As an aspiring writer, I make it a point to read as many recently published books as I can fit in around serving strangers eggs benedict.
I began reading primarily current books with the goal to watch publishing trends and to gain inspiration in experimental genres.
But, I quickly found an unexpected return.
Many of the books helped me engage with and become knowledgeable about current issues facing our generation.
Reading books that confront certain issues made these issues seem less overwhelming.
Once I had a better grasp on these topics, I was able to consider which issues were most important to me and I began engaging with them in productive ways.
Millennials are often accused of being lazy non-contributors to society, but by learning and engaging via literature, we can make strides toward becoming a generation that creates solutions to these problems.
I spend a fair amount of time reading about books on the Internet, but sometimes I get frustrated when articles constantly list “100 books to read in your 20s” or “25 books to help you understand civil rights.”
Who has time to read 100 books at someone else's suggestion? Certainly not I.
So, I've chosen four books that helped me learn about pertinent social and cultural issues as a jumping-off point.
Here are my recommendations for anyone who wants to use books as a tool to engage with the most pressing problems our society faces today:
The Climate Crisis: "This Changes Everything" by Naomi Klein
"This Changes Everything" is a stark, yet thoroughly readable book about the dangerous state of our environment and its perilous entanglement with capitalism.
Given the overload of conflicting sources on climate change, it's invaluable to find a book that coherently displays the facts without sugarcoating or sensationalizing.
It's a vital book for Millennials to read because we will inevitably be the generation that deals with the brunt of climate change and the more educated we are, the better we can engage with the crisis as it develops.
"This Changes Everything" is a great starting point for anyone who wants to engage with the environmental crisis because it doesn't portray climate change as a bleak horizon with no hope; rather, it shows how young people can engage in the movement to work toward lower carbon emissions and a financial system less invested in oil.
Race Relations: "Citizen" by Claudia Rankine
"Citizen" is a book that deftly weaves lyric poetry and criticism to eloquently portray the challenges of racial disparity in American society.
The first way Rankine helps young people understand and engage with racial conflict is by illuminating her personal experience as a black woman.
Without getting combative, she relays instances of racism in her day-to-day life in ways that inspire the reader to rethink and analyze his or her own habits of interaction.
Rankine goes on to explore media responses to large-scale racial conflicts, offering readers a framework for how to critically engage with the ever more frequent battles over race in the US news media.
We've reached a point where Millennials can no longer ignore the racial disparities in our society, and one way to begin to work toward progress is to critically engage and expand our knowledge base with the foremost writers on race.
The War In Iraq: "Redeployment" by Phil Klay
"Redeployment," the 2014 National Book Award winner, is a book of short stories by a Dartmouth grad and Iraq war veteran, Phil Klay.
The stories showcase the daily lives of both soldiers during the war and the struggles they face upon transitioning back to civilian life.
The war in Iraq is a divisive issue for young people, and not just between those who support the war and those who question it.
Young Iraq War veterans face not only the challenges of acclimating to normal life after trauma, but also the discrimination of the many young people who are against the war in Iraq.
Prior to reading "Redeployment," my natural instinct was to believe that people who fought in a war generally supported it.
The characters in this book show that many soldiers entered the war for vastly complex reasons that had nothing to do with their support of President Bush, or the conflict itself.
Rather than making a stance for or against the war, Klay asked the reader to empathize with the struggles of individuals trying to find a place in a society that they both served for and are questioned by.
By empathizing with Klay's fictional individuals, readers are able to begin to engage with a group of individuals who are often misunderstood or forgotten.
Living As An Artist In A Transitioning Society: "10:04" by Ben Lerner
"10:04" is an experimental fiction narrative in which Lerner retells the story of a young writer struggling in New York City of increasingly violent storms through multiple lenses and devices.
Even though many of the conflicts the novel portrays seem outlandish (the possibility of New York underwater, stockpiling provisions in case of electrical storms), they force the reader to think about the fact that within our lifetimes, we probably will encounter challenges in this vein and will have to continue to make decisions about our lives in the face of disaster.
Aside from being an excellently crafted novel to inspire writers and artists of any media, "10:04" offers a viewpoint on how to live and make decisions as a creative person in a world that is increasingly fragile.
It forces the reader to think about the choices he or she makes as part of a greater narrative of society.
Regardless of the specific nature of the changes our society is going through, it's important for Millennials to acknowledge we are a generation that will shoulder the challenge of navigating the changes in the coming decades.
"10:04" therefore helps readers engage with perhaps the most important question: What do we care about, what do we value and what are we going to fight for as we come of age in a changing world?