Welcome to part 2 of my discussion of my favorite books. This is the second half of the books on my book recs page that I read before 2015. If you missed the first part, it’s here, and if you’re interested in further exploration into my literary mind, check out my favorite books of 2015. The books here are historical fiction and contemporary, young adult and adult alike.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak: I first read this in Turin in the summer of 2012. I vividly recall beginning to read it on the beach at Le Cinque Terre, and then continuing to read it on the train ride back to Turin. After that… I don’t much know where I was or what I was doing besides reading this book. I loved the characterization of Death as the storyteller. I loved the setting, the integration of the German language, the story of the ordinary people in Germany during World War II, and the multiple layers that each character had. I cried so hard at the ending that my ears popped and I seriously alarmed some Italians passing my open apartment door at the time. The Book Thief is definitely one of my all-time favorite books, and it really influenced how I inevitably wrote my honors thesis a year later.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: I read this book in one sitting, one summer when I was back from college and my brother was just finishing up his year in high school. I was supposed to be helping him finish an essay, but he didn’t really need my help, so I was just hanging out in the room (in case he did need help) reading this book. And because it seems to be a pattern with these books, I again started balling my eyes out, which really freaked my brother out. This book is beautiful. It’s the story of a Chinese American boy falling in love with a Japanese American girl right before her whole family is taken to the internment camps during World War II. It also tells the story of the boy, forty years later, now a man, beginning to search for the girl again when the belongings of several interned Japanese families in the basement of a hotel. I’m not going to lie, I found the story in the past much more gripping than the story in the present, but they came together really nicely. It’s a story about a time in history I don’t know a lot about—the Japanese internment—I know a lot about World War II in general. I’d like to read more about it.
Atonement by Ian McEwan: I read this book for the first time in high school, when most of it went right over my head. Then I read it again right before my senior year of college, as part of the many books I read as I was preparing to write and then as I was writing my thesis novella. All I can really say about it—without giving spoilers—is that it’s an incredibl novel, and if you haven’t read it, you should.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson: This is another book I read for my thesis. Unfortunately, I was also experiencing lots of eye pain at the time too, so I don’t remember a lot of specifics about the book. I do remember being fascinated by it. It is an intricate look at how our choices affect our lives—the main character is continually dying at various points in her life, being reborn and living all over again with different outcomes each time basd on different choices. It’s also very similar to a game I like to play while reading a book or even writing one. If you’d just gone left instead of right. If you’d just said something. How would a different choice change the story? And that’s what this book is about.
Forgotten Fire by Adam Bagdasarian: I read this my first year of high school, and then again in the fall of 2014. This is another fantastic book that if you haven’t read it, you need to. It’s about the Armenian genocide in 1915, so be warned: a lot of people die. But it is a beautiful, beautiful book. I’m pretty sure it’s based on the true story of the author’s grandfather. It’s a very fast read, and it is most definitely worth it.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I read this just before Christmas, 2015. It’s about a blind girl in World War II France. I’ve read a lot of World War II books, and honestly this on was only so-so whn compared to some of the others, but it did hook me, and I loved the representation of people with disabilities in this time. It felt very realistic to me. This book is also the reason I wrote my first story about a blind character myself.
Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Another book I read for my thesis, though very late in the process—I think over Spring break when my thesis was due April 1. It’s about a boy who is sent a set of tapes from his dead classmate that give thirteen reasons why she committed suicide. It is a very emotionally raw book, but it also felt real and very important.
Veronica Mars books by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham: I read these after I finished watching the TV show. They certainly weren’t as tightly packed as the show, but I still really enjoyed them and I’m hoping there will be more.
Digging to America by Anne Tyler: This book felt more like a short story collection than a novel, because each chapter was so contained, but I did really enjoy it. It was sort of a relaxing read, about adoption and immigration and what it means to be American.
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster: I read this a few times for various classes and because it was on the reading list for the senior honors exam at Kenyon. I’ve also written a few papers on it, so I could wax eloquent about themes and imagery and structure and social and historical commentary, but all I’m going to say is that this is a great story that eluminates a moment of change in India.
