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My Ghosts of Literature Past, Present, and Future

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Pace chapter.

You would think I’d cite my English major as my ethos to write these recommendations, but instead, I’ll say this: I am a woman who can only understand herself through her understanding of other people. Literature holds the power to not only teach you what you don’t know, but to challenge what you think is certain. These are the pieces that sparked my love for literature, along with recent innovations that keep me excited for its future.

The Idiot by Elif Bautman 

The rambling thoughts and useless tangents of the narrator, Selin, teeter between random absurdity and boring relatability. I know her character better than most people I’ve met and maybe even better than myself. The Idiot is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story narrated by a Harvard freshman, Selin, as she discovers herself in the process of pining after her unavailable classmate, Ivan. It reminds me that academic and emotional intelligence are often not positively correlated. While following Selin’s naïve pursuit of love, I became increasingly frustrated with her before realizing I was projecting the pain from all the times I’ve been her. It’s deadpanned, observational, deeply personal, and ultimately a book that I feel any college girl would enjoy. I was lucky enough to meet the author, Elif Bautman, who not only signed my copy, but didn’t judge me for crying as I confessed my embarrassing love and admiration.

I Love Dick by Chris Kraus

Who wants to be the hottest girl in the coffee shop when you can be the one reading the most outrageous title? A merging of fiction, feminism, and memoir, I Love Dick, hilariously documents Chris Kraus’ extramarital and unrequited love in a mostly epistolary format. Chris is an experimental artist in her late 30’s who becomes criminally obsessed with a cultural critic, Dick, after spending a single night together. The story unfolds through Chris’ confessional letters and academic essays to Dick, which her husband, Sylvère, sometimes aids her in writing. Surprisingly, their shared infatuation briefly rejuvenates their marriage. This is truly one of the strangest, most radical books I’ve ever read. Chris is pitiful in her pursuit of Dick, yet empowered in the revelations she reaches in writing her self-psycho-analysis. This story is raw, controversial, and provocative, much like Kraus herself.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

I fell in love with this novel at the age of 15, thinking I understood all of Wilde’s musings on life, love, art, and morality. I stayed in love at the age of 19, after realizing I probably don’t understand his philosophy at all. It can be close-read as a cautionary tale against hedonism or contextualized as a retaliation against the Victorian era’s purity. This nineteenth-century gothic fiction follows the story of an extraordinarily handsome young man, Dorian Gray, who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty. In an age where seemingly every book I pick up at Barnes and Noble is a “New York Times Best Seller,” I’ve designated censorship as an author’s badge of honor. This book has been mega-banned. Oscar Wilde was a leader of the eighteenth-century Aesthetic movement, and famously prefaces the novel with a series of aphorisms, including, “all art is quite useless.” I love this novel because it frustrates me to no end. Wilde advocates for separating art from morality, yet his greatest piece of art is a moral tale. He believes in “art for art’s sake,” while I can’t resist the urge to search for a meaning. I love Oscar Wilde because I think he would hate me. 

Astra Magazine: Filth

Astra is an international, biannual literary magazine that features prose, poetry, comics, and cultural criticism. There are only two issues, and each issue has an overarching theme to unite all of the contributors. The first edition was themed “Ecstasy,” which I recommend looking into, but I prefer the newest edition of “Filth.” You can access Astra online, though I love my paper copy for its illustrations and formatting. Many of the contributors to this edition experimented with the idea of filth being tied to shame, secrecy, and sexuality. It features queer and minority writers across the world, who are bound by the oppressive experience of having fundamental parts of your identity condemned. My favorite piece was an excerpt from Maggie Millner’s forthcoming book, Couplets, a lesbian love story narrated through a series of poems. It simultaneously rejects and indulges in taboos, all while being witty, satirical, and seductive. Overall, whether the filthiest thing about you is a habit of biting nails, or a secret you’ve never shared, there’s a piece within Astra for you. It’s unapologetically obscene, inviting readers to subvert their shame through celebration.

Sudden Fiction Latino 

Calling all iPad babies whose love for literature is in a constant battle against their Gen-z attention span! Sudden Fiction Latino is an anthology of rising Latin American and U.S. Latino writers. It features short stories and poetry, which editors have curated through books, blogs, and zines. As much as I value long-form literature, I think the ability to express complex themes in a mere few pages is extremely powerful. All of these stories are less than 1,500 words, ranging from a few sentences to a few pages. My personal favorites are the gritty and raunchy “Alma” by Junot Díaz, the romantic “4 Microstories” by Raúl Brasca, and the politically-charged “What Should Run in the Mind of Caballeros” by Lupe Méndez. I recommend buying a physical copy to support emerging minority writers. The editors have beautifully merged a wide variety of work into a cohesive piece of art, which I think is best consumed in its entirety. 

Pace University A tired feminist, stereotypical English major, toucher of grass, but fundamentally; just a silly, silly girl!