Books That Taught Me to Like the Subway Again

I moved to Brooklyn, New York in the summer of 2007. At first, the subway system and I did not get along. We had heated arguments about being tardy to work and why that guy's music was so loud. As time moved along however, I discovered the joy of train reading. It made the reality stop and imagination grow with the roar of the tracks. My resolution for 2008 was to read 52 books in 52 weeks. I succeeded in part because of my love of reading on those bright orange seats. Here are my favorites of that year in no particular order. I promise they'll move you.


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Di­az

Diaz writes a modern, urban account of a Dominican family struggling to overcome a terrible curse. The characters are dynamic — but relatable — because they go through common struggles and insecurities. Oscar is witty without being pretentious and touching without being sappy. Not only that, but there are footnotes throughout the book that give the reader snippets of real life history in the Dominican Republic. This combination of fiction and learning was fun and refreshing — a definite recommendation.


Everything Is Illuminated

by Jonathan Safran Foer

This is a premium book. I didn't want it to end and I didn't want to see the characters I loved be hurt. THAT is how you know a book has moved you. To the surprise of more than a few people, this is my introduction to Foer's work and I'm looking forward to reading his other book. However, I'm glad I read this one first as it gave me a chance to read a new style of writing. Its ability to capture what it feels like to love, lose, try, or fail made me remember what is so great about books in the first place. Just as music can sometimes bring an emotion without any words, sometimes the words in books can feel musical. (Does that make any sense?) I guess that's what reading "Everything is Illuminated" felt like to me: a kind of journey full of falsettos, crescendos, staccatos, and everything in between. If you're looking for a book to start off the new year, choose this one.

This book also appears on Five Perfect Book Covers


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

by Michael Chabon

A sure-fire way to tell if a book meant anything to you is how you feel about it a few days after it's over. I finished "Kavalier and Clay" a couple of days ago and I have found that I miss it. The story somehow weaved itself into my thoughts during the day, making it difficult to leave the characters behind. The book carefully intertwines an epic love story with the changing face of New York in the 1930s and 40s. There is also the ever-present comic book, which "Kavalier and Clay" help pioneer, and its meaning for the nation. I hadn't given much thought toward the representation of comic books during WWII, but I now have a large appreciation not only for the art but also for how they changed the way people express their fears and dreams. In all, Kavalier and Clay is a book not to missed.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Betty Smith

Several months ago, I sat on the back porch of a Brooklyn restaurant and watched a girl of about 13 read this book. I bought it for myself a long time before that... but had kept it on the shelf and resolved that it was something to save for later. "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn", as I now know, is for girls of any age and can be read at any time. It is for the ones who dream, get hurt, find ambition, and look for happiness in dark corners. Betty Smith is able to convey feelings of loneliness and hardship without asking for sympathy, eventually proving that the human condition is actually very simple. This is the kind of reading that offers the most comfort and looking back, I can understand why the girl in the restaurant wasn't talking to her family or touching her food. She was reading her own life and probably wondering where Brooklyn would take her.

(Editor's note: As someone who's read this book twice, I'd like to say that this book is also for boys of any age.)


Love Is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time

by Rob Sheffield

"Love is a Mixtape" is the ultimate story for music geeks. Sheffield writes humorously and truthfully as he tells of his relationship with his wife Renee. Their love of music is what ultimately brings them together and keeps them going as they get married. Renee dies suddenly a few years later, but Rob remembers their shared life and moves on through his obsession with music. In reading it, I went through the typical emotions of being incredibly happy as he tells of how they met and then devastated as something was unexpectedly taken away from him. But the truth through it all is that, whether people listen to Prince, Elvis, Hanson, or Aretha, music continues to move people and expresses what most of us couldn't dream of speaking out loud. This was a quick, weekend read but I think the love story and mix tapes will last far past Monday. In fact, this is a book I'll probably read again and again.

This book also appears on Odes to Dead Spouses


High Fidelity

by Nick Hornby

"High Fidelity" has been one of my favorite movies for many years, and it has now become one of my favorite books. The protagonist, Rob, is a thirty-something guy in a relationship crisis. He questions his life in relationship to friends, family, music, and love. However, Hornby takes what could be a difficult scenario and turns it into an honest account of what it feels like to have real self doubt. The book is funny, meaningful, and ultimately true to the mistakes we all make and the lovely redemption that follows. Now I've got to go watch the movie again...


The Complete Persepolis

by Marjane Satrapi

"Persepolis" is a graphic novel and memoir of a woman growing up in Iran who struggles with self-identity in her ever-changing world. The artistic expression shown by Satrapi as well as her voice in the form of word bubbles is truly breathtaking. I was consumed by its portrayal of events, emotions, and war in simple black and white drawings. It was also just a nice change from ordinary novels and stories. Persepolis came highly recommended by several people and now I will do the same to pass it on.

This book also appears on Books in 140's Favorite Reads of 2008


If on a winter's night a traveler

by Italo Calvino

Reading If on a winter's night a traveler was like finding a friend or lover you always knew was out there somewhere, but had somehow never met. The story is not just one, but many that intertwine to tell how two readers fall in love by searching for the missing ends of books. They find themselves connected in their passion for reading and for understanding why the other one loves books. Seriously, how is a girl like me not supposed to feel a sense of wonder when reading this? Could I meet my future mate in a bookstore, getting to know him through his book collection? Could we go on reading adventures together? Will he understand the connection/disconnection between reading and writing? I guess only time will tell, but in the meantime I will re-read this and just feel whimsically happy.


In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

Have you ever had the kind of epiphany that goes something along the lines of "so that's what all the fuss was about?" Well, that's what happened to me when I read this. I should have read this years ago, but for some reason it just slipped by. It's an especially troubling book and it has a wealth of history surrounding insanity pleas, capital punishment, and life in the Midwest. Truman Capote writes about two men (Dick Hickock and Perry Smith) who murder two-thirds of the Clutter Family. The Clutters were prominent Kansas farmers and as is stated in the book, no one in their community would have fathomed such harsh deaths. I'm not giving much away by telling you that the killers are caught and eventually hanged, for the book is not only about plot, but the capabilities of human beings.


The Picture of Dorian Gray

by Oscar Wilde

The characters were so wonderfully absurd in the first half of this book... but then take a dark turn. It was this shift that really made the book interesting for me. I found myself marking page after page of insightful quotes and philosophies, which all in all teach the reader about the value of youth and beauty. And, it was Lord Henry that I loved the most, not Dorian, because it felt like every time he came into a scene the story suddenly became a play. In the novel, Dorian becomes obsessed with a book that changes his entire life and I can see how this one might do the same for someone else.

This book also appears on Hannah Bomze's Favorite Books