Reflective reads for November
Books you’ll be thankful to have read
The month of November and the Thanksgiving season allow time for rumination, interrupting the bustle of daily life with opportunities to pause and reflect. Sitting down with a thoughtful read is the perfect way to do some introspection.
Here’s a list of five meditative books examining what it means to live and to love:
- “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto
Yoshimoto’s English-language debut consists of two short novellas, with juxtaposing stories about (you guessed it!) the power of the kitchen and its power to heal from loss.
Both the novella title “Kitchen” and its latter story “Moonlight Shadow” follow women experiencing immense loneliness and grief after the death of a loved one. Though these stories are about death from the outset, Yoshimoto dwells more on her characters’ ability to go on living in spite of the sadness.
While Yoshimoto’s storytelling is minimalist and her dream-like prose deceptively simple, the impact of these two stories lingers long after the last page.
- “Beautiful World, Where Are You” by Sally Rooney
At its core, “Beautiful World, Where Are You” is four 20 to 30-something-year-olds talking about sex, love and friendship.
They unpack philosophy and gripe about society’s collapse as their lives unfold around them.
Rooney’s third epistolary novel explores the human condition. It concludes that the only way to survive in our messy, fractured world is to find love and beauty from those around us. Fans of Rooney’s past work know her gift for examining mundane relationships with nuance, insight and care — her newest novel is no exception.
- “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse
Taking place in ancient India during the time of Guatama Buddha, this classic tale follows its titular character, a dissatisfied Brahman’s son, on his quest for spiritual enlightenment. After shedding his own privilege and worldly desires, Siddhartha attempts to discover life’s purpose and the path to fulfillment.
Even if one is not well-versed in Eastern religions, volumes of wisdom abound in this short novel. Hesse’s lyrical and engrossing story has remained so beloved through time because of its simple truths that allow readers to deeply examine their own lives.
- “Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri’s eight-piece short story collection details the lives of Indian-Americans as they grapple with balancing cultural tradition and personal desires.
Standouts among the stories include “Hell-Heaven” and “Going Ashore,” not to mention “Hema and Kaushik,” a trio of linked stories about their title characters weaving in and out of each other's lives. Lahiri’s language is unembellished but she still manages to eloquently impart emotional depth and wisdom through her words. This stunning collection seamlessly delivers a full portrait of the ups and downs of modern life.
- “Giovanni’s Room” by James Baldwin
Baldwin sits among an untouchable class of authors and storytellers, effortlessly able to authentically convey what it means to be human — this is nowhere more apparent than in “Giovanni’s Room.”
The novel follows David, an American expatriate in 1950s Paris, who embarks on an illicit romance with an Italian bartender named Giovanni. As their affair spirals, the two men see their world upended.
By examining his characters’ social conditioning, Baldwin also asks readers to confront and dismantle the expectations that inhibit them from being their truest selves. The novel shrewdly explores themes of social isolation, gender and sexual identity, as well as the fears that accompany loving another person in this haunting staple of LGBTQ+ fiction. It’s provocative, vulnerable, and one of the best books you should read this November.
This article was edited by Sara Winick, Patricia McGee and Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Luna Jinks.