The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot and Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Because I was OBSESSED with these books in high school and the sequels are just as great. I also firmly believe that both of these books are so much better than the film adaptations. Pick up one of these for the perfect, girly summer read. – Kate M.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Now, I’m going to be real honest with you, I choose books based off their covers…and/or titles – the quirkier, the better. And to this day, this approach hasn’t let me down. So when I saw the title “A Visit From the Goon Squad” in the obscenely overpriced airport bookstore, I immediately picked it up and paid for it, synopsis unseen. A hard ‘swipe right’, if you will. If I had to describe this book in one word, it would be acrobatic. One second, you’re here; the next, you’re over there; two chapters later, you’re in a different country and you can’t remember your own name. Jennifer Egan’s bold, experimental writing style lends such rich complexity to this story, a story, in a broad sense, about time and its inescapable grasp on humanity. With the punk rock music scene as its platform, the story follows the lives of several characters, namely Sasha and Bennie, and illustrates, sometimes literally, that even though we grow older and even though we may change, a small fragment of our younger, former selves will always remain intact. – Alison C.
Liberalism: Ancient and Modern by Leo Strauss
Leo Strauss is one of my all-time favorite political theorists and this work contains an excellent essay on liberal education. I once met a member of Reagan’s administration at a cocktail hour and the one thing I will always remember about that meeting was when he said, “Miss Barnes, promise me you will never forget the point of education and will read Strauss’ essay on liberal education every summer?” I have kept that promise. – Alyssa B.
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
This is both a gorgeous and a grotesque novel. It’s some parts horror, some parts mystery, and some parts magic. What really hooked me about this story was how distinct each character’s voice was and how Beukes implemented social media and technology as a way to capture modern time and how humans interact with their devices. We begin with five narratives – a detective, a teenage girl, a murderer, a journalist, and a homeless man – and throughout the novel, we are left wondering how these personalities could possibly connect when they are each being pulled in different directions to different tempos. When they finally do connect, however, it is pure magic. – Eriel F.
The Karla Trilogy (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy/The Honourable Schoolboy/Smiley’s People) by John le Carré
Since I’m That Person™ (have to read the book before seeing the movie), I hopped on the Tinker, Tailor bandwagon about ten seconds after seeing the trailer for the 2011 film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley. And while the movie was very good, you know what they say – the book is (almost) always better! This trilogy is a definite must for fans of spy-noir and Who Done It’s. The first book deals with the discovery of a mole in the upper-most levels of British intelligence and the resurrection of forcibly-retired agent George Smiley as he races to uncover the mole’s identity. (Fun Fact: Tinker, Tailor is credited for originating the terms “mole” and “honey trap,” among others.) My favourite book in the trilogy is actually the second one, The Honourable Schoolboy, which follows one of the B-players from Tinker, Tailor as he goes undercover in Hong Kong to trap and turn a Soviet agent. The last book, Smiley’s People, wraps up George Smiley’s quest to defeat his nemesis, the mysterious and almost uncatchable “Karla,” head of Soviet Intelligence. John le Carré (real name David John Moore Cornwell) was an actual MI6 agent during the Cold War in the 1960s, and one of the intelligence-officers whose cover was blown when real life KGB mole Kim Philby (one of the Cambridge Five) was discovered. The Karla Trilogy is essentially John le Carré’s answer to Ian Fleming’s James Bond: there’s not a lot of daredeviling (Smiley is elderly, portly, and glasses-wearing), but the nitty-gritty of the actual spy work makes this cat-and-mouse trilogy a tense and page-turning read, nonetheless. – Alex Z.
Ender’s Game & Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card
I first picked up Ender’s Shadow in the YA section of Border’s (y’all remember Border’s?) when I was about fourteen, and this book was basically my introductory crash course in Science Fiction. At the time, I had absolutely no idea that it was a sequel, or even part of a series, but it definitely holds its own as a stand-alone novel, if you choose to read it that way. Written fourteen years apart, Ender’s Shadow is a parallel novel to the first book in the Ender Series, Ender’s Game. Shadow is my favourite of the two: it follows the story of one of the (again) minor characters from Game, an orphaned super-genius named Bean who is picked up off the streets of Rotterdam in the year 2170 and sent to Battle School, a space station orbiting the earth that trains only the best and brightest of humanity’s children for what will inevitably be a “winner-take-all” battle royale against an alien race called the Buggers. While Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (the protagonist of Ender’s Game) is ultimately chosen as the master tactician to lead this fight, Bean serves as one of the commanding lieutenants, playing a crucial role in the outcome of both the battle and the story. The best part of reading these books, though, is doing so in tandem – it’s fascinating to see how Card develops his strengths and style as a writer over the course of fourteen years, and to compare the two stories (and the stunning lack of discrepancies/plot-holes!). – Alex Z.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
There are two ways to dive into this story: via text or via audio. I listened to the 10th Anniversary audiobook, which featured a theatrical narrative, between commutes from Spring to Katy and found myself enjoying my time in traffic. The characters are so well cast on audio, and you can’t help but get lost in the story and all its oddities. That being said, Gaiman is always a fantastic read, and this one’s just as easy on the eyes as it is on the ears. For those of you who love film/television adaptations of your favorite reads, you’ll be able to find American Gods on Starz sometime next year. Definitely worth the read. Mr. Wednesday is a total Honey Badger, and you’ll love him. – Eriel F.
