There’s something just plain magical about finding a genuinely fantastic book. The book you can’t put down, the one you stay up half the night reading, the book experience you can’t wait to talk about with your friend who is hopefully as equally obsessed with the story and characters as you are. The one that, once you finish, leaves you devastated (in the best way, of course).
Once you know true book love, your whole life changes. Because immediately after you finish one spectacular book, you’ll want more. More books, more genres, more authors to discover. You’ll wonder why you haven’t been reading your entire life. Your bookshelves will start to overflow and groan under the weight of other people’s stories. Your library card will become worn down and faded with use. You will spend hours and hours reading alright-but-kind-of-mediocre books your sister recommended, only to find them lacking. But once you find the next amazing book, the one that makes you want to skip work or school so you can read one more chapter, it’s so, so worth it.
Get ready to fall in love with the following books. And remember, once you finish this list of truly wonderful titles, there are plenty more where that came from.
1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
If someone were to ask what this book is really about, it’d be hard to explain in just one sentence. At its core, it’s about a girl growing up in Brooklyn. But it’s so much more than that. It’s about poverty. It’s about a neighborhood. It’s about relationships: friendly, familial, and romantic. It’s about a horse that falls in love. It’s about hope. This book is about nothing and everything at once. And once you start reading it, you won’t be able to stop.
2. The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
Okay, this one might seem a little obvious, and it’s definitely seven books, not one. But if you’ve already read these books, they’re most likely one of your favorite series of all time. If you haven’t read them, are you waiting for a formal invitation? Read them already! And if you haven’t read them because you think seeing the movies was enough, well, there’s no hope for you, sorry.
3. The Bell Jar , Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath’s only novel, this book is excellent because, apart from the fantastic story and great character development, it makes you want to know more. After reading it, you’ll be sure to be found late at night, Wikipedia-ing Sylvia’s life, the parallels between her and Esther Greenwood, researching her lost diaries, and generally wishing you had known about this book earlier.
4. Eleanor & Park , Rainbow Rowell
It’s hard to pick a favorite book by Rainbow Rowell — all of them are amazing — but you should definitely start with this one. Eleanor & Park is a lovely teenage romance, minus cheesy ooey-gooey teenage love antics. An easy read, you’re sure to go through this one quickly, but you’ll connect with the characters immediately. And after you’re done, you’ll find yourself wondering/obsessing over what Eleanor Douglas and Park Sheridan are up to now. (It’s a normal reaction, we promise.)
5. Redefining Realness , Janet Mock
If you’re looking for a compelling memoir, look no further. Redefining Realness explores author Janet Mock’s personal journey as a trans woman growing up in Hawaii. Her journey to womanhood is filled with strength, passion, and drive, and this memoir is nothing short of inspiring. Janet Mock is an amazing figure and an extremely articulate and intelligent woman, and this book will make you fall a little bit in love with her.
6. Columbine , Dave Cullen
This book, which took journalist Dave Cullen 10 years to research and write, will keep you reading through the night. It will also make you reconsider any bias you might have had against the nonfiction genre. Columbine explores the school shooting of 1999, leaving no stone unturned and leaving no myth of the event unexplored. It provides an interesting, thorough, and fresh look into an event that dominated the news cycle at the time, switching from the events leading up to the day and the political, media, and community reaction that happened afterward.
7. New York: The Novel , Edward Rutherford
New York will make you fall in love with the city in a way you never thought possible. Taking the form of short story–like chapters, it follows the timelines of several families from the city’s beginnings as an unsettled region to Sept. 11, 2001. This historical fiction uses New York as a central character, exploring her evolution and growth as one the world’s most bustling epicenters. It’s powerful even if you don’t live near the Big Apple, but if you do, get ready to see the city in an entirely new way.
8. The Woman in White , Wilkie Collins
The first thing to know about this book is it basically invented the mystery/sensation genre. Highly underrated, this novel will have you racing to the end, desperate to know if you’re right. Written over 150 years ago (1859), this book is a classic and definitely not to be missed.
9. Slouching Towards Bethlehem , Joan Didion
Slouching Towards Bethlehem is one of those books you probably should have read in college. Maybe you did, maybe you didn’t, or maybe you were supposed to but just pretended you had. Either way, you should give this one a go — or a second read. Joan Didion is the kind of woman you wish you could have drinks with. The kind of person whose thoughts jump off the page and revive you like a breath of fresh air. This collection of essays explores the mood of 1960s America, and, honestly, is a masterpiece. And once you finish, you’ll definitely have a favorite essay that you come back to, time after time.
10. Love Stories of WWII , Larry King
Sometimes you just need a good cry. This book delivers the waterworks, and then some. Per its title, this book features narrated love stories of the Second World War. Both moving and inspiring, the stories are widely varied, from childhood sweethearts to chance encounters. Love Stories of WWII gives you a glimpse to another time and a world that was ripped apart by war, but in which many of these couples experienced the connection of their lifetimes.
11. Holes , Louis Sacha
Don’t discriminate against books intended for those younger than you. Holes has a great story, with even better characters. If you didn’t read it when you were younger, you’re bound to fall a little bit in love with almost everyone in this book — well, the good guys, anyway. Added bonus? After you’re finished, treat yourself to a viewing party of the 2003 film adaptation, which was relatively well done and features a baby-faced Shia LaBeouf.