All avid readers know one thing: There are stories that stick with us. Whether it’s a beloved childhood favorite or a book that truly frightened you, some stories find a space in your brain and completely occupy it, casually reemerging throughout your life and reminding you why you loved it so much in the first place. Sometimes a good twist has you confounded to the point that it still bothers you. Sometimes a memoir reminds you why the world is so funny. All stories affect people in different ways, but these are the top ten books that stick with me to this day.
I have been a total horror fan for as long as I can remember, so I rarely find new horror reads that truly surprise me. This book not only surprised me, but it actually unnerved me. There are some truly goose bump–inducing visuals in this that I still can’t shake, and although the ending packs a pretty gnarly punch, the entire ride is just as weird and confusing, which is absolutely a good thing. There are a ton of books that I remember having awesome endings and cool twists, but usually that’s the only thing that really sticks; however, with this book the entire thing has the same memorable off-putting vibe that stays with you long after you finish. I was so lucky my coworkers were reading this at the same time as I was, because—trust me—this is a book that demands to be discussed.
I’ve always been picky when it comes to celebrity nonfiction, but when I learned that my absolute favorite comedy icon, Tina Fey, had written an autobiography, I have never made a faster purchase in my life. To this day, BOSSYPANTS remains my favorite memoir by a comedian, although Amy Poehler’s Yes Please is only millimeters behind. This book is such an insightful look at an incredible career told by one of our sharpest and wittiest comedians. Truly capturing the offbeat energy of its author, BOSSYPANTS takes us through Fey’s rise to fame, her stumble into the unforgettable role of Sarah Palin, and the depth of her work behind the scenes of Saturday Night Live, all the way to her favorite bits and insider stories from the set of 30 Rock, with plenty of observations and hilarious insights into pretty much every aspect of life along the way. This is a pivotal piece of nonfiction from such a powerful voice, and it launched my present-day obsession into the world of stand-up comedy.
Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true.
In this riveting domestic thriller, a family is thrown into chaos after a disastrous event at their daughter’s sixteenth-birthday party. This debut made me such a fan of Robyn Harding that I’m instantly excited for all the new thrillers she’s written. The chapters are short, with multiple narrators, and it’s written with such expert use of tension and pacing that I read the entirety of the novel in one sitting. Bringing up interesting questions on culpability and responsibility and an illumination of the darker secrets inside of a seemingly “perfect” family, this book is one of the most compulsively readable books I’ve ever experienced.
An old woman is murdered in her home in a brutal fashion, causing the elderly residents of Seven Springs to move in with one another for safety. Another woman paints the crime scene with chilling accuracy despite not having seen the body. A teenage waitress finds herself in the middle of the whole mystery. This novel examines the rippling effect a crime can have on the multiple generations living in a community. With multidimensional characters and a truly shocking conclusion, this is a thriller that truly sets itself apart based on the depth and intricacies of its main characters.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER was one of the most heartbreaking and yet truly beautiful novels that I remember from high school. I’ve revisited quite a few times since then, and it always astounds me how it emotionally wrecks me every time. It follows Charlie, a sensitive boy who enters high school and finds friendship in Patrick, a gay teen, and his stepsister, Sam. Taken into their small group of friends he embarks on a journey of self-discovery and self-healing while also experiencing the “normal” high school lifestyle of parties and first loves. There are so many layers to this novel, with almost every character coming to terms with past traumas and self-identity. Absolutely a modern classic, the pure emotional depth will stick with you well after the final page.
In this fantastic work of domestic horror, a young girl tries to eliminate her mother from the family dynamic in a series of escalating and violent behaviors. What sets this story apart from the numerous entries into the “creepy kid” niche is the alternating narrative structure that allows us to see situations from both the mother, Suzette, and seven-year-old Hanna’s perspectives. Getting a glimpse into Hanna’s mind and the way Stage writes the inner mind of a child potentially trying to kill her mother is chilling. It has the childlike quality of how a daughter would justify her escalating behavior, but has a mystery about how much she really understands and manipulates the situations around her. With unnerving tension, this always stuck with me as one of the most well-developed modern horror novels I’ve ever read.
I have adored Bo Burnham since the early YouTube keyboard days, through Zach Stone Is Gonna Be Famous (which, hot take, is one of the most underrated television shows of the decade), and now through his turn as award-winning director of Eighth Grade. One of the smartest comedians of this generation, I had high expectations for his debut collection of poems in EGGHEAD: OR, YOU CAN’T SURVIVE ON IDEAS ALONE, and of course he didn’t disappoint. Some poignant, some satirical, some just silly, EGGHEAD is an adult take on the Shel Silverstein mix of poetry and illustrations that creates the same whimsical feeling that lasts the tests of time. Every poem has the sharp and intellectual comedy that makes Bo Burnham so impressive on-screen. Even when it’s just silly, it’s always smart.
QUEENIE follows the titular protagonist as she navigates her place between two cultures as a woman of Jamaican descent living in London. Following a breakup with her longtime boyfriend, she follows a self-destructive path as she struggles to find peace with her mental health and her interactions with those around her. A reflection on culture, race, identity, and mental health in a modern society, QUEENIE is a timely reflection on the life of a young woman in today’s world. Although not a flawless protagonist (I mean, who wants that?), Queenie is a deeply human one. This book is a gorgeously written exploration of the many ways heredity and social culture are in conversation and contrast with each other and the ways one woman learns to deal with both.
This is probably the first novel that actually broke me. Following an intensive internship at a New York magazine, Esther struggles with her mental health as she tries to find her identity in a society that doesn’t understand her. Striving to find her place in a time period where the concepts of womanhood are inherently against how she sees herself, she falls into a deep depression as she tries to find her voice as a writer. Dealing with the darkness of depression and suicide and the crippling fear that you won’t be able to outdo your past creative successes, this book is a gorgeous but haunting novel from an incredible author and artist who dealt with these themes personally. One of the most beautifully written novels I’ve ever read, it remains etched in my brain as a true classic.
A haunting classic that chronicles the breakdown of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under. This deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and makes us mourn Sylvia Plath’s tragic suicide at age thirty all the more.
Everyone has a book they credit with inspiring their love of reading. This was mine. I’m convinced Shel Silverstein had a direct mainline to magic. His creations were silly. They were poignant. They were just so inherently fun that magic is kind of the only possible way he could have accomplished it. I revisit this book constantly, and even as an adult there is so much heart in the pages of these poems and simple illustrations that it has remained a classic work of literature by a true artist. I just love the depths of Silverstein’s imagination, with weird concepts and even weirder art that works in such a pure way to stretch the minds of readers of all ages.
“Where the Sidewalk Ends”
I read WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS at the end of every school year all the way through. The title poem was one of my favorites, because it was about how we dwell in possibility. The line “Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, / And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go” explains the wonder of childhood exploration with perfect elegance. And that’s really the power of Shel Silverstein. —Leora