Ever wonder what sort of books are assigned at Princeton? Since I’m concentrating in English, I’ve definitely read my fair share of books here. From Jane Austen to Toni Morrison, Justin Torres to Susan Stewart, I’ve read a wide range. But with each new book comes a new perspective, a new understanding of what words can do, a new appreciation for how a story is pieced together, and a new reflection on my own life and the world around me. So without further ado, here are my top five best reads at Princeton (so far):
Emma by Jane Austen
It was inevitable that Austen would make the list, because c’mon, we all know she’s a fiction queen. In a course called “Jane Austen: Then and Now”, we read all of Austen’s novels and paired them with contemporary adaptations. I’ll admit, it was a real toss up between Persuasion, Pride & Prejudice and Emma. I stand for the clear sense of female empowerment in Persuasion, I’m obsessed with the romance in Pride and Prejudice (and who doesn’t love Elizabeth Bennett?), and Emma inspired the movie, Clueless—enough said. But I ultimately chose Emma for much more than its contemporary icon. Out of all of Austen’s novels, Emma left this question lingering in my mind the most: to what extent does Austen critique social structures, and to what extent does she conform to them? While not much actually happens in the novel, you finish reading feeling as if it were action-packed. If you’d like to make a case for another of Austen’s novels, feel free to email me and we can chat :)
Good Talk by Mira Jacob
Since I took a course called “The Graphic Memoir”, it was also inevitable that at least one graphic memoir would appear on my list. Good Talk is about trying to explain a world you don’t fully understand to your kids, and in the process, making sense of it yourself. What’s especially interesting about this graphic memoir is the relationship between images and text. Pay close attention to the way that Jacob places the character cut-outs, background images, and text in conjunction with each other, and don’t miss out on the repeated images that occur throughout the memoir. I give it a 10/10, and would recommend it if you’re interested in conversations about race, politics, sexuality, love, privilege, self-growth, childhood and so much more.
The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 by Lisa Tetrault
This book is a MUST-READ for literally anyone. It was one of the first books we read in the course “The Long 19th Amendment: Women and Voting Rights in the US”, and it stuck with me throughout the class and beyond. While Seneca Falls is widely celebrated as the “birthplace” of the women’s suffrage movement, Tetrault deconstructs this myth and reveals that the movement was already in the works by women who were glossed over in history. How has framing the birth of the women’s suffrage movement at Seneca Falls shaped women’s history? Who has this myth left out of the narrative, and why? What are the prolonged effects of the myth and who created it in the first place?
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Speculative fiction has never felt so real, so urgent, so now, as it does in Ishiguro’s novel. I always find it so incredible when a science fiction/speculative fiction author can create an entirely different world—one with different rules, different challenges, different settings—and yet make that different world feel the same as ours. That’s exactly what Ishiguro accomplishes, and trust me, you will get attached to the characters in this book like no other. Amidst the clones and guardians and creativity culture is a story of what it means to be human: to love, to lose, and to persevere. I read this book in a course called “The Novel Since 2000”, and it was definitely my favorite on the reading list.
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
In the aftermath of World War II, Spark immerses readers into the May of Teck Club, where social hierarchies, body image, gossip, and arguments over a shared dress dominate behind closed doors. Spark integrates the societal and historical context beautifully with the daily interactions and goings-on at the May of Teck Club. This is the kind of book that you’re going to want to read and reread, again and again, because Spark packs so much into such a slim text. Trust me, if you take your time with this novel, you’ll discover double (or even triple) meanings to words and symbols, nuanced perspectives on characters and their decisions, and a constant debate about what Muriel Spark meant when she referred to the women at the May of Teck Club as “Girls of Slender Means”.
Hopefully this list gives you a glimpse into some of the reading assigned at Princeton. Ultimately, however, it’s not the books that make the course, it’s the thought-provoking conversations that these books inspire.