When you've read as many books as I have, it gets hard to remember every single one. The older I get, the more I'm realizing that I don't have the same memory for the things I read. "Back in the day" AKA in high school, I could remember plots and characters with great ease. Now, I can forget the main character's name from a book I just finished.
Knowing that, it's all the more impressive when a book sticks with me long enough that I continue to think about it weeks, months, even years after I read it.
To honor them for making such a good impression, they deserve to be part of a list.
172 hours on the moon - johan harstad
This book has stuck with me for multiple reasons. It was the first piece of translated work I'd read on my own, it borders the line between sci-fi and mild horror, it was a fantastic audiobook, and it's one of the few books that genuinely left me unsettled.
One of my favorite things about this book is the diversity of the main cast. We have a Japanese girl, a French boy, and Norwegian girl coming together for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of going to space as teenagers. During each of their introductions, we get to see them in their home countries and experience a little of what their life is like before they head to NASA. The combination of cultures makes for an interesting dynamic and some very real challenges and the characters get to know each other and become a team.
Each of the characters brings something different to the table and they're realistically written with flaws that had me frustrated with them at times. Remembering how real they felt is one of the things I enjoy so much about this book, along with the fact that it suitably creeped me out. Of all the horror books I've read, this is the only one that actually made me feel unsettled even after the book was over.
I haven't read a book like this since and I doubt I'll find anything quite like it. Harstad's writing is highly atmospheric, making it a really engaging reading experience. Though I haven't read it as a physical book, I have no doubt that it works just as well as it did on audio. And the fact that it holds up this well after being translated from Norwegian to English is a testament to his skill.
the night circus - erin morgenstern
The truth is, I haven't fully stopped thinking about this book since I read it last October. It's one of those books I wish I could go back and read again for the first time because everything about it is stunning. People have been raving about it for years, but it wasn't until I read it that I understood what the hype was all about.
Morgenstern's writing is best described as lyrical and enchanting. The way she uses words to describe the Night Circus and the people working there is like nothing I've ever experienced before. She crafts sentences with such delicate beauty, they're almost works of magic in their own right. And the way it all melds together to tell a beautiful story makes the reading experience unlike any other.
I've spent a lot of time wishing this circus was real. If it were, I'd go there as often as possible and bask in the creativity and inspiration it would give me. The notion of a circus that opens at dusk and closes at dawn is so simple, but no one else could write about it the way Morgenstern does. No one else could create this world so vividly and do it justice. Absolutely no one else could have written this book. Reading this captured me in a way that I love. It was the kind of book that I kept turning the pages of, not realizing how long I've been reading until something makes me put it down. And I would give anything to be able to read it again for the first time.
Another reason this sticks with me is because the first draft was written during NaNoWriMo. It's a little reminder that success can come out of the hot mess of words that get thrown onto the page during those 30 days and that first drafts can become something far more beautiful.
the hunger games - suzanne collins
I credit this book with being the catalyst of me getting back into reading. There was a gap of time between middle school and high school when I wasn't reading as much. Coming across these because the movies were coming out changed everything.
Falling in love with this series was what introduced me to the online book community. I found BookTube because I wanted to know if other people online shared my deep love of books and reading. For the first time, I really felt like I had found people who shared the same passions I did, something that few friends in my life have been able to truly understand.
Out of my love for this series came my discovery of the dystopian genre, which later led me to discover a lot of the books I love now. If it wasn't for this, I wouldn't be the reader I am today.
With the release of A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I've found myself wanting to revisit the original trilogy. My well-loved copies are currently on the other side of the world, so I'll likely have to borrow them from the library when I do my re-read. It's been years since I've picked up the books, so I'm curious to see how being older changes the way I see the story and experience things I've forgotten since my last re-read.
Also, Catching Fire is one of the best book-to-movie adaptations out there and nothing will change my mind.
five run away together - enid blyton
Of all the Enid Blyton books out in the world, this is probably my favorite. It was the first of the Famous Five series that I read and it's the one I've re-read the most since. Something about the premise of children running away to their own island and defeating bad guys in the process makes this stick out in my mind as one of my favorite mysteries of all time.
I have a lot of fondness in my heart for this series in general, but whenever I think of the kids and these books, this is what my mind goes to. As a child and pre-teen, I longed for my own island that could offer refuge if ever I needed it. I loved the idea of running away to a place without other people (okay, maybe I still enjoy this idea) and spending days roaming with my dog.
Blyton's work is my reminder that mysteries can be good without involving a lot of the tropes we see now. There can just be a solid crime and people working to figure out what's going on without the crazy twists and turns and POV changes that I've come to expect of modern mysteries. It's the kind of mystery I still prefer because the basis is always either a crime committed or a crime intended. And at my core, I always want to play detective alongside the people who are trying to solve something truly interesting.
vicious - v.e. schwab
You didn't really expect make to make a list of memorable books and not talk about V.E. Schwab, did you?
