Using authors you know to find books you'll love: why reading beyond an author's most famous work can help you find a hidden gem.
Who hasn’t needed SparkNotes at some point? Who else can tell you that one character’s name you forgot? If you don’t know by now, I’m obsessed with SparkNotes‘ twitter. Every tweet is a work of absolute genius. From god-tier memes to incredibly hot takes, SparkNotes’ twitter never disappoints. As we look down the barrel of a new decade, let’s take a look at the most mindblowingly relevant of their recent tweets.
And it’s Gender Neutral!
Sure, the original context wasn’t explicitly romantic, but it’s really something you can make your own. Who doesn’t want to be cool, feared, and respected? Think about it. And the implication that your very own calamity is a dragon? I’d be incredibly flattered. How could you not be? That way you’re not just saying your lover is great, they know you think they’re great. You’re telling them they’re powerful and feared in the local land. Goals.
The only thing that matters – which person in your relationship tries to kill the king and then panics, and which actually just finishes the job? Because listen. It’s important that one of you be able to get things started and set the ball rolling, or you’ll never get things done. At the same time, some people just aren’t great at finishing projects. Conclusions are tough. Momentum isn’t going to get you there. Someone needs to be more detail oriented. Detail obsessed. Wash their hands over and over.
I Can Relate
Okay, so only two of those things are true about me, but all of them are said. Do you love the sea? Are you probably a ghost? Avoid making appearances, especially during the day. Congratulations! You might be the Flying Dutchman, or another legendary ghost ship! Actually, you could be a vampire. Or just English and Victorian. All three? That’s a dream. Maybe THE dream. I’m not a ghost hunter or anything, but I might BE a ghost.
As we approach the decade that has, in advance, been termed the ‘screaming’ 20s, let’s avoid the pitfalls of the roaring 20s. And especially any choice ever made by Daisy Buchanan. Consider her an object lesson, actually. Don’t take up with lying military men. Don’t bail on them to marry guys who suck. Don’t then STAY with those guys when no one even expects you to. Don’t lead said military man on again years later. Definitely don’t commit vehicular manslaughter.
Awareness is Key
Hey. We know better than to call him foul creature. We’re beyond that. We have to be. But the rest of these are real. The Kids use them all the time. I mean, I’ll double check with my baby sister, but I feel pretty confident. it’s the sort of thing The Kids would definitely text about. Especially the last one. See? SparkNotes is always relevant. This is the cutting edge.
All images via SparkNotes on Twitter
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Time to confess – I never had to read The Great Gatsby for school. I don’t know how I missed it! But I went back recently and caught up, and I was… surprised. It’s not that I think it’s under hyped, exactly, but it is under sold. We have infidelity! We have false identities! We have MANSLAUGHTER! I mean, things get wild. Especially for a book set on Long Island.
Image via Pinterest
I was not prepared for this. I know there are about a hundred thousand old sport jokes, but I was not ready for how incessantly he says it. I think someone else picks it up at one point. Where does this expression come from? Are you just really bad with names? I swear, what is your game here? No one else says this.
Maybe Just a Little
Image via Stalktr
It shows. Just a tiny bit. Just a little. Just a touch, like, in the way that every single thing you do is built around the one thing you wanted when you were young. It’s not a leather jacket and earring, but the pink suit was a pretty strong look. Who is this man, and why? Lots of things are explained about Gatsby, but that suit is not one of them.
He Did Watch People Die
Image via Tumblr
I mean, it’s all symbolism and deeply brilliant or whatever, but that sign was pretty random. I admit I don’t really know Queens very well, so maybe it’s just like that, but he may as well have been the then parish eyes. “Pwease help me, Tom! uwu’ – gets run over by Daisy. Too soon? Nah, no one was a very good person in that book, so see the above.
Not Awkward at All
Image via JolyGram
Nick puts up with a lot. Sam literally bails to get a room with his mistress and Nick is just sitting in the living room, probably smoking or holding a bunch of balloons or something. Who would hang around under those circumstances? Leave a note and go walk around the park or something. Just because nobody else has any boundaries doesn’t mean you can’t. Get it together.
