6 Ways Literature Has Inspired Composers

In honor of National Classical Music Month, we’d like to share some beautiful instrumental songs that were inspired by gorgeous books! We’ve even prepared a Spotify playlist for you that is the perfect length for a long commute to and from school or work. We hope you enjoy reading and listening along to some beautiful literary tunes.


Musicals

Perhaps one of the most exciting ways books influence and inspire composers is in the creation of musicals. Take for example, how the composers of Les Miserables, Ragtime, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame each captured the raw emotion of their respective fictional characters. Whether you’re listening (or singing along to) Éponine’s tears over Marius, Tateh’s excitement about his new home in America, or the gorgeous choral singers at Notre Dame, musicals have a special sort of literary magic that is distinct from other genres of music.


Orchestral Works

As a former orchestra member (Do I have any fellow violists out there?), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk about how literature has been an integral part of classical music. The first influential story that comes to mind is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Tchaikovsky’s “Fantasy Overture” is an absolute masterpiece and my personal favorite musical take on Shakespeare’s writing. Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Faust Symphony” is equally as fascinating. In this work, Liszt creates three character sketches from Goethe’s Faust: Faust, Gretchen, and Mephistopheles. Instead of recreating the drama’s plot, as many other composers do when inspired by a work of literature, Liszt writes musical portraits that explore the three unique fictional characters.


Operas

Operas lend themselves well to literary inspiration, needing dramatic narrative and compelling, emotional characters. Verdi adored Macbeth so much that he composed a four act opera that begins with an appropriately dramatic overture. Henry Purcell used opera to capture the betrayal of Aeneas to Dido from The Aeneid. What better way to musically express the stormy drama in these works than elaborate operatic arias?


Ballets

Combining both music and dance, ballet is another beautiful art form that can benefit from literary motivation. For example, Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty inspired Tchaikovsky to compose the famous waltz in his “Sleeping Beauty.” (Also, can we take a moment to appreciate how well-read Tchaikovsky must have been to make all of his literary references?) Prokofiev tackles the classic Romeo and Juliet in his ballet, which he ended up using to build three orchestral suites and a solo piano piece later on in his life. I have to say, my favorite part of Prokofiev’s work is the scene where Tybalt recognizes Romeo. That particularly catchy song has definitely been stuck in my head a couple times!


Plays

What’s a play without a little musical accompaniment? Shakespeare is once again an influential force in the musical arena. Several of his plays are accompanied by well-composed music. In fact, Robert Johnson, an English composer and lutenist, is well-known for working directly for Shakespeare to provide music, like “Galliard” and “Full Fathom Five,” for his plays. Mendelssohn is another Shakespeare-admirer known for his music composed to accompany Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Film Scores

Last, but certainly not least, literature has been instrumental (pardon the pun) in the “book-to-movie” film scores we listen to today. This just might be my favorite form of literary influence on music; it’s always so exciting to see a movie recreation of one of your favorite books complete with costuming, scenery, and a beautiful soundtrack. To name just a few books that have inspired recent film scores, theres’ the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, Pride and Prejudice, The Handmaid’s Tale, Alan Turing: The Enigma, The Hobbit, and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.


The artwork featured on our blog was
provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.


You can find a Spotify playlist with the songs mentioned in 
our post below. We hope you enjoy the music collection!

5 Academic Classics Worth a Re-Read

For us ASU students who are just starting to get used to the routine of this semester, here’s a list of six books that may have been on your school booklist in years past that it may be time to dust off again. Contrary to popular belief, most of the books we read in English class are chosen for a (very good) reason, so I thought it might be very good to revisit some of my favorites. But don’t worry, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (as valuable as it is for every sophomore in America to endure the agony of this reading assignment) didn’t make today’s list.


To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. First off on the list is Harper Lee’s beloved To Kill a Mockingbird, a favorite read from high school for many. As you likely remember, the narrator Scout’s refreshing tone provides a glimpse into the racially divisive setting of the 1930s American South as her father Atticus Finch defends a black man named Tom Robinson, who has been falsely accused of raping a white woman. With Scout’s honest realizations about race, class, and individual responsibility, this book is especially timely for today’s climate. It’s time to pick To Kill a Mockingbird off your high school bookshelf and take a trip back to Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression for a reminder that our natural conceptions of innocence and responsibility are filtered through biases of class and race.


