Casual Reading: Recharging With a Literary Interlude

Renee Wright

At the end of 2016, I received several emails shouting the headline, “best books of the year”. Usually, I don’t read through these lists because I think I don’t have time to read for pleasure or can’t afford the “distraction” from grading, planning, etc. However, with the winter break fast approaching and wanting to leave the challenges of the past semester behind me, I decided to check out the lists.

First, the lists include a wide array of options for any reader. I didn’t realize there were so many different lists out there. I’ll highlight a few and pick something from each one.

First, and possibly my favorite, is the’s list of books students read in 28 countries.

Next, I liked the list from Quora’s and the 30 books to feel well-read, because these book recommendations come from members of the sites’ social network.

I had to include something based on sales and was surprised at the differences in the list from Google’s top 100 books from the Google Play store purchases and the list from Amazon.

Kirkus includes book reviews based on their literary merit, or as the site states, “accessible reviews written with an insider’s eye.” I love the variety, from middle school to teens and adult fiction and nonfiction. I spent a day simply going through the list and reading the summaries.

The lists all serve a different purpose and are curated using different criteria, and I like the idea of the variety. Of course, there are others, New York TimesGoodreadsAmazon, and NPR, to name a view. After a while, the search for a good book gets overwhelming!

Finally, I purchased the following books for my winter break reading.

We Show What We Have Learned & Other Stories

by Clare Beams

I’m a sucker for short stories, so this isn’t a far stretch from what I might pick up without the help of the list. What caught me was the first story in the collection……

According to Kirkus Review, “In the title story of Beams’ debut collection, an elementary school teacher shocks her students by falling apart—quite literally—in front of the class. This is emblematic of Beams’ approach, in which ordinary characters are transformed, often in extraordinary, otherworldly ways.”

The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

by Fergus M. Bordewich

I selected this nonfiction book because I actually enjoyed reading Hamilton (well, listening to it on the way to work), and I thought this might have similar historical surprises.

According to Kirkus Review, “While the Constitution outlined the theory of our nation, the obstreperous first Congress converted it to reality. It was not a pretty picture, and popular historian Bordewich delivers an entertaining description.”

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

This is on the Quora list and I remembered I had purchased the book several years ago and never read it. I was drawn to the book because it’s a dystopian novel and supposed to be really scary! A real change of pace from my usual reading.

According to Kirkus Review, “Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization and long on cynicism. But the scariness is visceral, a world that’s like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.”

One Hundred Years of Solitude

By Gabriel García Márquez, illustrated by Gregory Rabassa

I found that many of the books on the list aren’t available in English. But this title had an English version with over 539,849 Ratings and 20,048 Reviews on Reading the review on Kirkus and Amazon wouldn’t have encouraged this purchase, which makes me realize I need to look at more than one suggestion to make future book decisions.

According to Goodreads, “Love and lust, war and revolution, riches and poverty, youth and senility — the variety of life, the endlessness of death, the search for peace and truth — these universal themes dominate the novel.”

milk and honey

By Rupi Kaur

This is listed as the number 11 best seller on the Google list. I selected this book because it is a mix of genres and I liked the idea of looking at both sides of a coin.

According to Goodreads, “milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.”

Originally published as a Faculty Voices Project blog post on April 7, 2017.