By Julien-Pierre “Johnny” Campbell
As the pandemic has gone on, I have read more than I’ve read in years. About a month back, I wrote an article on some of my favorite books that I highly recommended for pandemic reading. I’m back with an updated list.
In this novel, told in dueling perspectives by brother Zooey and sister Franny, Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger tells the story of a young woman’s religious crisis. Franny is a college student who has a breakdown at the state of the world. She’s lost, confused, and feels that no one understands her concerns. Her brother Zooey, an actor, attempts to revive her spirits through an extended monologue. At turns, he berates her and encourages her, and attempts to work through his own existential angst as well. It’s a really provocative little book that has broken my heart each time I’ve read it. Salinger presents two really flawed characters that are concerningly relatable. It’s an excellent novel to make one reflect.
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Rozanne Dunbar Ortiz is a harrowing but incredibly important read. It presents a history too — including myself — few know about. The genocide of America’s Indigenous peoples is presented in minute deatail, and the bloody cost of white Europeans’ settler colonialism. It is an intense read, but one I was very grateful for.
Alabama Moon by Watt Key is actually a young adult novel, but has a permanent place on my shelf. It tells the story of ten-year-old Moon, a boy raised in the wilderness by his father who has an unhinged distrust of the government. Moon is entirely self-sufficient and knows how to live off the land. After his father dies, he is forced into the system, and learns to make friends, defy authority, and eventually find happiness with people who love him. It’s told in Moon’s perspective, and his childish wisdom is at times painful to read. The novel is engaging and incredibly well-written.
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block is a post-apocalyptic novel told in some of the most poetic, beautiful language I have ever read. It’s modeled on the story of The Oddessy, and its hero, Penelope, meet a rag-tag cast of queer kids on a mission to save her family. It’s a whimsical work of magical realism, Greek mythology, and queer fiction. It’s a quick read, and an awfully depressing one, but the work and its sequel, The Island of Excess Love, are some of the best queer fiction I have ever read!
Lastly, and a very recent addition of my favorites, is Coal Mountain Elementary by Mark Nowack. It’s a book of poetry, newspaper articles, and personal testament that tells the story of the dangers of the coal mining industry. It features articles about everyday collapses and mining accidents in China, the personal recollection of a miner in West Virginia who lives through a collapse, and a disturbing lesson plan (which is real, and one can find online), to teach children about the benefits of the mining industry. It’s a really thought-provoking work, and the poetry is beautiful.