The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank. Many of us haven’t opened a copy Anne Frank’s diary since junior high, but her painfully acute realizations about human nature through the harsh realities of years of hiding during World War II are well worth another look. Though undergoing intense danger, much of her account shows the day-to-day monotony of her situation, with a realistic portrayal of what it felt like to live in her environment. Her story is critically important as one of the few non-American narratives that has entered into popular culture in defining the experiences of Jews in the Holocaust, and provides an accessible lens for viewing genocide—including those that have occurred more recently.


The Giver – Lois Lowry. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is often taught as a children’s dystopian novel, read aloud in elementary school classrooms across the nation. But, Lowry’s work also contains themes vitally important to the modern adult, especially concerning memory, interpersonal relations, and the role of government in controlling people’s lives. When 12-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly utopian society, receives a unique career assignment, he begins to learn the real history of his world and ultimately makes a difficult choice to create his own destiny apart from the governmental system’s prescribed methods. His decisions, and their necessity in his world, provide great insight into our own challenges.


Things Fall Apart – China Achebe. It is wonderful that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is taught in high school classrooms, but sometimes this prevents us from seeing it holistically, instead treating his work as defining a particular, singular perspective on the world rather than illuminating possibilities for understanding colonialism. Achebe’s chronicle of how things fall apart when white colonizers arrive in a Nigerian village offers implicit commentary about the Nigerian culture and about the colonizing culture, as well as the complications of navigating the intersections of these conceptions.


The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Expuéry. After reading Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince in high school English, I had a significantly different experience revisiting this work in college French. The somewhat biographical, somewhat fantastical, account of a pilot’s encounters and adventures with the Little Prince has a much less substantial plot compared to other books on this list, however, its themes are no less critical. The Little Prince teaches important lessons through the observations of a precocious child, suggesting paradigm shifts from traditional adult mindsets to a more dream-driven lifestyle. It’s a quick read, but a valuable one.




Edward’s Favorite Reads Summer 2019

Summer is a time for rest, relaxation, fun, and (of course) copious amounts of reading. This summer, I set a goal to read one novel or short story collection a week. So far, I’ve read wonderful books from authors ranging from Ocean Vuong to Zora Neale Hurston. And while I’ve enjoyed every work, these are some of my favorites.


Bloodchild – Octavia E. Butler. Though it was up against some stiff competition, I think this collection is the standout of my summer reading. Each story is a world in itself where the characters and the stakes come alive. Be warned, each of these tales are bound to make your skin crawl (but in the best way possible). One of the highlights of this collection is “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” in which a woman is battling a genetic disorder that leads to self-harm and mutilation. Another highlight is “Amnesty,” which explores a plant-like alien race coming to Earth and becoming the dominant species.


Speak No Evil – Iweala Uzodinma. This story about Niru, the son of Nigerian immigrants, and his white best friend, Meredith, will leave you thinking long after you read the last page. After Niru comes out to Meredith, she urges him to embrace who he is. In turn, they both must suffer the consequences of Niru embracing his sexuality, and a great strain is placed upon their relationship. Speak No Evil takes an outside perspective of the American dream, weighs cultural notions of sexuality, and confronts the challenge of having brown skin in America.  


Difficult Women – Roxane Gay. This is a dynamic collection of honest stories that explore the lives of women in modern America. Their stories range from sisters who suffered through the same trauma to a woman who is cursed with making the ceiling leak. These tales are imaginative, powerful, and at times frustrating. One of my favorite stories from the collection is the titular piece, “Difficult Women,” which explores the archetypes of loose women, frigid women, crazy women, and mothers. Another of my favorites is, “North Country,” in which a woman tries to escape the coldness of her relationship, but discovers a new type of cold in the upper peninsula of Michigan.


Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. I read this book in high school, and for reasons (that I can no longer relate to) I did not enjoy it. This summer, I decided to give it another try, and I am glad that I did. In this futuristic dystopian novel, freedom and knowledge are regulated. At the center of the novel is Bernard, who questions the highly regulated and “civilized” lifestyle of the times because he does not feel as if he fits in. This novel delves into the cost of both individuality and authenticity and puts them to test against the collective well-being of society.


WatchmenAlan Moore and David Gibbons. I am new to graphic novels, with my introduction being Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home earlier this year. While researching the genre, Watchmen came up over and over again as a great read, and it proved itself to be just that. It follows a group of washed up superheros in an alternate world where Richard Nixon was never impeached and the world is on the brink of nuclear holocaust. The story concludes with a great moral question that will leave the reader contemplating long after you have put the book down.


