Staff Picks, Part III: Megan

Saturday, Jun 20, 2015

This is a continuation of a series regarding our new in-store display featuring the favorite books of the Underground Books staff.

Megan here! I've been a part of the Underground Books family since just after the shop opened, shelving books to woo Josh (totally worked), scouting, pinch hitting at the register, and hauling boxes at book fairs, house calls, and dollar book sales. In January, I joined the team full-time as the rare book cataloger and online inventory manager, though they like to call me "the Muscle," or maybe that's just how I refer to myself.  I graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of West Georgia and the UWG Honors College, where I binged on postmodern lit and poetry. I'm pretty serious about cats.


Megan 1The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

When my older brother finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and said I was too little to read it (age 8), one of the best reading events of my life was ushered into existence. Complex, dynamic characters, rich world building, meditations on friendship and loss, the Harry Potter Series has earned its fame as one of the most beloved series of modern times. The good vs. evil storyline that gives the series its structure has never been a major focal point for me. As a child, it was Hogwarts I was enamored with; I was a nerdy little girl who dreamed of a magical academic environment. As a young adult, I appreciated Rowling’s treatment of the difficulties of human relationships, of not really knowing the pasts of parents and mentors, of grieving, of racial, gender, and economic inequality, activism, and, well, growing up, standing up for what’s right, and coming to have compassion for those who’ve mistreated us. Read these books (if only to finally understand all the pop culture references you hear)!


 Room by Emma DonoghueMegan 2

I always describe this book as the perfect balance between literary fiction and airplane reading. I read it three times and wrote two papers about it in the space of a month while in UWG’s English program, and I always have an extra copy on my shelf for lending. Thrilling and thoughtful, Room plays with the mother-child relationship, gender, captivity, postmodernism, television and the media, and the ways in which we come to interpret the world around us. Because this novel is so smart and fast paced, I’d recommend it to those who loved Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.


Megan 3Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor

My middle school librarian—bless you Ms. Phillips—gave this poetry collection to me when I was 13, and it’s been a major touchstone throughout my life since. An eclectic collection, this book has a poem for everyone, each one featured on Keillor’s popular public radio show “The Writer’s Almanac.” Beginners will find much to like, and poetry veterans will rediscover many of their favorites.



The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinleyMegan 4

I have no idea how many times I read this book growing up. With a dragon-fighting princess, her faithful steed, and a dire threat to the kingdom, this book could easily fall into gratuitous YA fantasy, but, trust me, it doesn’t. Well crafted, the heroine is no mere strong-willed, butt-kicking female character, but smart, persevering, introspective, and struggling with common self-limitations as well as limitations put on her as a mixed-race, mixed-class woman. This is an excellent book for young people of all genders that stands up to more mature reading as well. Also: a Newberry Award winner. Check out the companion to this novel, The Blue Sword!


Megan 5The Bloody Chamber & Other Tales by Angela Carter    

This collection of mature, feminist reimaginings of classic fairy and folk tales (including Bluebeard, Beauty and the Beast, and Little Red Riding Hood, among others) doesn’t flinch in its examination of the violence and sexuality latent in children’s bedtime stories. Carter writes her brutal, erotic fables in vivid, sensuous prose; the result: a pleasurable read that packs a serious punch.



The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodMegan 6

A tour de force, urgent and relevant, this is a book I’d be willing to die for. Speculative fiction, this novel imagines a U.S. in which American fundamentalist Christianity’s rhetoric about women is taken to its logical conclusions, with the establishment of a theocratic military dictatorship that employs biblical brutalities. Read this if you want more from your dystopian fiction (and prepare for more than you bargained for). Nolite te bastardes carborundorum!


Megan 7The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Jesuits in space! A philosophical, psychological, moral, theological, anthropological science fiction novel that explores the intersections of science and faith, this book asks all the big questions and resolutely faces all the sweetest and bitterest moments that arise from great discovery and horrifying sacrifice. This novel is a true work of art and won all the big science fiction awards upon its publication. It’s an utterly brilliant, wondrous, and harrowing tale that will leave you both satisfied and shaken.



Beloved by Toni MorrisonMegan 8

Beautiful and unflinching, this is to me that elusive thing we call the great American novel. Simultaneously a memorial to the 60 million and more people brutalized by the Atlantic slave trade and an exorcism of the repressed memory of slavery in the American unconscious, Beloved is a powerful masterwork of American fiction. It’s also gorgeously written, haunting, heartrending, and ultimately hopeful.


Megan 9Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

Orlando blew my mind in college. Time-bending, genre-bending, gender-bending, if Woolf’s literary technical innovations don’t awe you, her lush lyricism and witty satire will. All hail the queen.




Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthyMegan 10

This ain’t your papa’s story of manifest destiny and the founding of the American dream. I love this book because I think the only thing more crushingly, brutally violent than its depictions of the massacres, scalping, and rape with which we won the West (there’s a tree of dead babies in here, by the way) is its depiction of the ways in which, on our compulsive thrust westward, we obliterated everything autonomous from us, naming and classifying and ultimately destroying these things, from plant and animal life to American Indian cultures and systems of meaning. There’s a brilliant juxtaposition here of physical violence and the violence of language. This book is admittedly brimming with these kinds of horror, and many a reader has abandoned it for this reason. It’s McCarthy’s language, which has drawn comparisons with the Bible and (another favorite of mine) Melville’s Moby Dick, that brings an overwhelming, magnificent beauty and splendor to the novel. Get ready for the most gorgeous sentences about sunset carnage you’ve ever read.


Megan 11A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Nao is a suffering young girl in Tokyo who plans to kill herself, but decides she must first record in her diary the life of her great-grandmother, a centenarian, novelist, feminist, anarchist, and Buddhist nun who lives in a temple on a crumbling mountaintop. Ruth, a struggling writer in British Columbia, finds Nao’s diary in a Hello Kitty lunchbox when it washes ashore as part of the debris from the 2011 tsunami that ravaged Japan. Funny, tender, and heartrending, this is a story full of desperate and complex characters who will break your heart, all while stimulating your mind with awesome big ideas, including but not limited to: metafiction, quantum physics, Zen Buddhism, the vicious lack of anonymity on the internet, WWII kamikaze pilots, Proust, the Neocene, environmental art, Taisho era Japan, and the relationship between reader and writer.