One of my post-grad goals was to get back into reading voraciously. While, I did read a lot in college as an English major, very little of it was not listed on a syllabus. It took me awhile to get my good reading habits back, and it wasn’t until the spring of 2016 when I set a reading challenge goal of 100 books on Goodreads that I really got serious about reading again. And I’m happy to report that I’ve hit that goal.
Of course, hitting that goal doesn’t mean I read 100 amazing books. I read some really standout books that totally blew me away and I trudged/skimmed through some incredibly subpar ones.
Here are the ones I really enjoyed reading:
The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook:
This was a Christmas gift from my parents as my mom had heard about it on NPR and it sounded like something up my alley. If you’re interested in the pop music industry and want to know more about the producers crafting hits from The Backstreet Boys to Rihanna to Kesha to Taylor Swift, then this is the book for you. I found it especially interesting to read right before Free Kesha took center stage on the Internet.
Think Like a Pancreas by Gary Scheiner:
I read this book for novel research purposes as I’m working on a character with diabetes. This is a very thorough and nerdy read that really gets into all the numbers and math involved in managing diabetes with insulin. If you want a crash course in diabetes and the management of it, this book is great.
I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson:
This book has claimed a spot in my all time favorites. It’s a story of grief, secrets, and fractured family relationships that jumps back in forth in time and perspective. Nelson’s writing is stunning and powerful. Her descriptions and knowledge about art is especially wonderful. While it’s a YA book, I think it will resonate with anyone.
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson:
An incredible journey into the mind of a teen girl struggling with an eating disorder. It’s visceral and brutal in the best way possible.
Jelicoe Road by Melina Marchetta:
Set at a boarding school in Australia, this book jumps between past and present, dreams and reality, all the while delivering a powerful story full of teen romance, territory wars, and questions about identity and family.
We Were Liars by e. Lockhart:
This relatively quick read tells the story of a family and their relationships during summers spent on their private island. I loved the twists and turns, and how Lockhart slowly reveals that all is not how it seems.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz:
A breathtakingly poetic coming of age story about a teen boy and his relationship with another boy. It’s a wonderful exploration of sexuality, culture, masculinity, friendship, and family hardships.
Strip Tease by Carl Hiaasen:
I’m always amazed by how Hiaasen can bring together the most outlandish characters and plotlines while still crafting a story that feels real. A hilarious story about strippers, corrupt politicians, scandals, and secrets, you will love the strong female main character, all the well crafted twists and turns, and subtle commentary on politics. Despite being published in the 90s, this books still rings true in 2016.
Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin:
I first read this peculiar and poignant book for a college literature course, but it bears re-reading for any post-graduate grappling with mental illness and trying to find their place and purpose in the world. The writing and story is definitely an acquired taste–Holden Caulfield on psychedelic mushrooms–but to those whom it speaks to, it will be a book that really matters.
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli:
A humorous and heartwarming story about a gay teenager named Simon grappling with a secret romance and coming out. A story full of friendship drama, blackmail, teen angst, email exchanges, and eloquent insights, this is one of the best LGBTQ YA novels I’ve run across.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness:
This quick, fairytale-esque tale of a middle school boy combating the grief and anger over his mother’s terminal cancer is beautiful and honest and like no other cancer story I’ve read before. I read it in a matter of hours, and I can’t wait to see its film adaptation, which is currently playing in theatres.
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachael Cohn and David Levithan:
Cohn and Levithan are a fantastic writing duo who’ve coauthored other YA novels, but I think this is their best. If you’re a fan of music and romance, this novel is for you.
The Giver by Lois Lowry:
This classic children’s fantasy novel is an easy read that touches on the importance of experiencing, knowing, and remembering both the best and worst things in this world from colors and snow to hunger and pain.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley:
This historical fiction YA novel is based on the integration of schools during the late 50s. Told from alternating perspectives of a white daughter of a segregationist and a black girl picked to attend the white school, this well researched story not only touches on racism but also sexuality in a nuanced way.
Gena/Finn by Hannah Moskowitz and Kat Helgeson:
This is the story of a friendship borne from an online fandom and told through blogs, emails, transcripts, and other documents. An amazing look into relationships and mental health.
