Sunday, January 31, 2016

10 Books That Should Be But Aren't Required Reading in School


Between the World and Me  by Ta-Neishi Coates
Perspective: It's written by an African American as a letter to his son as he describes the racial situation of the present. It's not exactly angry, but there's so much quiet sadness in the events he recounts. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Racial prejudice is still very much a reality today; there is just so much more to be done. But his faith in humankind in reassuring.
Why it's also a good read: He's an incredible writer. You feel such a strong sense of empathy and a desire to take action once you put it down, it's overwhelming. 


Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang
Perspective: Boxers depicts the Boxer rebellion against the Christians from a Boxer's point of view, and Saints vice versa. 
Impact/What it made me realize: In history, there are no 'bad guys' or 'good guys'. Both sides are equally cruel and equally compassionate. 
Why it's also a good read: How many times have I mentioned this series on this blog? Three times now? Do I need to explain why it's a good book?

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Perspective:  This book is told by a schizophrenic teenager who was institutionalized. His character is based off of the author's son. And when I say written from his perspective, I mean his literal mind. As if you wrote down every thought that passed through your head. I've never read a book narrated this way (aside from The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time...scroll down), nor did I really expect anyone to be able to pull it off (I was wrong).
Impact/What it made me realize: Everyone views the world in an entirely unique way. Some angles, however, are especially interesting.
Why it's also a good read: It's beautiful, soul-crushingly good. The setting alternates between what we call reality and a ship where the narrator is torn between mutiny and his loyalty to the captain (no shortage of symbolism, that's for sure). 


The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
Perspective: A Bengali boy called Gogol by his family faces the true meaning of his name and his culture.
Impact/What it made me realize: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." - Tolstoy
Why it's also a good read: Jhumpa Lahiri has this way of writing that leads you in slowly and carefully, and when you turn around and look back, you realize just how far you've come. It's also so sad but you're not sure why. 


Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Perspective: David Sedaris, a gay, Greek-American, obsessive-compulsive, and ex-drug addict writes essays about his life experiences.
Impact/What it made me realize: Not fitting into society is in no way a bad thing. 
Why it's also a good read: He is hilarious. Absolutely side-splitting. I brought this book to camp with me and kept waking up my fellow cabin mates with my giggling. If you like this, I highly recommend reading his other books (my favorites were Naked, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim and Holidays on Ice). 


Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Perspective: The narration alternates between Confederate and Union military officials in the Civil War. 
Impact/What it made me realize: 'Loyalty' is a broad concept.
Why it's also a good read: It's suspenseful, gory, powerful. As if you took a magnifying glass and aimed it at your history textbook's description. Fantastic. 


Maus (link to books 1 and 2) by Art Spiegelman
Perspective: Art Spiegelman's father tells the story of his experience as a German Jew before, during and after the prison camps in the form of a graphic memoir. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Humans are capable of doing unspeakably horrible things to one another. 
Why it's also a good read: The art is perfect for the storyline, with its black and white shading and detailed facial expressions. Definitely not a light book, though. 


Mythology by Edith Hamilton
Perspective: Edith Hamilton, the most renowned classics authority possibly ever, documents almost every Greek myth (with an introduction to Norse mythology as her closing chapter) EVER. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Humankind needs stories to sustain themselves. 
Why it's also a good read: This is my comfort book. I actually keep a copy in my locker in school in case of emergency. It's perfect for mythology lovers or a mythology introduction. 
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Perspective: Christopher,a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger's syndrome, can perform the most complex mathematical problems in his head, defeat any video game in ten seconds, hates to be touched, and won't go anything near the color yellow (or brown). But when he finds a dead dog in his neighbor's yard and decides to hunt down the killer, everything, from the truth about his mother to his father's confidence in him is revealed. 
Impact/What it made me realize: Similar to Challenger Deep, we all have our own versions of reality. It seems that he observes more than most people, but can't quite comprehend his observations. 
Why it's also a good read: How it's possible to write in this way is beyond me. When you put it down, it's shocking when you realize you're actually not Christopher, and you have to adjust to your own reality again. 

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Perspective: This classic piece of science fiction is narrated by Ender, the youngest of three living a couple hundred years ahead of us in which the world is at war with an alien force called the Buggers and brilliant children suspected of having militaristic minds are sent to a battle school in space. 
Impact/What it made me realize: War is 90% psychological. 
Why it's also a good read: It's part of a series that's part of a bigger series that stems off into a smaller series that leads to another series. If you plan on reading more after finishing Ender's Game, I'd focus on the Ender's Shadow series. 


  1. I've read a couple of these. If you like this book by Sedaris, I'm happy to tell you all of his are really good. He's also frequently on the NPR show This American Life.
    You've made me curious to try a couple I haven't read. Thanks

    1. I love Sedaris too! I've read almost all of his work. I'd say he's my hands-down favorite humor writer/podcast contributor. He's the best, isn't he? Thanks for reading Nerd Alert, and comment if you end up reading the couple you haven't read!

  2. I love your recommendations. I have a 16 year old who never has time to read anymore :( and a 9 year old boy who loves reading as much as you do. I worry about giving him books that are written for older kids but knowing that your mom lets your read those kinds of books makes me feel better. He's read many many of the books that you recommend and loved them all. I also want to read the books that you recommend! Thank you for sharing your recommendations!!

    1. That's so great. I hope your 9 year old and I get to correspond someday! I love meeting fellow readers. Thanks for reading Nerd Alert!

  3. I really like this post and I think it would be fun to read some of these books in school. That being said, I do respectfully disagree with one thing you said. When reviewing "Boxers and Saints", you said that in history "Both sides are equally cruel and equally compassionate." Personally I don't agree with that. I think that very often there is objectively a "good" group and therefore also a "bad" group.

    1. You're right in that there are definitely exceptions to this statement. And I suppose when we learn history in school we are taught that there are clear 'good' guys and 'bad' guys. But it's really all about perspective. In the context of Boxers and Saints, for example, Bao, the main character, leads an army of 'Boxers', as they're called, and murders of hundreds of innocent Christian men, women and children 'in the name of China'. If we were quick to judge, we'd say that Bao is the "bad guy". But do a little more research and you'd find that the Bao's enemies weren't guilt-free in the least: the colonies of Christians had settled in China not to quietly practice their religion, but to use terror methods to force the Chinese to abandon their own polytheistic religions. Humans are never that simple. Thanks for sharing your insight on this controversial topic!

    2. I have very little knowledge about the Boxer rebellion but from reading your synopsis, I agree that Boxers and Christians were both equally bad and therefore equally good in this conflict. That being said, in the Holocaust, the Armenian Massacres, the Rwandan Genocide and the "ethnic cleansing" in the Bosnian war and many many more conflicts had a clear "bad guy." Historically, I think that the majority of conflicts happened this way.That's just my opinion though, obviously it is up for debate and some people may not agree with me.