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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024
SGB hosts last meeting of the school year 
By Emma Hannan, Staff Writer  • April 17, 2024
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024

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President Joe Biden speaks on Friday at Carnegie Mellon University’s Mill 19 to tout his administration’s investment in infrastructure.
President Biden set to visit Pittsburgh this afternoon
By Brian Sherry, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024
SGB hosts last meeting of the school year 
By Emma Hannan, Staff Writer  • April 17, 2024
Satire | A better use for editorial space
By Anna Ehlers, Contributing Editor • April 17, 2024

Opinion | I read 71 books last year … here are the best 5

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Thalia Sifnakis | Staff Illustrator

Hello, my lovelies, and welcome back to Anna’s annual edition of “I am incapable of loosely committing to any hobby, so I either do everything at full force or not at all, so here is an account of the best books I read last year because I read an absurd amount of books per my aforementioned commitment disease,” which is a concise and catchy title to encompass this article. My editors love me and my painful but grammatically justifiable run-on sentences, I swear.

Anywho, let’s get into the meat of it, shall we? I like reading. A lot. And each year, I publish a curated list of the best books that I read, and why I think you should read them. Even if you pick just a single book from this list to indulge in, my modest heart will fill with joy. These are not the only books that I rated five stars last year, but I tried to pick the best books I read that I think people may not otherwise hear about this year. Hopefully, with the new year, this list will have at least a few new reads for you.

  1. Women in Love” by D.H. Lawrence

“Women in Love” was actually one of the last books I read in 2023, and it snuck up on me, surpassing my wildest expectations. D.H. Lawrence is a master of prose, especially when it comes to writing love stories. His sentences make you giggle furtively, hiding your face with the book so that no one can see you blush. They tear your heart out, and force you to feel the emptiness in your chest where it once was. The dialogue is poetry, philosophy and cosmology. And every. Single. Sentence is wrought with such beautiful emotion and diction that it makes you wonder how this man managed to decode the workings of the universe before even setting pen to paper.

The plot follows two sisters, Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen, and their respective love interests, Rupert Birkin and Gerald Crich. It is technically a sequel to Lawrence’s novel “The Rainbow,” but you don’t have to have read or know anything about “The Rainbow” to jump into “Women in Love.” The book begins with the sisters discussing the absurdity of marriage with such wit and profundity that you are immediately attached to their characters, to say nothing of the charm and complexity of their lovers. The plot points of the novel are not extravagant, but you are drawn to the raw nature of the characters and their flawed ways of loving one another — not only their romantic loves, but their sisterly love and the fraternal love of Rupert and Gerald. Lawrence handles love and death with the composure of a dramatist and the subtlety of a painter. This novel is a must-read. 

  1. Beauty is Wound” by Eka Kurniawan

Firstly, I’d like to mention a trigger warning for the themes of this novel — which will also be discussed in my review, so feel free to skip this one if you aren’t comfortable — of frequent sexual violence, incest and bestiality. I picked up this novel by chance from independent Pittsburgh bookstore The Cozy Corner Bookstore, and couldn’t believe that I had come across such a masterpiece. This Indonesian novel is a multigenerational epic of magical realism set in the years surrounding WWII. Kurniawan reveals this world of immense rape and violence to us through the ancestors and descendants of the novel’s protagonist, Dewi Ayu.

The novel begins with Dewi rising out of her grave after being dead for decades. She was a prostitute who experienced firsthand the violence of the time. The novel is Garcia Marquez-esque, plunging the reader into a world of magical realism where the rules of the world are never explained. The novel focuses on the sexual violence that Dewi and the women in her family suffer from, which is frequent and graphic — there were several times when I wanted to close my eyes while reading, my stomach churning in fear. And yet, Kuriawan is not indulging in trauma porn or shocking the reader for engagement. The violence is woven into a story of Indonesian identity, colonialism and the mechanisms by which authority controls their people. It’s an incredibly difficult read, but I came out of it feeling like I had added something to my heart, something that will always remind me of Dewi Ayu and her daughters.

