Off the Shelf of Yours Truly

As an English major, I am constantly asked about what I’m currently reading, what I’ll be reading after my current book (Right now, that would be Motherland, by Maria Hummel.), and what I would recommend for leisure reading.

A disclaimer: I strongly advise you to not take my reading suggestions unless you

a) Don’t mind unhappy endings
b) Enjoy crying while reading
c) Like generally upsetting stories
d) Can relate to some combination of the above

Truly, one of the greatest conundrums I faced this summer was when my friend Jocelyn asked for a book recommendation. She, unlike me, likes happy endings. Even after five minutes of searching my bookshelves, I only came up with one title for her.

Behold, the keeper of books. | Photo by Courtney Cheng
Behold, the keeper of books. | Photo by Courtney Cheng

With that in mind, please take the following list of recommendations with a grain of salt. I can’t exactly guarantee how happy you’ll be at the end of it, but I will most definitely stand behind all of them as books I have loved and will continue to love:

1. Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Photo by Courtney Cheng

This book is the one “young adult” book that I will continue recommending to people, regardless of how old I become or how old the recommendee is. Regardless of how many [contemporary/recently published] books I read, none of these other books or their authors can hold a candle to how Zevin handles relationships – both romantic and platonic – in Elsewhere. Her unique approach lends an incredibly touching, introspective interpretation on interpersonal relationships that will affect any reader.

2. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Photo by Courtney Cheng

Sloan’s novel is truly a product of the 21st century. Think old-fashioned San Francisco meets startup central Silicon Valley. The plot is one third nostalgia, one third mystery, and one third contemplative.

For those of you who are as invested in the “Should we keep printing print books or should we abandon it for the modern tablet and readers?” debate as I am, this book will further stir your own contemplations while offering – but not prescribing – its own interpretation of the issue.

3. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Photo by Courtney Cheng

I was introduced to this book in the 9th grade. This was the first book that we were to annotate, and annotate it I did. Foer writes constructs creates this novel with words, with images, with words on top of words, until all you can read is turtles all the way down.

Though the medium and structure of this book is fairly confusing, the heart of the story – a young Jewish boy’s perspective of the 9/11 tragedy – is very much worth every minute of the struggle. It’s incredibly touching, deeply upsetting, and endlessly thought-provoking.

4. The Lover’s Dictionary, by David Levithan

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Photo by Courtney Cheng

I suppose you could call this a collection of short stories. The Lover’s Dictionary features David Levithan’s anecdotes, thoughts, and contemplations regarding his marriage with his wife. Though the prospects may be slightly depressing, Levithan paints a truthful, realistic picture of love.

Truly, the happily ever after has never seemed quite so bleak in a situation where the prospects are still so bright.

5. The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Photo by Courtney Cheng

An analogy: Other people read Nicholas Sparks. I read Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife. This was the second book I’ve ever cried while reading. Before you ask: Yes, of course, it’s a love story.

It is, however, fantastic (as in relating to fantasy). And most definitely, it is a story that will pull on your heartstrings and your Kleenex box. Because with a love like that, you will also be wishing that there was a way you could turn back time.

6. The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Photo by Courtney Cheng
Photo by Courtney Cheng

It took me three tries to really love this book. I’d read it twice in English, and it was only when I made my way through the French version during my AP French class in senior year of high school that I truly tell in love with it.

Saint-Exupéry uses a child’s manner of viewing the world to shed light on relationships, on perspectives, and on emotions. This story won’t just stick with you because it was so easy to digest, but because the stories and sentiments will resonate with you. (Trust me on this one. You’re talking to the girl who was The Little Prince on her phone case.)


If you end up selecting one of these books as your next summer project, please let me know what you think! If there’s anything I love discussing more than food, it is, without a doubt, definitely books.

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