I started reading books to lose myself between the pages, and along the way, I ended up finding myself there too. What began as an escape from the world around me transformed into one of my biggest passions. My love for reading stems from my elementary school days. Nothing made me more excited than attending a book fair or visiting my public library. In middle school, my book branch was cut short after being ridiculed by my classmates for my nerdy hobbies. So, I traded my library card for a basketball and tried to fit in by blending in with others. For the next eight years, I never read for fun again. Then in March during my junior year of college, one of my friends dragged me to the library with her and suggested we buddy read a new book she was eyeing. Since then, my life has been a colorful blur of novels, seventy-one to be exact.
One of my favorite book-related quotes is, “The reader lives a thousand lives, the man who never reads lives only one”. I read all genres of books, because each style offers a different perspective of the world. An ode to a recent series I just finished reading, An Ember in the Ashes, all of us are nothing but glimmers in the great darkness of time. I view books as torches against the night sky, sparks that illuminate a seemingly incomprehensible world. The more you read, the more vivid and perspicuous the world becomes. If you’re a long-time reader or looking to try reading again like myself, here are some of my favorite books I’ve read this year. I hope they inspire you in the ways they inspired me.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
“An almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart”, The Song of Achilles is an unforgettable tale of the Greek legend Achilles with a focus on the man rather than the hero. I am a big fan of history, and I think this book best mirrors the plot of Titanic. You know what happens in the Battle of Troy (if not, the expression “Achilles Heel” should be self-explanatory enough), you can feel the disaster of an iceberg approaching, but you don’t know exactly how the ending will play out. When the inevitable battle scene begins, Madeline Miller makes you see Achilles as the mortal warrior rather than the invincible hero and feel the heartache for, in my opinion, one of the greatest love stories of all time- even if it is only historical fiction.
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
I read this book before winning Miss Idaho, and I credit its story for allowing me to decipher the emotions behind my piano performance and share them with the audience. Every Note Played follows an accomplished concert pianist after his diagnosis of ALS (an incurable neurodegenerative disease). This story reminded me to play every note with the knowledge that our abilities are gifts we may not always have the luxury of keeping. Thank you, Jim from Meet AC, for gifting me my own copy of this book at Miss America. The last thing I did backstage before performing my piano piece on national television was read my favorite chapter
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
This book takes place in Idaho! Based on the true story of a girl born into a survivalist family in the mountains of Idaho, Educated: A Memoir peers into the mind of a self-taught girl who discovers the true meaning and cost of an education. Despite being kept out of school by her parents, Tara Westover went on to earn her Ph.D. from Cambridge University.
The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump by Michiko Kakutani
I read this book in preparation for Miss America. It quickly became one of the most insightful pieces I’ve ever read and a real asset in my private interview with the Miss America judges. The Death of Truth analyzes the historical undoing of America’s free press and the danger fake news poses to our future.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
“True strength isn’t about sovereignty. It’s about knowing when you need help and having courage to accept it.”
“It all seemed so important in the night, but when the sun rose and you were gone, the light didn’t shine as bright.”
An Arabian Night’s inspired tale, The Wrath and the Dawn is by far my favorite fantasy novel and the enabler of my quote obsession.
Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh
Also by Renee Ahdieh, Flame in the Mist is a take on modern day Mulan set in a fantasy version of Japan.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
The Cruel Prince is probably the most “fantasy” out of the bunch, but I binge read this book in one day. Dark, wicked, and suspenseful, this book oozes with the perils of power in an atmosphere of terror. Even if you don’t like fantasy, I encourage you to give this one a try.
This is arguably my favorite genre. Just know that you are never too old for a little young adult. To preface this, I am painfully single and unapologetically enjoy reading cheesy love stories. That being said, don’t worry. If you are not a hopeless romantic like myself, I have also included some of my favorite young adult stories that do not possess the “cheese factor”.
The Selection by Kiera Cass
This was the book that rekindled my love for reading. I describe it as Miss America meets The Bachelor meets The Hunger Games. Thirty-five girls in a dystopian, caste system land compete for the chance of a lifetime: to marry Prince Maxon and become Queen. There’s glitz and glam, blood and mystery, and most of all, a total of five books in the series that all leave you wanting more.
They Both Die at the End by Adam Silvera
“No one goes on, but what we leave behind keeps us alive for someone else.”
“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people just exist, that’s all” - Oscar Wilde
If you’ve ever wanted to read a book that reminds you of your mortality, this is the one for you. In this dystopian land, people are given a twenty-four-hour notice before they die. In They Both Die at the End, two strangers set to die on the same day connect and have the adventure of a lifetime. This book is the only one I feel comfortable giving a spoiler to, because surprise, they really do both die at the end.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
I love this book for two reasons. One: Peter Kavinsky, and Two: it is one of the few YA books (and movies) with an Asian protagonist. Lara Jean in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is exactly the kind of girl I was in high school, and I have watched the Netflix movie more times than I would like to admit. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a beautiful coming of age novel with characters that you will fall madly in love with (I repeat: Peter Kavinsky).
Girl Against the Universe by Paula Stokes
This is a refreshing young adult book that does not shy away from discussing mental health. The main character Maguire battles coping with PTSD, anxiety, and an awful streak of bad luck as she navigates high school and of course, a swoon worthy romance with tennis prodigy, Jordy.
The Lies About Truth by Courtney C. Stevens
“Sometimes the journey to let someone love you is the journey to loving yourself”
Sometimes stories about loss and death just don’t quite make the mark in Young Adult books. The Lies About Truth is an exception. In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you. After surviving a car accident that killed one of her friends, Sadie struggles to embrace her future while trapped in her past. Sadie still wears the crippling scars and physical disabilities that follow the car accident. The Lies About Truth rings true to the saying, “the worst lies we give are the ones we tell ourselves”.