"I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book." Those wise words come from J.K. Rowling, but I couldn't agree more. Books are a safe haven that help us escape the harsh edges of our lives—but, every once in a while, you come across a book that follows you into the real world. A book that hurdles you into a state of self-reflection and completely revamps your personal perspective. They’re hard to find, but completely impossible to forget when you do. Below, we rounded up some all-time literary bestsellers that have already left their mark on millions.
Get ready for the glorious glut of teenage angst that is Holden Caulfield. You were probably assigned this book in high school and were surprised it passed the curriculum, thanks to its overwhelming amount of slang and blasphemy. But Holden’s unfiltered first-person prose is why this book stays with you—he comes across as an authentic and hilarious voice (or arrogant and selfish, depending on your perspective) as he endures the mountains of adolescence.
Technically, this book is about a young man who gets into a boating disaster and tries to survive in a boat with a bunch of animals. But inside these pages, you’ll find a brilliant and deep-rooted idea about religion that will make you fundamentally question and rethink your personal beliefs.
Have you ever tried to justify something you did that you know was wrong? Well, in Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov does it for a whole novel. This book follows the trials and tribulations of an ex-student in Saint Petersburg who decides to kill a pawnbroker for her money. Although the student tries to defend himself by saying the world is better off without a selfish and evil woman, and that he can do better deeds with that fortune (this is where utilitarianism was born, BTW), he forgets to account for the power of human conscience that plagues him after what he’s done.
Probably one of Stephen King’s most underrated books, The Long Walk is existential fiction at its finest. This novel takes place in a future dystopia where contestants compete in a walking competition. Doesn’t sound so hard, right? Well if you stop walking, or slow down too much, you get shot. The last person standing wins. Ultimately, the race can be perceived as a metaphor of life itself, and as the boys begin to break down physically and mentally, King questions the value of life in the midst of suffering, and how we push beyond sanity to sustain it.
If you try to highlight all the phrases in The Alchemist that are quotes to live by (like I did), you’ll leave half the book lit up in color. The story follows a quest of an Andalusian shepherd boy as he chases a prophecy that states he will find treasure and fortune at the Egyptian Pyramids. But it's the lessons that Santiago learns on the journey that will stay with you long after you finish the book. As he realizes his “destiny” and troops on despite the fear and uncertainty, you’ll be inspired, too.
This gut-wrenching memoir follows neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi as he deals with a cancer diagnosis, recording his musings on life, death, illness, and humanity. A few months after finishing the autobiographical book, he passed away from stage IV metastatic lung cancer. But this book is more about living than dying, and how one can transcend tragedy and make life meaningful in the time you’re given.
A fresh and timely book, Trick Mirror illuminates the cultural incentives that drive and shape millennials, urging us to question our modern-day mold of a society that very much revolves around us. It touches on everything from the way that we construct ourselves on the internet to issues like pervasive rape culture and the constant pressure we feel to optimize every aspect of our lives.
Tara Westover’s memoir is an exposé of her former Mormon life. Her traumatic experiences morph into self-revelation and rude awakenings, fueled by her drive for a Western education. The universal coming-of-age story emphasizes the importance of being education, and serves as an inspirational ode to anyone who comes from a dysfunctional family—you don’t have to remain trapped in your circumstances.
If you’re a fellow introvert, you’ll feel understood reading this. Cain delves deep into how American society encourages extrovert behavior to the point where many introverts feel like there is something wrong with them. However, she believes the difference between introverts and extroverts is related to brain physiology, and hence beyond the individual's control. More importantly, she argues that there is nothing wrong with being introverted, and that power can present itself quietly without sacrificing effectiveness.
This novel will make you feel on a deep and visceral level. It’s about two boys—Amir, a boy from a wealthy family, and Hassan, his best friend and also a servant who works in their house. Hosseini beautifully captures the sacred bond of friendship, and how it can persevere even when ripped apart by society’s discrimination.
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