I have found that the books I have enjoyed the most have kept my attention. They haven’t always been heartwarming or PACKED with action. What they do have in common: each and every one of these books has made me feel something.
Here are some books that make me want to sob, laugh, cry, rip my hair out, and drink tequila.
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
I’m an English teacher and I have learned that high school students are …honest. If a high school student trusts you, he or she will have no problem saying “This book fucking sucks.” or “I’m going to throw this book in my parents’ fireplace.” Honesty is the most direct policy.
This is why I read this book with all of my high school students: it’s important.
The book is thought-provoking; students are compelled to ask themselves questions about culture, family, and how THEY may desire something as desperately as Oscar, the protagonist, desired love.
This why I buy it for a friend whenever he or she is looking for an amazing book to read: it’s important.
This book made me like reading. I never hated reading, but I mean I never in my life thought, “I have some free time and I just want to READ READ READ until all the words I see turn into ambiguous squiggles!”
This book changed things for me. I learned to immerse myself into a novel, how to find enjoyment from a work of fiction. It taught me that reading can be HILARIOUS. I am still 95% sure I want the narrator of this novel to learn, love, and narrate my entire life.
It made me think. An overweight, fictional, young Dominican male gave me a sense of courage to also not apologize for what I want in life. He desperately wanted someone to love, and maybe after reading this book I am a little less afraid to say that I want the exact same thing.
For the first time in a very long time, the words felt powerful.
“As expected: she, the daughter of the Fall, recipient of its heaviest radiation, loved atomically.”
“Trying to decide whether to act or to stay still.”
“Pain everywhere but alive. Alive.”
Read this if you want a new favorite book.
2. Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst
This book changed my outlook on a few things. As a 17-year-old, I wanted no part of reading. I figured I would never enjoy books. I tried to read a few pages of The Odyssey and thought about bludgeoning myself to death with it to avoid having to read it. Casual.
Nothing made me want to read. My lack of motivation/desire to read anything made me feel stupid.
Then my eleventh grade English teacher had us read Dogs of Babel. To put the plot briefly: A man learns that his wife has died in the home that they share. The wife was not alone when she died; their dog, Lorelei, was home during the time of the wife’s death. The man then dedicates all of his time to teaching his dog how to speak so that he can learn what actually happened to his wife.
This is not a dystopian novel. This is everyday life, with an everyday guy, trying to deal with the grief that one feels when someone he or she desperately loves is suddenly no longer existent. The writing is paralyzingly convincing. I wasn’t a rocket scientist in high school, but I knew enough to know that it is not possible to teach a dog to speak human language. This book, however, will make you think twice.
Read this book if you want to question how much you do not question.
3. Flight by Sherman Alexie
Are you looking for a book that has some super graphic content but also has snippets of genuine Hallmark channel material? I have the book for you.
Flight is an experience. Zits, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, shows you just how deep the depths of true, raw loneliness and self-hatred can go. It is beautiful and it is heartbreaking. I think you get about four sentences into the book and Zits is already calling himself ugly and worthless. You want to keep reading to see how far he will take his negative attitude about himself. You also want to shake him because he’s hilarious and should give himself more credit. You really want to see if shit is ever, ever, going to look up for this unfortunate Indian kid.
Some enticing quotes from the novel:
“They put me in a holding cell with a black kid and a white kid and a Chinese kid. We’re the United Nations of juvenile delinquents.”
“Funny how a little politeness can change people’s minds.”
“Does God approve of some killing and not other killing?”
Read this book if you are going through an exceptionally difficult period and could use a dose of hope.
4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Read this if you want to shove any optimism you have regarding romantic relationships into a tree grinder. This book is batshit crazy. Gillian Flynn’s writing is a revelation. I would describe what she does in terms of her writing, and the complete brilliance of her method[s], but it would ruin the entire plot. So I’ll just allow you to get BLESSED by the terror, mind-manipulation, and horror that one character will drop into your life. Good luck and lock your windows.
To reiterate, read this book if you want a book that will have you contemplate throwing something out the window or gouging your eyes out of your head in frustration (in the best possible way).
5. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
My coworker, Michelle, summed this book up perfectly. “I was reading it, and I was like, is this girl crazy? Wait..am I crazy?”
This is the memoir of Susanna Kaysen. Kaysen was placed in a mental hospital at the age of 18. You spend the majority of the book trying to decipher how Kaysen gets to the hospital and whether or not she should actually be there. Kaysen will boggle your mind with perplexing questions and horrifyingly relatable points. For me, this novel is philosophically similar to A Clockwork Orange in that I’m not quite sure if I’ll ever completely figure it (or the author) out.
This is the true story that inspired the 1999 movie with Angelina Jolie.
Read this if you want a book you will be unable to put down.
So there it is, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you may even throw something. In the mean time, I’ll be looking for the next book worth talking about.