Milk and Honey by Rupi Kamir. Raw and accessible short poems arranged cleverly on the page along with sketches that manage to capture complex experiences and emotions like love, loss, and sexuality.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Based imaginatively around Lincoln's relationship with his son Willie, a story of love in phantasmagorical realms. The characters speak in atypical dialogue: with those from the real and underground world merging, and through citations rather than quotations. Deeply human.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway's memoir recounting his excursions through the streets of Paris with Fitzgerald and other friends. This also makes the perfect traveling companion to Paris! Read also for the prose, of which one of my professors shared, "Hemingway taught me how to write."
Washington Square by Henry James. The tragedy of a girl who was never truly loved by her father, who becomes a woman who isn't truly loved by her first love, and her resulting inability to love again. I couldn't help thinking to Portrait of a Lady while reading this—those questions of loving purely, the entanglements of money and outside influence, and the choices and costs of attachment.
Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. A story about how to be good to each other, how society restricts women and men, and unrealized (not unrequited) love. I learned a lot about Gilded Age New York and the social proprieties of the time. The prose is gorgeous. I've marked my favorite sentences and shared some in this post from my literary tumblr. (Also relevant: this post on the play adaptation.)
Persuasion by Jane Austen. I loved Emma, but I loved Persuasion even more for the quiet strength and sensibility of the protagonist, Anne Elliot. Thanks to Ritah Chumdermpadetsuk for lending me this book while in the midst of re-reading it herself!
The Victorian and the Romantic by Nell Stevens. Very relatable as a PhD student, in the journey of scholarly activity with real-life activity, friendship, and romance. Part memoir, part imagination. Thanks to Liz Butterworth for this thoughtful gift, and perfectly timed after the prior books!
Circe by Madeline Miller. I first heard about this as a recommendation through NPR's "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast. The strength of the female protagonist in a world dominated by men hooked me.
Evicted by Matthew Desmond. A deeply personal and heartbreaking look at poverty and housing in Milwaukee. Sociologists may critique that Desmond's account is too journalistic, but the storytelling is humane and eye-opening.
What is Populism? by Jan-Werner Muller. Populism involves not simply appealing to the popular masses and a national identity, but, as Muller argues, specifically involves excluding others in order to do so. A bit generic, but timely.
Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam. If you've wondered what "civil society" is, this is the book to read (or at least Chapter 1). The claims may be grand and a bit diffuse, but he has created a framework for how we can understand civil society through types of "social capital."
Writings of Abraham Lincoln. A journalism professor asked us who the best writer ever to live was. His answer: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln has taught me to think with greater moral clarity.
The Confessions by Saint Augustine. A glimpse into the soul-encompassing, redemptive possibility that Christianity and religion offers, in a way that speaks more convincingly to those who don't identify with a religion because he speaks so personally and poetically.
On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism applied to individual freedoms, and in a way that, if like me, you haven't had much exposure to political philosophy, you may you find yourself pleasantly intrigued.
American Grace by Robert Putnam and David Campbell. Very accessible look into religion in America: the denominations and the demographics, with clear and compelling charts and graphs. The end is a bit Putnam-esque with a broad claim that different religions bring us together, but that last conclusion is not convincing nor representative of the work as a whole.
The Politics of Volunteering by Nina Eliasoph. Examines the power imbalances inherent in volunteering, such as the problematic use of the word "empower." Insightful, though at some points diffuse and abstract.
Educated by Tara Westover. A powerful story of personal triumph through unimaginable adversity. The extremity of events described felt at times awkward, partly because they were so shocking and partly because some of the language felt unnatural.
Becoming by Michelle Obama. Honest and delightful. The flaw may be that there is so much of Michelle to see, and we want more of it! I was left wishing many chapters could have been extended. It also provides another perspective on Barack that I sometimes found more relatable than his own memoirs.
Privilege by Shamus Rahman Khan. A sharp and observant sociological inquiry into a prestigious high school in NH where those who have privilege learn how to embrace openness yet actively perpetuate the privilege they benefit from. The writing is superb. Thanks to Emily Rutherford for suggesting and lending the book to me!
Constitutional Faith by Sanford Levinson. Where does authority of constitutional interpretation come from and how highly should we revere the Constitution? Levinson compares legal theory to religious faith. It's confusing (although meant to be accessible to the layperson), but the topics are fascinating.