As English/Creative Writing major, I’ve read a lot of books for school. Some I loved, and a lot I did not love. I took courses on Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and even Tolkien and Lewis, so I of course read their books and several other classics. But beyond those lovelies, here are ten books I had to read for school and actually enjoyed:

All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling-Down House by David Giffels: I usually don’t read non-fiction, but I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir by David Giffels. It had the right amount of humor mixed with interesting details of renovating this old rundown house that kept me hooked.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley: I actually read this book twice, once in high school and once in college. I can definitely say I appreciated it a lot more the second time around. This book is super eerie because of the utopian world structure and the haunting tale that is told. But I think it’s something more people should read so we make sure our world doesn’t turn into this.

Transall Saga by Gary Paulsen: I read this book in eighth grade. Actually, I read this book several times during eighth grade. I don’t know if I enjoyed it so much I wanted to read it and re-read it or if I simply wanted to prove I could read the same required reading as everybody else only multiple times. This book introduced me to the science-fiction genre, though, and the story definitely resonated with me in some manner. I should probably re-read it at some point to see what I think of it now.

Beowulf: I’ve heard many people complain about reading Beowulf for school. They say it’s boring or hard to understand, but me? I loved it. I read the Seamus Heaney translation, which was so beautiful and poetic. That’s probably the main reason I enjoyed it, but I can’t get over the epic story, the monsters and dragons, and the battles included as well. It’s so fun! I really want to read Tolkien’s translation, though, as well.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: I took a course on Mary Shelley and how she influenced the science-fiction and horror genre. It was fascinating. I was supposed to read Frankenstein during the summer before tenth grade, but I never actually did it. Now that I have, years later, I definitely appreciate the story and what Shelley included. (Side note: Victor is the worst and the Creature is a poor baby.)

Night by Elie Wiesel: I read this book in tenth grade, and I think it was the first Holocaust story that resonated with me. Sure, I had learned about the Holocaust before that, but this book opened my eyes to the true horrors of the Holocaust. Elie Wiesel’s words were beautifully devastating and have haunted me ever since.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: A lot of the books I read for school were classics or non-fiction books, but Everything I Never Told You was one of the few contemporary fiction books I read and enjoyed. The story that is told was beautiful and stunning. The setting, the family relationships, everything was captivating. Because of this, I’ve basically vowed to read anything Celeste Ng writes because wow. She’s a good writer. (It’s also the one book from college I regret not buying.)

Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee: During my last semester of college, I took a Post-Colonial class simply to fill my schedule, but it turned out to be one of the better classes I took in college. It helped me understand other people’s stories, especially refugees and immigrants, and the need for diversity in fiction. Jasmine was one of the books we read and it left me feeling conflicted. On one side, it helped me understand the world, but on the other, the ending and the character arc left me at a crossroads. Still, it was astounding to read.

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Another book from my Post-Colonial class, this was my favorite we read. Chimamanda Adichie has a way with words and spilling out truths with her characters’ lives. There are things in this book I learned about Nigerian history that I didn’t know previous. Again, it’s a reminder why these stories–all stories–are so vital to our world.

The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Volger: I took a lot of writing classes in college, and this was one of the “textbooks” we used to focus on fiction and characters. It was super helpful for story-writing and understanding how stories work. I’d recommend it to any fiction writers, whether they write fantasy or not.

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