The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
If you loved Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, or are even just a casual fan of The Walking Dead, you should definitely pick up Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. Even though it’s his fourth novel, Strain was what put Crichton on the map and established him as a popular science fiction writer. The plot is very simple and very technical: some kind of alien microbe, piggy-backing on a falling satellite, has entered Earth’s atmosphere and wiped out the town of Piedmont, Arizona. The military must then enlist the help of four scientists, each specialists in their respective fields, in containing, isolating, and ultimately neutralizing the microbe – which quickly proves to be almost impossibly difficult, considering that the microbe mutates aggressively with each growth cycle. Because Strain is one of Crichton’s earliest novels, he does tend to explore the science of his hypothesis in great, sometimes laborious detail. But the intensity of the situation (this book is practically the definition of a story on the clock), combined with the likeable and nuanced characters and gripping premise, makes this book a fantastic read that even the most unscientific person (who has two thumbs and can’t identify the left ventricle?? THIS GUY) can enjoy. – Alex Z.
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
I love this book. It is the quintessential Arthurian fantasy novel. If you’re a fan of Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, you will recognize, almost word for word, the plot of the first half of the book. It’s divided into two parts, the first half following the not-yet-King Arthur (affectionately known as “Wart”) during his formative years growing up as the ward of Sir Ector and his encounters with Merlin. The second half jumps forward into Arthur’s adult life, moving from The Sword in the Stone straight into the Lerner and Loewe musical Camelot. It details the formation of the Knights of the Round Table, the tragic love-triangle between Arthur, Guinevere, and Sir Lancelot, and Arthur’s ultimate downfall at the hands of his conniving and bitter illegitimate son. Readers tend to lump Fantasy into two categories: childish and Tolkien. The Once and Future King is the perfect reminder of the eloquence and maturity of works in this genre, written by and for adults (and young adults). It’s a great work in literary tragedy, right up to the Bard-worthy ending. Whenever I want to be inspired by what literature can do, I reread this book. – Alex Z.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
This is one of my absolute favorite books of all time and I think everyone should challenge the opinions of his politics, such as America’s worship of individualism and equality. – Alyssa B.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by X & Alex Haley
Eventually, this will (or, at least, it should) appear on a required reading list in conjunction with MLK’s Why We Can’t Wait, so reading it before it is “required” of you may preserve its immediate majesty. X is a complicated figure to most, and many that know of him have very strong opinions on his actions and politics. However, this autobiography (which was written with and eventually finished by Alex Haley after X’s assassination), does a marvelous job of unpacking X’s tumultuous history, evolution behind bars, and rise to political prowess as a beacon of hope and respect, an uncensored speaker on civil rights, and controversial teacher. This biography captures a key era in our history and dissects the often misconstrued brilliance, integrity, and wit that X possessed behind the scenes. It’s a great way to dive into American history and learn about key players in the Civil Rights Movement, while getting acquainted with X and his (often outrageous) humor. – Eriel F.
Motorworld by Jeremy Clarkson
If you like to enjoy the occasional episode (or full day marathon) of Top Gear, you will definitely appreciate this book. Before Top Gear, Clarkson traveled to countries around the world and examined the history, culture, and economy of each country through its automobile industry. This book is a quick read that is hilarious and incredibly fascinating. Clarkson’s commentary is true to his Top Gear form – so you can expect some sarcasm and political incorrectness. – Kate M.
Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Might not be great for kids, but I bizarrely stand in awe before man’s desire to love and be loved. I also think Aziz is hilarious, so this book is simply Doritos for the mind. – Alyssa B.
Short Cuts: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver
Carver created captivating and perfect vignettes inspired by everyday American life. It’s not necessarily a feel-good read, but each thought-provoking story will likely make you aware of your moral compass and consider the decisions you might make. – Kate M.
The New Yorker Magazine by (Various)
I am addicted to the New Yorker and probably read five to ten of their articles daily. My grandmother was a subscriber and kept the magazines by the stacks in her piano room, so I started feeding the beast at an early age (#ThugLife). The magazine has a really nice combination of narrative and history; you will even find a wonderful collection of brilliant fiction within the pages (or online). I gravitate pretty heavily to Jeffrey Toobin’s writing (#FangirlStatus), but will read just about anything in the New Yorker: from business to politics to culture to crime. There is definitely something for everyone here. – Eriel F.
The Habit of Being by Flannery O’Connor
My mother gave me a collector’s edition of this book for Christmas. O’Connor’s work does a marvelous job of marrying the darkness of humanity with man’s desire to know (philosophy), and man’s desire to believe in something greater than himself. Her work can be quite dark and her short stories often leave readers dissatisfied because they don’t end as expected, so read with caution. – Alyssa B.
On the Genealogy of Morals by Nietzsche
This is probably not a book for kids, but I find it fascinating how Nietzsche took the views of his time and completely turned them upside down. I don’t think it is possible to read Nietzsche without entering into an existential crisis. – Alyssa B
History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
This is a behemoth of a read, but it’s worth the effort if you have an interest in history, war, and — dare I say it — Frank Miller’s 300. Before you AmazonPrime the book, this isn’t a slow-mo-bloodbath of a tale chronicling the Spartans (overly) dramatized battle against the Persians — that’s merely a paragraph. Thucydides chronicles the conflicts between two empires over shipping, trade, and colonial expansion in Greece that spanned through nearly three decades of war and eventually ended the Athenian empire. This text is exhaustive, factual, and completely unromantic, and at the same time, it’s brilliant, incredibly detailed, and will make your home library look ultra gangsta. – Eriel F