It goes without saying that Hopkins students are busy — and I don’t mean nine-to-five busy but rather a breed of busy that translates into an overcrowded, color-coded Google calendar with few breaks penciled in. So as dreamy as an afternoon curled up with a book may sound, finding those spare moments of leisure is hard, and picking out a good book only eats into that already-scarce time. Recognizing that, I’ve done the hard part for you: I read 142 books last year and highlighted five worth your precious free time.
1. Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney (2021) – Literary Fiction
I listened to a friend rave about this book for the entirety of last semester but didn’t get my hands on it until winter break — once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Rooney’s unique style of writing draws you in from the start; she seamlessly switches from first to third-person narration and alternates between the perspectives of Alice and Eileen, two friends struggling to navigate the challenges of young adulthood and their changing relationship.
Through their exchanges, Rooney makes poignant observations about society that will be relatable to college students who are nearing entry into the “real world.” You’ll see parts of yourself reflected in the multilayered personalities she skillfully constructs that makes them feel more like people than book characters. This title won several awards, and for good reason — I never wanted it to end.
2. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018) – Contemporary Fiction
Unthinkable circumstances throw Celestial, Roy and Andre into a complicated love triangle, but this isn’t your typical romance novel. In describing the trials they face, Jones exposes the intricacies of marriage and critiques the racial disparities that plague American society. Though written a few years ago, the tension captured in these pages has only become more relevant in light of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. This book achieves an unexpected level of emotional depth and inspires thoughtful deliberation on our contemporary notions of race, romance and womanhood.
3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2015) – Historical Fiction
Hannah sends readers back to 1939: World War II is brewing in Europe, and France faces the threat of Nazi invasion, forcing sisters Vianne and Isabelle to make impossible sacrifices for those they care about. Though they pursue distinct forms of resistance and grow apart consequently, both women make invaluable contributions to their countries and their families. Hannah develops themes of love, resilience and courage as the narrative progresses and illuminates the oft-ignored role played by women during the war — an intentional focus I appreciated and found eye-opening.
4. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro (2021) – Science Fiction
Science fiction truthfully isn’t my go-to genre, but Ishiguro writes in such a way that I can set my preferences aside. Narrated from the perspective of Klara, an “Artificial Friend” with sharp observational skills, Ishiguro comments on the relationship between humans and technology. His imagined dystopia in which children are genetically engineered to boost their cognitive abilities is not difficult to envision and invites readers to ponder the ethics of technology. As Klara forms connections with the people around her, Ishiguro further prompts readers to contemplate where we draw the line between humans and machines and what it means to love.
5. The Guest List by Lucy Foley (2020) – Mystery
I tend to find mystery novels predictable, unstimulating and too reliant on overused plots — but not this one. Set at a wedding off the stormy coast of Ireland, it opens with a sudden death then launches into an investigation of those on the short guest list (hence the title).
Foley exposes the characters’ dark pasts and their contentious relations with each other, cultivating two secrets for every one revealed to keep readers on edge until the finale. She dexterously builds suspense through the use of haunting imagery, multiple perspectives and a non-linear narrative structure that offers a glimpse into the truth without giving it away. And because of its intense descriptive language, this book reads more like a movie, making it even more enjoyable.
The right book can transport you to another world, providing a momentary escape from life at Hopkins when it begins to feel overwhelming. I hope that at least one of these titles will pique your interest, and more importantly, that you can set aside some much-deserved personal time to crack one open. Happy reading!