Shepherdstown, W.Va., – Last summer, we were couped up in home and in dire need of escapism. Some were successful in breaking through the monotony of this new obligatory lifestyle—tackling hobbies once sought, testing new recipes, committing to a workout routine, the list goes on.
And for some people, we found ourselves stuck not just in our homes, but also stuck within ourselves in a new and unfamiliar way. Some of us were paralyzed by the fear of a pandemic, the tragedy of our country’s inequities and injustices, and the fact that you could see it all from your phone—with little to do but to just watch.
But a new summer is approaching, and while the pandemic still presses on, the vaccine provides us with hope—even if it is just a glimmer. For many people, the idea of getting back into a (somewhat) normal life is quite overwhelming.
This reading list is for those who can’t wait to step back into the world and for those who are still nervous about returning to a normal life. With the help of fellow English students and some of Shepherd’s English professors, this reading list will remind everyone, especially those still in need of escapism, that hope is on its way.
- My pick: Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
This memoir by critic and writer of Rolling Stone magazine, Rob Sheffield, details his journey in overcoming the sudden loss of his wife. Narrating through the mixtapes they compiled for one another, Sheffield explores the beauty of life and loss, illustrating a stunning tale that is guaranteed to comfort the soul.
- Vivienne Wells’ Pick: House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Incorporating the enchanting elements of magical realism, Allende’s debut novel tells the beautiful story of the Trueba family during the post-colonial upheavals of Chile. “Love, abuse, heartbreak, obsession, and revenge are just a few of the topics Allende’s novel focuses on” Wells details. “Every time I read The House of the Spirits I feel as though I’m truly escaping the world I live in.”
- Dr. Heidi Hanrahan’s Pick: Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
Thomas’ novel beautifully combines humor and provocativeness as he touches on the difficult questions of identity, hope, and growing up in America. Dr. Hanrahan selected this novel based on how it helped her during the tumultuous spring of 2020. “Thomas’ collections of essays, mixing memoir and cultural analysis, literally made me laugh and sob out loud as I read it on my porch in the fading light of those lonely days,” Dr. Hanrahan details. “I can’t think of a better book for readers stepping back out into the world and getting back to it. We are, I hope, like Thomas, ‘here for it.’”
- Celine Wilson’s Pick: The One by John Marrs
This psychological thriller will be sure to pull you into its world. With a new matchmaking system based on DNA, five very different people have found their matches, marking the beginning of this fascinating and original narrative and exploring the nature of human psyche and relationships. “But ‘happily ever after’ isn’t guaranteed for everyone,” Wilson says. “This is a good book to get lost in the complexities of technology, soulmates, and human nature.”
- Emily Keefer’s Pick: Through the Waters and the Wild by Greg Fields
With Keefer having written a book jacket quote for this novel, Through the Waters and the Wild tells the beautiful story of Connor Finnegan as he searches for meaning and love. “This book is a wonderful exploration of the question of life—‘Where will I go, and what shall I do?’” Keefer explains. “It’s a deep, complex, and beautifully written escape into a world of immigration, leaving family roots, and finding a new meaning to life.”
- Frank Santiago-Cabrera’s Pick: They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
Silvera’s young adult novel tells the story of two strangers who, on the night of September 5, share one thing in common: they are going to die today. Mateo and Rufus decide to spend their last day alive together, and during these 24 hours, they experience the extraordinary, learning about loss, life, and love. “This book is incredibly sad,” Santiago-Cabrera says, “but it’s also incredibly beautiful and captures how friendship, love, and hope can make life a great adventure.”
- Dr. Tim Nixon’s Pick: “For My People” by Margaret Walker and “On the Pulse of Morning” by Maya Angelou
With National Poetry Month coming to a close, Dr. Nixon selected two poems he believes eloquently illustrate new beginnings and the beauty in overcoming the darkness. “For My People” by Margaret Walker combines alluring imagery with intense language, serving as a call for activism and confrontation. “This poem is always poignant, but especially now it speaks to me,” Dr. Nixon explains. “We’re not just turning the corner on COVID-19, we are repudiating bigotry and racism, anti-intellectualism and kakistocracy, boorishness and misogyny, and sometimes doing that requires aggression and rage.”
Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” was read at the 1993 inauguration of Bill Clinton, aiming to encourage her audience of unity, hope, and universal love. “A lot of people forget how excited so many of us were to be moving out of the Reagan/Bush years,” Dr. Nixon remarks, “the poem’s conclusion could not have done a better job of suggesting we were leaving darkness behind and heading into a new dawn.”
Expectantly, this reading list will provide those searching with laughs, tears, smiles and most importantly, hope. To commemorate this new summer and the abundance of hope it holds in store, it feels almost necessary to conclude with the inspiring words of Dr. Nixon’s selection of Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning”:
Here, on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s face, and into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
–Maya Angelou, 1993