Vassar Alumnae Must-Reads

Vassar Alumnae Must-Reads

If you are anything like me, you probably had plans to read a few novels over winter break but became too engrossed in sleeping, eating, and watching Scandal on Netflix to even so much as glance at a book. Don’t worry – there is still time to read something solely for pleasure before professors really start piling on the assignments and reading anything else becomes unthinkable. During the first few weeks of the semester, I always start a title from the long list of books I have been compiling since high school, and this year, I have decided to try something written by a Vassar alumnus. I have seen movies starring Meryl and watched countless scenes of Phoebe in Friends, but I have yet to read a book by a Vassar graduate, which just seems wrong. Here are a few acclaimed titles from Vassar alumnae that we should all look for in the library:

1. Heart-Shaped Box (2007) by Joseph H. King ‘95 (pen-name Joe Hill)


In his debut novel, Joseph King – son of legendary author Stephen King – creates an intensely strange and poignant narrative of haunting and revenge that rivals his father’s works. The central character, aging heavy-metal performer Judas Coyne, purchases a suit that is supposedly haunted over the Internet to add to his collection of macabre death-metal artifacts. Once the suit arrives, the dangerous ghost is unleashed: the suit begins appearing in surprising locations and threatens the lives of Jude and those around him. It is gradually revealed that the suit has come to Jude as an agent of revenge, designed to punish him for his treatment of an old girlfriend. This novel won the 2007 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, and received positive reviews from many critics. The New York Times, for example, stated that Mr. King creates a “wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty tale of horror. In a book much too smart to sound like the work of a neophyte, he builds character invitingly and plants an otherworldly surprise around every corner.” This is certainly a must-read for any lover of horror and suspense, and might be the perfect book to pick up after watching your weekly dose of American Horror Story.

Look here for the full review.


2. Passing for Normal: A Memoir of Compulsion (1999) by Amy S. Wilensky ‘92


This powerful memoir narrates the author’s lifelong struggle with Tourette syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder and her determination to confront the strains and stigmas of these conditions. The novel traces Amy’s story, beginning with the moment when her Tourette’s first became evident: at age 8, she noticed her head jerking uncontrollably in the middle of her ballet class, provoking stares and comments from her peers. Amy describes how her life as a student at Vassar was dictated by her compulsions and attempts to conceal them from those around her, and led her to develop urges to seriously harm herself, at which point she finally sought help. Wilensky’s novel powerfully illustrates how her diagnosis forced her to confront her own conceptions of otherness and mental illness as she began treatment. PublishersWeekly praised the book, stating that “Wilensky’s emotional honesty and surprising humor make this memoir not only an informative account of diagnosis and treatment, but an exceptionally wise exploration of larger themes of difference and the need to belong.” This is a perfect book to pick up instead of completing the assigned reading for your neuroscience and psychology classes.

Look here for the full review.


3. Edgar Allan Poe & the Juke-Box: Uncollected Poems, Drafts, and Fragments (2006) by Elizabeth Bishop ’34 (edited and annotated by Alice Quinn)


No list of books by Vassar alumnae would be complete without a mention of Elizabeth Bishop. Alice Quinn, poetry editor of The New Yorker, did what sounds like a thesis student’s worst nightmare to compile this collection of Bishop’s unfinished and unpublished manuscripts: she spent years searching through 118 boxes containing more than 3,500 pages in the Vassar College Library Archives and Special Collections. As a result of Quinn’s incredible research, this book includes 108 total poem drafts and passages from Bishop’s notebooks. Some critics have questioned whether Bishop would have wanted these drafts published posthumously, especially since reviewers argue that some defining traits of Bishop’s poetry are absent from these unfinished pieces. Others, however, argue that the book provides unparalleled insight into Bishop’s work. The New York Times, for example, wrote that that this is mainly a book “for two groups of people: Bishop fans (most of the poetry world, that is), and the increasingly tiny group who still think this poet was an unambitious and slightly chilly minor writer. The former will be grateful for the insight into her meticulous process; the latter will have to acknowledge the enormous patience and skill that allowed her to hold the volcanic feeling of exhibit here in the poised vessels of her finished poetry.” If you cannot get enough of Elizabeth Bishop or love looking into the minds of great writers, this is the book for you.

Look here for the full review.


So hurry and pick up one of these titles before you become overwhelmed by work, which will happen far sooner than any of us want to think. What better than to simultaneously enjoy a good book and celebrate the accomplishments of Vassar graduates?

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