  1. Orlando: A Biography” by Virginia Woolf

Don’t let the title fool you. Yes, technically, “Orlando” is a biography of a French boy born in the 16th century. But it is also a literary epic written in Woolf’s signature stream-of-consciousness style that spans from the 1500s to Oct. 11, 1928, the day the novel was published. And Orlando, our French boy, lives throughout the entire novel. The plot follows Orlando’s escapades and adventures, especially when it comes to love. The most striking and notable aspect of the plot of the novel is that one day, without explanation, Orlando awakens as a woman. For the rest of the novel, she remains a woman, which allows Woolf to do what Woolf does best — use her literature to examine the confines and restrictions of society, the way they are enforced and what being human even means within that structure.

Woolf’s prose is lyrical and beautiful, and through Orlando she explores gender, class, literature, war, etc. If you have yet to read any Virginia Woolf, I highly recommend “Orlando.” In my opinion, it is her best work, though I know others would argue vehemently in favor of “To the Lighthouse” or “Mrs. Dalloway,” both of which I love. One thing is for certain — this novel is a perfect introduction to Woolfian literature and a worthy indulgence for well-read Woolf veterans.

  1. Dance Dance Dance” by Haruki Murakami

Don’t you worry, there was no way we were getting through 2023 without a Murakami topping the list. “Dance Dance Dance,” similar to “Women in Love,” is a sequel to another novel that you don’t have to read to enjoy this one. In Murakami’s signature magical realist style, we are introduced to the unnamed protagonist whose girlfriend has disappeared. He continues to search for her in the Dolphin Hotel in Hokkaido, when strange events begin to threaten his understanding of reality. From his missing girlfriend showing up in a popular movie to a secret floor of the hotel possibly being another dimension ruled by a sheep-headed god, this novel will keep you hanging off of Murakami’s every word and still never knowing what is going to happen next.

Like all Murakami novels, the reader is forced to suspend their disbelief, as unexplainable events happen one after another. If you’re in search of phenomenal literature that is weird and unsettling and deeply engaging, put “Dance Dance Dance” on your 2024 reading list.

  1. The Cripple of Inishmaan” by Martin McDonagh

If you happened to click on the link for this play before reading and saw the face of Daniel Radcliffe staring back at you, do not be alarmed, this is not yet another “Harry Potter” spinoff. “The Cripple of Inishmaan” is a poignant, heartfelt and dark comedy set on a small, rural island of Ireland in the 1930s. The eponymous protagonist of the play, Cripple Billy, has lived on Inishmaan his entire life, and when he hears that an American filmmaker has chosen to set a movie on the nearby island of Inishmoore, he decides he wants to leave the island to pursue a career as an actor.

The plot follows the events of Billy’s attempted acting career, but the main draw of this play is the characters. From young Helen, who throws rocks at a priest after he touches her inappropriately, to Johnnypateenmike, the town gossiper, to Babbybobby, who has an affinity for beating people with lead pipes, to Aunt Kate, who goes a bit loopy and starts talking to rocks as if they’re human, all of the characters are deeply flawed and frequently terrible people. But they are so damn lovable that you find yourself swooning over them. This play is exquisite and sardonic and biting, and everyone should read it. If you’re still wondering about the Daniel Radcliffe thing, he played Billy on Broadway in a 2014 reboot of the play, so now his face is prime marketing real estate.

That’s all I’ve got for you, folks! If you read any of the books on this list, let me know what you thought about them! Until next time.

Anna Fischer writes about female empowerment, literature and art. She’s really into bagels. Write to her at [email protected].

About the Contributor
Anna Fischer, Senior Staff Columnist
Anna is an opinions columnist at The Pitt News. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado (no, she doesn't ski). She is double majoring in English Writing and English Literature, and minoring in Korean and Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. Basically, her brain is word mush at all times. Anna is addicted to coffee (double shot of espresso with vanilla oat milk creamer) and reading.