I don't know that I could ever fully explain what this book means to me or how much Schwab's work has impacted my life. When I was looking into the books she had out at the time, trying to decide on what to start with, I decided to go with the first one I had heard about, which was Vicious. It was explained to me as an anti-hero story with people who actually had superpowers. I was sold. Having loved X-Men and and Marvel movies for years, it felt like the right place to start amidst her already impressive backlist of books.
Something about reading this unlocked a deeper understanding of what it meant to write a book, to tell a story. It was the first time I consciously experienced a writing style that was gorgeous in the way it strung words together, but also straightforward and simple. It was the realization that this is the kind of writing style I had been developing and was trying to understand. And I felt seen.
The story itself isn't the most complicated or original, but the execution is so different from anything thing else I had read at the time. A true exploration into what it's like when no one is truly the hero and everyone does bad things for reasons they think are good. It's real in a way that reflects on what humanity is like and what we're all capable of if we had enough conviction in our beliefs.
legend - marie lu
It may come as a surprise that I own more of Lu's work than I do any other author's. Of the 12 books she's published, I own 11 of them. Of those 11, I've read 9.
Legend was a book I read during my heavily dystopian phase. It was the only trilogy I owned that was written a POC, and it was the first time I saw myself represented as a main character in a popular book. I was 15 at the time and seeing that representation was completely new to me. Granted, Day is half-Mongolian and I'm fully Chinese, but seeing an Asian main character represented well and portrayed as a love interest was something I had never experienced in any of the books I'd read up until that point. And it's one of the reasons I carry this series so close to my heart.
Seeing Lu's name printed on a book cover, an Asian last name, was also very new to me. She's a best-selling author and she's Chinese, just like I am. For the first time, I felt like I actually had a chance of making it in publishing without needing to change my last name or write under a Western pen name. I saw a Chinese female author do what I wanted to do, and it's kept me working on my own writing.
In many ways, this book represents something I finally saw as achievable and it truly made me realize that Asians could be main characters in books and could be love interests who wound up with a happy ending. And if I ever meet Marie Lu, I'd likely cry while explaining what her work has meant for me.
the roommate - rosie danan
Of all the books on this list, this is the freshest in my mind because I just read it over a month ago. This book was so good that it helped me write about sex in books and also made me more open to trying romances in the future.
I think about this book a lot not because of the steamy scenes (although sometimes because of that), but because it helped me come to terms with acknowledging that as a woman, it's okay to have sexual desires and it's okay to want to be physically pleased/fulfilled. I'd known all those things before, but seeing it on the pages of a book solidified that I shouldn't be ashamed of any of those things.
It's rare for male protagonists to have the outlook Josh has in this book. Yes, he enjoys sex and that's why he went into the porn industry, but he also truly believes that female pleasure is important and he's incredibly willing to make that a reality. I found it refreshing to read about a man who truly wants women to have good experiences in bed, regardless of whether or not he gets any.
I think it's a book that deserves more hype and discussion not for the sex scenes, but for what it means when women feel empowered in being able to ask for sexual fulfillment. Gaining self-acceptance through reading this is not what I expected at all, but it's what I will value the most from this book.
young jane young - gabrielle zevin
I'd never though much about what life was like for the women who were part of high-profile affairs until I read this book. Admittedly, I'd been quick to shame these women for "not knowing better" and judging them for their actions. But reading this made me realize that it's not always that black and white.
This book has reframed the way I think about women who get involved with married men and had challenged me to dismantle an instinct of slut-shaming. I didn't realize I need either of those things until I was part way through the book and found myself struggling to continue. Not because it was bad, but because I wasn't thrilled with what it was revealing about me.
Zevin manages the impressive feat of not taking a side and exploring the affair through the lens of five different women. They're each affected in a unique way and have to come to terms with how that changes their lives. There's no attempts to make you feel bad for the people who engaged in the affair, no romantic twists that make it all okay. It's a harsh, thought-provoking dive into how society views women who are caught in affairs and how other women are encouraged to shame each other for their decisions.
After finishing this, I spent days thinking about my own biases and what it meant for them to be challenged like this. When my best friend Jemi read the book at my recommendation, we were able to have a long conversation about how frustrated we both felt at times and what that revealed about ourselves. I'd like to think that I've grown into a better person because I read this.
And there we have it! Eight books I still think about because they've impacted me greatly in some way.
I had a ton of fun putting this together and I'd definitely do it again in the future. As I was putting this list together, I noticed the theme emerging and decided to roll with it. There are other books I think about simply because they're fun, and I'd love to share those with you guys too.