Winter break may be over, but there can still be time for some pleasure reading. The Features editors break down the best books they read over break.

Killing and Dying: Stories by Adrian Tomine (2015)

In Killing and Dying, Adrian Tomine, a cartoonist and illustrator perhaps best known for his New Yorker covers, has created an impressive collection of short graphic stories.

The pieces range greatly in style, from the intricately drawn “Translated, from the Japanese,” to the newspaper comics styling of the opening story, “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture.” The title story centers on an often bullied girl who wants to become a stand-up comedian. In the middle of the piece, her mother begins dying of cancer; at the same time, she begins killing. That story, like the rest of the book, is as funny as it is distressing. -Max Lee, Features Editor


The Road to Character by David Brooks (2015)

In the introduction of his latest book, The Road to Character, New York Times columnist David Brooks describes two kinds of virtues: the ones that are listed on your resumé and the ones that are read at your eulogy. “Most of us would say that the eulogy virtues are more important than the resumé virtues,” he writes, “but I confess that for long stretches of my life I’ve spent more time thinking about the latter than the former.” In the rest of the book, Brooks tries to discern how a person gains the moral qualities Brooks seeks in himself. He draws out character sketches of people who range in political ideology from Dwight Eisenhower to Doris Day. Like the best of his columns in The New York Times, Brooks keeps an open mind about all of his subjects. He focuses in on their virtues, leaving their sins acknowledged but in the background. The result is a sincere and moving, if occasionally dry, book. –ML


The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

In 1951, a woman’s cells were removed from her body by opportunistic researchers in the fledgling field of cell culturing. These cells belonged to Henrietta Lacks, who died that same year from cervical cancer. The tumor cells were so rare in composition that their descendants are still multiplying today, and have been the basis of nearly every major medical discovery in the past 60 years. In the 1950s, poor black patients at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were often taken advantage of. For years, her cells, known in the scientific community as HeLa completely obscured the existence of Henrietta and her family. Once her children found out about the cell lines and their contributions, a combination of anger and a desire for more knowledge kicked off a journalistic pursuit for the truth. Rebecca Skloot, once her intentions were deemed positive by the Lacks Family, was invited into their lives to discover who Henrietta Lacks was, who her family is today, and the myriad social and economic factors that kept them all in the dark about the true impact of Henrietta’s cells. This book reads like a novel, weaving together Henrietta’s life story with that of her family, as well as the history of medicine and ethics that serve as the backdrop to the story of human lives. It covers exploitation, grief, forgiveness, gratitude, and everything in between. I first found out about it through my coursework, but the book is so compelling that it can be read just as easily on a beach or a lazy Sunday morning as in the classroom. –Molly Schiff, Features Editor


Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (2015)

A follow-up to 2011’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns)? this memoir focuses on Kaling’s professional life, specifically the time period between which the two books were written. It does not contain the substantial background information found in the first book—which you should definitely read, if you haven’t already—but rather delves into topics varying from professionalism, marriage, entitlement, and a particularly fascinating chapter about a romance with a high-level White House staffer. Sometimes I find myself on the defensive when I recommend this book, as it is not the dense, symbolism-ridden work that liberal arts students love telling each other that they read. But, on a cold winter day after your brain is absolutely fried from finals, there’s nothing better than opening a book and reading what is basically a one-sided conversation between two friends. It’s a book that talks to you and shares with you. It encourages everyone, young women especially, to accept and bask in the success earned by hard work and dedication. Why Not Me? is basically a 200-page pep talk, and I don’t know a single person who couldn’t use that. -MS


Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder by Fletcher Wortmann (2012)

If you are an angst-ridden liberal arts student (and, let’s be real, most of you Wesleyan readers probably fit that bill like a glove), Fletcher Wortmann’s Triggered: A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an absolute must-read. Although the book specifically outlines a case of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the anecdotes that fill its pages are, in a sense, universally relatable. They express insights that inform the behavior not only of people fraught with anxiety and anxiety disorders, but also of any living, breathing human who has blinked at uncertainty. The memoir describes the evolution of author Fletcher Wortmann’s case of mental illness from adolescence, when his intense obsessions with Christianity, X-Men, and Pokemon–as well as his perfectionist behaviors–were mistaken for pretty much anything but OCD to collegiate adulthood, when these tendencies transformed into preoccupations with the romantic and social landscape of Swarthmore College and eventually a mental breakdown that earned him a place in a psychiatric hospital. Now working towards his MFA in Creative Writing, Wortmann writes his story from a place of blunt and self-deprecating reflection. Bearing a tone that is at times disquieting, and at other times sarcastic, the book offers a uniquely intimate and honest overview of a disorder that is far too often misunderstood. -Nicole Boyd, Assistant Features Editor and Social Media Editor


Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman (2007)

Reduced to the bare bones of its plot, Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name seems similar to a kitschy, Twilight-like YA love story. The narrative is written from the perspective of Elio, an adolescent who falls for a professor, Oliver, living for the summer at his parent’s mansion on the Italian Riviera. Initially riddled with self-doubt and fear of the uncertain, this juvenile protagonist tries at first to stifle his attraction (despite various indications that his person of interest might share his passions). However, as in most cases of obsession, this suppression only strengthens his feelings, and, under the influence of infatuation, he finds himself pursuing Oliver almost involuntarily. What results is a relationship of unparalleled intimacy that, though unsettling at times, is altogether cute and steamy. Characterized by a level of angst, obsession, and guilt that can only be matched by a brooding girl and her vampire, this Meyer-esque romance, however, is by no means distinguished by its plot. The novel is notable, moreover, for its language. Whether he is describing the Mediterranean landscape lying outside Elio’s window or the mercurial emotional landscape inside his infatuated brain, Aciman seems to always know the right things to say. In this way, he creates an intricate web of recurring details that allows the reader to follow the circular trajectory of thought that is so characteristic not only of attraction, but also adolescence. I recommend Call Me By Your Name if you tire of hearing your friends’ less-than-elegant fits of sexual frustration, but still kind of like hearing about sexual frustration anyway, or if you happen to find yourself on a beach. -NB


Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (2004)

Like most of David Sedaris’ writing, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is a wonderful cornucopia of dysfunctional, observant, and hilarious anecdotes. I first found the motivation to pick this book up a few years ago on Christmas Eve when my dad, drunk on holiday spirit and probably some holiday spirits,  decided to do a dramatic reading of “Six to Eight Black Men,” the 14th piece included in the Dress Your Family collection. The essay details an exchange Sedaris shared in Holland with a local named Oscar, a conversation jumpstarted by the simple question “When do you open your Christmas presents?” To avoid spoiling the fun, I will cut my summary short there. However, I will say that between six and eight black men are part of the discussed traditions and that the essay holds the power to (a) change the way you look at Holland or (b) motivate you to become suddenly interested in Holland if you weren’t interested before. Although, admittedly, not every piece included in Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim is as poignant as the standout that is “Six to Eight Black Men,” the impact of the book as a whole is similar to the individual essay, causing readers to recognize the dysfunction of the crazy world in which we all live. -NB


So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (2015)

Jon Ronson’s So, You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a piece of gonzo journalism that would make Hunter S. Thompson proud. A postmodern critique that presents itself as tragic satire quickly becomes investigative journalism at its finest as Ronson brings the margins of the internet world front and center. The book begins as an inquiry into the kind of violent online shaming that occurs on sites such as Twitter and Reddit and soon delves into the historical evolution of public shaming from the criminal justice system and public executions in the United States and the United Kingdom to the psychology behind mob mentality. Along the way, Ronson chronicles the lives of people who, with one poorly worded tweet or errant comment, have been completely eviscerated both professionally and personally. Online public shamings can often feel like citizen’s justice when they cause problems for large corporations or brash public figures, but what happens when the mob begins to consume one of its own? -Aaron Stagoff-Belfort, Features Editor


The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick (1962)

The Man in the High Castle is multifaceted, but painstaking patience might be its most distinct quality. A classic novel that bends the genres of science fiction and counterfactual history, Dick’s masterpiece is set in 1962 and imagines a world where the Nazis and Imperial Japan have won the Second World War. Following a rotating cast of characters who live in the Japanese occupied Pacific States of America (PSA), High Castle focuses on the minutiae of everyday life under fascist rule. While life in Hitler’s America is surely nightmarish and deeply repressive, it’s also surprisingly melancholy. The great cultural disconnect between the everyday Japanese and American citizens who live in the PSA illustrates the discord of a population that is coping, to various degrees of success, with living in a world that has veered off course but still provides some hope of salvation. -ASB

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