And He’s Still Allowed to Have Very Nice Things
Image via Tumblr
Heaven’s sake, Gatsby, learn one single lesson, I beg of you. Daisy’s a flake and ALWAYS has been. Her husband sucks. She’s was never going to run away with you, and money wont change that. She sucks, man! I know she’s just an elaborate metaphor for the falseness and toxicity of extreme, thoughtless opulence, but use some critical thinking skills! Sigh.
Featured image via Meme Maker
It’s getting hotter… and so is our burning desire to run off to some beach and leave our real lives behind! Okay—realistically, most of us have some financial and scheduling limitations when it comes to our plans. But that’s no excuse for missing out on a great book. (Spoiler alert: there actually is no good excuse.) So whether your escape is already on the calendar or purely hypothetical, it’s time to pick a vacation destination. More importantly, it’s time to pick the perfect book for your travels.
Gif Via Real Simple
No matter how fantastic, we love when some elements of the books we read are grounded in reality (though, of course, they still need to be fantastically good). It’s why people actually go to Harry Potter World, even though there’s nothing there for them but B.O. and overpriced Cornish Pasties—trust me on that last one. I still recall going to Blackfriars Bridge after finishing Cassandra Clare‘s The Infernal Devices trilogy and feeling myself overwhelmed with a specific, nerdy glee. It’s all real! I thought to myself. Well, except for the whole Shadowhunters and evil clockwork creatures part. But that last one probably wouldn’t make for a very good vacation.
So, without further ado, here are some incredible reads set in popular travel destinations around the world! Whether you’re going away or you wish you were, these books are sure to take you on the perfect journey.
1. The Lost Continent – Road Trip
Bill Bryson‘s hilarious Americana travelogue opens: “I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” After the death of his road-trip-loving father and decades spent living abroad in England, Bryson returns to his former home in search of the perfect American small town that may have just been childhood idealism all along. Readers will be transfixed by the hypnotic pull of the highway AND the frequently baffling people Bryson comes across as he hits every single continental state. Deliriously witty and frequently profound, Bryson leaps from calling out people in Mark Twain’s hometown for never actually reading Mark Twain to dropping truths like this one:
I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored. But then it occurred to me that musing is a pointless waste of anyone’s time, and instead I went off to see if I could find a Baby Ruth candy bar, a far more profitable exercise.
2. The Beautiful and the Damned – NYC
We know, we know! Why didn’t we recommend The Great Gatsby, right? Well, because it’s likely you’ve already read it or seen the movie. F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s less frequently read The Beautiful and the Damned captures a marriage falling prey to alcohol and greed, a darkly atmospheric depiction of a city that never sleeps… but might sleep around. Since nightlife and ruinous ambition appear to be the core motifs of NYC, this is the perfect book to throw in your suitcase. Besides, ‘the beautiful and the damned’ is an excellent caption for you stumbling out of some club with someone who is doomed not to live up to your expectations. Listen, the 1920s are almost upon us, so if you were looking for the right time to drink too much and be confused about your love life… your time is coming.
3. Nightwood – Paris, Berlin, Vienna
Let’s get one thing straight—this book isn’t. If you want to go be gay and edgy in Europe (which I generally do), read this book before settling down for a relaxing disco nap to wake up at midnight to head to the club. One of the earliest books to feature lesbian characters, this intense gothic novel is hopefully just as melodramatic as your going out eye-shadow. The groundbreaking novel features characters outside the gender binary well before the time when this was commonplace—since it’s still not commonplace, emphasis on the well before. If you’re interested in the dark and seedy (as I generally also am) read this one before your Parisian fling, your intoxicated misadventures in a repurposed Berlin warehouse, your late-night wandering through Vienna’s former red-light district. Looking for grungy debauchery in interwar Europe? Right here.
