Grab your tote bags and head down to Bird in Hand for an iced oat chai, because it’s time to sit down for some reading. No, not the desert-dry PDF scan your professor uploaded to Canvas. And no, the #fitspo Instagram captions that make you feel horrible about yourself don’t count either. When is the last time you sat down to a book that felt like it fed your soul? A book that inspired you to be the best version of yourself? While I myself do not read as much as I would like to, here is a roundup of some of the books that have made me feel like an empowered main character by the time I was done with them.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
I’ve gifted this book to multiple people since listening to it on audio while pipetting wells all summer. It’s an amazing book for anyone at Hopkins who feels like an impostor or some sort of “failure” for not measuring up to outside expectations.
The Midnight Library feels like a modern-day version of It’s a Wonderful Life. Nora Seed, a young woman, gets the opportunity to visit a place between life and death called “The Midnight Library,” where each book describes something she could have been if she had made a different choice. If she had stuck with swimming for longer, would she have ended up an Olympic athlete? Or could she end up escaping her hometown and becoming a glaciologist in the Arctic? While not giving away the ending, let’s just say that Nora slowly tears through the library and finds a story where she is exactly what she was meant to be. It turns out that the place was never so far away after all. Ultimately the book serves as a helpful reminder of honoring the things we can’t control and being grateful for what we have.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
If I haven’t spoiled it already, I listen to a lot of books on audio. And if you saw me laughing alone on North Charles Street with my Airpods in: First no you didn’t and, second, I was probably listening to Anxious People. Fredrik Backman is a genius at creating feel-good stories, and if you end up enjoying Anxious People, I recommend that you check out some of his other works as well.
In Anxious People, an apartment viewing turns into a proto-hostage situation as a bank robber tries to hide from a police pursuit. Yes I promise, the book is hilarious. It turns out each of the eight hostages is quite pathetic at being stereotypical hostages, and each of them enters the situation with a hefty amount of baggage. And while the book is hilarious, by the end you might find yourself in tears. All in all, it’s a great reminder to be kinder to others and to ourselves.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Don’t let the fact that this book is in the children’s section of the library deceive you. This book may be a quick read, but it’s not for those without a heart.
Though the story follows a space prince and his travels from planet to planet, it feels vaguely autobiographical. Saint-Exupéry was a pilot who, at one point, found himself stranded in the Libyan desert following a crash in 1935. In fact, he ultimately disappeared while performing a reconnaissance mission for the allies during World War II. Published posthumously, The Little Prince itself follows a pilot who also crashes into the Sahara, only to meet a young boy who calls himself “the Little Prince” and who claims to have come from a distant planet he has all to himself. The prince’s mysterious stories of his planetary travels and the characters he meets along the way will sound familiar to anyone who is trying too hard to be an adult right now. And an added plus: This book is quite short, so you can probably finish it in one coffee shop session.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck
I’m usually not huge on the early 2000s self-help book aesthetic, but this book truly made a profound impact on my work ethic. Surprisingly, my dad had encouraged me to finish it before I could get my hands on his copy of The Hunger Games back in middle school.
While there are over 200 pages of supporting examples, the main point of Mindset is that everyone is capable of change — with the proper mindset. For anyone about to give up on their math homework or change the major they love because they are just not good at it, Dweck reminds us that grit and growth are the keys to success, regardless of the abilities one is born with.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
My roommate in high school first recommended this book to me during college application season, but unfortunately I never got my hands on it until I graduated. For anyone looking to get beyond novels and delve into an “academia vibe,” this book is a good choice.
Meditations is essentially a collection of journal entries from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius almost 2000 years ago. Aurelius was known as a philosopher of stoicism, a school of thought which emphasized emotional resilience and the development of knowledge and virtue. Given that Aurelius never intended to publish Meditations, the book is not outstandingly structured, but that means it is easy to pick up and put down for long stretches of time. This book encouraged me to live free of worry or fear for the future and instead to craft the best life that I can.