5 Books for Fans of ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’

Whether the recent book-to-film movie release got you to pick up Where’d You Go, Bernadette for the first time or reminded you how much you love this book, we’ve got you covered with a list of book recommendations sure to please fans of the book…and movie!


Mr. Penumbra’s 24–Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan. The Great Recession drives web-designer Clay Jannon to leave his San Francisco work and take up a new job amidst the book stacks at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. The only problem: the book customers are rare and seem to only check out unusually obscure volumes from the dark corners of the store. Curious about this strange behavior, Clay sets out to investigate the clientele to uncover secrets about Mr. Penumbra’s book collection.


Three Wishes – Liane Moriarty. In this witty and hilarious novel, readers will follow the three Kettle sisters: Lyn, Cat, and Gemma. Each sister is a unique character, and—together—they bring laughter, drama and mayhem. Lyn has a (seemingly) organized life marked by checklists, work life, marriage, and expertise in motherhood. Meanwhile, Cat confronts shocking secrets in her marriage. And Gemma flees whenever her relationships hit that victorious six-month anniversary. They must work together to deal with the ups and downs of life; including their technologically savvy grandma, champagne hangovers, and parent drama.


The Rosie Project – Greame Simsion. Brilliant but socially awkward Don Tillman has decided it’s time to search for a wife. So, as a profound believer in evidence-based decision making, this professor of genetics creates an orderly, sixteen-page, scientifically-supported love survey to filter out bad marriage candidates. When he meets Rosie, Don decides she cannot possibly be a good match, but he agrees to help her track down her biological father instead. In the quest to find her father, Don realizes that, despite his rational analysis, love is surprising, making him wonder if he should change his mind about Rosie and his love survey.


On Turpentine Lane – Elinor Lipman. Meet Faith Frankel: at 32 years, she purchases a charming bungalow in her old suburban hometown and believes her life is finally on track. But, at the same time, she notices her fiancé is too busy to answer her texts as he posts photos of himself with other women on a crowdfunded cross-country walk. There’s also the issue with her dimwitted boss. And, oh yeah, returning to her hometown means she lives minutes away from her hovering mother and philandering father who is convinced he’s Chagall. As she settles into her new home, she questions her life choices as she grows closer and closer to officemate Nick Franconi.


Today Will Be Different – Maria Semple. Don’t worry; we couldn’t forget Maria Semple’s newest book, Today Will Be Different. A hilarious book about reinvention, sisterhood, and identity, this book follows Eleanor, a woman on a mission to become less of a mess. Today will be different. She will tackle problems, get a shower, do yoga, drop her son Timby off at school, and work on her marriage. But life throws her a few curveballs along the way, as life tends to do. Now, she must also deal with a son playing hooky, a husband who might be keeping one too many secrets, and a mystery lunch date with a former colleague.


And, of course, if you liked the book, Where’d you go, Bernadette, consider
heading to your nearest theater and giving the movie a shot!


5 Back-To-School Reads

Alright y’all, it’s that time of year again. Our last days of summer are fast approaching, and for many of us that means we are busy with back-to-school preparation. But amidst all the hustle and bustle of getting ready to hit the books (and the coffee) again, I’m a firm believer you can still find time to read. So, here are some great back-to-school reads that will help your summer go out with a bang. Or, you know, with a book.


A Time to Kill—John Grisham. An oldie, but, a goodie. If you’re a person who needs a little drama, a little thrill, added to your last days of summer, look no further than this classic courtroom thriller. Grisham tells an exceedingly powerful, yet exciting, story that takes place in Clanton, a small Mississippi town in the 90s. Lawyer Jake Brigance (said to be based off of ex-lawyer John Grisham himself) comes face to face with racism and hatred as he fights to save his client’s life. Coming in at a little over 500 pages, don’t let the page count intimidate you. Grisham’s brilliant story telling made each page read more quickly than the next.


