Now, the Academy Awards are today—that’s great, because I love movies, and I love acting, and I love beautiful people, and when those things all come together in a huge televised celebration, it’s awesome. However, with movies as arguably the primary source for our entertainment consumption, sometimes it’s important to acknowledge other media. There are plenty of awards for books, but nothing gets the attention that the Oscars or the Golden Globes does. So, without further rambling, here are some books that might change your life. Read them, trust me. (For the sake of your sanity, I will be refraining from mentioning Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, because, duh, unfair competition)
Children’s Lit: Redwall by Brian Jacques
This whole series is pure gold. If you’ve never read any of these books, you are seriously missing out. This series toes the line between children’s lit and young adult fiction, but I’ll place it in this category for now. In part, these books started my love for swords-and-sorcery medieval stories, and they served as inspiration for my anthropomorphic first novel. The raw and sometimes-violent imagery gives this series a dark edge, but everything else about it is pure awesome—talking animals, consistent societal rules, evil baddies, the whole nine yards.
Why should you read it? Jacques’ mastery of the English language is apparent from the first line of prose. He began Redwall through oral storytelling: he would tell stories to blind children, which makes his description exceptionally vivid. This is especially true in his descriptions of the feasts, which means you’ll probably need to keep a snack handy while you read. Another quirky but endearing part of his writing is his use of dialect in the text. I had the pleasure of hearing him read part of a book at a signing event, and it was clear that he knows what he’s doing: all of the accents in the books are expertly transcribed and put you in the story even more.
YA/Middle Grade Fiction: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I’m sorry, I really tried not to put this on the list, since everyone and their mother has read this book, but seriously. If you haven’t yet read this book, you need to. This book showcases John Green’s growth as a writer, and it truly is his standout novel (not that I don’t love Looking for Alaska). The characters are funny, relatable, and easy to empathize with. The Fault in Our Stars makes you believe in love and believe in the beauty of life.
Plus, you don’t want to be that person that hasn’t read the book when the movie comes out in a few months.
Fantasy/Science Fiction: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Again, it’s popular, it’s well known, especially with the release of the movie a few months ago. However, say what you want about Orson Scott Card and his personal agendas, this is a great book. I haven’t read any of the sequels, but, in a way, I kind of like it that way. This novel stands on its own as a surprisingly intense and mesmerizing look into the future.
Why should you read it? It will keep you hooked. It has the perfect balance of character, action, and description. Plus, the ending. The movie’s advertising scheme totally failed in this regard (when I saw the spoiler-ific tagline on the poster, my jaw dropped in incomprehension), but the ending contains a twist so mind-blowing it might cause a minor existential crisis. Fair warning.
Contemporary Fiction: My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Some would label this as “Women’s Fiction,” but that title seems really problematic to me, so we’re going to shelve it here. It’s been an extremely long time since I read this book, but, nonetheless, it has stuck with me all of these years. Though I don’t remember much about the writing quality, I do remember that I couldn’t set this book down. It’s one of those wonderful books that gets turned into a mediocre movie, so even if you’ve seen the adaptation, do yourself a favor and pick up the book (the ending is different, for starters).
Why should you read it? Like I said, I can’t vouch for the writing itself, but the premise and the characters are still with me. This is a story of morality and, like the previously-mentioned The Fault in Our Stars, this is “sick-lit” that isn’t about illness. As I read, I found myself constantly questioning my own pre-conceived notions and challenging the ethics I thought I understood. Plus, the characters are well developed and engaging. I still remember the running gag about the lawyer’s dog; these character quirks are exactly what writers should be studying and trying to emulate.
Memoir/Nonfiction: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Again, this is the closest category I have to describing this novel. I read this for a class last year and it is one of the rare school books that I did not sell back at the end of the semester. This nail-biting and shocking account of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation lit up the social justice side of me like nothing else. Knowing that this story is completely true only makes the message more heartbreaking.
Why should you read it? I knew very little about Hurricane Katrina before reading this book, and this introduction was both informative and emotional. It’s written with an easy, fiction-like style, and it’s a pretty quick read overall. Just don’t read this if you’re looking for something relaxing. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so anxious and so frustrated reading anything. It’s a “real” look into what was actually happening in the streets following Hurricane Katrina, and the result is frankly embarrassing for our government. It’s infuriating to almost excessive degrees, but this story is also guaranteed to raise your empathy levels and sense of cross-cultural awareness.
This book obviously does not need an introduction. I’m not one to immediately jump to praising classics just because they’re classics, so I truly mean it when I say that this novel is exceptional on every level. If you haven’t had a chance to read this masterpiece yet, I highly recommend slicing out some time to really engage with this text. Not only is the language beautiful, but the story is exciting. Also, I discovered one of my favorite characters of all time, one of my literary heroes, in this book. Get it, Sydney Carton. I will love you forever and always.
I’ll admit, I’m not well-versed in some other popular genres—notably, horror and romance. I read one Nicholas Sparks novel and called it quits on the romance genre. However, if you have suggestions for me, I am more than willing to give it a shot again. Please, give me recommendations for any book you think everyone should read! I’m always searching for things to read, and even though I don’t have much time on my hands to actually open a book of my choice, you can bet I have a running list. So, what are some of your favorites?
And, of course, enjoy the Oscars tonight. Just remember—most of those movies nominated have literary roots. The only thing the books are lacking, I suppose, is the image of Benedict Cumberbatch’s sweet cheekbones.