It’s December and for college students that means winter break is around the corner. For many students, the first instinct is to crash on the couch and try to avoid anything that resembles classwork. But it’s important for students to do something that will ensure you won’t return to classes in January a total vegetable. One way to keep yourself sharp is reading a book that will get the old brain muscles moving. These books were specifically chosen because they’re fun reads that also tackle fairly complex topics. The hope is that you will find these books to be entertaining, though also thought-provoking over the wintry holiday.
1. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
Considered to be one of the best books of 2016, Viet Thahn Nguyen’s novel is truly a modern American classic. The story follows a Vietnamese migrant who is also a spy for the Communist party in North Vietnam. A tale of family relationships, identity, and politics, The Sympathizer is a fresh take on an age old topic. Nguyen gives the reader a look at the intense difficulties of fleeing your home country, while fighting for the country bombing your homeland.
The Sympathizer is a fantastic read because it is a very well written book and a fairly quick-paced novel. Nguyen is a fantastic writer and makes his novel very accessible. However, the concepts introduced in this novel are worth thinking about and incredibly complex. The Vietnam War is already a difficult topic to tackle, and Nguyen’s perspective on the war only adds to that difficulty. This novel will force you to reexamine any preexisting notions held about the costs and causes of the war, as well as the resolution.
2. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
The first book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, Sea of Poppies chronicles the life of a Rajah, an American sailor, and an Indian woman. In chronicling their journeys, Ghosh looks at both the social issues of colonial India as well as the damaging effects of the opium trade. By giving the reader this look at colonial India, we can see the damaging impact of colonialism. Although many of us are taught about colonialism in India, Ghosh gives a fantastic new lens to examine it through.
The novel is a fantastic read for those who want to learn more about colonial India. Many of the more subtle observations made during the novel provide readers with a good deal of how this era has helped to shape modern India. There are also hints and nods towards other traditions that were prevalent at the time. The book will hopefully get you thinking about the broader implications of colonialism and how it’s shaped the world we live in today.
3. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Between the World and Me acts as a letter from Coates to his young son on the ways the world will see him. The result is an emotional statement on the state of race relations in America. Coates presents readers with a bleak outlook on the safety and status of African Americans. Coates even expresses skepticism that anything will change regarding the status of African Americans.
Although this is probably the heaviest book on the list, it is still something that would make a fascinating read. Coates presents the reader with a new perspective on the Civil Right’s movement. This may prompt readers to really dig down and think about ways we can try to reshape race relations in America.
4. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Now known as a hit series TV series, The Man in the High Castle is a fantastic take on alternative history. Within the novel, a second novel is discussed among the main characters pertaining to another alternate universe; one in which the Japan and Germany lost WWII. Philip Dick paints a picture of a world that seems so foreign, yet so familiar to us.
This novel comes recommended for multiple reasons. Apart from still being a relevant and compelling premise, the novel also forces us to contemplate the world we live in today. Although there have been other alternative history novels written on the topic, this is by far the most descriptive. The novel also provides people with a good thought exercise as we contemplate the various implications of a Japanese and German victory.
5. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin
The classic science fiction novel by Ursula K. Leguin, A Wizard of Earthsea is about the journey of a young boy as he grows into a wizard. The protagonist, Ged, unwillingly releases an ancient evil and upon receiving his wizard staff, must flee to prevent the spirit from possessing him. Along the way he encounters a variety of characters and other journeys that teach him about the nature of the world. Eventually, Ged must confront the spirit and face the darkness within himself.
Although this story is old it still holds up pretty well. It tackles themes of duality and also serves as a coming of age story. This is a great read for anyone who is into science fiction, but it’s also a fresh breath of air for those who are into stories of self discovery. This novel will leave you thinking about a person’s role in society as well as how they perceive themselves.
Of course, these novels won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Everyone has their own personal preference for fun, thought-provokers to read over break. Hey, as long as you’re reading something to keep yourself sharp, then you’ll be in good shape come January. Happy reading everyone!
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