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Best Books... Chosen by Rebecca Walker

Source: The Week
Date Published: October 18, 2002

Rebecca Walker is a founder of the Third Wave Foundation and the author of Black, White and Jewish: Autobiography of a
Shifting Self
(Riverhead, $14).

Their Eyes Were Watching God
by Zora Neale Hurston (Perrenial
Classics, $14). Zora Neale Hurston’s acclaimed novel
is a celebration of a black woman’s life lived fully
and without regret. Protagonist Janie Crawford unfurls the
story of her love and loss in the swamps of South Florida
the way she might unfurl her long, beautiful hair: with
great dignity and a sensual, tantalizing flourish.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (Penguin USA, $8). One
of the most wrenching, tragic, and sublime literary works
of all time, this classic tale of a young man whose dreams
and aspirations are constantly thwarted by poverty and other
circumstances beyond his control humbles us before the tribulations
of life.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (Delta, $13). Baldwin’s
deceptively simple novel about two men who fall in love
amid the grit and glamour of the gay bar scene in Paris
ends badly but not without first setting a new standard
for doomed literary love. A devastating look at the cowardice
and stigma that can keep people apart.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Knopf, $13). One
of the first truly modern novels of our time, the Bundren
family’s heroic and pathetic attempt to bury their
mother and wife, Addie, is told in stream-of-consciousness
and from the perspective of 15 different characters. A hilarious,
harrowing, and psychologically complex portrait of grief
and the American South.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunyru Suzuki (Weatherhill,
$10). Piercing, breathtaking, and ultimately evolutionary
teachings from Suzuki Roshi, the beloved Japanese Zen master
instrumental in bringing Zen Buddhism to the West. “The
true purpose is to see things as they are, to observe things
as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. This is
to put everything under control in its widest sense.”
Need I say more?

The Captain’s Verses by Pablo Neruda (New Directions,
$10); Things That I Do In The Dark by June
Jordan (out of print); Voice of Longing by Jalal al-Din Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks (out of print); and The Wellspring by Sharon Olds (Knopf, $15).

I know I’m cheating here, but I couldn’t choose
between these four absolutely essential collections of verse. If I were stranded on an island, these evocative poems of
love, politics, God, and the life cycle itself would be
my literary companions of choice.