As the summer comes to an end and thousands of students cautiously return to Grounds, the familiar promise of a new school year brings with it a great deal of uncertainty. Regardless of your current living situation, the enduring refuge of fiction can serve as a way to face the questions that this summer has posed to each of us, consider the way that beauty can still be found in isolation or just to procrastinate on your classes’ required reading. This month, instead of physically traveling, Arts and Entertainment recommends that you try out these three books that take you on unique and important journeys of their own.
Fire Shut Up in My Bones
A 2014 memoir from the New York Times’ youngest department head, Charles M. Blow’s “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is a testament to the complexities and varied power dynamics tied up in the process of coming of age in a segregated Southern town. Grappling with questions regarding sexuality, religion, violence and infinite combinations, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” presents readers with an extraordinary life not easily packaged into a single narrative. In addition to the deeply beautiful and lush memoir, the scope and power of Blow’s story reaches beyond the confines of the written word. Last year, the Metropolitan Opera announced that it planned to stage an opera adaptation of the memoir by the same name — the first time the 136-year-old company has staged an opera written by a black composer. Full of nuanced insight and devastatingly beautiful language, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” is a valuable addition to any reading list.
Though it isn’t a public health crisis that causes main character Eilis Lacey to separate from her loved ones in Colm Tóibín's “Brooklyn,” the novel is a stunning and deeply moving portrait of loneliness that feels all too familiar in this moment of global isolation. Fear not, though — despite its bleak introduction, “Brooklyn” is a tribute to the joy that can eventually emerge from uncertainty and new beginnings. An intimate examination of the journey of a young girl who moves from her small hometown in Ireland to New York, “Brooklyn” is nostalgic and hopeful in the best way possible. Whether you are a first year wondering how it will be possible to meet people over Zoom or an upperclassman who just really misses being able to hug your friends, Tóibín's writing will speak to you. As an added bonus, after you finish reading the book, you can watch the brilliant Saoirse Ronan star in the 2015 film adaptation.
When the stress of a new semester becomes overpowering, sometimes the best way to cope is to explore something entirely new. Karen Russell’s “Orange World,” a collection of short stories that blend together the bizarre and the fantastical, is nothing if not unique. This 2019 collection from the award-winning author — which features everything from plant possessions to golden-eyed ghosts to the simultaneous difficulties of motherhood and demon infestation — is the perfect stimulus to wake up your brain after a long day of staring at your computer screen. Equally funny and contemplative, each of the eight stories in “Orange World” takes your imagination to new and exciting corners of the world — a journey you can take safely from the comfort of your own room.