I have spent most of my life getting in trouble for reading when I should be doing something else. I belong, wholeheartedly and unapologetically, to books. This is not a list of the best books I’ve ever read, or even my favorites. These are just standalone novels, plays or poetry collections that I adore. I hope that you, my friends, might enjoy them as well. If you do choose to read any of these, please research the trigger warnings beforehand!
10) Beartown by Fredrick Backman, 2016
“Never trust people who don’t have something in their lives that they love beyond all reason.”
I read this book for the first time in quarantine. I started reading at 1 a.m. because I couldn’t sleep, and I finished reading at sunrise. I read until my eyes burned, both from exhaustion and tears. This book will reduce you to heartbreak. The feeling of a desperate town that is slowly dying, the trauma and survival of what transpires and the way some bonds break and others strengthen makes this book a painfully phenomenal read.
9) ViVa by e. e. cummings, 1931
“nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals the power of your intense fragility”
If there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love poetry. My favorite poet will always be e.e. cummings. His work feels like whispering “I love you” in an empty room. ViVa is my favorite collection of his. When I was 14, I ripped the page that had my favorite poem, “somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond,” so I could keep it for myself and read it over and over again. I read it every day before class, my freshman to senior year. Sorry to my high school library!
8) Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E. K Johnston, 2016
“People will say you’re coping wrong, but really there’s no wrong way. Anything that lets you keep going is the right thing, as long as it’s not damaging. You need to find the way that works for you.”
I didn’t know this was a story about survival when I picked it off the shelf. I bought this book after cheer practice one day simply because there was a cheerleader on the cover. I finished this book because it taught me every lesson and gave me every comfort I could need. This book is about friendship and growth in the face of trauma. The main character goes from a stereotype to a statistic to a survivor, and the scenes in this book made me feel like I could survive, too. It’s a short read, but a powerful one.
7) Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, 1999
“I would die for you. But I won’t live for you.”
I know everyone has read this book, or at least seen the (very good) movie, so I won’t explain it much. However, I will say that I read this for the first time in the seventh grade and I didn’t speak to anyone for two days afterwards. It hits you, and then it hits you again. May we all be wallflowers.
6) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1868
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.”
This is a book mothers pass on their daughters. My mom bought me my first copy of Little Women as a shortened abridged version for kids in the Target dollar section. I read it cover to cover, bought the full book and then made her watch all the movies with me. When the most recent movie came out, I saw it in theaters four different times. I am a Jo who always wanted to be a Beth, but being a Jo means I can love this book with my whole heart.
5) Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, 1980
“All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go.”
I love that an old, short book from my elementary school library never stopped being a great read. This book is for the girls who were never “a pleasure in class.” This book is for every girl who grew up knowing that she would never get anything handed to her. It is a book of being second-best so much that you stop asking. The narrative voice is easy to read and familiar. My favorite part is the ending, where they come full circle and actually heal.
4) Looking for Alaska by John Green, 2005
“Sometimes you lose a battle. But mischief always wins the war.”
I’m not going to apologize for putting this in here, and yes, you can make fun of me if you want. I was 100% a Tumblr girl growing up and John Green had me in a chokehold. I do a yearly reread of Looking for Alaska because it will always be the kind of book that you laugh out loud with and cry uncontrollably to. I’m kind of afraid for the day I outgrow this book, because to me, it means youth and yearning, mischief and melancholy and loving the pages you are lost in. Also, I have a signed copy, so… bragging rights?
3) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005
“She always wanted to believe in things.”
This book ripped my heart out a thousand times. I read it for my honors class last year – if you know you know – and it quickly became one of my favorites. The plot, characters and world building are all expertly crafted. The real world parallelism and commentary really speaks to readers. I think what gets me about this book is the voice; the narrator feels like she’s speaking directly to you. It is as if you are a diary, or an old friend. The characters are understandably flawed and tragically doomed. If you read any of the books on my list, read this one.
2) Without Tess by Marcella Pixley, 2011
“For some reason I want to keep a secret. I want to cup it in my hands and keep it safe like an egg. I want to hold it in the corner of my cheek where it is safe and dark.”
I read this a lot like a psychological thriller, but I’m never sure what genre it actually is. I loved how sisterhood was portrayed here, as well as what happens to those death leaves behind. This story portrays experiencing grief with a whimsical, almost fantasy-like undertone. The tone of this novel is distinctive, as there is a big theme of faeries and magic. The catch is that neither the reader nor the narrator can tell what is real or imagined in this regard. It leaves you feeling empty but in the type of way that means you know you’ll reread this book a thousand times.
1) A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennesee Williams, 1947
“Never inside, I didn’t lie in my heart…”
This play is woven into my soul. I grew up in theater– if you couldn’t tell by my dramatic prose – and I would do anything to play Blanche DuBois in a production of this. I own three copies of this book because in so many ways it speaks to me. I grew up in the South around women who were exactly like Blanche. You are taught to run from exposed light bulbs and realism and to flee into the arms of magic and dress up. She’s not right, but I can never blame her. Watching Blanche and her sister Stella compares two different mindsets; do you escape the South, or do you become it? Tennessee Williams excelled at portraying mental illness in early literature, which I believe makes his work an endless classic. If you ask me my favorite book, play or movie of all time, Streetcar is my answer!