Favorite book recommendations of the semester

Book corner readers’ books in Newcomb Hall at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. March 5, 2023. Anna Beatty/The Occidental

“The One Inside” by Sam Shepard
By Ava LaLonde (Opinions editor)

“The most authentic endings are the ones which are already revolving towards another beginning.” – Sam Shepard.

Sam Shepard, an Academy Award and Pulitzer Prize winning actor and writer, explores themes of identity and uncertainty in his 2017 novel “The One Inside.” While technically a work of fiction, the book consists of small glimpses of memories from an aging writer-actor who is trying to process his life choices and his relationships with women — sounds a bit familiar, no?

Shepard was previously in a romantic relationship with singer and writer of acclaimed novel “Just Kids,” Patti Smith. Smith wrote the foreword for “The One Inside.” She says, “It’s him, sort of him, not him at all. It’s an entity trying to break out, make sense of things.”

The beauty of the balance beam Shepard walks between truth and fiction is that it doesn’t matter whether or not the stories are real. Each chapter, each memory sounds so raw and honest that one can’t help feel like Shepard is exposing his biggest fears and desires, but somehow still remaining elusive and mysterious.

“The One Inside” has no real plot, but the reader has to put together the pieces of the main narrator’s life in order to construct a sense of journey and change. That’s what makes this book so great — it doesn’t tell you how to feel and when to feel it. It doesn’t hand you an exposition, a climax and a resolution served on a silver platter. Instead, it’s like combing through your own memories and trying to make sense of the events that have contributed to the core of your identity. By the end of “The One Inside”, you either know more about Sam Shepard and consequently more about yourself, or you end up more confused than when you started. Isn’t that a risk worth taking?

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Saénz
By Kawena Jacobs (Arts & Culture editor)

In the midst of reading dense novels for class, sometimes there is nothing better than a story that you can read in a day, losing yourself in a world that is easy to understand yet still invoking so much emotion. “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” was the perfect solution for me. Taking place in 1987, the book follows Aristotle, a closed-off and lonely Mexican American teenager trying to navigate growing up. One fateful summer day he meets Dante, his opposite in many ways, who quickly becomes Aristotle’s best friend. They embark on a year-long journey of finding themselves both together and apart, allowing their friendship to blossom into more than either of them could have ever expected — love.

As I read, I could not help but remember being 15 years old and discovering myself, specifically my own queerness. Aristotle and Dante — like me, like millions of teenagers right now — just want to know things. It is an absolute pleasure to follow them through such a pure exploration of what it means to be alive, to love with no shame. The novel’s final line is a content sigh after 357 pages of bated breath, one that will make you smile (or if you’re like me, shed a few tears) without even realizing it. Most of all though, it is a tender yet relatable story that leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve finished reading.

“Kaleidoscope” by Cecily Wong
By Mia Anzalone (Managing Editor)

What happens when an expensive Indian rug is pulled out from under a family-run bohemian goods empire? Cecily Wong’s “Kaleidoscope” pieces together the life of Riley Brighton, a Gen-Z Columbia University student before and after a tragedy shakes her world. The novel follow’s Riley’s experience of coming into her own as she learns how to separately define her life from her family.

I started “Kaleidoscope” on a four hour plane ride to London and finished it on the way back home. I laughed, cried and blushed during this rollercoaster of a novel. “Kaleidoscope” is the story that made me want to become an avid reader. It reminded me of what a novel is supposed to do to your soul and how it can make you adjust your worldview. Similar to how Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” will make you want to scream at a wall, Wong’s “Kaleidoscope” will make you want to apologize to it. She pushes and pulls into a perspective that leaves the reader dizzy, yet fully transformed. If you’re looking for a spring break read, I highly recommend this novel.

“The Roughest Draft” by Emily Wibberley & Austin Sigmund-Broka
By Claire O’Callahan (staff writer)

Romance books carry an entirely different comfort — one full of the excitement of new possibilities. When life gets a little stormy (literally or figuratively), it’s in the banter and optimism of these love stories that I find refuge and lightness. “The Roughest Draft” by Emily Wibberley and Austin Sigmund-Broka is a dual-POV, dual timeline story (I know!) that follows estranged co-authors Katrina Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen. The two have not spoken in four years and don’t plan to; that is, until their publisher reminds them they still have one last book on contract. Forced to reunite, Katrina and Nathan return to the small Florida cottage where they wrote their second and bestselling book “Only Once” to pump out the first draft as quickly as possible. But can they really write romance in such close quarters without falling into the old habits and feelings that split them apart before? If I still haven’t convinced you to check this one out, get this — Wibberley and Sigmund-Broka are not only co-authors like their fictional counterparts, but are also married!

“She Said” by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey
By Mollie Barnes (staff writer)

She Said” is written by the New York Times investigative journalists, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who covered Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse of numerous women. While it does touch on the actual incidents of abuse that occurred, it mainly covers the undertaking of exposing them. Weinstein silenced victims using his money and notoriety, a set of power dynamics that is most certainly not exclusive to him. Kantor and Twohey needed credibility, particularly in named sources, to make an impact with their accusations towards Weinstein. However, as you may guess, there were privacy, safety and legal concerns with going on the record including breaking legal settlements, threats from Weinstein and public backlash.

“She Said” explains how these obstacles were navigated to ultimately publish a groundbreaking story and in many ways provoke Hollywood’s #MeToo movement. Towards the end, the two also spend some time discussing Christine Blasely Ford’s story as a part of the #MeToo movement in her experience with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Weinstein recently had a sentencing here in LA Feb. 23, where he was sentenced to an additional 16 years on top of his New York hearing. The stories of the women who got him into the courtroom are ones of solidarity, trust and careful calculations.

“Babel” by R. F. Kuang
By Anissa Basnayake (Editor-in-Chief)

From the first page of “Babel,” you know our protagonists are doomed. You know this not because of his perilous circumstances, not because of any fault of his, nor any indication that he will fail, but because we all know the ending before even starting. Babel is mostly set in a parallel version of 1830s England, where all events of history are the same to ours except for the addition of a few fantastical elements. And that’s why, when we meet Robin Swift, a young boy from Canton who is taken by the English elite to study at Oxford, we know their acts toward him are anything but charitable. Studying at Oxford fuels the colonial machine that is intent on destroying his homeland for profit. And even as Robin and his friends eventually strive to break the machine, from the future, we know their efforts are futile.

“Babel” was a strange book for me to read since it was a little too accurate for my liking — and I mean that in a good way. It is both a novel packed with knowladge, written akin to a history textbook with footnotes and citations, but is also incredibly personal and resonant, as it depicts living as a POC within a white world (sound familiar?), and examines the idea that no matter how hard the characters work, they are never seen as equal.

“Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
By Anna Beatty (Photo editor)

An ode to nostalgia for cultural food coupled with raw descriptions of the grief of losing a parent, Michelle Zauner’s memoir “Crying In H Mart” takes readers on a journey of self-discovery and healing. While Zauner’s memoir delves into a multitude of experiences during her adolescence, such as visiting Seoul over summer holidays, going off to college a comfortable distance from her parents and recording her first studio album.

Zauner’s mother reminds me of my own in regards to how she showed love. Her mother’s desire to preserve her daughter’s memories and growth was her utmost priority, and the same can be said about mine. My mother’s love for me may not be apparent from the conversations or interactions between us, but it is obvious from her collection of saved orchestra concert programs and old Mother’s Day cards. I am fortunate to still have my mother with me, and “Crying in H Mart” encouraged me to accelerate my efforts to getting to know my mother better and mend our relationship while I have the chance.


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