Arts & Entertainment writer Laura Hatanaka offers her favorite reads during this uncertain time.
My name is Laura Hatanaka, and I am a sixth college, fourth-year student studying Literatures in English. In my experience, social distancing, self-isolation, and sheltering-in-place mean missing out on a lot of social experiences, opportunities, and plans. In an effort to gain something from such a difficult time, I’ve found myself reading for pleasure more than usual as a way to continue learning more about myself and the world around me. If you have the time and resources, consider reading one of the following books*, each of which I believe offer a modicum of comfort in these harsh and troubling times.
*Please take care to read the list of potential trigger warnings associated with some of these books. Violence is a common theme in many of them; please ensure you are safe and informed before reading!To learn about the strength of the choices you make, read:
To learn about the strength of the choices you make, read: “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
Genre: Fictional Novel, Literary Classic
Trigger warnings: violence, rape
“East of Eden” is one of my all-time favorite books and is considered a literary classic for good reason. Set in Salinas Valley in Central California, Steinbeck portrays the complex tapestry of the Trask and Hamilton families from 1862 to 1918. A philosophical, multi-generational allegory, “East of Eden” is a breathtaking and exciting examination of the human condition, illustrating the impact of fate versus free will. Its considerable length and constant oscillation between the mundane and violent as well as the wonderful and unthinkable demand both concentration and dedication from readers, but reading it will undoubtedly change your life as it changed mine.
To give you resilience, read: “Kindred” by Octavia Butler:
Genre: Speculative Gothic Fiction
Trigger warnings: violence, slavery, rape, self-harm
I first read “Kindred” in a gothic literature course, LTEN 154, taught by Professor Kathryn Walkiewicz, and it quickly became one of my favorite books of all time. “Kindred” tells the haunting story of Dana, a young black woman living in 1976, who is inexplicably thrown back in time to a slave plantation in 1815. Butler is a master of historical fiction, unapologetically confronting her audience with the lasting scars of slavery in the U.S. While I was initially drawn in by the book’s fascinating premise, it quickly became one of the most terrifying books I’ve ever read and is an example of enduring and overcoming unimaginable circumstances.
To teach you about yourself and others, read: “Middlemarch” by George Eliot
Genre: Victorian Novel
“Middlemarch” is another book that I read in a literature class, this time for a class with Professor Margaret Loose. George Eliot was actually a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans, who wanted to prove that her writing could match and surpass that of her male peers; she was ultimately very successful. Often considered the greatest novel of all time, “Middlemarch” is a beautiful example of literary genius and the accomplishments of the written word. The book tells primarily of Dorothea Brooks, an intelligent woman living in the early 1800s who, in an effort to pursue her studies, finds herself unhappily married to a much older man. While many Victorian novels are concerned with the journey to the eventual wedding, “Middlemarch” instead takes interest in the intricate lives, choices, and circumstances of its compelling cast of characters after marriage.
To experience a dreamy fiction moving chaotically between monotony and violence, read: “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” by Haruki Murakami
Genre: Surrealist Fiction
Trigger Warnings: violence, rape
Today, Murakami is an enormously famous contemporary author, popular for many of his books, including “Kafka on the Shore,” “1Q84,” and “Norwegian Wood.” However, while I enjoyed many of his works, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” will always be my favorite. “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” tells the story of Toru Okada’s search for his wife, who has gone missing, and his experience discovering the hidden underbelly of Tokyo. With elements of mystery, war, and sexuality, “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” portrays experiences of isolation and loss with gripping and imaginative detail. Dreamy, halting, and visceral, reading this book was a very intense experience, but one that I wholeheartedly enjoyed.
To have a mysterious and thrilling adventure, read: “The Mysterious Benedict Society” by Trenton Lee Stuart
Genre: Adolescent Mystery Fiction
Most of the books I have recommended thus far are concerned with characters who face very serious and difficult predicaments, as these narratives give me hope during difficult times. However, you may also need something lighter to take your mind off the current COVID-19 climate. “The Mysterious Benedict Society” is my favorite adolescent book series of all time, with a wonderfully enjoyable story and clever writing. The five-book series details the experiences of Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance, who are all extraordinary children with memorable idiosyncrasies that aid them as they uncover mysteries together. It is truly a remarkable series that is sure to keep you engrossed and at peace during these stressful and potentially paralyzing times.
Here’s to your health and your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. These recommendations are purely meant to entertain and occupy you, if you have the time or resources to do so, so don’t feel pressured or stressed if you can’t muster the strength to read at this time. It’s easy to feel pressured to be productive, but remember that it’s alright to take a break to preserve your own strength during this time.
Art courtesy of Allyson Cuna.