Gina Vaynshteyn
October 15, 2014 7:19 am

It’s that time of the year, guys. And I don’t mean the pumpkin-overload-Halloween– costume-stress,-already-thinking-about-Thanksgiving time of year (although I’m not denying its importance). I’m talking about the time of year where you realize you need to pack in a few more novels before the year is up. (As if you needed more reminders of this fact, the National Book Award finalists were announced and the list is chock full of great reads.)

I don’t know about you, but I set pretty high standards for myself on New Year’s Day as far as my reading load goes. I get ambitious. And then I get kind of lazy. Work and school get in the way. I abandon my books for Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. It’s already mid-October and I have SO much catching up to do.

But luckily we have all of November, all of December, and a few weeks of October to get some serious reading done. I put together a book list I think will be perfect for all of us contemporary readers.

1. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This novel, which closely resembles a string of related thoughts more than a cohesive storyline, is as brilliant as it is gorgeous. Since the idea of marriage has been floating around thanks to the cinematic release of Gone Girl, I thought I would include another take on the institution of love. Its imperfections, loneliness, and its loveliness. Dept. of Speculation is also about growing up into your womanhood, what being a mother is like, as well as the desire to write.

2. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

This was the summer of Roxane Gay, and I think the world became a better place because of it. With the release of An Untamed State and Bad Feminist, Roxane basically ruled the literary world. Bad Feminist is incredible, and while I totally recommend everyone read it, I think An Untamed State was just as monumental. I first have to mention that An Untamed State was a hard book to read. Not because it was tedious. In fact, I read it over a span of two days. It was hard to read because it was so vivid, and so, so heart-wrenching. Mireille, the protagonist, is kidnapped when she returns to Haiti, the country in which she was raised. Her kidnappers abuse her in ways I cannot even fathom because her father refuses to pay her ransom out of pride and dignity. Mireille survives, but she loses a huge part herself, a part which she loved and cherished.

3. No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay is probably the most endearing poet I’ve ever seen perform. She’s so full of life, it almost seems like she doesn’t know what to do with all of it. So, I guess, she puts it into her poetry. Sarah Kay writes about love, family, fun, history, and childhood. I love that her work is accessible; it’s also tender, beautiful, and weirdly relatable.

4. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings is a novel primarily about friendship, but it’s also about growing up. Teenagers who meet in a summer camp instantly form a clique that lasts well into their adult lives. These teenagers become adults who have careers, but they soon learn the harsh realities of letting go of their day-dreams and substituting them for more practical realities. This novel resonated with me on so many levels; as I watch my old friends and acquaintances from high-school become brand new people, I always wonder how much of that transformation was due to their innate talents. How much of it was hard work? Or luck, even?

5. Graduates in Wonderland by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale

You know what I just realized? There just aren’t enough books in the format of letters anymore. When I was little, one of my favorite books was called Snail Mail No More, which was this very 2000s YA book about two girls (Tara*Starr and Elizabeth) who e-mailed each other about their turbulent tween lives. Graduates in Wonderland fondly reminded me of it, but all grown up. And maybe a little bit more savvy in terms of technology. In this memoir, Jessica and Rachel keep a close correspondence as they figure things out after college. Jessica moves to China on a whim while Rachel tries out New York. If you feel like you’re floundering and lost and scared, you should read this book. It will calm you down. It will make you laugh. It will make you feel like you’re Jessica and Rachel’s BFF. And it will remind you that everything will be okay.

6. How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

I fell in love Caitlin Moran after the first page of How to be a Woman, so I had pretty huge expectations for How to Build a Girl. Luckily, Moran’s latest novel is amazing, so she does not disappoint in the slightest. How to Build a Girl is a semi-autobiographical novel about Johanna Morrigan, a teenager who decides to reinvent herself completely, devouring poetry and music and antiheroes in the process. And she goes a little wild, like most unguided teenagers do.

7. California by Edan Lepucki

Fan of dystopian novels? California is dark read, a novel about two people, Cal and Frida, who leave their destroyed city of LA for a more desolate place in the wild, where they learn how to live with limited resources. Frida discovers she’s pregnant, and as we all know, a post-apocalyptic society is no place to raise a babe.

8. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Oscar, who is the biggest “ghetto nerd” ever, is a hopeless romantic. However, his dreams of finding the true love of his life may be in jeopardy, thanks to the fuku, a curse that has stayed in the Wao family for generations (I hate it when that happens!). However, Oscar has dreams and he has ambition. Thus, he embarks on an epic adventure that is seriously the most endearing and delightful thing you’ll ever read.

9. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

When you will want to read The Paris Wife: on a rainy, gloomy day, with a mug of English Breakfast tea in your lap. This historical fiction novel is about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s wife. If you’re a huge Jazz Age fangirl, you will love this deeply rich and romantic story. I found myself almost loving this book even more than anything written by Hemingway; the insight on his relationship with Hadley was beautiful and heartbreaking, and you see a side to this couple (as well as the era) you would never expect.

10. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham

Of course no book list is complete without the recently released Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham’s first book of essays. While I’ve always loved Girls, I think I love Not That Kind of Girl even more. It’s brash, hilarious, poignant, heartbreaking, and wonderful. Dunham’s writing is not only relatable, but it makes me want to be better. Be more honest with myself, with my writing, and with what kind of girl I am.

(Image via, Barnes & Noble)

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