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby:
This magical realism novel focused on a small town and the disappearance of a girl who arrived just as mysteriously. If you’re a fan of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, then I think you would enjoy this novel too.
The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith:
If you’re in the mood for a lighter read, then this cute, quick novel about divorce, grief, loss, and love will quickly steal your heart. I was especially enamored with the lush descriptions and how fresh the voice felt.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver:
Years ago, when I was on an Ezra Miller movie kick, I watched the indie adaptation of this novel (I also rewatched it after reading this novel, and while visually stunning, the book is way better). This is a dark book narrated by a mother whose son massacred students at his high school. Despite its darkness, it’s a captivating piece of historical fiction (set in the early 2000s, it examines the presidential election and school shootings that occurred during those times) that delves into culture, family, marriage, parenthood, psychopathology, and so many other aspects of humanity. Eva’s narrative voice is incredibly pretentious and everyone in this book is extremely unlikable, yet I found myself relating to these characters. It is a masterfully composed novel.
The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness:
Having read A Monster Calls and loving it, I thought I’d give another one of Ness’ books a read (It was also on some lists for good YA about mental health issues). This parody of YA dystopian novel tropes looks at the lives of some background characters and their hardships while the “indie kids” deal with the apocalyptic event. It’s a great look at eating disorders and OCD, and the tolls they take on people with them after years. I really liked that these characters had been battling their mental health issues for years, as most novels seem to only focus on the onset and not the many years down the road.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury:
This classic has been on my to-read list for a while, and I’m so glad I finally had the time to sit down with it. It definitely resonates with a lot of contemporary issues, such as fake news and the rise of “post-truth.”
The Martian by Andy Weir:
I saw the movie adaptation about a year before I finally read the book, and I must admit, seeing the movie first was helpful as the book is pretty heavy on math and science. But I was quickly drawn into the action and the variety of perspectives from Mark’s log entries to the people back on Earth at NASA to his crewmates in space. I had fun getting lost in space and easily devoured the novel in twenty-four hours.
This year I binged read several authors who totally blew me away. Their books and series are ones I will undoubtedly re-read and pass along to family and friends.
A Virginia resident and graduate of my alma mater, I knew I needed to check out this successful YA author’s novels at some point. Throughout June and July I immersed myself in Stiefvaterland, starting with The Wolves of Mercy Falls series, continuing with her recently completed The Raven Cycle series, and finishing off with the standalone novel, The Scorpio Races. I’m not usually a big fan of fantasy, but her mixing of myth and reality is delightful.
If you like romance and have an interest in the science of werewolves, The Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger, and Forever) is perfect for you. Stiefvater said she wanted to write a book that impacted the reader like Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife affected her. She nails it, and the cherry on top of the series is the companion novel, Sinner, which focuses on two side characters years after the series finished.
If medieval mythology and various forms of divination spark your fancy, The Raven Cycle (The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, The Raven King) is your literary soul mate. A stunning coming of age tale woven through the adventures of a group of teens discovering their powers while seeking the grave of a wish-granting dead Welsh king. Magic and reality collide throughout these four books, and I found myself relating to many of the characters’ experiences. Stiefvater’s talent for writing people and emotions so precisely is what really sold this series for me.
If you’re aching for UK landscapes, November weather, and murderous water horses, The Scorpio Races is an excellent choice to curl up with by the fire. I especially adored the feminist undertones, subtle romance (the big first kiss gets maybe two sentences and it’s perfect), and the town and family histories that surround this competition and the two main characters.
Rowell writes a variety of stories that can speak to everyone without ever losing her voice or alienating fans. There’s something for everyone in her five novels, Attachments, Eleanor & Park, Fangirl, Landline, Carry On. If you don’t know where to start reading, this article can help you.
It’s incredible that over one year I managed to fall in love with thirty-five books and read even more. As I look ahead to 2017, I know I want to read just as many books, but definitely try to push myself to read more widely. Some of my favorites were books I picked off the library self on a whim or were out of my usual genre or interests. But I love reading because I get to dip into so many different perspectives and experiences, and I want to continue to use reading as a tool to get me out of my own head and experiences.