A lot of us tend to get into our groove and read just a few genres, perferring to stick to a niche we find interesting. But reading is one of the easiest ways to explore the world and all the different minds of people out there. So why stay reading the same thing over and over when you could read something that might blow your mind or change your world views? I’ve compiled the best of the best, my favorite books that caused me to think outside the box.
1. The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Why: The Mothers is contemporary women’s literature. But wait! Don’t let me hear you thinking that it’s boring chick lit, or just another drama for women to read. If you’re thinking those things, you obviously don’t know what contemporary women’s lit is. No, The Mothers is a beautifully unfolding story of love and betrayal, filled to the brim with relationships and conversations about the lies we tell ourselves and others, thinking those lies will protect us, when in reality they may just be our downfall. The Mothers spans several generations of women. In talking about women as individuals and as groups, The Mothers speaks about human behavior in the social environment. This is a book of perceptions and stereotypes and how we all can relate to yet are so far from what other people think of us. This is a book to get you thinking about how you live your life and how you perceive others.
2. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
Why: I love YA. I love reading sweet innocent coming of age novels of romance. What I don’t often get out of YA is a novel like this one Menon has crafted, a novel that covers topics like race, long-term love, career options, familial relations, tradition, personal qualities, and so much more. Menon really covers all her bases with this incredible story of Dimple and Rishi, two young Indian American adults making their way in the world. This tale is so modern and inventive yet so rooted in tradition, I wish I learned as much from every book as I feel I learned from this one.
3. Long Division by Kiese Laymon
Why: I read Long Division almost two years ago, yet I remember it nearly as clearly as the day I finished the story. This is a historical fiction sci-fi of epic proportions. But it’s also a commentary on race?! This book’s got a lot going on, the time travel may be a bit confusing, but the relationships that fill the pages speak volumes to how often underestimated young friendships can be. This book really kept me on my toes, that’s for sure. Laymon’s got a way with words.
4. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Why: The Color Purple is a classic so obviously everyone should read it, right? Well, most of the time I would say not necessarily so, but lately I’ve been finding the classics are hitting home a lot more so than they did in High School. That may be because, I’m finding, the classics that are not “appropriate” for High School are often the best ones (*ahem, why does it seem all the “appropriate” ones are written by middle aged affluent white men or women?*). The Color Purple is not an easy book to read, but it will captivate and power you through it (at least it did for me so I hope it will for you, too!). Walker gets into character, and her characters are written how they would talk. The story takes place through a series of letters between sisters, and it’s the sweetest and saddest thing I may have ever read. There’s lots of talk about rape and assault/domestic violence, so be prepared, but if you can handle it mentally, it’s so important to read about violence against women since it’s so often shamed and covered up.
5. Sculptor by Scott McCloud
Why: Visually, this book is stunning. Perhaps one of the most appealing graphic novels I’ve ever read, this is one hefty work of art. Nearly five hundred pages, this is an epic sci-fi about art, relationships, and one man’s deal with the devil. What would you do if the world was your oyster but your days and hours were numbered? This book takes the extraordinary and brings it down a notch, takes the passing, fleeting moments that most of us throw away and elevates them to new levels. Sculptor inspired me and I devoured it, now I’m left itching to reread it. I’m still reeling with the beauty of this work of art and fiction.
6. Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang
Why: Some people may have a Chinese historical fiction niche, but if that’s not you already, you definitely should try this book out. There are sci-fi elements to this historical fiction novel that takes place in the early 1900’s. I doubt you’ll be disappointed by the politics and relationships that follow the story of this young orphan making her way through life and China. While at times devastated by the trials of the young protagonist, I found this book incredibly moving overall and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
7. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen
Why: If you like laughing at all, ever, you should read this book. This is a comedy memoir written by an English professor about not only her life, but how her life has evolved from, with, and around her Mennonite upbringing. Better yet, try reading this out loud with someone whose laughter brings you even more joy, and you won’t be disappointed. I felt like every other sentence was a beautiful joke, filled with knowledge but delivered with an innocent cadence. However, you may need to ignore a transphobic comment every now and then.
8. The Naked Truth by Marvelyn Brown
Why: Some may say that memoirs are a “lazy” version of writing, but I know that’s not so. Memoirs often tell the brave stories of people who want to share how they got to where they are so others might feel inspired just to carry on in life. Marvelyn Brown is living with HIV, and if you’re anything like me, you probably didn’t get much HIV talk in High School other than knowing it’s bad and sexually transmitted (at least I hope that was taught in your school, too!). I especially knew nothing about people who are living with it still. Brown’s got a lot to say and she’s proud to say it, and I’m glad she wrote a memoir. I needed this education. I absolutely promise it’s not a (total) downer.
9. Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robinson
Why: How much do you know about people on the autistic spectrum? It may be quite a lot, it may be nothing, but regardless of how much you know, each person’s experience is different, which is why reading this memoir by Robinson is so important. Ultimately he can’t tell you very much about the autistic experience, but he can share his own experience and he does inspire a lot of thoughts and questions in my own life and mind. His essay style is beautiful, the subject often simple but remarkable, deeply moving, and thought-provoking.
10. The Martian by Andy Weir
Why: You may have seen the movie, and I will admit the book and movie are very similar, but the movie doesn’t capture the Weir’s humor quite as well. The emotions I felt reading the book were stronger as well. I was at times very hopeful and at times very devastated. I found the arduous processes even more arduous, and I feel the book conveyed the passage of time more effectively. Weir is well-written, quirky, and knowledgeable, making this fictional (sci-fi?) novel really come to life.
11.Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodsen
Why: Throw some poetry in the mix. You know you need to. But if you’re scared that poetry is not something you can sit down and read in one sitting, look no further. Brown Girl Dreaming is a memoir, and each poem is interwoven for an overall story arc. Written for a middle grade audience, this is the perfect way to slip into the heavy topic of racism and sexism with ease. I love how I can see Woodsen’s dreamer nature shines through effortlessly with her words and the stories of her youth.