[taken from my Odyssey page, where you can check out more of my non-study-related writing]
I’m an avid reader. There’s nothing I love more than diving into a new novel, whether it be nonfiction about a recent scientific discovery or a centuries-old classic. In 2018 alone, I read 46 books, and started three more that I will finish in the new year. Since making a commitment for my New Year’s resolution to read 40 books in 2018, I have read some astonishingly good novels. Here are ten of my favorites, in no particular order.
[in the interest of transparency, I will note that any books purchased through the links provided will provide you with a discount as well as give me a small commission (:]
This book was actually the first book I read this year, and it still has a special place in my heart. The Book Thief is a story about a young German girl growing up during the Holocaust, and her love of reading that pits her against Hitler’s regime. It was refreshingly somber to see the Holocaust era from a new view – not that of a Jewish person, nor a soldier, but a civilian child growing up surrounded by hate speech and propaganda. Liesel’s actions and her love for her little family tugged at my heartstrings many times, and this book is one of the few that makes it onto my “reread someday” list. (P.S., the movie is incredible as well, and is one of the few that seems to follow the book as accurately as possible.)
I actually finished this book in record time – I just could not put it down. The Hate U Give is a gritty, realistic view into what it’s like to grow up black in America, and the unique set of challenges that black people face in regards to police brutality and everyday racism – from friends as well as foes. After 17-year-old Starr witnesses her friend’s death at the hands of a cop, she must decide whether to keep her mouth shut or risk bringing attention – mostly negative – to herself. Who will believe her, anyway? This book was so profoundly impactful while being written in the voice of a teenage girl, conflicted and alone. Definitely one of my top books of all time.
Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations coming into this book. I had seen posters for the movie, and assumed it was just another 3-star read with a profitable idea to make into a movie. I am glad to say that I was wrong. This book, set in the year 2045, follows the adventures of teenager Wade Watts as he navigates the world of the OASIS, an online utopia in which citizens live out their lives, in search of a formidable prize hidden someone in the OASIS’s thousands of worlds. Wade is a lower-income resident, and the OASIS is all he has – so he’s willing to risk it all for the chance to win the prize and discover the secret of the online universe’s creator. This novel is fast-paced and well-written, and is a must-read for anyone who loves anything 80s, as the challenge is focused around 80s culture. (Call Ferris Bueller – we’re going on one heck of an adventure.)
Despite the books listed previously, I typically tend to read nonfiction or classic literature, and don’t often branch out into contemporary fiction. But I had heard rave reviews of Little Fires Everywhere, so I decided to check it out, and it quickly became a favorite of mine. The narrative reminds me of that of East of Eden by John Steinbeck, my favorite novel of all time, in the way that it follows the struggles and interconnectedness of a family, somehow without having an explicitly describable plot (“I don’t know, they just…exist”) but still managing to pull you in just as deep. Like East of Eden, Little Fires Everywhere follows the story of two very different families: the Richardsons, a large, wealthy family with multiple strong, conflicting personalities; and the Warrens, a small, close-knit mother and daughter duo who never lay roots in any one place. The story has a sort of coming-of-age feel to it, as the lives of the Richardson and Warren teens and their age-appropriate struggles are discussed, but also a hint of mystery as Mrs. Richardson attempts to track down the origins of the mysterious Mia Warren. This book made me laugh, cry, and everything in between, and I was so obsessed that I finished the 11-and-a-half-hour-long audiobook in the span of five days (despite the fact that I worked double shifts most of those days). Again, this book is definitely one of my favorites of all time, and one of the rare stories whose characters you still wonder about long after the book is over.
I have never taken an economics course (though I have dabbled in Crash Course videos here and there) and economics is not an important component of either of my majors (Biological Sciences and Political Science). However, this book was so intriguing that I promptly forgot both of those points. Misbehavingis an excellent introduction to behavioral economics, written simply enough that someone with little to no background knowledge in economics (such as myself) can comprehend, but still intricate enough that the material couldn’t fit in a ten-minute Youtube video. Thaler, one of the earliest behavioral economists, describes how the subject came into importance among other economic and business-related topics, as well as how its marriage of economic and financial principles and behavioral psychology lend important insights to businesses as well as individuals. The difficulty of the content is offset with plenty of easy-to-understand examples, and the book reads like a history driven by discovery, with reviews of behavioral economics principles along the way. Though the subject of economics is not one that interests me as much as, say, politics or medicine, I still thoroughly enjoyed this book, and would recommend it as an interesting read that serves as a light workout for your brain.
