Top Ten Books for Winter Break

I will be the first to admit that I own way too many books for a dorm room. The “shame stack” of various novels that I have bought over the semester and have had no time to actually read has grown precariously high. Thankfully, winter break is here at MNSU, and I will be able to finally take some of these home to read. However, I also have a shorter stack of books that I keep next to my bed: some of my all-time favorite stand-alone novels that I keep around in case I ever want to reread them again. I even plan to bring some of these home. Thus, to close off the year, here are some of my favorite books (in no particular ranking order) that you might like to read on your vacation.

First off, “Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

This is the book that I recommend most often, to the point where I have an extra copy for the specific purpose of loaning out to people. The story centers on the end of the world, with global phenomena left and right and the armies of Good and Evil amassing for a grand battle, all according to plan. All except an angel and a demon, who have grown fond of Earth and would not like to see it end, and everyone seems unable to track down the eleven-year-old Antichrist. The fast-paced and hilarious book follows supernatural beings, children, satanic nuns, the four horsepersons of the apocalypse, witches, the world’s two remaining witchfinders, and more in a strangely lovable ensemble cast. Anyone familiar with either of these two authors can see both of their irreverent and disturbing writing styles shining through and combining unexpectedly well. Good for reading by the fire as your hot chocolate slowly grows colder.

For a classic, “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger.

This can probably be seen as just a way to get on good terms with your English professor next semester, but I genuinely enjoy this book and have for a while now. The well-known novel about a sixteen-year-old boy bumming around New York City has been praised for years, and I can see why. A lot of people I know who have read this book absolutely hate the main character Holden Caulfield, and I can see why that would be the case as well. But I would argue that at some point in our lives, we’ve all been Holden Caulfield; stuck between childhood and adulthood, not sure how to behave, and just trying to make sense of it all. It’s engaging, cynically heartfelt, and fits the time of year perfectly.

Next up, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.

I’m technically cheating when I call this a stand-alone novel, as it’s due to receive a sequel in the future. Nevertheless, it stands on its own perfectly well. One of the more charming realistic coming-of-age novels (in my opinion), the writing of this book actually slightly resembles that of the previous listing, “The Catcher in the Rye,” but in a way that seems to appeal to more people. It follows the narrator Ari’s train of thought, thinking through moments of confusion, observing people’s microexpressions, and often waxing poetic. This is also a young adult novel, and does one thing better than any other YA novel I’ve seen: the parents. While most parents in these kinds of books act as hindrances at best, here, they’re all people with their own complex personalities. And while not being the focus of the story, the two main characters actually make a conscious effort to understand their parents, just as their parents try to understand them. It’s the kind of book that one can respect just as much as one can want to just give it a hug.

Then we have “Vicious” by V.E. Schwab.

Cheating again for the same reason as the last one, but again, it stands on its own, and I really wanted to include something by this author. “Vicious” is a novel meant to turn the idea of a superhero story on its head. It focusses on a rivalry between two men who discovered how to give a person incredible abilities back when they were in college, resulting in an accident that led to one being sent to prison. When he breaks out ten years later, he wants revenge, and has brought on the help of his former cellmate and a twelve-year-old girl. If I were to give an abstract, I’d say to picture Magneto and Professor X in the TV show world of “Heroes,” but with Professor X trying to kill everyone. There’s a lot of action to be had.

Next on the shelf, “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak.

Screw it, if you’re looking at this list, you’ve probably read this one already. But it stands up to rereading. The tragic story of a small girl in Nazi Germany narrated by the coolest possible character certainly cannot deserve to fade into obscurity. It’s still beautiful, and will probably still make us cry.

Now for some levity, “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh.

This one has also grown to receive a fair amount of fame, but it still bears a recommendation, especially for those looking for something lighter. And when I say “lighter” I mean a bit more quick and easy to read. Amid the humorous short stories of childhood occurrences and clever observations of life lies honestly one of the most real and straightforward first-hand accounts of depression I have ever seen. This comedy-based collection of vignettes from Allie Brosh’s blog also warrants plenty of re-reading.

Then we have “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi.

(Yes there are two books, yes the first one is fine on its own, yes the two can easily be found in a single volume.) Here is the famous memoir relating to impactful historical events. Every list has to have one of these. In all truth though, I was obsessed with this book when I was fourteen. It focusses on the life of the author, Marjane Satrapi, growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Told in the form of a black-and-white graphic novel, often paired with “Maus,” this book explains and shows the trials of growing up in this situation from a child’s perspective beautifully well (at least the first one does), and the themes of extremism and human understanding remains resonant to this day.

On a wildly different note, “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern.

I’m a personal fan of media that makes me work to understand it (as some of the other books on this list might demonstrate), and this is a well-recieved example. The complex and beautifully-woven story centers around the mysterious travelling circus, Le Cirque des Rêves, secretly kept alive by two young magicians - Celia and Marco - trained since birth for a battle to the death. Following multiple characters and jumping between various locations and times, “The Night Circus” is one of those stories where everything connects together, with symbols and clues spread out everywhere. Get ready to page through past chapters and look up the meanings of various tarot cards, because the magic is worth it.

And now there’s “More Than This” by Patrick Ness.

I feel it worth mentioning that the last person I recommended this to ended up very angrily crying by the end. Do with that what you will, I still strongly stand by that this is an amazing novel. The problem in discussing it lies in the fact that most details about the plot are revealed as the novel goes forward, from the characters’ backgrounds to the meaning of the setting. But, in taking from the back cover, I can say that the story is about a boy named Seth who dies right before waking up in his old hometown, where everything suddenly seems abandoned. The novel is a very unique one, from the set up to the format - third person, present tense - and I find it strange that it hasn’t gotten as much attention as the author’s other novels, such as “A Monster Calls.” If you’re looking for a unique and unpredictable page-turner, this may be a good one for you.

And lastly, “Nimona” by Noelle Stevenson.

This is a story that feels completely universal. It’s a relatively short graphic novel with elements of comedy, tragedy, fairy tales, science fiction and full of moral dilemmas. It also might do the greatest job of playing with classic character roles and archetypes that I have seen. Thinking of it now, it’s similar to what critics praised “Frozen” for doing, but in my opinion, this does it a bit better. The titular character is a young shapeshifter who employs herself as a sidekick to the famous supervillain Ballister Blackheart (subtlety does not exist here). While focussing on a villain’s perspective may not be new, I can’t help but be charmed by a morally ambiguous everyone, a setting that shouldn’t work but does (a mix of medieval styles and advanced technology) and a main character that the audience knows less and less about as more is revealed. It’s a simple yet complex epic fantasy, nominated for the National Book Award, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I hope you all have a wonderful winter break, and happy reading!