I never considered myself to be “a reader” until after I’d completed traditional schooling.
Books were assigned in college and I’d voraciously read an online synopsis or find the movie version, scouring Amazon reviews for meaning and pith, inspiration for the essay I’d write.
These assigned books provided me with nothing to relate to—that was, in hindsight, the point, wasn’t it?—and this was made even more apparent when compared to the rotating stack of books on my nightstand: books I’d chosen and sought after myself.
I grew up reading The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew interchangeably, and still remember the gut punch that Mrs. Parker delivered in 6th grade when she told me that I’d really enjoy The Lord of The Rings one day, but that it was currently too advanced for me.
Oh, the indignity of it all—my stomach is folding in on itself just writing this. She said it lovingly and I hope history remembers her semi-decently for that.
That same day, I got the first book, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, from the library and read it.
And flashing forward to now, in the twilight of my 20s, I wear the label of “a reader,” newly donning it after the slow discovery that my reading habits are not shared by the general population.
Don’t get me wrong: people are reading. They’re just primarily reading magazines and trade journals and blog posts.
You see, there are a lot of shitty and mediocre books out there; perhaps those are the same thing, and perhaps people who exhibit this willful apathy towards books have been burned by one of the bad ones.
That’s a larger conversation for an even larger article, so I’ll just say this: there are, of course, a number of great books out there, and there are too many to read ones that don’t fundamentally alter the way you look at yourself and the world, even for just a day.
That’s what each of these three books did for me.
They’re not unknown authors or new discoveries by any means, but they’re all worthy reads that I want to make sure you don’t miss.
The Five Love Languages by Gary D. Chapman
I know, I know. I know. I wanted to hate on this books so much.
I wanted to be that guy that tells you it’s total bullshit and because I’m smart, I knew that I’d be able to come up with a logical argument against it.
The thing is, it just makes sense. There’s a reason The Five Love Languages continues to be such a massive worldwide bestseller.
For those who don’t know, your love languages are the ways that you experience, both giving and receiving, love. They’re broken into 5 categories (quality time, receiving gifts, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch) and are brilliant in their simplicity and specificity.
The most valuable part is when you think about your (current and/or past) partner’s love language and how it might be different than yours. Having this new vocabulary, being able to name and talk about your needs and desires, is quite literally revolutionary.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
I read this book 12 months ago, and I’m still talking about it.
It’s about male companionship: a coming of age story about 4 friends that move to New York together after college, and then, well, shit goes down. It gets bad. It’s objectively the most distressing book I’ve ever read.
I’m not a crier, yet I cried. More than any other book.
The unfolding of story and then backstory is so gradual and interminable, that you’ve fallen in love with the characters before you realize that, maybe, you didn’t originally set out to read something that’s grappling with the lifelong effects of child and sexual abuse, yet here you are. It’s fully engrossing.
A Little Life is graphic, but it’s Hanya’s prose that saves it, keeps you hooked. Take this passage about riding the train into the city:
“The other aspect of those weekday-evening trips he loved was the light itself, how it filled the train like something living as the cars rattled across the bridge, how it washed the weariness from his seatmates’ faces and revealed them as they were when they first came to the country, when they were young and America seemed conquerable. He’d watch that kind light suffuse the car like syrup, watch it smudge furrows from foreheads, slick gray hairs into gold, gentle the aggressive shine from cheap fabrics into something lustrous and fine. And then the sun would drift, the car rattling uncaringly away from it, and the world would return to its normal sad shapes and colors, the people to their normal sad state, a shift as cruel and abrupt as if it had been made by a sorcerer’s wand.”
If what I’ve said doesn’t sound too trepidatious, check it out, and know that it serves as a surprisingly useful tool by which to connect and evaluate another’s character: I’ve talked about A Litte Life on no less than two dozen dates this year. So if you’re looking for talking points, get at me.
Black Wave by Michelle Tea
Black Wave is a dystopic memoir-fiction hybrid. Michelle writes about Michelle, also a writer; it’s her, but it’s not her.
It’s about the minutiae of everyday life and how the most insignificant things you do or don’t do can profoundly transform your future. It’s about that future and not, because that future won’t ever happen. It’s also about the end of the world.
One day, Michelle wakes up and learns that the world will end in exactly one year.
This all sounds very strange, I know, but stick with me: it’s strange and immensely enjoyable.
Over the course of that final year, humans begin to dream about the lives they would’ve had, the people they would’ve loved. Michelle then moves into an abandoned bookstore and dates Matt Dillion.
Black Wave is a fantastical and intoxicating read.
And There You Have It.
These three were among my favorites, the ones that stuck with me the longest (I was also deeply affected by reading Fight Club, which I wrote about here).
I hope you get as much from reading them as I did.