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine—Gail Honeyman. For those of you who may be dreading long nights of studying coming around again, don’t hesitate to pick up this book which will, without a doubt, restore your faith in humanity, goodness, friendship, and healing. Eleanor Oliphant is a quirky, blunt, and extremely socially awkward woman. Her life is ordered, exact, and (she thinks) completely fine. But as she spends more time with her coworker, the IT guy Raymond, she comes to discover maybe life isn’t supposed to just be fine—it’s meant to be a whole lot more. Let Honeyman take your hand as you dive into this book, and don’t be surprised if you find yourself rediscovering what it means to live again right along with Eleanor.


The Accidental Empress—Allison Pataki. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think there’s any better way to ease yourself back into academics than with some phenomenal historical fiction. The story of the Austrian empress—known by her nickname Sisi—is not a widely taught one. Before picking up this book, I had no idea what the Austrian empire was like, how Sisi could be an “accidental” empress, and what exactly that entailed for her life. Pataki paints a both fascinating and informative world, one that will leave readers wanting to read on and on about the beloved empress Sisi.


Can You Keep a Secret?—Sophie Kinsella. For our returning readers, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I’ve included a Sophie Kinsella book on this list. What can I say? She’s hilarious, relatable, and I adore her books—this one being no exception. Emma Corrigan has got to be one of my favorite Kinsella heroins yet. On a particularly scary plane ride home, Emma ends up spilling her darkest (and most embarrassing) secrets with the handsome stranger sitting next to her. Who, come Monday, she discovers is the founder of the entire company she works at. The odds? Next to none. The result? Absolutely priceless. This book is perfect for getting some good laughs in before you start crying into your morning latte on your way to calc. #college


On the Rocks—Erin Duffy. Want a way to relive your best days of summer? Without further ado, I introduce you to Duffy’s adorable, light-hearted, and undoubtedly funny summer novel. After Abby Wilkes’ life takes a rather unexpected turn (dumped by her fiancé via Facebook relationship status), her girlfriends get her out to the beautiful beaches of Newport, Rhode Island for some rest, relaxation, and—they’re hoping—romance. But as the summer goes on, after many dates and many drinks, Abby begins to discover that maybe romance isn’t the key to her happiness—perhaps it could really be as simple as discovering herself. Bound to make you laugh and cringe right alongside Abby, there’s no better book to wrap up the season of crazy summer nights with.


5 Best Dog Days of Summer Reads

I’m a sucker for a good dog story, even though, in the back of my mind, I know the story will break my heart. But, I think that’s why I love these books so much—because despite the predictable conflicts and resolutions, they elicit something in your heart that only dogs can. So to all of my dog lovers out there, this one’s for you. Get your tissues ready.


Where the Red Fern Grows – Wilson Rawls. This beloved classic perfectly captures the bond between a boy and his dogs. When young Billy finally saves up enough money to take home two hounds of his own—Old Dan and Little Ann—he is set on becoming the best hunting team in town. But, as with many stories about faithful pups, sadness awaits Billy and teaches him how hope can grow from despair. Warning: this book, along with the 2003 film, are wonderfully crafted tearjerkers. You may want to invite your own pup to be your reading buddy for this story.


The Art of Racing in the Rain – Garth Stein. Told from the perspective of Enzo the dog, readers will learn about his owner, race car driver Denny Swift, who helps teach Enzo what is means to be human. Enzo is there for his owner through the ups and downs of life, and alongside a considerable amount of television and people watching, the dog becomes a philosopher of sorts interested in the human condition. Be sure to pick up a copy of this heart-wrenching but ultimately uplifting book before the film adaptation comes out next Friday.


Old Yeller – Fred Gipson. At first, Travis thinks Old Yeller is just a thieving, ugly, stray dog. He soon learns that Old Yeller is much more: a clever, loyal dog that wants nothing more than to help and protect his family on their ranch. After growing to love Old Yeller, Travis is faced with a tough choice when his dog is wounded. For those of you with Amazon Prime, you can take advantage of their e-book offer and enjoy this timeless classic for free.


Because of Winn-Dixie – Kate DiCamillo. After finding a suffering dog in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, Opal names the dog after the store and takes him home. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal learns how to make friends, grows closer to her father, and meets an eclectic group of people who teach her how to open up, forgive, and value friendship. This children’s book is perfect to read aloud with your children, younger siblings, or nieces and nephews—or even to read by yourself and remember why you fell in love with the book in elementary school.


