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Books the Journalism Lab on Higher Education read in September. Photo: Nemesis Mora

College students, check out this 12 books we have read this month

The Journalism Lab on Higher Education provides twelve books read in the month of September that college students will find resourceful, engaging, and heartfelt

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The Journalism Lab on Higher Education says adíos to the month of September with the list of books we have read the past 30 days. Embark on this beautiful voyage to discover your next favorite read. Here are their synopsis and why you should read them if you are a college student, an avid reader, or an adventure seeker.

1. Mother of Strangers by Suad Amiry 

Photo: Suad Amiry

Book Synopsis

Based on the true story of two Jaffa teenagers, Mother of Strangers follows the daily lives of Subhi, a fifteen-year-old mechanic, and Shams, the thirteen-year-old student he hopes to marry one day. In this prosperous and cosmopolitan port city, with its bustling markets, cinemas, and cafés on the hills overlooking the Mediter­ranean Sea, we meet many other unforgettable charac­ters as well, including Khawaja Michael, the elegant and successful owner of orange groves above the harbor; Mr. Hassan, the tailor who makes Subhi’s treasured English suit, which he hopes will change his life; and the very mischievous and outrageous Uncle Habeeb, who insists on introducing Subhi to the local bordello. 

With a thriving orange export business, Jaffa had always been a city welcoming to outsiders—the “Mother of Strangers”—where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived peacefully together. Once the bombardment of the city begins in April 1948, Suad Amiry gives us the grim but fascinating details of the shock, panic, and destruc­tion that ensues. Jaffa becomes unrecognizable, with neighborhoods flattened, families removed from their homes and separated, and those who remain in constant danger of arrest and incarceration. Most of the popula­tion flees eastward to Jordan or by sea to Lebanon in the north or to Egypt and Gaza in the south. Subhi and Shams will never see each other again. 

Suad Amiry has written a vivid and devastating ac­count of a seminal moment in the history of the Middle East—the beginning of the end of Palestine and a por­trait of a city irrevocably changed.

  • Students would like this book because it dives into the importance of coexistence and the displacements of Palestinians, and how two children find ways to cope with the ever-changing political climate.

2. In Love by Amy Bloom  

Photo: Amy Bloom

Book Synopsis

Amy Bloom began to notice changes in her husband, Brian: He retired early from a new job he loved; he withdrew from close friendships; he talked mostly about the past. Suddenly, it seemed there was a glass wall between them, and their long walks and talks stopped. Their world was altered forever when an MRI confirmed what they could no longer ignore: Brian had Alzheimer’s disease.

Forced to confront the truth of the diagnosis and its impact on the future he had envisioned, Brian was determined to die on his feet, not live on his knees. Supporting each other in their last journey together, Brian and Amy made the unimaginably difficult and painful decision to go to Dignitas, an organization based in Switzerland that empowers a person to end their own life with dignity and peace.

In this heartbreaking and surprising memoir, Bloom sheds light on a part of life we so often shy away from discussing—its ending. Written in Bloom’s captivating, insightful voice and with her trademark wit and candor, In Love is an unforgettable portrait of a beautiful marriage, and a boundary-defying love.

  • Students would like this book because it is remarkable. Vibrant and blunt. If you ever had to watch someone you love battling with an illness and slowly fading away, then this book will remind you that speaking about death is as important as celebrating life. Students will learn that even through sadness there’s room to be uplifted.

3. Crying in the Bathroom by Erika L. Sanchez 

Photo: Erika L. Sanchez

Book Synopsis

Growing up as the daughter of Mexican immigrants in Chicago in the nineties, Erika Sánchez was a self-described pariah, misfit, and disappointment—a foul-mouthed, melancholic rabble-rouser who painted her nails black but also loved comedy, often laughing so hard with her friends that she had to leave her school classroom. Twenty-five years later, she’s now an award-winning novelist, poet, and essayist, but she’s still got an irrepressible laugh, an acerbic wit, and singular powers of perception about the world around her.

In these essays, Sánchez writes about everything from sex to white feminism to debilitating depression, revealing an interior life rich with ideas, self-awareness, and perception. Raunchy, insightful, unapologetic, and brutally honest, Crying in the Bathroom is Sánchez at her best—a book that will make you feel that post-confessional high that comes from talking for hours with your best friend.

  • Students would like this book because they will see themselves identified through sadness, through tribulation, through dreams, and what it means to persevere to accomplish one’s sueños (or dreams), while battling depression.

