Required Reading for Every Young Adult

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I've become a bit of a bookworm lately. 

Today, I got a package from my Dad, who mailed me a copy of Salt Houses after hearing an NPR story about the new novel. He told me it seemed like a book I needed to have, and after opening it, I realized why — the author’s name is Hala.

Without the “h,” I know, but my spelling is actually the unconventional one.

The description reads “From a dazzling new literary voice, a debut novel about a family caught between present and past, between displacement and home...Lyrical and heartbreaking, Salt Houses is a remarkable debut novel that asks us to confront that most complicated of all truths: you can’t go home again.”

Seeing as I’ve spent the past year adjusting to a new city, new job and newfound set of adult-like responsibilities, I know I’ll be able to relate to some extent. TBD on the book review, but in the meantime, here’s a few reads that I’ve revisited since moving to DC and beginning a relentless pursuit of tangible reminders of home.

Naked, David Sedaris

I’ll start here because this is one of the first authors my parents introduced to me. My dad and I used to listen to the audio version of Naked on every car trip, each chapter funnier than the last. Sedaris’ biting wit turns just about every tragedy into a reason to laugh. His incisive criticism of a childhood survived in North Carolina always gets me. Needless to say, I always bring the audiobook when I travel. Prepare for poop humor.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

I recommend this book to just about everyone; I think it’s probably my favorite to date. If you remember Cheryl Strayed from Wild, then consider Tiny Beautiful Things as the part before she got famous enough to be played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie adaptation. Strayed worked as an advice columnist for The Rumpus, where she collected her submissions and responses into a gutting, cathartic and ultimately life-changing work (in my humble opinion). Her ability to relate to people with whom she had arguably nothing in common reminds me that there’s something similar in all of us, even when it doesn’t appear so.

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan

I read this one during the last month of living in Chapel Hill; I had already graduated and the start date for my job was in clear view. Keegan’s gripping collection of hilarious fictional short stories and analyses of young adulthood as a Yale student ate me away when I found out her book was published posthumously. “A light that dimmed too soon,” as The Boston Globe put it, Keegan wrote with a force that crushed your heart and brought it back to life all in one sentence. Her ability to imagine and articulate scenarios she’d never even experienced held me captive as I tore through each chapter, and I was utterly devastated when I reached the final page of the book. I didn’t want it to end; I didn’t want her to end — I’m crying writing this sentence right now. I couldn’t have picked up this book at a better time; I was scared of moving alone, and her tragic death reminded me that every painful chapter of life has purpose.

Milk and Honey, Rupi Kaur

A quick fix of poems and illustrations, Kaur’s words are as powerful as they are brief. The minimalism of the book rivals the depth of character she puts on each page, as she carries readers through the current of violence, loss, femininity and healing. Paul Ryan really needs this one if he’s going to make womanhood a pre-existing condition.

Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates

I’m still reading this one, actually, and it’s taking me a while because each sentence is so chock full of ideas that I can’t get through a paragraph without re-reading it — in a good way. This is Coates’s letter to his son about the shared black experience in America; it has taught me that I have as much to learn about black communities, media, histories, and cultures as there are days left in my life. And even when I die I won’t have come close to learning everything there is to know, but that doesn’t stop me from devouring this unapologetic meditation on police brutality, racism and political divisiveness that shape what it means to be black in America. Let it move you, let it make you uncomfortable until you are forced to confront your own privilege. You won't regret it. 

Books have always had a homey quality for me — the smell of the pages, creases in corners I dog-eared last time I picked it up, the evolution of my handwriting over years of marking up my favorite chapters — they’re helping as I learn to carry a sense of place within myself. If you have one I should add to the list, comment below!