by Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell
If you know me personally, you know that I am a reader. Reading was my first hobby, and writing my first love. People always come to me for book recommendations. I suppose I’m the stereotypical English major, nose always buried in a novel. If you are looking for something new to read this winter break, I’ve compiled a very short list of some of my very favorite books:
Firstly, there is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It tells the tale of star-crossed lovers Achilles and Patroculus in the Trojan War. In other words, a queer take on Homer’s The Iliad. The book is tragic and will leave you crying your eyes out. The beauty of the language is stunning. The metaphors the author uses will leave you breathless.
Next, there is Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward. This is another book where the soaring language sends the reader on a journey. It focuses on intergenerational trauma of a Black American family, told in dual perspectives of neglectful young mother and precocious son. The novel is a work of speculative fiction that is both frightening and gorgeous.
Following, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is truly my all-time favorite novel. It’s a story of human redemption and political revolution following a colorful cast of characters. The principal character, Jean Valjean, truly represents how even the most jaded and callous individuals can be both failed by society systems and redeemed through acts of kindness. I may sound like a broken record, but beautiful language and clever wording is truly what draws me to a book. If you can muddle through 1,500 pages of Victor Hugo’s very heady writing, this is the book for you.
Once again Madeline Miller makes my list of all-time favorites with her novel Circe. The story centers around the famous witch of The Odyssey who turns Odysseus’s men into pigs. It brings sympathy to a character who is otherwise one-dimensional and villainous. Miller’s Circe is one of the most nuanced and multifaceted characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading about. Though the book follows Circe through centuries of isolation, there is never a dull moment in the story. My only wish was that it be a few hundred pages longer!
Lastly, I offer you The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, who gained acclaim for her novel The Night Circus (also an incredible read!). If I have said before that I love beautiful writing, this novel is the definition of it. The novel follows a young academic constantly lost in books. He falls into a universe contained within a subterranean library and meets several dashing characters. It’s a story of lost loves, life-changing books, and the bond that brings readers together.