4. Brazen by Julia Haart  

Photo: Julia Haart

Book Synopsis

Ever since she was a child, every aspect of Julia Haart’s life—what she wore, what she ate, what she thought—was controlled by the dictates of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. At 19, after a lifetime spent caring for her seven younger siblings, she was married off to a man she barely knew. For the next 23 years, her marriage would rule her life. Eventually, when Haart’s younger daughter, Miriam, started to innocently question why she wasn’t allowed to sing in public, run in shorts, or ride a bike without being covered from neck to knee, Haart reached a breaking point. She knew that if she didn’t find a way to leave, her daughters would be forced into the same unending servitude that had imprisoned her.

So Haart created a double life. In the ultra-Orthodox world, clothing has one purpose—to cover the body, head to toe—and giving any thought to one’s appearance beyond that is considered sinful, an affront to God. But when no one was looking, Haart would pore over fashion magazines and sketch designs for the clothes she dreamed about wearing in the world beyond her Orthodox suburb. She started preparing for her escape by educating herself and creating a “freedom” fund. At the age of 42, she finally mustered the courage to flee the fundamentalist life that was strangling her soul.

Within a week of her escape, Haart founded a shoe brand, and within nine months, she was at Paris Fashion Week. Just a few years later, she was named creative director of La Perla. Soon she would become co-owner and CEO of Elite World Group, and one of the most powerful people in the fashion industry. Along the way, her four children—Batsheva, Shlomo, Miriam, and Aron—have not only accepted but embraced her transformation.

Propulsive and unforgettable, Haart’s story is the journey from a world of no to a world of yes, and an inspiration for women everywhere to find their freedom, their purpose, and their voice.

  • Students would like this book because it depicts the real account of someone who fought all the odds—including religious oppression to have the power to choose, the power to voice, and the power to want. Despite the lack of proper quality education, she was able to become the Chief Executive of Elite World Group, and was creative director at Italian luxury house La Perla.

5. Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed by Saraciea J. Fennell 

Photo: Saraciea J. Fennell

Book Synopsis

In Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, bestselling and award-winning authors as well as up-and-coming voices interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora. These fifteen original pieces delve into everything from ghost stories and superheroes, to memories in the kitchen and travels around the world, to addiction and grief, to identity and anti-Blackness, to finding love and speaking your truth. Full of both sorrow and joy, Wild Tongues Can't Be Tamed is an essential celebration of this rich and diverse community.

  • Students would like this book because representation is everything. This collection of essays by Latinx individuals on what it means to claim your identity, your Latinidad, and how to navigate generational trauma. 

6. No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler 

Photo: Kate Bowler

Book Synopsis

It’s hard to give up on the feeling that the life you really want is just out of reach. A beach body by summer. A trip to Disneyland around the corner. A promotion on the horizon. Everyone wants to believe that they are headed toward good, better, best. But what happens when the life you hoped for is put on hold indefinitely? 

Kate Bowler believed that life was a series of unlimited choices, until she discovered, at age thirty-five, that her body was wracked with cancer. In No Cure for Being Human, she searches for a way forward as she mines the wisdom (and absurdity) of today’s “best life now” advice industry, which insists on exhausting positivity and on trying to convince us that we can out-eat, out-learn, and out-perform our humanness. We are, she finds, as fragile as the day we were born. 

With dry wit and unflinching honesty, Kate Bowler grapples with her diagnosis, her ambition, and her faith as she tries to come to terms with her limitations in a culture that says anything is possible. She finds that we need one another if we’re going to tell the truth: Life is beautiful and terrible, full of hope and despair and everything in between—and there’s no cure for being human.

  • Students would like this book because it is food for thought. Finding self-grace. Positive thinking. Just because you face trials and tribulations doesn’t mean you won’t receive a different form of healing. Some focus on the physical kind when what they need is emotional liberation.

7. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 

Photo: Paul Kalanithi

Book Synopsis

At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

  • Students would like this book because it weaves literature, medicine, with reality. When Breath Becomes Air is the hidden soul of a poet who inks his last breath to the word. 

8. Salt Slow by Julia Armfield 

Photo: Julia Armfield

Book Synopsis

In her electrifying debut, Julia Armfield explores women’s experiences in contemporary society, mapped through their bodies. As urban dwellers’ sleeps become disassociated from them, like Peter Pan’s shadow, a city turns insomniac. A teenager entering puberty finds her body transforming in ways very different than her classmates’. As a popular band gathers momentum, the fangirls following their tour turn into something monstrous. After their parents remarry, two step-sisters, one a girl and one a wolf, develop a dangerously close bond. And in an apocalyptic landscape, a pregnant woman begins to realize that the creature in her belly is not what she expected.