A Dog’s Purpose – W. Bruce Cameron. In this book, a devoted pup provides humorous commentary on the human relationships he witnesses. He is reincarnated four times as different dogs and works to find a unique purpose through each of his four lives. The story focuses mainly on the dog’s time as Bailey, who belongs to Ethan, a young boy who encounters several obstacles in life beside his loyal dog. And, for any fans of this novel, you can also pick up A Dog’s Journey, the sequel to this heartwarming story.


The artwork featured on our blog is a watercolor and ink pen
art piece provided by local artist Kelly Seifert.


7 Magical Reads for Harry Potter Fans

Break out the cake, Dobby—it’s Harry Potter’s 39th birthday today! To celebrate, the girls in my house have been doing a Harry Potter book club, and it has been, in a word, fantastic. But we all know that eventually we will have to read Rowling’s last, “All was well,” at which point we will turn to these seven magical reads.


Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is perfect for any fan of fast-paced and beautifully written fantasy. When our Editor-In-Chief lent me this book (which, incredibly, was originally a draft for NaNoWriMo), I had no idea how much I would enjoy escaping into the world of Celia and Marco in Le Cirque des Rêves. Its powerful imagery and sorcery are reminiscent of the Time-Turner complications with magic that Harry Potter encounters in his third year.


For fans of the later and darker Harry Potter books, The Red Queen is an explosive start to a now-famous young adult series that satisfies readers who enjoy court intrigue, unsteady relationships, and supernatural violence. A powerful protagonist, a glitteringly gory setting, and the swiftly changing loyalties and truths in the narrative make this book hard to read without immediately picking up the next of the series.


Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted follows Ella of Frell in her quest to break her curse of obedience. This is potentially one of my favorite stand-alone fantasy novels, perhaps because it combines the complications of magic that resonate in the later parts of the Harry Potter series (particularly with Harry’s discoveries about prophecies, curses, and destinies) with the simplicity of action and strength of character that Harry shows from the beginning.


For fantasy readers who find themselves somewhat disappointed that dragons are only featured in a few (key, but brief) scenes of J. K. Rowling’s series, turn to Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers trilogy that follows Creel in her enchanting journey through a fantasy full of delightfully personable dragons.


Readers who loved Harry Potter as “the Chosen One” will enjoy Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince, where an orphan thief named Sage confronts his identity and potential in a fantasy kingdom. Nielsen’s Ascendance Trilogy deals with many of the same themes found in Harry Potter’s encounters with navigating fame and accepting responsibility.


Gwendolyn Clare’s Ink, Iron, and Glass builds an engaging fantasy world of scriptology where Elsa learns to navigate reality while understanding the power of the written word. Her realizations about truth mirror Harry’s encounters with Umbridge’s lesson, “I must not tell lies,” in his fifth year, as well as his learning how to sift fact from fiction in Rita Skeeter’s Dumbledore biography in the seventh book. Clare’s book is perfect for Potter fans!


Last but not least, Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series has perfect action scenes for those readers who loved the various encounters that Harry and his friends had with magical creatures—including trolls and spiders. Sky Raiders is full of Cole’s adventures that are enthralling like Harry’s, and there are four more books to enjoy in the series!


6 Best Movies that Began As Books

There is no way around it: there are some books that are just completely butchered as movies. And it. is. so. painful. I would argue, almost nothing is worse for a literary junkie. However, we don’t like to focus on the bad things here at Spellbinding Shelf, hence why I decided to bring you my list of the “6 Best Movies that Began As Books.” So for those of you who may need your faith restored in the cinematic world, fear not—I have the solutions right here.


The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien. If this wasn’t first on the list, I think I could be put in literary jail. Putting myself in Peter Jackson’s shoes, I’m still in awe that he was not only able to undertake such a massive project like this (dealing with a literary legend), but turn it into a cinematic masterpiece as well. While a few of our favorite characters may not have made it to the screen in this iconic trilogy (Tom Bombadil anyone?), there is no doubt that Peter Jackson brought Tolkien’s magnificent world to life in the most fulfilling way.


Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling. “You’re a wizard, Harry.” Bless all of the memes that came from this wonderful line of dialogue from the first book in Rowling’s seven part series. Spanning nearly a decade of filming, numerous directors, and (sadly) two Dumbledores, the screen adaptation of Rowling’s iconic series is—without a doubt—a cinematic masterpiece. With each of Rowling’s characters brought perfectly to life through incredible acting, there is no debate that the Harry Potter movie series is every inch as magical as us Potterheads could ever hope for.


