Asking a bookworm to pick their favorite book(s) will almost always result in breaking them, in which they may present symptoms of vacant, glassy eyes, wordless stammering, or severe panicking and shouting gibberish.
As a librarian and lifelong reader, I’ve read a number of books that had me devouring them like candy. I’ve also read a number of books that I’ve had to put down because I disliked them so much, and of course there have been lukewarm books that I enjoyed in the moment but couldn’t tell you for the life of me what they were about months later.
But, there are always books that stick with you. Like that one song that always makes you think of that scene from a movie, or a scent that instantly throws you back to a particular moment in time, there are just some books that are so good that they stay with you. And I would like to share what my favorite books are that have stuck with me after all this time, because I think everyone should read them at least once.
the books that made the cut
READY PLAYER ONE
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is a dystopian science fiction novel that is quirky as hell. Riddled with video games and 80s references galore, it follows protagonist Wade Watts – better known as Parzival in the virtual reality game called the Oasis – as he hunts for an Easter Egg hidden by the Oasis’s original creator that will grant him a fortune. I’ve listened to the audiobook at least three times and read the book cover-to-cover, too. I can’t say enough about this book, especially when the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton. It’s got the perfect combination of adventure and action, sprinkled with romance, nerdiness, humor, and more. A spirited adventure, an underdog hero, and classic bad guys spiced throughout the story, what more could you want? It’s one of the few instances where I would recommend the audiobook over the book (especially because it’s a first-person POV) and it will always have a special place in my heart.
I’m a sucker for dystopian stories. There’s just something about reading about someone’s world falling apart that I find incredibly satisfying, and no, I’m not a sadist. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is one such dystopian novel that draws you right in. Compelling, suspenseful, and elegantly written, I literally could not put this book down. It features a virus similar to Ebola and the Spanish flu that eradicates almost the entire world population (– hello, COVID, i see you creeping over there). The author alternates the storytelling – half is told before the virus, while the other half is told after the fact. I found it fascinating to see how utterly decimated society became – our infrastructure, civilization, everything, just crumbled away to nothing because everyone was too dead to maintain anything. I read this just as COVID-19 was ramping up, and the parallels in the book to real life made the story that much better. 10/10, would recommend.
THRONE OF GLASS (the series)
Not only do I love Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass (TOG), but the rest of the books in her series by the same title are equally phenomenal. TOG features an assassin, Celaena, who wants to gain her freedom and save the kingdom from a terrible evil. Without giving away any spoilers, this series is different from normal young adult (YA) fantasy in that the primary plot-drivers are centered around the action and adventure, while romance is secondary to the story. The main characters are incredibly dynamic, and we see not just their best qualities, but their insecurities and flaws, too. Celaena is strong-willed, opinionated, and passionate in life, and while her age shows in immature moments sometimes, the growth she has throughout the series is notable. I really do love these books, and I would recommend them to anyone who enjoys YA fantasy, strong and independent main characters, and fantastic world-building.
THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO
If you’ve been keeping up on my posts, you almost certainly have seen my raving review for this one. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid is an incredible and unapologetic ode to queer folk. It’s the most compelling, nontraditional love story I’ve ever read. The story is told by two narrators, journalist Monique Grant who is dealing with personal issues (like her husband leaving her) and fading actress Evelyn Hugo. Monique is tasked with something that’s never been done before – telling Evelyn’s life story. Between the two characters, the story of Evelyn’s life from the 1950s to the present unfolds. Filled with tragedy, love, a bit of mystery and bittersweet moments, I could not put the book down. I’ve read this book twice and each time, it has left me overwhelmed and lost in my feelings in such a good way. I really can’t recommend it enough. If you enjoy historical fiction, LGBT themes, and drama, this book is for you!
THE BOOK THIEF
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is my all time favorite book. In all the years I’ve been reading, no book has stuck with me like this one has. It’s set during World War II, narrated by Death, and follows Liesel, an orphaned German girl who grows up in Nazi Germany. Death first meets Liesel at her brother’s funeral, and that encounter intrigues him enough that he keeps an eye on her throughout her years. What appeals to me so much with this book is that Liesel is presented exactly as she is – a child. We see her innocence, her curiosity and compassion, and so much more. As Death narrates Liesel’s experiences, it becomes utterly impossible not to be drawn to her and have sympathy for her foster family, who want to do the right thing but are surrounded by the tragedies of the war and fear from persecution in helping the “wrong” people. Zusak crafts a beautifully tragic story and wove into it enough light and humor that it was never at any time morbid. While technically a young adult book, I believe that this story would appeal to all ages. I can vouch for the physical book, as well as the audiobook version which had an absolute gem of a narrator, and of which I have listened to at least twice. If you didn’t have this on your list before, you should definitely add it.
(because I couldn’t possibly pick just five books, obviously)
- The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is the first book in a high fantasy trilogy (in which the last book has not yet been published) and it’s one of the most beautifully written magical books I’ve ever read. It’s a coming of age story told by the main character himself, and it was gripping and wonderful.
- Anxious People by Fredrik Backman is a story about idiots, a bank robbery, and redemption. Backman is one of my all-time favorite authors, and this book made me cry and laugh and feel all sorts of things – which is about typical for one of Backman’s books.
- The Hilarious World of Depression by John Moe is an honest and hard look at depression in all it’s ugliness, but told in a way that is humorous and relatable by John Moe, who also runs a podcast by the same name.
- Stardust by Neil Gaiman is one of those stories you read when you’re feeling down and want something comforting and familiar. Gaiman is another all-time favorite author, and Stardust is my favorite book of his. This fairy tale centers around a young man who crosses into a magical world to find a fallen star for his love interest, and the ensuing adventure is a tale of whimsy and murder and love. There was also a movie made from the book and it is equally wonderful (and Robert Deniro makes an appearance as a secretly flamboyant cross-dressing pirate and it is GLORIOUS).