Summer break is a good opportunity to enjoy good reads outside of an academic environment. University of New Mexico junior Julia Langeway, a circulation assistant at Zimmerman Library student studying English and art history, sat down with the Daily Lobo to share five of her favorite books.
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong
The first book Langeway recommended was “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” an epistolary novel by poet Ocean Vuong concerning Vuong’s upbringing in Connecticut. The book is structured as a letter written from a young Vietnamese American named Little Dog to his mother, a Vietnamese immigrant. Little Dog’s life serves to mirror Vuong’s.
“His poetry is really raw, and it’s different from any other modern poet,” Langeway said. “(Vuong) stepped onto the scene about five years ago and knows how to incorporate his ethnicity and culture alongside other facets in society like poverty and race and still make it romantic and appealing.”
“On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous” is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the American Book Award and the Mark Twain American Voice in Literature Award.
“A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving
“A Prayer for Owen Meany” by award-winning author John Irving tells the story of two boys growing up in rural New Hampshire in the 1960s: John Wheelwright and his friend Owen Meany. The novel, told from Wheelwright’s perspective, deals heavily with the political state of the U.S. in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘80s.
“It takes place in the ‘60s, so there’s a lot of intertextuality with bands and the Vietnam War. It’s a really dense read, but it’s incredibly interesting,” said Langeway.
The novel deals with themes of growing up in a culture of purity as it follows both boys’ movement away from their upbringing.
“All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy
Langeway’s next recommendation was the first in a trilogy by author Cormac McCarthy entitled “The Border Trilogy.” 1992’s “All the Pretty Horses” follows a young Texan ranch hand named John Grady who falls in love with the ranch owner’s beautiful Mexican daughter, Alejandra.
“It's really well written. (McCarthy) is also a poet, so the prose style is really interesting. It’s really philosophical — kind of hard to read, but it’s short, and I love it.”
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“All the Pretty Horses” poses an interesting challenge to readers in its atypical style which features little punctuation and an overabundance of conjunctions. Reading this novel, like reading other McCarthy novels, will further one’s grasp on how language works by messing with established expectations.
“The Terror” by Dan Simmons
Released in 2007, “The Terror” by Dan Simmons is one of the most recent books on Langeway’s list. The novel is a piece of historical fiction concerning Captain Sir John Franklin’s failed expedition to find the Northwest Passage, wherein the members of the expedition are picked off one by one by a mysterious arctic monster while they try to survive the elements and each other.
“If I could recommend one book for everyone to read, it would be this book … If you’re into dark, spooky stuff, I really liked that part of the book,” said Langeway.
In 2018, a television adaptation of “The Terror,” created by Max Borenstein and Alexander Woo, premiered on AMC. The first season follows the plot of the novel and won a Satellite Award in 2019 for Best Television Series — Genre.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan’s 2011 novel “A Visit from the Goon Squad” follows various interrelated fictional characters in and around the New York music scene in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Due to the episodic nature of the stories, many portions were published prior to the novel in the The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.
“(There are) parts of the book where all these people are in college and learning how to interact and come into their own and become themselves. It’s a great coming-of-age story to read for college students,” said Langeway.
“A Visit from the Goon Squad” won Egan the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, one of the highest honors an author can receive.
For curious readers, all of these and more can be found through UNM’s libraries, which boast over 4 million books and e-books available, with more available through the Interlibrary Loan system.
Spenser Willden is the culture editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spenserwillden