Just as we show gratitude for the human relationships in our lives, it’s equally important to recognize the connections that we form through literature; a great book allows us to connect with complicated characters, meet the brilliant authors behind the work, and even interrogate our relationship with ourselves. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, we’re celebrating this holiday season by sharing the books that we’re most grateful for.
“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion
There is something special in her voice, her tone, her nonchalance, her intelligence, and her extreme perceptivity that made Joan Didion the incredible writer that she was. No book speaks to me more clearly than her 2005 memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking.” I first read this book last fall for a course on the subject of loss, and I found beauty and power in its raw truth, integrity, unvarnished sadness, and strength. Didion does not sugarcoat, nor does she try to appeal to readers. Her words capture her life in all its unreserved tragedy, elegance, and clarity. Didion lived her words, and I aspire to that.
—Staff writer Thomas A. Ferro can be reached at email@example.com.
“Ulysses” by James Joyce
Although reading “Ulysses” is typically seen as a heartless, even cruel, obstacle for burgeoning English majors, it is without a doubt the book that I’m most thankful for. This novel represents so much to me and accompanied a turning point in my life as I began college. Most impactful, though, is Joyce’s outlook on memory. Reading this text permanently shaped my own attitudes towards life and experience. By understanding the mental threads that subtly link life events together, even the most mundane aspects of the world can take on a mythological significance. Thanks to this book, the clack of pool balls evokes warm memories of late-night friendship while the wafting scent of wisteria blossoms cascade into fond recollections of a lover held close.
—John M. Weaver
“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
The book I am most grateful for is “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson. In fifth grade, I was gifted the book for Christmas by my aunt and was immediately stunned and frustrated by a book entirely written in verse. The writing was too confusing, too artistic, and too daunting, so I put it on my shelf to collect dust. My aunt checked back in and encouraged me to give it another try.
To say that “Brown Girl Dreaming” changed my life would be an understatement. Woodson’s words had never made me feel so seen. After reading her story, I decided to dedicate myself to making sure that Black girls’ stories are represented in classrooms and curricula. I have collected and donated over 15,000 books since 2015. “Brown Girl Dreaming” helped me become the main character of my own life.
—Staff writer Marley E. Dias can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A sprawling manor on the misty English moors. A bright red robin that reveals the key to a mysterious garden. A young, neglected child who discovers the power of nature and love to warm even the hardest of hearts. “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is an enchanting children’s story, replete with lovely imagery and timeless in its powerful themes of love and nature to heal all. The novel follows a young, sickly orphan as she explores the country estate that gradually becomes her home and discovers hidden treasures and secrets on its grounds. A childhood favorite of mine, “The Secret Garden” is a magical tale that instilled in me both a deep appreciation for nature and an insatiable love of mystery. I will forever be grateful to this book for transporting me to a world of beautiful gardens and secret treasures, and I know I can always return to this sweet and poignant tale to recall the magic of childhood.
—Staff writer Arielle C. Frommer can be reached at email@example.com.
“Dubliners” by James Joyce
Political turmoil, a country’s quest for self-identity, and a sleeping consciousness can be difficult concepts to write about in an accessible way. I am grateful for Joyce’s ability to accurately portray a paralyzed society through the seemingly unremarkable and simple life of its inhabitants. Despite a great variety in the characters represented, their lives are all brought together by recurring themes and the cyclical nature of the work. While the intentional lack of motion in the stories often feels suffocating, each piece still manages to evoke strong, lasting emotions. Written more than one hundred years ago, “Dubliners” deeply resonates with me by continuously offering moments of reflection, one story at a time.
“Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” by Grace Lin
As I frantically book my train tickets home this Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of a novel that I cherished growing up: “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon,” by Grace Lin. In my mixed family, my mom carried the burden of conveying Chinese culture to me and my sister. This fantasy-adventure children's book punctuated with Chinese folklore lifted some of that weight off of her shoulders. For many pivotal years, more often than not, I’d fall asleep with this book under my pillow. Lin’s depictions of the Jade Dragon’s glistening scales and the Fruitless Mountain’s shimmering rice fields illustrated my dreams, while dialogue from the Old Man of the Moon echoed in my mind. When my grandmother lived too far away to cook us homemade dinner, Lin’s characters showed me what traditional Chinese cooking looked like. When I struggled to remember every animal in the Chinese zodiac, Lin reminded me of the mythic origin of these characters. “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” did more than just show me the beautiful story of a strong female protagonist — it conveyed to me my own nearly-lost stories, and for that I am grateful.
—Staff writer Stella A. Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas
“Throne of Glass” by Sarah J. Maas is always there for me. Every time that my academic readings get too overwhelming, I’m feeling blue, or reality starts to seem boring, I crack open Maas’s debut fantasy novel. When I first read Maas’s book — full of dueling, romance, and badass female heroines — about eight years ago, this novel opened my eyes to how far storytelling can transport readers. Since reading Maas’s book, I’ve traversed across all that fantasy has to offer, reading Sanderson, Tolkien, Martin, Gaiman, and more. However, I will always be thankful for “Throne of Glass” for engaging me in this world of fantasy in the first place and being there for me when I need it the most.
—Staff writer Hannah E. Gadway can be reached at email@example.com.
“Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come” by Jessica Pan
I first read this book during my first semester of college — or maybe this book read me. This work has taught me more about myself and my oscillation between extroversion and introversion than any journaling practice or online personality quiz ever has. This non-fiction book covers a year of Pan’s life as she steps away from her introverted tendencies to ask simple questions without shame, perform live comedy sets, travel alone, and discover the beauty of talking to strangers. Pan specifically dives into the topic of plural ignorance — the idea that we all seek connection yet are collectively ignorant of this truth. Even though I read this book almost two years ago, Pan’s hilarious and brutally honest writing has transformed the way that I create relationships and interact with the world. Pan’s willingness to step outside of her comfort zone is the push that I need to wave to that person I’ve only met once, text an old friend, and accept that embracing the awkwardness of life leads to the purest form of self-expression.
—Staff writer Sarah M. Rojas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.