Blending elements of horror, science fiction, mythology, and feminism, salt slow is an utterly original collection of short stories that are sure to dazzle and shock, heralding the arrival of a daring new voice.

  • Students would like this book because it is tragically beautiful. A memorable collection of short stories that are horrific, weird, and perfect for October read. 

9. We refuse to Forget by Caleb Gayle 

Photo: Caleb Gayle

Book Synopsis

In We Refuse to Forget, award-winning journalist Caleb Gayle tells the extraordinary story of the Creek Nation, a Native tribe that two centuries ago both owned slaves and accepted Black people as full citizens. Thanks to the efforts of Creek leaders like Cow Tom, a Black Creek citizen who rose to become chief, the U.S. government recognized Creek citizenship in 1866 for its Black members. Yet this equality was shredded in the 1970s when tribal leaders revoked the citizenship of Black Creeks, even those who could trace their history back generations--even to Cow Tom himself.

Why did this happen? How was the U.S. government involved? And what are Cow Tom's descendants and other Black Creeks doing to regain their citizenship? These are some of the questions that Gayle explores in this provocative examination of racial and ethnic identity. By delving into the history and interviewing Black Creeks who are fighting to have their citizenship reinstated, he lays bare the racism and greed at the heart of this story. We Refuse to Forget is an eye-opening account that challenges our preconceptions of identity as it shines new light on the long shadows of white supremacy and marginalization that continue to hamper progress for Black Americans.

  • Students would like this book because it is informative, thorough, impressive, honest, and gives  the recognition Black Creek deserves.

10. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

Photo: Ta-Nehisi Coates

Book Synopsis

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men—bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son—and readers—the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

  • Students would like this book because Ta-Nehisi Coates depicts the real fear of frightened parents of color, ‘but race is the child of racism, not the father.’ 

11. My Broken Language by Quiara Alegría Hudes 

Photo: Quiara Alegria Hades

Book Synopsis

Quiara Alegría Hudes was the sharp-eyed girl on the stairs while her family danced in her grandmother's tight North Philly kitchen. She was awed by her aunts and uncles and cousins, but haunted by the secrets of the family and the unspoken, untold stories of the barrio--even as she tried to find her own voice in the sea of language around her, written and spoken, English and Spanish, bodies and books, Western art and sacred altars. Her family became her private pantheon, a gathering circle of powerful orisha-like women with tragic real-world wounds, and she vowed to tell their stories--but first she'd have to get off the stairs and join the dance. She'd have to find her language.

Weaving together Hudes's love of books with the stories of her family, the lessons of North Philly with those of Yale, this is an inspired exploration of home, memory, and belonging--narrated by an obsessed girl who fought to become an artist so she could capture the world she loved in all its wild and delicate beauty.

  • Students would like this book because it is heartfelt, authentic, honest, representative of Latinx students and immigrants alike who face hardships, struggles, confusion, while trying to find their identity as they assimilate. 

12. The Resemblance by Lauren Nossett  

Photo: Lauren Nossett

Book Synopsis

Never betray the brotherhood.

On a chilly November morning at the University of Georgia, a fraternity brother steps off a busy crosswalk and is struck dead by an oncoming car. More than a dozen witnesses all agree on two things: The driver looked identical to the victim, and he was smiling.

Detective Marlitt Kaplan is first on the scene. An Athens native and the daughter of a UGA professor, she knows all its shameful histories, from the skull discovered under the foundations of Baldwin Hall to the hushed-up murder-suicide in Waddel. But in the course of investigating this hit-and-run, she will uncover more chilling secrets as she explores the sprawling, interconnected Greek system that entertains and delights the university’s most elite and connected students. 

The lines between Marlitt’s policework and her own past increasingly blur as Marlitt seeks to bring to justice an institution that took something precious from her many years ago. When threats against her escalate, and some long-buried secrets threaten to come to the surface, she can’t help but question whether the corruption in Athens has run off campus and into the force and how far these brotherhoods will go to protect their own.

  • Students would like this book because it openly discusses realistic issues beyond the purpose of entertaining the reader—the Greek system and life, nepotism, hazing, racism, and many more are some of the themes that will captivate college students.


 

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