As the air gets colder and it’s pitch dark by 5:00, it is easy to get caught in a cycle of boredom. For someone who finds doing things outdoors relaxing but hates cold, I find it especially hard to come up with things to do to unwind. I know with the recent spree of every book ever being turned into a movie or television show, reading may seem superfluous to some, but there is nothing like making a hot drink, grabbing a blanket, and kicking back with a good book as the darkness looms through the windows. Here are some of my favorite books, by category, to get you started.
(My favorite mug is courtesy of illustrator Feral Doe)
Coming Of Age Tale: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This novel deals center around Callie/later Cal and their experience with an oft misunderstood affliction, but the story is about so much more than just them. It is about the history of a Greek American family and their travels to come to reside in Michigan, USA (woot! Shoutout to my home for the past 27 years!), and it is about how our family’s history and choices trickle down and touch our current lives as well. It is also about how different isn’t always something that needs to be “fixed”.
Romantic Drama: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This story is very different and much more straightfoward from Murakami’s other works, but it still has his distinctive style. It is a moving portrayal of love and loss, the affect a suicide has on those left behind, and a window into how young people navigate relationships in the aftermath of an intense trauma, just as they are trying to still figure out who they really are, and who they will become as adults.
Runner Ups: There are none. I really don’t read romantic stories at all, and only tried this one because it was Haruki Murakami and I had loved his other more surreal works – so glad I gave it a chance!
Horror: Other People by Neil Gaiman
This is actually a short story from Neil Gaiman’s collection, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders, yet it was more chilling than any full length novel I had ever read, and I’ve read a lot of Steven King ;). This simple short story paints a specific picture of one way the author envisions hell, and it stuck with me for days after. You can click the link above to read the full short story online.
Like Harry Potter, this is another series about a young boy discovering his potential for magic and despite all odds entering a magical school for learning the art of wizardry. I personally enjoyed this series far more (though I must be candid … the author is really dragging his feet on adding more books and continuing the story!). The characters both major and minor are uniquely developed and full of personality, and the story covers the gamut of emotions from moments that are exciting and tense, comical, and also sad.
Runner Ups: Game Of Thrones Series by George R.R. Martin (Yes, there are books. I am absolutely gobsmacked by the number of people who seem to not know this.), American Gods by Neil Gaiman – or really anything at all by Neil Gaiman.
Sci-Fi: Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui
I’ve always been fascinated by dreams, and wished desperately as a kid that someone would invent a VHS recorder that could be hooked up to people’s brains and record their dreams. In this book, they have something even cooler – a device that psychologists can use to enter their client’s dreams and hopefully gain insight that can help them better assist them in their struggles. With great power comes great responsibility, and of course, chaos ensues. I watched the anime film first, not even knowing it was based on a novel. The book gives extra details where the film left confusing gaps, and is a little more intense and dark at parts than the more whimsical movie.
Runner Up: Tuf Voyaging by George R.R. Martin
This is a difficult read, but something I believe should be required reading for both adults and high school students as well. Even as progress has been made since the time of this story, there are still many today who count the lives of those with disabilities as worth less than “normal” individuals. This sort of thinking is not innate, it is learned and therefore with education and awareness can be unlearned.
Runner Ups: Frida by Hayden Herrera (later adapted into a film starring Salma Hayek), The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy With Autism by Naoki Higashida
This is another story about the intersection of family history and the nation’s history, specifically revolving around the time of the Holocaust, and the trickle down impact of our family’s beliefs, words, and actions down the line. It is rich, complex, and riveting, and taught me a lot I didn’t know before about Jewish culture, including the artistry and meaning behind Ketubahs.
On Mental Health: The Memory Artists by Jeffrey Moore
This novel alternates between the individual narratives of each of the main characters. I absolutely love when writers use that technique, so that made this story enjoyable for me from the get go. Memory is a poignant part of each character’s life in some way, from dealing with Alzheimer’s to living with synesthesia and a subsequent photographic memory, to studying memory and psychology, to dealing with a traumatic past memory that consumes the present. As the character’s lives begin to intersect more and more, the reader is prompted to consider the role memory plays in their own life.
Historical Fiction: Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien
This was about the only required book I enjoyed in high school. It blends reality with fantasy so that the reader is constantly unsure what is real and what is not, much like the main character. It explores the meaning and role of bravery, and the effect the strain of war has on the mind.
Social Critique: Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum
This book was my first introduction to disability activism. It takes place in a group home for juveniles with disabilities, and besides discussing disability activism and the constant fight for the right of independence, it drives home the point that individuals with disabilities are not that different from you and I. We all share the same basic desires for relationships, employment, autonomy, and a place to call home. The title comes from the idea that individuals with disabilities are often at the mercy of a variety of “kings” lording over their employment, relationships, and decisions – some with good intentions, and some who are neglectful or outright hostile.
Runner Ups: The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, The Awakening by Kate Chopin, Dead Eye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut (on immigration, women’s equality, and gun control – all 3 of these books, written in 1989, 1899, and 1982 respectively, are still so relevant today.)
Surrealist: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
This book is complicated to really explain, and no explanation could really do it justice. It is one of the most fascinating meditations on addiction that I have ever read. It is over 1000 pages long and uses a liberal amount of footnotes, but don’t let that discourage you. This novel made Wallace famous in the 90s for a reason.
What books have you been reading recently that you can’t put down?