Literature to make you feel smarter

(Trenyce Tong | Daily Trojan)

Most of us don’t make time to read for fun, let alone to learn something. On top of our class readings, which we may or may not actually do, it can be hard to motivate ourselves to learn on our own time. But, whether you’re stuck on a plane ride home for Thanksgiving or trying to look hot and mysterious on campus, here are a few books to pick up in a free moment.

“The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America” by Richard Rothstein

“The Color of Law” is an eye-opening account outlining the ways that racial segregation continues to affect race relations in America today. Most people recognize the existence of racism, but it is more difficult to understand the complex systems in which it is maintained. Racial discrimination in housing may be less straightforward today, but Rothstein highlights how America became so segregated. Rothstein begins in the 1920s and goes into the modern day, dismantling the myth of de facto segregation that many Americans continue to uphold.

“Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions” by Valeria Luiselli

Working as a translator for undocumented children, Valeria Luiselli offers a unique perspective on the realities of deportation. One of the most valuable aspects of this essay is that it is empathetic without becoming overly emotional. With many stories available about immigration and deportation, they become so heartfelt that it no longer feels unbiased and honest. In “Tell Me How It Ends,” however, Luiselli presents these children as they are: children. They are not a danger to anyone, they are simply trying to live a life with greater opportunity.

“Time is a Mother” by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong’s newest poetry collection, “Time is a Mother,” is a lyrical compilation that provides insight into Vuong’s experience as a queer Asian American. Poetry can be hard to digest for anyone, but Vuong makes it far more engaging and understandable than most. “Time is a Mother” speaks on real and raw issues, such as the death of a parent and growing up as a first-generation American. Vuong is an author that everyone should read, and “Time is a Mother” is the perfect collection for anyone who wants to begin reading poetry.

“The White Album” by Joan Didion

As college students who live in Los Angeles, “The White Album” is a must-read. Not only is this a real-life account of life in the 1960s and ‘70s, but it takes place where we are all spending four years of our lives. Learning about the state of our world is incredibly important, but so is understanding where we live and all the history behind it. Many of Didion’s name drops, such as The Getty, Pacific Coast Highway, and even USC, are far more meaningful to those of us who actually live here. Knowing L.A. is typical for a resident, but knowing its history is something not all of us do.

“The Razor’s Edge” by W. Somerset Maugham

Maugham’s “The Razor’s Edge” is one of the most underappreciated pieces of classic literature. This book has the same feel as “The Great Gatsby,” but without the baggage of having read it your freshman year of high school. The novel revolves around a circle of high-society people in 1919 and takes place over 20 years. This cast of characters includes Larry, who simply wants to loaf around the world, Isabel, who can’t choose between love and money and Elliot, Isabel’s uncle who is eccentric yet a bit snobby. Although the circumstances that Maugham writes about are not ones that we see today, they are fun to read about, and the characters maintain their relatability. 

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare

It would be impossible to write about works that everyone should read without including a bit of Shakespeare. Whether you love him or hate him, you cannot deny his importance as a literary figure. Not only is Shakespeare mentioned in every English class to ever exist, but he is also referenced in far more pop culture than we realize. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is the perfect Shakespearean work for anyone who may be a bit wary. It is certainly one of his staples, and it is also deeply funny. The absurdity of Shakespeare’s comedy is something that sets him apart, and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” certainly plays into that, making it an ideal choice for the modern reader.

“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin

Anything by James Baldwin is both beautifully written and incredibly insightful. “The Fire Next Time” was written 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, including two of Baldwin’s letters, one to the American people and one to his nephew. These letters discuss the harsh reality of racial tensions in America and how far we still have to go. Baldwin reminds us of an incredibly important moment in history and how racial prejudice has certainly outlasted the institution of slavery.