by MATTHEW SIMMONS
Just like that, we are already a third of the way through the spring semester. Papers are beginning to be assigned and midterms are just around the corner. Because of this, I haven’t been able to put as much time into reading on my own, and I haven’t had the energy to pick up a 400-page book and attempt to knock it out. As a result, I’ve been reading books with a smaller page count to make them seem less intimidating.
The stories within these three works of fiction are completely different, but they are similar in that they emphasize the necessity of human connection and exploration. And, of course, they have a smaller page count for those of us who are feeling overwhelmed but need to curl up with a book.
The first title is Hiroko Oyamada’s “The Hole.” The story follows the life of a woman named Asa who is struggling to find her place within the world. After moving with her husband into an old but familiar neighborhood, Asa becomes curious about the world around her. She discovers a strange creature and begins to follow it toward the river before falling into a hole close to the shore. This sounds a lot like Alice in Wonderland, but this story has a much more subliminal approach to displaying underlying messages and meanings. Suddenly, this hole displays things that make her question who she is, her current marriage and what her role is on this earth as a whole. I felt as though I was learning things alongside Asa, but at times I felt confused about what I was supposed to be taking in. However, being that this is such a short novel, it allows readers to form their own assumptions about what is left to be perceived.
Coming up next is “Lie With Me” by Philippe Besson. I must be honest in admitting that I read this book twice a week. Taking place in France during the late 1980s, it tells the tale of the main character, Philippe, who comes across someone who looks similar to his first love. From here, a telling of this secret love begins to unfold across the pages. High school is a tumultuous time for everyone, but it is especially difficult for a queer individual during this time period. Exploring sexuality that was beyond what was believed to be normal was something that was done confidently, not openly. Aside from the harsh perceptions and beliefs of the surrounding society, failure and time also play a vital role in setting the tone for what seems to be an inevitable ending to the relationship. Besson has a way of writing that pulls you in and doesn’t let go until you’ve made it to the end. This is exactly what happened to me, as I remember being angry with how fast I ended up working through its 147 pages. Nonetheless, this was a testament to how engaging Besson’s writing is and how impactful the telling of hidden and lost love can be. Its most powerful commentary is on how detrimental the realities of life can be when you are living a life that is not true to who you are.
The last book I recommend is “The Bridges” by Tarjei Vesaas. This is an interesting book where the setting is only one place for the majority of the book—the woods. Here, three young adults meet and begin to learn more about each other’s stories. The first is a single mother who drowned her young child, and the other two are just seemingly regular kids who befriend her. However, there is much more beneath the surface, and each finds this out as the story progresses and their tales continue to be told. It is through sharing their trauma that they are not only able to heal but gain a better understanding of the world around them. I was not too keen on starting this title if I am being frank; however, watching these characters build bridges to one another was super interesting and equally inspiring.
I hope that alongside the seemingly never-ending reading assignments we are expected to keep up with, we don’t forget about how great reading on our own time can be. It may sound silly, but involving ourselves in stories that tell some truth about the world can allow us to better understand the individuals we share this space with.