4. My Brilliant Friend – Northern Italy, Coastal Islands
Listen, you COULD watch the HBO adaptation… but that’s not gonna fit in your suitcase, and you’ve got a long plane ride ahead of you. This modern masterpiece is a rich story of two friends, Elena and Lila, growing up in a poor yet colorful neighborhood. The bildungsroman depicts the ways in which their fates diverge and how their lives parallel the turmoil of their country. A deeply immersive series, The Neapolitan Quartet addresses the transformation of both the girls and the country they live in with nuance and style. This heady dose cultural context will only improve your Italy trip, and it’s guaranteed to offset the displeasure of airplane food.
5. Like Water for Chocolate – Mexico
It would be kind of an understatement to call this novel sensual… so we’ll go out on a limb and call it full-on sexual. Full-on actually IS a more accurate description, given that there’s sex on horseback and, uh, a meal prepared with a ‘special’ ingredient. But this isn’t some pornographic romp across Mexico (even if that may be what your Spring Break is destined to become). Believe it or not, this international bestseller (and inspiration for a feature film) is an expansive tale of family life and forbidden love that chronicles the unlikely history of an all-female family in turn-of-the-century Mexico. Each chapter opens with a unique recipe to give the story a sense of place within one family’s legacy… a legacy defined frequently by bad luck and surprising turns of fate.
6. Down and Out in Paris and London – Paris, London
A book about a twenty-something living under questionable conditions, doing odd jobs, and not so much going broke as charging headlong into it? Relatable. If you’re on the younger side, chances are that even if you are traveling, you aren’t on your way to five-star accommodations. You might’ve worked some double shifts and second jobs to get on that plane, or maybe you’re hustling under the table to afford an extension on that trip. George Orwell feels you: he describes an eighteen-hour workday at a Parisian restaurant and sleeping on a bench to avoid paying rent (something that we do hope will not feature in your vacation). But it’s always a relief to recall that many among the literary greats got their start down in the gutter—especially if that’s where you are right now.
7. Native Stranger: A Black American’s Journey Into the Heart of Africa – Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa
Eddy L. Harris, a black American travel writer, goes on a stunning search for his identity as he backpacks across the continent his ancestors called home. Or, not exactly his identity. He explains:
Because my skin is black you will say I traveled Africa to find the roots of my race. I did not—unless that race is the human race, for except in the color of my skin, I am not African. If I didn’t know it then, I know it now. I am a product of the culture that raised me. And yet Africa was suddenly like a magnet drawing me close, important in ways that I cannot explain, rising in my subconscious and inviting me.
This is not another voyeuristic analysis of a white author whose intent is to lambast the reader with relentless depictions of poverty. There are depictions of poverty, but as stricken as Harris is by the corruption and violence he encounters, he remains always enthralled by the beauty of the continent.
8. Catfish and Mandala: A Two-WheEled Voyage Through the Landscape of Vietnam – Mexico, Japan, Vietnam
After his sister’s suicide, Andrew X. Pham bikes across Vietnam in search of the family he’s lost and the homeland he left behind. The memoir juxtaposes his travels with the war-torn memories of his childhood, his illegal journey in an open boat and the insincere conversion to Christianity in his new American home. This is more than a journey, although it’s certainly that as well—it’s an attempt to process a difficult past. The conflict between his new land and his native land, embodied in memories of the war, strikingly mirrors the conflict of his dual identity. Catfish and Mandala offers a unique look into Vietnam’s language, culture, geography, and history that’s both enormously meaningful and small enough to cram in that suitcase!
9. Sag Harbor – Long Island, The beach
What’s the best thing to do at the beach? Swim? Tan? Wrong—it’s obviously to get into unsupervised teen shenanigans. Wealthy brothers Benji and Reggie Cooper are out of prep school for the summer and at their parents’ beach house… which is pretty much the only role their parents will play in their summer of love, hate, and bad new Coca Cola flavors. At school, Benji made the mistake of revealing his passion for horror movies and Dungeons & Dragons. But, if he can master all the right handshakes, he could spend summer as the coolest kid in the Hamptons. Colson Whitehead‘s Sag Harbor is a bildungsroman for the African-American elite, for the “black boys with beach houses.” Plus, it’s loaded with 80s nostalgia.