I’d be lying if I said this book didn’t make me cry multiple times. The Radium Girls is a true story of America’s dial painters, the hundreds of young women who painted radium onto watches during the First World War, and the consequences of their position on their health and livelihood. In the days of World War I, jobs for women were few and far between, and becoming a dial painter was the most coveted position among women in their late teens and early twenties, unmarried and looking for some pocket money to buy the latest trends. This narrative follows the story of these dial-painters and how their distinct, omnipresent glow of radium dust went from being wondrous to becoming deadly. As the poisonous radium attacked these young women’s bodies, causing them to rapidly and irreparably decay, the radium girls fought for the right to be heard, and to stop the radium industry from pulling any more girls into its vehement trap. This book was deeply heart-wrenching, following the lives of a few bright-eyed young dial painters to their young graves, and a valuable insight into the suppression of women’s voices in the early 20th century.
This novel was another popular book that I didn’t expect to enjoy nearly as much as I did. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a biography of the life of fictitious movie star Evelyn Hugo, as told to the young and relatively unknown reporter Monique Grant. Evelyn unfurls her story, from escaping poverty to begin her acting career in her late teens, and the myriad of men that came into and left her life across the span of her career and its aftermath. I won’t spoil the big twist (or two) that the novel provides, but it most certainly wasn’t the “straight bullsh*t” I was expecting based on its title. It is an intense, poignant life of a woman who dared to obtain what she wanted by any means possible, only to discover that her heart lied elsewhere.
This book was a humorous yet momentous glance into the life of a woman named Eleanor Oliphant, who is perfectly fine, thank you very much. Eleanor doesn’t really fit in at the office; her harsh realism and her inability to understand social cues make that quite difficult. But that’s fine, because Eleanor has it all planned out. Every week, she follows the same plan, never deviating from her schedule of Wednesday night calls with Mummy, Friday night frozen pizzas, and sleeping off a vodka hangover every Saturday morning. However, when Eleanor and her coworker Raymond save the life of an elderly gentleman who fell near them on their way to work one day, Eleanor’s life begins to change in profound ways, and she realizes that maybe “fine” isn’t the best way to be, after all. Eleanor’s story was touching yet hilarious, and was yet another novel that I could not put down. For anyone looking for a novel starring an out-of-the-ordinary heroine and lacking a predictable romance component, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the novel for you.
This fast-paced, gritty novel breaks the wall between the life of a president and the nation, and introduces us to the world of Washington politics and the counterterrorism approach. The President is Missing follows President Duncan, a tenacious war veteran, as he attempts to circumvent impeachment trials brought forth by members of the opposite party while maintaining the secret of a massive, nation-decimating cyber threat from the citizens of the U.S. This narrative is fast-paced, with twists and turns at every stop, and kept me guessing until the end what the outcome would be. The novel reads like a classic James Patterson thriller with the added expertise of a former president to reveal the intricacies of American politics and the battles of the elites.
My final novel is one that I finished a mere four days prior to writing this post, but one that already has a special place in my heart. Quiet explores the world of introverts, from their underrepresentation in U.S. culture and their hidden talents unique from extroverts. Though I identify as an ambivert (both extroverted and introverted), I felt this was an incredible analysis into the powers of introverts, and why American society should stop trying to force the extrovert ideal on those that are not born to be extroverted. I particularly enjoyed how Cain drew in principles of biology, psychology, and business, and described not only how introverts are wired differently from birth, but their benefits to jobs that are even as high-stakes and fast-paced as the stock market. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with introversion (if you dread speaking in front of a class, this is probably you) or anyone interested in the biological basis of personality and behavior.
Out of the 46 books I read in 2018, those are the ones that have stood out to me the most, and I would certainly recommend each and every one of them. If you would like more book recommendations, feel free to ask – I’m always reading something new! Happy new year!