The Five Books You Read In College
College is a life-changing time, a period in your life where you solidify ways of thinking about the world. In continuing with my trend of being weepy nostalgic and full of reflection about my time at Oberlin, I give you a short overview of the five most important books I have read over the course of my time here.
I read this novel in Nature Culture, the required Humanities course in the ENVS major, with Janet Fiskio. This is a story about indigeneity, war, racism, colonialism, trauma--all told in the stream of conscious form of Tayo, a young Navajo man home from World War II, working on his family's cattle ranch on the reservation and healing from deep wounds. This book is prolific not only because of how it presents and negotiates trauma but also because of its prose and tone--Silko blends together such beautiful words to embody such horrors, and she does it seamlessly. It reads as the thoughts of a traumatized individual and as the reader you too are healed along with Tayo. This is was one of those books that come into your life at the exact moment you need to read them. I was assigned this book the semester I was coping with PTSD myself. I cannot put into words how meaningful and important this book became to me. The power of reading words that described the things I was thinking and feeling that I couldn't make sense of so gripped me and propelled me to enter into a mental dialogue with Tayo that kept me going.
Matters of Choice by Iris Lopez
I read this ethnography for my CAST 200-level Latinx in Comparative Perspective class taught by Gina Perez (who later became the professor I went to London with, my private reading advisor, and my research mentor and hero!). Lopez undertakes the massive task of reviewing sterilization among Latina women by following three generations of Latina families from Puerto Rico to NYC. She maps the reproductive choices, or lack thereof, of these women and examines their influences--including U.S.-enforced birth control policy in twentieth-century Puerto Rico, economic situations, medical racism and classism, religious and family beliefs, and partners' opinions. Since it is an ethnography, she uses these women's very words and their experiences to establish her body of research. It is a painful read but it is also hopeful in how it does assert that these Latina women, who face so many barriers to reproductive freedom, are doing what they do have access to in order to assert their own agency in their lives. It was this book (along with Leslie Abrego's Sacrificing Families) that made me fall in love with ethnography as a research methodology. Professor Perez likes to say that ethnography can change the world and it was this text that made me believe that.
This is Paradise by Kristina Kahakauwila
This was my favorite book that I read in Harrod Suarez' Ethnic American Literature course. First time novelist Kahakauwila published this collection of five (long-ish) short stories all set in Hawai'i. The stories are woven together with themes of indigeneity, belonging, Hawaiian identity, American colonialism, and racism. Kahakauwila is gifted at delivering powerful messages through the retellings of mundane daily events--a road trip, a funeral, a cock-fighting match. She shares a glimpse into Hawaiian life and their ties to the global struggles that we are not familiar with until we are. Reading this book serves as a reminder that all over the world, in every place, there is a fight against oppressive struggle and every one of them is unique and shaped by their own context, but every single one of them is unjust, eerily similar, and needing action now. This author spent a month at the Djerassi Residency Program, which is where my dearest friend Rewa now works at her first post-graduate job! So that is a cool coincidence. In my dreams, this means I will meet Kahakauwila some day and fawn to her over how much I love her work.
If you are involved in any sort of radical sexualized violence activism, you have heard this book get thrown around a lot. As pretty heavily suggested in the title, it is a collection of essays written by brilliant and prominent activists--largely femme People of Color--about intimate partner violence in activist communities. Its essays are theory-heavy but still accessible, and absolute life lines for those of us in this work going through it all. This book both helped me make sense of my own experiences as well as helped me form a greater consciousness around the work I do and who I work with.
Also it just got reprinted for a second edition and is now less than $15!
*Leah came to Oberlin last year to talk about Disability Justice and they are just so incredible. Their memoir Dirty River deserves an honorable mention on this list.
Half theory and half memoir, I read this g-dsend of a work first in my American Agricultures class with Janet Fiskio and again in Queer Positions with Professor Vange. Eli Claire was one of the founders of Disability Justice and is a stellar human being. He was the first author I read in college who addressed queer classed issues in a way I could understand. Identifying as "mixed-class," shaped by growing up seemingly wealthy in his poor lumber town but extremely socioeconomically below his peers in college and later academia, Claire explores how his misfit class identity and disabled status have shaped his queer identity and worldview. He is also a gifted writer when it comes to condensing academic anti-oppression theory into digestible parables. Even though we're from really different places--him from the rural Pacific Northwest, me from the urban post-auto Midwest--it was in his writing that I started to be able to talk about home and the endless stretch my heart feels between there and here.
This blog draws its title from The Five People You Meet In Heaven, which is not on this list but is still an excellent book.