It has been proven that reading for fun can be extremely beneficial to one’s mental health. Reading can reduce stress, provide us with a healthy escape, make us more understanding, and give us an opportunity to identify with others in similar circumstances, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you have yet to try reading on your own terms, free from deadlines and obligatory material, here are the best books in a variety of genres for you to explore in 2023, including some recommended by students and professors.
Fiction: The Celebrants by Steven Rowley “The Celebrants” focuses on a group of friends who met in college and made a pact to begin having “living funerals” for each other — a way to honor life — after a member of their group passed away in school. Twenty-eight years later, a different member of the crew receives unexpected news, and the gang is forced to truly face their past demons.
Historical Fiction: On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong Senior environmental science and policy and philosophy politics and economics major Anthony Liberatori recommended this work of historical fiction which he read over spring break. This book is written in the form of a letter written from a son to his mother about his experiences while living his adolescence during the Vietnam War.
Liberatori shared that he felt he had “never really learned about long-lasting effects [of the Vietnam War] on interracial children.” He added that this novel gave him a great deal of insight into this and also how soldiers and Vietnamese immigrants alike were affected.
Science Fiction: Arch-Conspirator by Veronica Roth This novel tells the tale of the conflict between Antigone, an orphan, and her uncle, Kreon, who has conspired to rob her parents’ throne. They inhabit the last city outside Earth, where humanity is only able to survive because of the Archive, which stores the genes of the dead. Kreon has devised a plan to keep Antigone from claiming her parents’ throne, but she will not give it up without a fight.
Nonfiction: Sink: A Memoir by Joseph Earl Thomas Joseph Earl Thomas grew up in a home that was falling apart. His mother suffered from drug addiction, and it became his norm to face bullying and violence at school and then return to a house crawling with decay and roaches. Thomas touches on important topics like toxic masculinity and how violence can become a cycle. He also shares how he was partially saved by “geek culture” as he utilized virtual and fantasy worlds as an escape from his own.
Romance: The Neighbor Favor by Kirstina Forest Lily Greene is an aspiring children’s book editor who feels unsuccessful compared to the rest of her accomplished family. After being ghosted via email by her favorite fantasy author, Lily strikes up an exciting relationship with her good-looking new neighbor. However, Lily is completely unaware that this intriguing man is none other than her favorite fantasy author who previously ceased his correspondence with her.
Mystery: The Sentence by Louise Erdrich This recommendation is from junior journalism and information science major Victoria Stavish. This novel surrounds the mystery of a bookstore that becomes haunted by a customer after her passing. In 2021, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Stavish shared that when she read this book over spring break, it kept her engaged throughout, and that “it was from a Native American perspective, so it had a lot of aspects I didn’t know about and got to learn about.”
Horror: The Angel Maker by Alex North Katie Shaw lived a blissful life in the English countryside growing up, but her entire world was turned upside down when a violent act was committed against her family by a stranger. Later on, her brother Chris goes missing, and it is up to Katie and Detective Laurence Page to connect current events with the gruesome crimes committed against the Shaw family years ago.
Poetry: Chrome Valley: Poems by Mahogany L. Browne Browne shares her experiences as a Black woman in America through her poetry. She praises her ancestors and connects their experiences to her own in the modern world. This book is appropriate for anyone looking to explore poetry as a whole or gain a unique perspective on living as a woman of color in a challenged society.
*Professor Pick: The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin Professor Scott Trudell of UMD’s Department of English recommends this science fiction trilogy written by UMD alumna N.K. Jemisin. This series consists of “The Fifth Season”, “The Obelisk Gate,” and “The Stone Sky.” Trudell described the books as “suspenseful science fiction novels about humanity’s relationship to the natural world—in particular, rock and stone.”
All of these books have the potential to offer a nice escape from the stresses of school, work or other, and each one comes with stellar reviews. If you need a solid way to pass your free time other than scrolling through TikTok or watching obscure television shows, these books are definitely worth a look.