Since graduation, I have had more free time than I know what to do with. Having gone through a particularly rigorous high school curriculum straight into a college experience of self-inflicted stress, I can’t remember the last time when I could sit down, relax, and not have a single thinghanging over my head (for the sake of honesty, I will admit that chores and errands never, ever count as things that must be done. They are things I choose to do, when I am good and ready. Because I am lazy.)

That being said, these past few weeks have been an exercise in discovering how I would choose to spend my free time- a sort of blank check for my schedule, if you will. To be fair, I’ve spent way more time just cruising the internet than I want to admit (I should seriously buy stock in Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, et al). But to my credit, I have also used this time to broaden my cultural horizons, and so I thought I’d share some of my discoveries here. 🙂

The first, and most important, thing I’ve tackled since graduation is my fun reading list. For some reason, professors aren’t enthusiastic about you skipping over the assigned passages from DuBois and Marx, even if  you were reading something as amazing as The Night Circus instead. So, in the interests of graduating, I set my book wish-list aside for several years, and have since attacked it with a fury I didn’t know I possessed. My job has definitely helped, since I have long breaks during which, if my lesson plans are done, the only thing I can really do to pass the time is to read. And so I do. Some of the books I’ve read have been duds, others have been masterpieces that surpassed my every expectation. Here’s a brief list of what I’ve gotten through so far, along with my general review of each book.

 

The Night Circus and The Book Thief– This story about a young man and woman, bound by forces beyond their control to a magical circus that appears without warning and leaves as suddenly as it comes, and a story about a girl in Nazi Germany whose foster parents hide a Jew during World War II.  Both of these books created an experience the likes of which I rarely experience in literature. While the respective plots of each book were fairly intriguing, I would argue that the stories was secondary to the vessels, and that the value in these stories lies in the way the authors took words and spun them into something supernaturally beautiful.  So I could go into detail about the characters and plot, but these books are both so much more than the sum of their parts, and I can only encourage you to read them. I should warn you that while The Book Thief does have an engaging story that is only enhanced by the author’s talent, the value of The Night Circus lies much more in the sensual experience it creates for you than in the narrative itself. If you can appreciate a novel that takes a very long time to get very little accomplished in the way of plot, then you will enjoy it.

 

The Dovekeepers- This was a novel about the siege of Masada, told from the perspective of four fictional Jewish women who experienced it. It’s one of those stories where you know the ending from the beginning (or if you don’t, just don’t google “Masada”, and you’ll avoid spoilers), but the author created such engaging protagonists that I couldn’t help but hope for a different ending anyway. The novel did drag in places, especially during the climax, but all-in-all, I really enjoyed this book, and learned a little bit about ancient Israeli culture in the process!

 

The Hangman’s Daughter- This book. I was so excited about this book, because I love historical mysteries. I found it just after I finished the Mistress of the Art of Death series (which I can’t recommend to anyone, because, as wonderful as the series is, the author left the last book on a killer cliffhanger, and then died a few months later, never resolving the crisis as far as anyone knows), and I was in serious need of a good historical mystery to get the bad taste for the genre out of my mouth. This book failed miserably. For a lot of reasons. Actually, I don’t have the heart to go into all the ways this book disappointed me. Let’s just say that if you are still set on reading this book, let me know, and I will be more than happy to give you my copy.

 

The People’s History of the United States- My disappointment in the last book is matched only by my enthusiasm for this book. GO. BUY. IT. NOW. Seriously, I will never look at American History the same way again. And while Howard Zinn admits that he is a raging liberal and wrote this book with an agenda (while astutely pointing out that EVERYONE who writes history books has an agenda, he’s just being more honest about his), it makes perfect sense. In my opinion, he just connected dots that I’ve been aware of since high school in a way that I’ve never seen connected before. Obviously, I’m biased towards the liberal agenda of his book, but I honestly do think that it would be a good book for everyone to read, if only because he presents the history of our country in a way that you don’t hear in our hyper-patriotic modern discourse. And maybe, just maybe, it’s healthy for us to consider the possibility that this “land of the free”, this “land of opportunity” hasn’t always lived up to its reputation.

 

The Secret History – This was a fun book, in an intellectual sort of way. The author is clearly very bright, and enjoys demonstrating her impressive knowledge of the world through her writing, by making of her characters experts in such an array of subjects as drugs, classical Greek, medieval Philosophy, and apparently every book written in the Western world ever. The narrator opens the book by describing the murder of one of the main characters, and a good deal of the book is spent leading up to that event. It’s an excellent read, and while I feel like the publisher’s synopsis oversold the intrigue of the plot (go figure), it kept me entertained for almost the entire read (it did drag in more than one spot, but that usually  wasn’t for very long).

I’m currently reading The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, but I won’t go into it just yet. After that, I have The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Poisonwood Bible, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, to name a few. I’m nowhere near done, but there’s no way I’d want to be!

I didn’t write this entry to brag about how many books I can get through in two months, although it does feel good to see that I’m making serious headway on my wish-list. I wrote this because I love books, particularly good books, and when I find a book worth sharing, I want to share it! Also, I guess I’d like this to serve as an encouragement for all of my friends that are still in college. There were times when I would go into a bookstore, and look at all of the amazing stories that I just didn’t have time to enjoy, and I’d worry that I’d never read another book for fun, or without the guilt of knowing there was a stack of schoolbooks I should be reading instead.

I think what I’ve learned from this experience is that A) life situations pass, and just because something doesn’t fit in your life now doesn’t mean that it won’t fit perfectly in the future, and B) books are awesome, and recreational reading is definitely something I always want to make time for. Hopefully I will be able to fit a fun book in between Weber and Marx in graduate school, even if it’s just a chapter at a time!

I’ve also discovered a lot of fantastic TV shows and movies lately, as well as some new life skills. I’m exhausted right now, though, and I will probably save those details for another post. Until then, here’s hoping you have many evenings of hot tea, cozy blankets, comfy armchairs, and wonderful books. 🙂

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