A friend recently asked me what my go-to genre of book is and I drew a complete and total blank. Had someone asked me in elementary school, I might’ve said anything non-fiction à la Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie. In middle school I would’ve said Sarah Dessen’s romance novels without missing a beat. High-school me might’ve said “Salinger is my genre,” before moodily sliding back into marching band practice.
But grownup me can’t even pretend to have any sort of clue. My favorite genre changes hourly, or more realistically, depending on my mood. Sometimes I want an easy breezy book of comedic short stories. Sometimes I want only the classics.
So I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my go-to books under some different genres:
Classic: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
This novel still sparks an immense amount of controversy, as it should. Still, there’s something so eerily haunting about the humanization and empathy you begin to feel for protagonist Humbert Humbert, despite knowing everything he’s doing is wrong, so very wrong. The story never fails to keep me hooked while making me dizzy and uncomfortable in a way I’ve never felt before, and I think that’s something books were meant to do. Also, it’s so beautifully well-written it contains some of my favorite lines in literature of all time:
This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies.
Science Fiction: Under the Skin by Michel Faber
I’m not really sure how to describe this story without revealing too much. Even if you’ve seen the adaptation starring Scarlett Johansson (which was incredible in it’s own, completely independent way) you can trust that, although similar, the two plots are very, very different. The first time I read this novel I went into it completely blind, which made watching the story unfold as Isserley learns more and more about herself, this new planet she inhabits, and the humans she sees a journey in itself. I would (and usually do) recommend this book to any and everyone. It’s one of the most unique and heartbreakingly stunning novels I have ever read.
The past was dwindling, like something shrinking to a speck in the rear-view mirror, and the future was shining through the windscreen, demanding her full attention.
Comedy: Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz
This novel is unique because the entire storyline unfolds within dialogue between three friends, Emily, Vincent, and Marsha. The three thirty-something painfully narcissistic-yet-loving artists go through the trials and tribulations of money, sex, love, gossip, and friendship while lounging at their beach house in The Hamptons during the summer of 1965. It’s hilarious, charming, and relatable in the most unflattering of ways.
I don’t think novels can be written without the very sad and pitiful knowledge that they are totally self-conscious and ridiculous and untrue. I’m curious to see what Marsha does with hers. At least it’ll be true.
Memoir: Running with Scissors: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
When I was fourteen, my older sister bought this book at a Target because she thought the cover was cool, leant it to me, and my life was forever changed. Burroughs’s story of being legally adopted by his delusional mother’s unorthodox (and completely insane) psychiatrist is hilarious and heartbreaking all at once. This book is so addicting it’s impossible to put down (or even just read once). And, another very cool thing is that Burroughs has gone on to release a slew of other memoirs that are just as incredible, making him one of my favorite authors of all time. I recommend anything he has ever written.
My mother began to go crazy. Not in a ‘Let’s paint the kitchen red!’ sort of way. But crazy in a ‘gas oven, toothpaste sandwich, I am God’ sort of way.
Dark/Suspense: Girls on Fire: A Novel by Robin Wasserman
This story centers around two teenage girls who form a friendship that quickly becomes co-dependent and destructive as they navigate high-school and girlhood in the 1990’s. It all sounds simple enough, until it begins to unravel down a dark and chilling path that will leave any reader disturbed. I’m not really sure what I can even say to do this novel justice. This is a book that (seriously) messed me up for a long time. I had nightmares for weeks. Still, it’s haunting in all the right ways, illuminates the power and vulnerability of youth, and shows how far people will go to keep their friendships intact. I think it’s something everyone should read.
Girls had to believe in anything but their own power, because if girls knew what they could do, imagine what they might.
Romance: Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
This stunning story centers on Toru, a college student in Tokyo, and his relationship (and near-obsessive love) with his old friend, Naoko, as she struggles more and more with her own mental health and emotional well-being. The story is so honest, relatable, and tragic in the most beautiful way. I’m not sure I’d even call it a romance novel (I mostly just wanted to put it on this list) because, at the core, it’s really just a story about humanity, growth, and what it means to mourn.
If you’re in pitch blackness, all you can do is sit tight until your eyes get used to the dark.
Essays: Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Didion is one of the most iconic writers of all time, and for good reason. This was her first nonfiction release and contains her greatest Vogue essays (ie On Self-Respect) and more. Each piece is comforting, educational, and unique. Didion will make you think about the own ways in which you move about the world. She’ll also take you back to the sixties so you can witness the birth of the hippy movement and the shifts in music, drugs, and culture. This collection is never not exciting to read.
Janis Joplin is singing with Big Brother in the Panhandle and almost everybody is high and it is a pretty nice Sunday afternoon.
Non-Fiction: The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City by Jennifer Toth
This book is a collection of photographs, interviews, and first-hand accounts from a young reporter’s journey into the subway tunnels of New York City in 1993 and the communities that resided there. It’s an incredible look at homelessness that will educate you, crush any biases you may have, and break your heart all at once. It should be required reading.
The tunnels comfort me, I guess, because they’re mine. They know what’s inside me and they feel the way I do. Always. Like, you know, when you bomb a test but it’s sunny outside? Well, that doesn’t happen in the tunnels,” she laughs. “They’re always dark inside, like me, but inside, I’m like the tunnel—dark, winding, and twisting.
Featured Image via Matthew Remski.