If you, like me, are very happy about Slumdog Millionaire winning several Oscars, including “Best Picture,” then keep reading. If not, go watch it right now. Seriously, I mean it. It is an amazing movie. It also happens to be based off of a book, Q&A, which unfortunately has a very long waiting list at the library. So, to keep you occupied while you wait, or, I suppose, just to keep you occupied, here are some related reading suggestions.
For a while, I was very narrow-minded in my reading. I did not read much outside of a very specific genre. I mostly avoided what I had termed, in my mind, “cultural books.” I am fairly sure that I am not the only one. Then I learned that, like any other genre, “cultural books” contain both very bad books and very good books. Luckily, I found some of the very good ones, the ones that tell a good story and thereby transcend a genre definition. I eventually discovered that this genre that I had once shunned became a favorite of mine. So, in the hopes that maybe you can discover something similar, here is a list and a few brief descriptions of my favorite “cultural books.”
For teens who enjoy light but actually decent reading, I recommend Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies) by Justina Chen Headley. This is the very funny and surprisingly deep story of a half-Taiwanese girl’s summer at Stanford, where she tries to figure out where she fits in. It is a light read, but by no means does it fit into the “teen trash” label so many people are tired of.
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden is another great read, though somewhat more dense than Nothing But the Truth. Chiyo is taken from her father to Kyoto where she becomes a renowned geisha called Sayuri. The book does a very good job of giving an inside view into an old Japanese tradition, as well as creating well-rounded, believable characters and a compelling, and often emotional, story.
Another book, also recently made into a movie, is Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. This book definitely deals with somewhat more challenging (and somewhat less G-rated) themes than the previous two, but it is also incredibly well-written and thought-provoking. It was one of those books that I finished and put down with a deep breath, my mind still working. The Kite Runner tells the story of Afghanistan, from its days as a rich and beautiful tourist destination to an oppressive theocracy under the hands of the Taliban, through the eyes of Amir as he grows up in Kabul, then moves to the USA when his country is no longer safe for him. It is a wonderful story of culture, love, and redemption.
Things Fall Apart, written by Chinua Achebe in response to Heart of Darkness, is a somewhat slower, less thrilling read, but is nevertheless worthwhile. It is the story of the Igbo people of Africa, when the White Men come in and things fall apart. The book is slower, but it provides a somewhat rare perspective on one of the major turning points of African history. Another book that does this, in a somewhat more “adventurous” way is Nancy Farmer’s A Girl Named Disaster.
There are also several nonfiction books that deal with aspects of foreign cultures, my favorite of which by far is Robert M. Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir. It is by definition zoology, but it is also absolutely hilarious, and contains many cultural insights.
I highly recommend all of these books. They are not only my favorites of this genre, but some of my favorite books overall. Also, if you still haven’t seen Slumdog Millionaire, do so now. I cannot recommend it enough.
~Amelia, Teen Center Advisor, Central Library