The Fault In Our Stars – John Green. If you try to tell me that Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley’s performance as Hazel and Augustus wasn’t sheer perfection, I call foul, sir. Originally winning the reader’s heart on the page, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars continued to break our hearts in the most wonderful way as it made its screen debut. With incredibly raw and emotionally-captivating performances by everyone on screen, The Fault In Our Stars remains one of my favorite book-to-movie creations.


The Notebook – Nicholas Sparks. Name one person who doesn’t love this movie. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Don’t worry, I can’t think of anyone either. Each time I watch this movie, I am still so overcome by the incredible performances from Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams as they so poignantly bring Noah and Ally to life. With a love story so ridiculous, crazy, and beautiful, the screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook perfectly captures every emotion we as readers felt on the page.


Les Miserables – Victor Hugo. Okay, to be fair, it was a musical long before it was brought to life on screen in 2012, but I say: mere technicality! It’s a movie now. As a viewer, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first found out Les Mis was going to be a movie. Could they capture the vulnerability that Hugo left on the pages and numerous stars had left on stages around the world? Spoiler alert: heck. yes. Boasting some of (what I think to be) the most magnificent performances to have ever graced the silver screen, Les Miserables is a movie that does not disappoint its OG readers.


Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen. And of course, my dear Pride and Prejudice. Did I choose this merely because of Keira Knightley? No, but, if I did, would that really be so bad? Though the movie version may not have Colin Firth in it (*sigh*), watching Jane Austen’s most iconic work come to life on screen is an unforgettable experience. So for any of my classics lovers, if you haven’t already seen the movie, my advice is this: hunker with a bottle of wine, your best friends, and your Mr. Darcy daydreams. It will not disappoint.


6 Powerfully American Novels

From Memorial Day to Independence Day to Labor Day and everywhere in between, summer is the perfect time for fiction that explores what it means to be American! While it’s great to return to classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Howard Fast’s April Morning, and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, not every American origin story centers on a white man in wartime. Here are six powerful classics that reflect the scope of our country’s diversity, showing the value of the past and the determination towards the future that unites Americans regardless of time period or background.


Amy Tan’s masterful The Joy Luck Club is a classic fiction novel that provides a realistic portrayal of American families. Beginning in China and continuing in San Francisco, the Joy Luck Club meets weekly to play mahjong. When its founder, Suyuan, passes away in the 1950s, her daughter Jing-mei is confronted with the truth about her mother’s complicated past. Jing-mei’s feelings of inadequacy in telling her mother’s story are echoed by the other daughters of the club members, as being raised in America gave them markedly distinct experiences than that of their mothers. Told in a series of linked shorter accounts, the book gives us a glimpse into the cultural and generational conflicts with immigrant mothers and American-raised daughters. This novel offers a powerful definition of being American: how—instead of abandoning of the past—the American spirit is strengthened by retaining cultural heritage while still moving forward.


Mexican-American Esperanza may only be twelve years old, but that does not keep her from having big dreams and being determined to leave her family’s poverty in the past. As she matures and undergoes traumatic experiences throughout the year, Esperanza’s story provides a real, raw look into the racial segregation, financial difficulties, and physical challenges that many Americans on the fringe experienced in the late 1950s, just as Esperanza did where she lived in a poor Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza’s learning to balance cultural heritage and personal progression to help others exemplifies a critical dichotomy in true Americanism.


Octavia Butler’s Kindred follows Dana, a 26-year-old black woman in California in 1976, and her literal connections with her past as she interacts with her ancestors in slavery in the early 1800s in Maryland. She makes difficult choices and experiences the atrocities of slavery in a personal way, made more poignant by comparison to her white husband’s treatment. Dana’s cross-century experiences of taking control of her life in the face of misogyny and racism prove the persistence of the past in the attitudes of the present, providing a vivid perspective on these periods in American history that is often overlooked.


Jim Burden reminisces on his experiences with his childhood friend, Ántonia Shimerda, who came with her Bohemian immigrant family to Nebraska in the 1880s. From teaching her English as children to visiting her with her own children decades later, Jim’s account of Ántonia’s life, especially in comparison to his own, does credit to both the lifelong friends. Ántonia’s actions throughout demonstrate her remarkable tenacity of spirit with the balance of remembering history while moving forward. Willa Cather’s masterpiece, My Ántonia, shows how—even with all the complications of her past experiences—Ántonia fully and truly embodies American values.


Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man begins and ends with the unnamed narrator hiding from the world underground saying he is invisible. Pondering Louis Armstrong’s lyrical question, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”, the African-American narrator tells the story of his life, from youth to college to employment centered in 1930s Harlem, where he continually experienced the invisibility that resulted from others’ conscious choices not to see him. This bitterly reflective classic points out that keeping the American spirit moving forward should not come at the expense of forgetting the more complicated parts of our past or ignoring the reminders of those circumstances that surround us.


And finally, perhaps the most classic of the list—Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, with its famous heroine Scarlett O’Hara in 1861 Georgia before, during, and after the Civil War. Scarlett is not at all the typical protagonist for a Civil War novel, nor is she the typical Southern Belle. With her quick thinking and perseverance, Scarlett never gives up despite all the challenges she encounters, and to the less-than-happy end she retains her determination, representing the true American spirit.



5 Most Readable Coffee Shops in the Valley

There are very few pleasures that rival finding the perfect coffee shop—whether that’s to read, write, convene with pals, or just sip on your favorite order, finding your coffee spot is one of life’s small-but-mighty pleasures. But in my experience, despite having a favorite go-to coffee stop, the place where I want to crack open a new book or thumb through some well-worn pages changes depending on my mood. And you know what, guys? That is okay. So for those of you who are itching to find new spots to read your favorite book, I’ve put together a comprehensive list of the 5 most readable coffee shops in the East Valley. Oh, and don’t worry; I’ve personally tested them all. What can I say? It’s just part of the job.


King Coffee, Tempe, AZ. Located just off of Mill Avenue and University, King Coffee is the perfect spot for those who want to stay close to ASU. Complete with cozy study nooks and tons of seating, you’ll feel right at home as soon as you walk through the bright orange door. And did I mention the coffee? Phe-nom-e-nal. Positively. While everything there is so (so) good, I personally recommend their almond milk lattes. Open from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, King Coffee is a must-try; I guarantee it’ll become a household name.


Sozo Coffeehouse, Chandler, AZ. With cozy couches, table seating, crazy-good-coffee, and live music/events scattered throughout the week, Sozo Coffeehouse is an absolute gem of a coffee shop in the Valley. Whether you’re looking to curl up in an armchair with an Agatha Christie detective novel or gather your book club together, Sozo is a most quiet, calming, and inspiring environment. Open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., it’s the perfect spot for connecting with a good read or with good friends. You can check out their calendar here for a list of their upcoming events that support local artists.


Royal Coffee Bar, Tempe, AZ. Royal Coffee Bar packs a powerful punch in a bite-sized space. Located just off of ASU’s Tempe campus, it’s a great place to grab a dirty chai between classes while you read those textbooks. Or fun books. Or both, because life is all about balance. Geared towards busy college students, there are plenty of outlets along the coffee bar and even outdoor seating for when the weather isn’t sweltering. They serve their signature European style coffee from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m.-noon on Saturdays. Family owned and absolutely charming, Royal Coffee Bar will make for an unforgettable coffee experience.


Cartel Coffee Lab, Tempe, AZ. Boasting some truly industrial (and good) vibes, Cartel Coffee Lab’s Tempe location is a mere 10 minute walk from ASU’s campus. Their signature coffee roast delivers a bitter and smooth flavor, making their drinks a lively addition to any current read you bring along. Deceivingly small at first, Cartel’s versatile seating wraps around behind their coffee bar with tables, benches, and just about everything in between. With an effortlessly cool atmosphere, all of you bookworms will feel right at home turning on your headphones and diving headfirst into a good book. Open daily from 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Cartel will become your new favorite hangout.


Black Rock Coffee Bar, AZ. Clocking in at multiple locations around the valley (my personal favorite being Power and Ray!), Black Rock Coffee Bar strikes the perfect balance between edgy and insanely inviting. With strong and smooth coffee that is roasted in-house, everything from their Americanos to their signature Caramel Truffle is truly magnificent. Not only that, but each location offers a great amount of seating at both gorgeous wood tables or comfy leather chairs and couches. Harboring down-to-earth employees and killer playlists, Black Rock is the perfect place to read, study, or make new friends. Each location is open 5 a.m.-9 p.m., so, whether you’re an early riser or an up-all-nighter, Black Rock will never disappoint.