10. Less – Berlin, Morocco, India, Paris, Kyoto
Being an accomplished novelist traveling the world sounds like anyone’s dream—but Arthur Less didn’t dream it would happen like this. On the eve of his ex-boyfriend’s wedding, Less has a mid-life (okay, probably three-quarter-life) crisis. The response to his writing has been tepid. He is, he believes, “the first homosexual ever to grow old… that is, at least, how he feels at times like these.” And he is. Growing old, that is. Approaching his fiftieth birthday and the precipice of literary obscurity, Less accepts an invitation to an insignificant literary award ceremony that will take him around the world and deeper into the lyrical reflection of his own self-improvement. Let it be known that I read this novel on an airplane to another continent, and I can promise a rewarding experience. Warm-hearted and deeply human, this story is bursting with life and an obvious love of language. To quote the author, “just for the record: happiness is not bullshit.”
All In-Text Images Via Amazon.
Featured Image Via RealSimple.
Books can change the way you think about things; the right strand of words can strike something up inside of you. It’s not unlikely to feel uneasy, dizzy, overwhelmed, inspired, or full after reading the right essay, poem, story, or novel. (Words are, like, insanely cool.)
So, it’s no wonder so many musicians have drawn inspiration from within the pages of the books they read!
Stand up and jam out to these nine incredibly songs inspired by pieces of literature!
Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush
An eighteen-year-old Kate Bush wrote this insanely popular classic after finding inspiration within Emily Brontë’s novel of the same name.
Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy
I’ve come home. I’m so cold
Let me in-a-your window
Charlotte Sometimes by The Cure
Although not their first foray into slipping literary references into their songs, The Cure held nothing back when they wrote this song based on the Penelope Farmer novel of the same name.
Charlotte sometimes crying for herself
Charlotte sometimes dreams a wall around herself
But it’s always with love
With so much love it looks like
Of Charlotte sometimes
So far away
Glass sealed and pretty
Suffragette City by David Bowie
Bowie never ceased to draw inspiration from his favorite literary works (Diamond Dogs was influenced heavily by George Orwell’s 1984) and for a large part of his Ziggy Stardust phase he drew from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange.
Hey man, Henry, don’t be unkind, go away
Hey man, I can’t take you this time, no way
Hey man, droogie don’t crash here
There’s only room for one and here she comes
Here she comes
Off to the Races by Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey has drawn inspiration for much of her work from Nabokov’s Lolita, but the chorus of this song is especially Lolita-esque.
Light of my life, fire in my loins
Be a good baby, do what I want
Light of my life, fire in my loins
Gimme them gold coins
Gimme them coins
This Is Just A Modern Rock Song by Belle & Sebastian
Belle & Sebastian have always been big promoters of book love (i.e. Wrapped Up In Books), see if you can catch all the literary references hidden in this gem!
I’m not as sad as Doestoevsky
I’m not as clever as Mark Twain
I’ll only buy a book for the way it looks
And then I stick it on the shelf again
Tangled Up In Blue by Bob Dylan
Dylan has based much of his works off of F. Scott Fitzgerald and various poets, along with basing much of the lyricism on his Blood on the Tracks albums off of popular short stories by Anton Chekhov.
I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air
Then he started into dealing with slaves
And something inside of him died
She had to sell everything she owned
And froze up inside
Baobabs by Regina Spektor
This sweet little single by Regina Spektor (and one of my personal favorites) was based off the popular children’s book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince.
You have tamed me
Now you must take me
How am I supposed to be?
I don’t have my thorns now
And I feel them sprouting
They’ll grow right through if I don’t watch it
They’ll grow through even if I watch it
And a sunset couldn’t save me now
Catcher in the Rye by The Dandy Warhols
Listening to The Dandy Warhols is always a good time, and this 2016 song about the infamous J.D. Salinger novel of the same name is no exception!
Stop look around keep your head down and let the words stop it pass on by you
Words that are somewhere in told are cold if it’s not fun then it’s funny to show
With the advice like this what else could you want if a body need a body I know
Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
Joni Mitchell wrote this heartbreaking classic while reading Saul Bellow’s Henderson and the Rain King.
Moons and Junes and ferries wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As every fairy tale comes real
I’ve looked at love that way
Featured Image via Bustle