It’s impossible to narrow the list of my favorite books down to just the top five that have affected me the most. But I’m going to try.
There’s a book challenge going around various social media sites right now that requires you to list the 10 books that have affected you the most. Here at Hypable, we’re kicking off our own version of the challenge. While we may be doing only five books, we’re also going to tell you why they affected us — and maybe we can convince you to read them, too.
These five books aren’t necessarily my favorites of all time. They’re not the ones that are most popular. They’re not even the ones I’ve read the most times. These are the books that have stuck with me long after I put them down.
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
You didn’t actually think I was going to leave this one off the list, did you? I might as well get it out of the way, since it’s probably a given for most people. I promise my other answers will be a little more off the beaten path. But regardless of its popularity, I chose the Harry Potter series because it inspired me to be a writer, and it still continues to do so even to this day. The world of Harry Potter is expansive and brilliantly written, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of the written word. J.K. Rowling is, and continues to be, such an inspiration to those of us who know what it’s like to struggle, financially or otherwise, but still want to achieve our wildest dreams, whether that’s becoming a writer or something else entirely.
‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein was the first classic I ever read that I couldn’t put down. Not only was it engaging (a new concept for me when it came to the classics), it also taught me that pop culture murdered Frankenstein’s monster. Nearly all of the iterations of Frankenstein’s monster portrayed him as dull and murderous — a quintessential villain. But in the book, he has thoughts and feelings. He doesn’t want to kill; instead he wants to be accepted. Yes, he becomes a villain, but is that really his fault? Who is more of the monster, the creature or his creator? Frankenstein asks the hard questions and makes you re-evaluate your definition of evil.
‘Speak You Also’ by Paul Steinberg
Much like Frankenstein, the non-fiction book Speak You Also asks the hard questions. It is the true account of Paul Steinberg, who was 16 years old when he was deported to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. What made this book so powerful for me was that I read it after reading Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz. In Levi’s book, Steinberg is portrayed as Henri, a prisoner who was willing to do anything to stay alive. Though it was easy to accept his villainous role in Survival, it’s also easy to understand why he did what he did when he talks about his actions in Speak You Also. And without a doubt, the line that has stuck with me the most was when Steinberg asks, “Is it so wrong to survive?”
‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell
It was difficult to choose between Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and her other novel Eleanor & Park. While I definitely connected with both of the main female characters in these books, I felt as if Cath was a fictionalized version of myself. Never have I read a novel that was such a true account of what it is like to live with social anxiety. At one time or another, I have felt every fear Cath felt in Fangirl — down to eating terrible food in my dorm room by myself because I was afraid of going outside and venturing to the cafeteria alone. This book was hard to get through because it was so realistic. But aside from that, it also gave me hope that there’s a Levi waiting out there for even the most awkward, nerdy, anxiety-riddled girl to exist outside the pages of a young adult novel.
‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ by Audrey Niffenegger
I don’t like sad things. I’ve never seen The Notebook, I refuse to watch The Lion King anymore, and I’ll probably never read The Fault in Our Stars a second time. So it should be pretty surprising that The Time Traveler’s Wife is on my list. It doesn’t have a typical happy ending, and it’s full of missed opportunities, chance encounters, broken promises, ruined moments, and heartbreak. It’s a messy book. The beginning and the end of these characters’ lives seemingly happen simultaneously, and there’s no way to stop what is bound to happen. It’s tragic, but in the most beautiful way possible, and that’s why I love this book. It taught me that even sad endings can have a glimmer of happiness, and that perhaps enduring the pain of life’s inevitability can be worth every second.