We are all aware of the phenomenon that I like to call “Ruined reading in high school for everyone. I promise I’m working on a more concise and catchy name, but for now I think it gets the message across pretty well.
If you’re like me, you devoured books in your childhood and tween years – YA’s dystopian era of “The hunger Games” and “Divergent“, the escape fantasies of”Harry Potter” and “Percy Jacksonand – most embarrassingly – cliché Wattpad fanfiction. But the second I turned 14 and was told what to read and how to read, my fervor left me.
Admittedly, English classes in high school didn’t make me hate reading — I ended up majoring in English literature, after all — but I found that I had stopped reading for pleasure during my time in high school. So, last year, I made a resolution to start reading for fun again.
I read 88 books last year. Yes, for fun. It’s more than a book a week, and frankly, it’s changed my life. Before I rediscovered my love for reading, my screen time on my phone was four to six hours a day. Due to apps like TikTok and Instagram, my attention span was the shortest ever and I had trouble concentrating on my schoolwork or any task that took longer than 60 seconds.
Reading has countless benefits. Engage in stories frequently helps to develop your emotional and intellectual intelligence. Reading can help reduce stress levels and if you change your nighttime phone time to reading time, reading can also help improve your sleep schedule. Last year I became the healthiest version of myself, and reading was a big part of that. I drastically reduced my screen time, improved my interpersonal relationships, and felt intellectually stimulated both in school and in my spare time.
I know getting back to reading can be a daunting task. You definitely don’t have to read 88 books this year – maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. But even reading 10-20 minutes a day can help you reap the full benefits.
Half the battle is knowing where to start. So, here are the top five books I’ve read in the last year – narrowing it down to just five was next to impossible – and a short attempt on my part to get you to read them. I hope you find something that inspires you.
- “Lincoln at Bardoby George Saunders
This book is by far one of the best contemporary novels I have ever read. I read it three times in 2021 and liked it more each time. The historical fiction novel follows the story of young Willie Lincoln, the son of Abraham Lincoln. But he’s a ghost. Willie Lincoln – the historical, not the ghost – died in 1862 of typhoid fever when he was just 12 years old.
In this magical novel, Saunders brings the ghost of Little Willie to life as he befriends other peculiar ghosts in the cemetery where his body is buried. A strange group of characters – a ghost with many eyes, one with a permanently enlarged “limb”, and a self-righteous pastor – all try to convince Willie that he needs to give up his short life to move on. But he can’t because his father comes to hold his body one last time, and Willie is convinced that he will come back to bring him home. A work of experimental fiction in both form and content, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is at once incredibly funny, bizarre and heartbreaking.
- “A hundred years of lonelinessby Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A work of intense magical realism, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” follows a single family in the fictional town of Macondo during — you guessed it — hundred years. Each character is distinctive and complex, and you find yourself sucked into family relationships and devouring each storyline as if it were your own family Thanksgiving gossip.
The language itself is hauntingly beautiful, and Garcia Marquez allows every magical aspect of this new world to exist without explanation, leaving the reader to decipher the laws of magic for themselves. But be sure to use the family tree if you decide to dabble in this phenomenal work of fiction – there are at least 19 characters named Aureliano and about five named Jose Arcadio. Although, for all its nuances and complexities, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is engaging, beautiful, and sure to keep you going until you’ve finished all 400 pages without even realizing it.
- “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee
I’m cheating slightly by including this on my list – I read this book for my introductory course in modern Korean literature. However, it was so phenomenal that I felt like I was reading it for fun.
“Pachinko” has won several awards since its release in 2017 — and rightly so. An epic journey examining the life of a multi-generational Korean family as they struggle to find their place in early 20th century Japan, where racism and discrimination against Koreans is rampant. Delicately tackling the topics of racism and family turmoil, “Pachinko” is 600 pages of pure art.
The intricacies of family are steeped in the struggles that life as an outsider entails and each chapter will leave you alternating between crying, laughing and crying some more, but this time with joy. There are so many wins and losses, so many successes and failures, “Pachinko” depicts real life — nothing romanticized or haggled over.
- “leaf house” by Mark Z. Danielewski
I thought I should include some kind of horror novel for those of you who are much braver than me, so here we go. I’m including this book on my list for more variety and because it was the weirdest book I’ve read this year.
“House of Leaves” is less a novel than a puzzle. It’s a story within a story within a story about a house that’s bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Sometimes the words are written in circles, some pages are completely blank except for a single word, and a page is just a sheet music. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to get away from the classic novel format.
It’s a complex mystery that feels strange not only in content, but also in form. It’s dense – 700 dense pages – but I tore it apart in less than a week because of its compelling originality.
- “East of Edenby John Steinbeck
As a scholar of English literature, I am legally obligated to include at least one piece of classic American literature in this list. But, I’ll be honest with you – it was my favorite book of the year. Many of you may see the name John Steinbeck and turn your cheek after being forced to read “Of Mice and Men” in high school, but “East of Eden” is a masterpiece.
It follows several families in the Salinas Valley in California at the turn of the century. An epic tale spanning a lifetime, each character is filled with charm and wisdom. Samuel is a resourceful and wise old Irishman who loves his wife and children dearly. Lee is a servant of the valley who is incredibly intelligent and philosophical and serves to denigrate all the negative stereotypes about Chinese people in the early 1900s. Adam Trask is just a man, but a real, raw example of humanity.
It was from this novel that my favorite literary character of all time was born – Cathy, a sociopathic and possibly evil young woman who is nevertheless incredibly complex. This novel is close to my heart. I hope each of you has read this book at least once in your life.
Well, I horribly went over my word count, so I’m going to make this short but sweet conclusion. Every book I’ve read this year has filled me with happiness, sadness, and a desire to keep reading. I hope everyone can rediscover their love of reading. I hope never to lose him again.
Anna Fischer writes about women’s empowerment, literature and art. She really likes bagels. Write to him at [email protected]