In the week leading up to Thanksgiving break, Reads beat writers gathered together to share a read they are grateful for having in their lives and to reflect on its significance.
Sofia Schlozman, Contributing Writer (sschloz ‘at’ stanford.edu)
“If I Should Have a Daughter” by Sarah Kay: For a long time, I thought that I didn’t like poetry. As a genre, it seemed abstract and inaccessible, and I always felt like I was missing something when I tried to sit down and read it. When I first heard this poem while listening to Sarah Kay’s TED Talk, my conception of poetry shifted completely. Kay’s poetry is simultaneously beautiful and approachable, capturing profound ideas about the world in a manner that is unique and understandable without ever feeling simplistic. It’s clear that Kay genuinely believes in the message behind her poetry, and listening to her perform this poem always reminds me of how powerful words can be. This is the work that taught me to appreciate poetry and a piece that makes me excited about sharing stories of my own. Whenever I’m struggling with a story or paper, I read it again, and I always end up feeling a little bit better afterwards.
Carly Taylor, Contributing Writer (carly505 ‘at’ stanford.edu)
Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf”: I am thankful for having read Hesse’s “Steppenwolf” because it gave me a new lens with which to view myself, and it was not the one I was expecting from the back cover. The protagonist Harry Haller believes he is one-part rational man and one-part animalistic beast, forever divided and incapable of fully embracing either side. But as Hesse takes us on an exploration of Harry’s mind, we come to see that he is not just comprised of two distinct sides but of millions of nuanced facets. It’s not that the logical part of his nature is human and the impulsive part is something lesser. Rather, the seeming irreconcilability of all his infinite natures is distinctly human. I’m always asking myself questions like, am I a STEM or humanities person? An introvert or an extrovert? Am I in this group or that group? It’s easy to feel uneasy when I am at a loss for answers.“Steppenwolf” always reminds me it is not only valid to be neither and both, but that it is the definition of the human condition.
Sarah Kim, Contributing Writer (skim22 ‘at’ stanford.edu)
Louis Sachar’s “Small Steps”: You may know Sachar from his beloved “Holes,” but you probably didn’t know there was a sequel. While I loved “Holes,” there’s a special place in my heart for the quirky relationships and endearing characters in “Small Steps,” which explores issues of race and how chance encounters can shape the course of your life.The novel follows Theodore, better known as Armpit, after his release from Camp Green Lake Juvenile Correctional Facility. He certainly doesn’t have it all together; he’s struggling through economics and trying to navigate a romance that ultimately ends in a mess, as it often does in real life. His 10-year-old neighbor Ginny, who has cerebral palsy, keeps him grounded, as does his philosophy to take life one small step at a time. I first read the novel in middle school, but the message is still relevant to me today. When I feel like the world is moving at one million miles per hour, I remind myself of Armpit’s mindset. It’s okay to not have everything figured out, as long as you’re taking small steps in the right direction.
Katherine Silk, Contributing Writer (ksilk ‘at’ stanford.edu)
Robert Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit Will Travel”: I brought one of my favorite books to Stanford – Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit Will Travel.” Not only do I enjoy the plot – which centers around high school senior and space-fanatic Kip Russell as he works hard to acquire a space suit, befriends an oddball girl and is kidnapped by extraterrestrials – but I love Heinlein’s conversational narrative style. When I first read the book, I felt as if I knew Kip deeply, as if he were a good friend.
I’m grateful to have read it when I did. I was 14, and my high school years weren’t yet too busy. I had an idea for a science fiction story of my own floating around in my head, and after reading “Have Space Suit Will Travel,” I decided to plunge forward and try to write my own novel. I’m grateful for the comfortable familiarity of Heinlein’s writing style in this particular book; it inspired me to begin writing science fiction myself. If you get a chance over Thanksgiving break, it’s definitely a worthwhile read!
Scott Stevens, Contributing Writer (scotts7 ‘at’ stanford.edu)
Sylvia Plath’s “The Collected Poems”: I’m grateful for having encountered Sylvia Plath early in my conscious years, for she was one of my first teachers in poetry. She was an unabashed experimenter with a lush vocabulary, a pioneer of a new form of writing that combined the vestiges of formalism with her own life experiences. Her rhymes can be hidden and bounce from line to line, unseen until heard. Evocations of the occult mesh with beekeeping, and such poetry emerges from a blonde student balancing serious literary ambition with a vibrant social life. As a mentor, Plath rescued me from one of my first emotional “swings” as a young adult early in high school, demonstrating in her own work how to ride waves of sorrow and ecstasy and alight, if not unscathed, at least more gracefully, onto calmer shores. I recommend her collected poems to anyone who would like to witness how a craftsperson like Plath develops her pen into a knife which can confront and carve all of life’s driftwood into verbal masterpieces.
Shana Hadi, Reads Desk Editor (shanaeh ‘at’ stanford.edu)
Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”: Austen’s sophisticated melding of the internal and external in her prose introduced me to the study of consciousness and the literary canon, for which I am eternally grateful. With her novel use of free indirect discourse, Austen imbues her words with such grace and thoughtful reflection, her stories driven by the internal life of the protagonists as much as the protagonists are shaped by her narration. Beyond the heartrending romance between Elizabeth and Darcy, “Pride and Prejudice” possesses a lively cast of characters, from the obsequious Mr. Collins to the deceptively charming Wickham. Each one seems to have a mind of their own, prompting us to consider what characteristics — whether constant vocal pronouncements of marrying off one’s daughters or a gentle, reserved voice — reflect deeper truths of our own personalities.
Even as the romantic plot and various mishaps unfold, the core of the story lies in Elizabeth’s trials to overcome her first impressions. Elizabeth’s change of heart as she learns the truth of Darcy’s honorable character forces her to reexamine her flawed perceptions of the world and herself. This sophisticated work offers us great insights into the human mind and how we also construct fictional accounts of ourselves, both of which testify to the novel’s lasting power.