Saturday, March 14, 2015

10 Books You Simply Must Read At Least Once

There are books. There are good books. There are even great books. And then there are books that speak the language of your soul and have the power to utterly change you sewn into their binding. Books that change the way you look at yourself, the world, and everything in-between. These are the books that stay with you and become a part of you. I firmly believe that everyone should have this experience with a book at least once; it only takes one rightly chosen book to make a reader out of anyone, after all. So I present to you 10 books in no particular order that profoundly touched me in one way or another.

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 

I don't know if there are words in the English language that are capable of expressing the profound impact this book had on me. It follows a young girl growing up in Munich, Germany during World War II and whose family chooses to hide a Jewish man in their basement. The narration is both beautiful and unique (the book is narrated by Death, which on its own makes it worth reading) and the story itself seamlessly blends tragedy and loss with love and hope. It is very difficult to write so tragic a story while still managing to offer an optimistic message, and I have never read another book that does it quite so well as this one. When I finished reading it I was honestly hesitant to start a new book because no book felt worth of following this one. If I had to pick a single standalone novel to be my favorite, this would be the one.

2. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I was a fantasy maniac growing up, so I rarely ventured out into the world of contemporary or realistic fiction. The Kite Runner was one of the first "realistic fiction" books that I truly fell in love with, and it drastically altered (read: lengthened) my to be read list, because suddenly a whole new world of literature had opened up before me. This book offers the added plus of being somewhat historical fiction- the main character was living in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over- and as such it offers a window into a country, culture, and people western readers like myself are rarely exposed to. It is a beautiful story of loss and redemption and is one of the greatest books I have ever had the good fortune of picking up.

3. Looking for Alaska by John Green

I know I'm going to get some eye rolls for this one, but I genuinely love this book. Looking for Alaska follows young Miles Halter who insists on going to a boarding school in search of "The Great Beyond," and finds himself thrust into the world of Alaska Young. I seriously own two copies of this book. It was the first of his books that I read, so I had no idea what to expect, and reading it was just a really fantastic, if a bit traumatic, experience for me. The narration is beautiful, although admittedly very similar to his other books, so if you've read other John Green books it probably won't be as striking to you as it was for me. This book is home to the legendary "if people were rain" quote, so if you've ever wondered what the fuss about that was, here's the book to read. I also love it because it offers a poignant warning about the dangers of romanticizing others (a point which unfortunately a good number of readers manage to miss, but that's a post for another day).

4. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

If you haven't noticed, I like books that make you think, that make you reevaluate yourself and the way you navigate the world. Samantha Kingston seems to lead the perfect life, until a car accident changes everything. Now she is forced to relive her final day over and over again, searching for what she must change to break the cycle. This is a book that I personally would love to see taught in high schools, because one of its main themes is recognizing the impact our choices, words, and actions, have the ones around us. It is definitely a book that leaves you thinking: what would you do with one day left to live?

5. Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I desperately need to re-read this book now that I am in college, because I know it will be even more relevant to my life now that I have lived through high school, but even as an entering high school freshman I felt a connection to this book. It is one of the few books I've read with a main character who is an introvert struggling to navigate a largely extroverted world. I bawled my eyes out when I saw the movie because it was the first time I'd reconnected with the story since graduating high school, and I had forgotten just how much of the painful parts of the story I could relate to; I don't think I'm unique in that respect. For anyone who feels like they are a puzzle piece that doesn't quite fit, this book gives you a whole world of characters just like you. "Welcome to the isle of lost toys."

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

This is without a doubt one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Of course, it won't be powerful for you unless you've read HP books 1-6, so you might a well go ahead and read those first. I'm sure 90% of the people reading this post will have already read Harry Potter, because it is the series of our generation, but there are a few stragglers who I would urge to jump on the wagon. I was one of you. I did not read the series until I was 18 years old. If you were ever to give into peer pressure, do it now. Love yourself. Read Harry Potter.

7. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This is another one of those books that manages to be utterly tragic while still insisting upon a hopeful message: you do not have to live a long life to live a meaningful life. Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal lung cancer, and as a result she tends to keep her distance from others in an attempt to avoiding hurting people when she dies. She meets the charming Augustus Waters who teaches her that knowing she is dying should not stop her from living. I particularly love this book because it is a book about illness that is not about what healthy people can learn from sick people; anyone who says this book romanticizes illness was not paying attention. This books insists that those who are sick are more than their illness, and that they can enjoy the same pleasures in life, such as falling in love, as anyone else. Fair warning: keep the tissues nearby.  

8. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I am including this book knowing full well it will not be everyone's cup of tea, but I still maintain that everyone should at least pick it up at least once. I still struggle to put my finger on, let alone explain, what it is about this book that touched me. I'll admit that for the first few chapters I was never entirely sure I understand what Woolf was saying, but I loved the way she said it. She puts into words aspects of life that you never noticed, but as soon as she's said it you find yourself saying "yes, exactly." She makes the seemingly insignificant significant, and really just makes you stop and think about the significance of day to day life. You can read my full thoughts on this book here.

9. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Another series that I realize most people have read, but I just want to poke those of you who haven't, because you really need to. Dystopia as a genre is very powerful, and I would give this series credit for reviving it. This is one of the books that I read and wanted to cry because I didn't write it first. The world of the series is disturbing and will make you cringe, but when you really pay attention many of the aspects of Panem are exaggerated aspects of our own society. This is one of those books that you absolutely cannot take as "just a story," because it contains very real warnings for our own world. Case and point: the Mockingjay film was banned in Thailand in China because the governments were afraid it would encourage their people to rise up too. Scenes from that movie were strikingly similar to news coverage of the Ferguson protests last year. These books are important. They should make you think about and question the status quo.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Holy crap this book blew my mind. The narration style is unique. You are given an extraordinarily unreliable narrator, young Cadence who lost her memory in a mysterious accident, which leaves you constantly questioning what is real. Most of the story follows Cadence who is trying to piece together the truth of what happened on her family's estate the previous summer; why everyone is acting so strange, why she was in the water that night, why can't she remember? I am normally very good at working out the endings to books like this, but with We Were Liars I wasn't even wrong; I just did not have a freaking clue. It will of course seem obvious once you've read to the end, but this book will keep you guessing right up until then. This is probably the best book I read in 2014 and I'm hoping to do a re-read over this summer. Join me?

What books would you add to this list? Have you read any of these? Did they have the same impact on you as they did on me?

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