As an English major, I feel it is my civic duty to spread the wonder of literature. In other words, books are cool, I swear. I was always that nerdy child who took a book everywhere, and I truly benefited from that. Every story offers insight to another life, mindset, or ideology. Fast forward six or so years, and I rarely have any extra time to commit to my own personal reading anymore. Like so many others, I tend to resort to Netflix and Hulu when my homework is done. And don’t get me wrong; I love TV shows and movies—they are an art form of their own. But nothing quite beats finishing a paperbound novel that made you smile, cry, and think, “Where have you been all my life?” Here are seven books that have done that for me:
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Historical fiction is my favorite. The way authors from modern times can round up the details to craft a perfect representation of a world long ago is simply astounding. The Nightingale follows two French sisters throughout the course of the Nazi invasion: one who operates as a spy, and the other who protects her family while her husband is at war. I thought I knew quite a bit about World War II and the Holocaust before, but this novel blew my mind.
- My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass
This narrative is not a highly entertaining read, but it is an integral part of the literary canon that I believe everyone should read. Frederick Douglass, my man. Everyone knows his name, but you will not fully understand his impact until you’ve read one of his books. He offers so much insight into the intricacies of the slave system, an unfortunately huge part of our country’s history. Also, he writes in such a way that you won’t even realize you’re reading a book from 1855.
- Kindred by Octavia Butler
This book also revolves around the horrors of slavery. However, this novel is fiction, published in 1979. The author sews in some science fiction characteristics, as the main character is a modern-day black woman who finds herself mysteriously transported back in time to 1815, where she experiences the life she would have lived had she been born 150 years earlier. The contrast between the two worlds is eye-opening.
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
I know I’m definitely not the only person who appreciates this book, because it seems like everyone had to read it in high school. I, however, did not—I just read it earlier this year, and I’m glad I finally did. If you haven’t, READ IT. Even if you read it for class when you were sixteen, read it again, because it will likely come across in a different light now that you’re older. Hosseini paints a beautiful and shocking picture of Afghani culture, and I personally love to learn about other societies through literature.
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
I was way intrigued with this novel long before it was made into the popular TV series (and the book is better). The story is about a high-school girl who committed suicide and left behind thirteen tapes with reasons why she did it. Whether you’ve watched the series or not, read the book. It is so raw and relatable and heartbreaking, and I believe it is beneficial for all ages. I read the book when I was probably thirteen or fourteen, and then I read it again a few years later, and it meant something different to me. It’s categorized as young adult, but its core premise is ageless.
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
The marvel of this book lies in the fact that it was not written simply to be published as entertainment—this book is real. The plot, the details, and the emotions were written by a real person who experienced them during a real, horrible event in history. This diary will give you a look into the Holocaust that no textbook ever will.
- The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Save the best for last: this book is amazing. It’s about a young white girl in South Carolina in the 1960s who runs away from her abusive father and is taken in by a group of African American sisters who are in the beekeeping business. Despite the title, the book doesn’t really have to do with bees. Its lessons are so poignant that I find myself easily relating to the characters, even though they are supposed to live fifty years ago in a much more tumultuous time. The distinction of this novel can’t really be explained—you’ll just have to read it.
Parks and Rec is fantastic, OBVIOUSLY, but maybe give one of these a peruse next time you’re bored. You won’t regret it.