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf: Like A Passage to India, I read this for a few different classes and then for the senior honors exam. I’ve written a few papers on it as well, and I most enjoy talking about it through the lens of the importance of memory. (I know, I know. My English major is showing.) But again, it’s just a good story and worth a read.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz: Another honors exam book, but this one was not only interesting from an English major standpoint. It was also fun to read. It reminded me of A Prayer for Owen Meany, which is also somewhere on this list. Also, I’ve always been interested in Latin American history.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith: This is one more book that I read for my thesis. I’ve lost most of the specifics (an exploding eye will do that to two months of your life), but it was really fast and really gripping. Also, possibly the first time I’ve wanted a truly horrible person to succeed, even if I wanted him to get caught at the same time.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult: I went through this period in high school where I read like five or six Jodi Picoult books all at once. This is one of my favorites, though the ending annoys me to no end. It’s an interesting premise, and the plot takes all kinds of turns along the way. I will say, however, that this is the rare book where I enjoyed the movie more.
Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult: This book is my all-time favorite Jodi Picoult book (of the five or six that I read). Every single book that she’s written that I’ve read has a twist ending that sometimes works but sometimes doesn’t. Keeping Faith doesn’t have a twist. It just has the plain right, natural ending.
A Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass: This is another book I read in Turin, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve always found synesthesia in all its forms to be fascinating, but the real power of this book, the loss of a beloved pet, didn’t hit me until five months later, when we lost our yellow lab, Kokopelli, to bone cancer.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: I read this in high school in my AP Literature class, and it is still one of my favorite books.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseni: I read this one summer in high school, and I found it so profound and relevant that it has stuck with me.
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Housseni: I read this right after The Kite Runner, and it had the same effect. It’s been a while since I read both these books, so I don’t really know how to describe why I liked them so much, except that they were just incredible.
Tortoll and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce: This book was just so much fun, filled with all kinds of short stories, both fantasy and more literary, set in our world and Tamora Pierce’s other universes. It’s a great read.
In the Forest of Forgetting by Theodora Goss: These stories were all just beautiful. Every one was like its own tiny world, with so much to explore and enjoy.
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi: I read this for my thesis, and it was really interesting. Each story is named after a different element of the period table, and it’s a mix of stories that the author wrote during his experiences in World War II Italy and snippets of autobiography of those experiences.
The Assisi Underground by Alexander Rumati: This book is really excellent. I read it for my thesis, and then it was fascinating to reread it after spending a year in Assisi. It’s about the priests who hid Jews from the Nazis in Assisi, Italy. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II or Italian history.
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Another thesis research book, and a fabulous one. Again, I strongly recommend. It was fast but still well-written and emotionally moving.
Half the Sky by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristoff: I read this the summer of 2012, after my second year at Alpha. Another Alphan recommended I read this book to help me with revisions with my short story “The Year of Salted Skies,” which later was the third runner-up for the 2014 Dell Award, so those revisions paid off. But this book was definitely worth reading for more than making thoughtful revisions to a story. It’s about sex trafficking, and I think it’s a book that everyone should read.
Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine: I read this right before Christmas in 2014, right before I started my final major revisions on my small child magician novel. I love this book because, let’s be honest, I agree one hundred percent with the writing advice it gives, and it’s also just plain fun to read.
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott: It’s een a while since I read this, so I really don’t remember specific, but I do remember really enjoying it, and I can say that I get my philosophy on shitty first drafts directly from this book.
The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White: Funny story about this book: My parents got it for me in hard copy Braille when I was about twelve because I was writing all the time, but I somehow got it into my head that it was about fashion, so I didn’t read it for like eight years. Now, I swear by it. It’s more about grammar than writing, and I often find myself looking up some of the more complicated rules. While most of my hardcopy Braille books have stayed on my bookshelves as I’ve traveled the world, The Elements of Style came with me to college and then to Italy. It will probably come with me to law school too. Did I mention I swear by it? Serial commas forever!