonfiction | edited by Carolyn Forché & Philip Gerard
I’ve become quite interested in the genre of creative nonfiction in recent weeks, and this book really encompasses the entire field. Writing Creative Nonfiction provides a mix of informative essays and flawless examples to help guide the new creative nonfiction author to success. It just made me more excited for the field I’m hoping to go into!
This is a book about writing, so if you aren’t interested in writing, especially writing nonfiction, this isn’t the book for you. If you are, though, I’d recommend you give it a shot!
6. Cookie Jar | by Stephen King
Technically a short story, this is the only true piece of fiction that made it onto my list this semester, and it really had to work to get there. I don’t want to say too much about this piece, because I think everyone should really come up with their own opinions and interpretations of it, but I’ll suffice to say this: it’s a short story, so it’s a quick read, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have concepts that will linger with you for days after.
Additionally, King’s uber-simplistic writing style in this piece just adds to its charm. It’s definitely not what you would think of as traditional King work, but works like this are some of the reason why King will go down as one of the greatest authors of this era. (Read it for free online here!)
Have you read any of these? What did you think? Have more recommendations for us all? Post them in the comments below!
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This article was first published Dec. 4, 2016.