I remember the first time my boyfriend told me he loved me. It was as close to a perfect moment that I had ever gotten. It was just immensely cute and innocent, and I don’t even know how to completely explain how good it made me feel. Then, we broke up the following week, and that’s when I realized that all love and hope is dead! Just kidding. I mean, we did break up, and I still want to take a four-hour nap whenever I really think about it, but love and hope still exist. I mean, small dogs and baby sloths exist — like, good stuff has to be out there. Either way, there are a few books that have gotten me through heartbreak, joy, and everything in between that I couldn't have made it through without, and I want to share them with you, in case you're ever in need of one of those books that makes you feel like life is OK after all.
I was NEVER a reader as a kid. I still remember being in third grade and looking at my classmates like, “Is Mrs. Barry huffing paint when we’re at recess? I can’t read HARRY POTTER. That book is like 400 pages! Reading Harry Potter, and literally any book — even those fun encyclopedia books that cover everything from rocks to puppies — intimidated the hell out of me. I just always felt like there was a certain kind of people who enjoyed reading. They were smart little geniuses and I lived in a disparate world.
Then, I turned 23 and things changed; I changed. Or rather, one book changed me and gifted me with a love for escapism and the stringing together of beautiful words. That book led me to other books, which led me to other books. I want to share with you all the books that got me here, to a place where I’m feeling even the tiniest bit less alone and more hopeful. I share these books with you, in the hopes that they may get you wherever you need to be.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
I read Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao about two years ago, and I probably talk about this book AT LEAST once a week. Nothing was ever the same. It became one of those weird life moments where I viewed my life in terms of pre-Oscar Wao and post-Oscar Wao.
Growing up, I always knew that I wanted to be loved. I was in love with the idea of finding someone who would love me through anything — a love that was safe and constant. I used to feel alone and somewhat embarrassed for wanting to be loved. Then I read this book. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao centers around an overweight teenager who is obsessed with science fiction and also happens to be a hopeless romantic. Suffice it to say, Oscar Wao and I both EXCELLED in romance in high school. I am being sarcastic; we both did not have a prayer.
In all seriousness, this book taught me that it wasn't just me who wanted to be loved and to find a home in such love. Whether or not we're talking about it, the majority of us--male, female, naive, bitter--desperately yearn for that love. There are figures, like the fictional Oscar Wao, who gave me the courage to be more open about what I want most.
One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
I wish this book existed when I was 19, and I'm going to remind myself to read it every couple of years. It's the kind of book that has made me a smarter, more curious, and more courageous woman.
Scaachi Koul is electric in her honesty and humor; she has a way of pointing out how ridiculous and obscene privilege can be, especially when it is unacknowledged. Her words encourage empathy in the best way; she's not preachy, nor is she over the top. She is honest in each experience, whether she's telling you about something overtly embarrassing or she's inadvertently calling people out on their bullsh*t. Her words to me almost read like an encouraging older sibling who is trying to lead you in the right direction.
Her words challenge the ridiculous notion that women are overreacting, that things like rape culture do not exist. When authors like Koul courageously write about, and in turn magnify, difficult topics such as sexism, addiction, and biases, all other women are put in abetter position to succeed. Koul gifted me confidence and courage with this book through her words and example, and I am eternally grateful to her for doing so.
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I don’t mean this in an abundantly violent way, but if I could go back in time and slap my 14-year-old self in the back of the head, I totally would. My teenage lack of confidence was palpable. As a high school student, I most likely would have dated a rock if it told me I was pretty.
In my mid-20s I read the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before series. It gave me both great enjoyment… and a wake up call. This series taught me that I should have had higher standards for men, friendship, and my free time when I was a younger woman. I want to throw this book at high school students and tell them that romance and confidence are actually possible to find and maintain as a teenager. I’m not sure I ever actually believed in that at that age. I settled to quickly, and got too comfortable with low standards.
Far From The Tree by Robin Benway and The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I think one of the most prominent things I felt as a teenager was that I had no right to claim to feel pain. My youth was a gift, and pain was a right that only adults could earn. This made me suppress and dismiss the majority of my sadness. I wish I could have read books like this when I was younger so that I would have known that it’s possible to experience mature pain and loss even in your first decade or two on earth.
These novels reminded me that pain is universal, but so is the hope that things can and will get better. Both of these novels made me cry, so if you’re looking for an emotional read, look no further.
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Sun Is Also A Star tells the story of Natasha and Daniel who ultimately fall in love in the 24 short hours before Natasha and her family are set to be deported. The writing is subtly poetic and real. The story is both timely, important, and a lesson on understanding that as a teenager, you can do everything right, but still have the universe hand you extremely unfair and adult problems.
Eleanor and Park is completely similar in that it also belongs to the realm of very young people with very mature problems. In short, Eleanor is just trying to get through the day. She's 16, a redhead, and trying to get from point A to point B without letting her peers completely ruin her life with their passive and cruel bullying. Eleanor lives with her mother, her siblings, and her mother's abusive boyfriend. Park knows Eleanor from the school bus. Park kind of just goes through the flow. He knows of Eleanor but when he sees her, he doesn't really think twice. One day Eleanor and Park's worlds find themselves muddled and ultimately I was presented with a story about how we never really know someone until we are fortunate enough to get the chance. Romance and stuff.
Neither of these novels is a fairytale which is probably why they feel so believable. The awkward moments are included. These two novels took me into the times in my life where it felt like only one person could make things feel OK and how good it felt to have someone willing to do so.
The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
The Wangs Vs.the World is a hilarious slap in the face. If a book could put its arm around you, light a cigarette, and whisper, “My family is a beautiful tragic mess too,” Chang’s novel would be that book.
It’s perfect in its portrayal of the imperfections of parents. It accurately depicts how we’re all trying to keep our families together, while also trying to keep our respective sh*t together. This book makes me laugh and laugh, and is a hug to my anxiety-ridden-but-I-promise-I-love-my-family soul.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
This book taught me that sometimes things are just… not good. This book is like an exhale. It’s exhausting for anyone to pretend that everything is fine and acceptable all the time.
Furiously Happy brought me to a much-needed revelation. I have to accept that reality isn’t always going to be positive. I learned this through Lawson's realistic storytelling. One chapter, Lawson talks about how her husband once woke up in the middle of the night to find her seeing if she could get her taxidermied raccoons to ride on the back of her cat. Her retelling of the situation is more hilarious than I could ever hope to depict. In a chapter or two later, Lawson then talks about how she physically felt as though she couldn't get out of bed for a book signing--how sometimes life would make her so entirely anxious that her body evolved into an essential paralysis.
Through Lawson's anecdotes and candid words the reader comes to a realization. This is the name of the game. Mental health does not come with a schedule. Some days are good, some days are abhorrent, and none of it is predictable.
These books give me comfort. They help me to find my way back to the person I want to be, while simultaneously allowing me to wallow in my nervousness and sadness. Nonfiction comforts me, it makes me feel less alone. Fiction removes me from myself, which is something I am immensely grateful for.
I will probably always be someone who feels a million feelings at once. The more I read, and live, and cry at The Dodo’s YouTube channel, I’m thinking that reality isn’t going to change. All I know for sure is that I’m grateful I discovered that I could love something as much as I love reading.I’m grateful I found something that I want to do each day. I’m grateful I found something that I want to talk about with people on the L train. I’m grateful that I have something that takes care of me. So today I may be sad, but I’m grateful for reading, and for all of the books that have gotten me here.