A year in books

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien – Lilly Keller 

I’ll admit, war books are definitely not my forte, however, “The Things They Carried” has proven to be the exception. Comprising a handful of short fictional stories, O’Brien goes beyond the traditional realm of Vietnam retellings, instead choosing to analyze the environment, courage and humanity of those drafted into the war. As highlighted within the title story, “The Things They Carried” is about more than the weight of an M-16 or grenade, but the anguish, love and longing that each soldier bears throughout the war. 

“Mysterious Skin” by Scott Heim 

Few books have wrecked me such as Heim’s 1995 debut. I’m serious, this narrative of two boys hurtling towards vastly different yet intersecting trajectories left me crying so hard I almost vomited. Incredibly unsettling yet painfully realistic, “Mysterious Skin” is not for the faint of heart. I cannot recommend looking up a content warning before starting this book. However, if reading is not your forte, this book was adapted to film in 2004 startrng Joseph Gordon Levitt. 

“Legendborn” by Tracey Deonn – Nadia Carolina Hernandez

As a young adult lover, this book is exactly what every non-white reader needs. Growing up, I have gotten very tired of reading the same YA main girl protagonist being white. Deonn’s first book offers the experience of a Black girl protagonist in this mystical, magic and mystery series. Deonn challenges norms in YA and in life regarding sexism and racism with a little love triangle and occasional demon battle sprinkled in. I loved this book and cannot wait for Deonn to shake up the YA fantasy world. 

“Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Water of the World” by Benjamin Alire Saenz – Nadia Carolina Hernandez

If you haven’t read the first book, what are you waiting for? Once again, Saenz challenges ideas of racism, toxic masculinity and homophobia when two Latino boys from El Paso, Texas fall in love in the first book. But what happens next? I cannot underestimate how much I cried at the ending in front of my roommates on a random evening. I highly encourage anyone who loves an impossible love story to check out Saenz. 

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt-Una Cleary

Over my winter break reading journey, this book did not leave my side for a solid two weeks. By the end of the book, you will be left wondering why you didn’t choose to go to a small college in upstate Vermont and major in Classics. Behind the ambiance of the main characters being fluent in Greek, there is a dark, mysterious element to the novel that provides unexpected plot twists. I was flabbergasted several times by the events that occur relating to mental health, alcoholism and violent drug use. More than just a thrilling mystery, it may leave you emotionally wrecked questioning your existence. 

Talking to Strangers-Malcom Gladwell

For the fiction reader, I urge you to dip your toes into non-fiction for this book. It analyzes the strangers that you stare at on the train, the grocery clerk and your Uber driver. Human topics such as race issues, alcoholism and sexual assault are explained through current events. It left me questioning my approach to interactions I have with strangers and beyond those people I deem close to me. This is an extremely important read for our times, I urge you to read to challenge your biases of people you know and people you consider strangers.

Appetites – Anthony Bourdain – Jonah Weber 

In a lot of ways, I found this to be the perfect cookbook. Bourdain is not only an amazing, well-rounded chef and eater, but also a great storyteller. Throughout the book, there are numerous recipes ranging from mouth-watering dishes like Portuguese squid and octopus soup, to simply remembering to always have pigs in a blanket ready to be made. With each recipe, Bourdain describes either his first experience with the dish or his favorite memory of it. He adds little details to the story that can be hilarious or kind of depressing. For me, this is the quintessential cookbook. 

The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien – Jonah Weber

I remember the first time I read The Hobbit it was in sixth grade. I did not like it at all. I thought it was boring, simple and I could not get into reading fantasy books for the life of me. A few months ago, I found a very cool leatherback version of this book at a thrift store. I bought it and finished it in like three days. Although it is a super easy read, sort of simple, and really just a setup for the rest of the series, it’s still beautiful. Tolkien knew what the hell he was doing. The imagery and settings are full of details and colors. The characters are so memorable and distinct. Reading this book recently has opened my eyes to the potential of actually enjoying fantasy and science fiction books.