Two months into the semester, reading for pleasure seems like a long-forgotten pastime. To some, the thought of willingly digesting more information feels like a cruel joke, but we here in the Art & Entertainment section are firm believers in intellectual procrastination. Here are some books you can read to avoid reading.
Milkman by Anna Burns
Set in 1970s Belfast, where rumours spread as easily as mould on a piece of soda bread, Burns’ protagonist, known to readers only as ‘middle sister,’ is the victim of a stalking by a dangerous paramilitary with an insidious agenda. As gossip circulates, middle sister quickly becomes the subject of public scrutiny and intimidation. In a time when flying the wrong flag or reading the wrong book is enough to betray your loyalties, middle sister finds herself the unwitting ally to a dangerous man from the wrong side of the tracks. Written in cryptic, circular, first-person prose, Milkman is a chilling portrait of the political paranoia that accompanied the Troubles as seen through the eyes of a teenage girl.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Susan Orlean’s The Library Book hooks its readers with an investigation of the 1986 Los Angeles Public Library fire, prompting her comprehensive examination of the often overlooked institution. Orlean has a knack for weaving multiple narratives together. Throughout the book, the author explores a slew of disparate topics: The settlement of the Wild West, women’s rights modern America, and even the AIDS crisis are all united by their ties to the L.A. Central Library. At times, Orlean’s multiple narratives come across as filler needed to distract readers from the fact that the reason behind the fire remains unknown. Ultimately, however, what begins with the library’s greatest catastrophe becomes emblematic of its enduring status as one of L.A.’s most valuable resources.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Those looking for a challenging and canonical read should consider The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Milan Kundera’s 1984 novel tells the story of four people whose lives are intertwined during the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague. Set against a backdrop of never-ending political upheaval, the characters struggle to navigate the chaos of their lives and maintain a shared lack of control. Although violence shapes and threatens each of the characters’ lives, The Unbearable Lightness of Being is ultimately about love. It is love that distracts and entertains the characters, allowing them to stay sane as violence pervades all aspects of their lives. In the wake of political turbulence, the characters grapple with the frustrating reality that there is no dress rehearsal for life. In just 393 pages, The Unbearable Lightness of Being delves into the philosophy of love, art and politics.
Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee
Equal parts domestic thriller and family drama, Native Speaker follows Henry Park, the first-generation son of Korean immigrants, who happens to be a spy. Working for an unnamed independent contracting firm, Henry must tail John Kwang, Queens councilman and fellow Korean-American. Meanwhile, Henry grapples with an earth-shattering tragedy, and tries to reconcile with his wife Leila in the wake. Spanning entire lifetimes, Lee’s narrative seamlessly traverses the rain-soaked streets of Flushing, and the sterile, suburban hell of upstate New York. Though it was released over two decades ago, Native Speaker is increasingly relevant in an era of identity politics and virtue signalling. The novel questions the assumptions upon which relationships are built, and the paradoxical importance and un-importance of race.