I am sure many will think “a book about books” may sound – well – boring. But what if they sparked your love for reading instead?
I am a prolific reader – novels are my escape from the humdrum of daily existence. They’re my opportunity to meet new people, visit new places, and experience an entire spectrum of emotion – from suspense and shock to sadness and joy.
They are also the perfect interludes in between studying and work, a refreshing pitstop to jog your mind.
There is nothing quite like turning the last page of a novel that had sucked you in, holding you in between the words and knowing you have come out the other side a changed person.
And a novel that delves into and beautifully portrays what it’s like to be in love with books can, perhaps, turn even those of you who don’t consider yourself the bookish types into avid readers.
Here are 4 novels that teach you to love books.
- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
I read this in high-school, in the year I was about to sit my IGCSEs. I had one free period that year, because I had sat my History exam the year before the rest of my classmates, and most often I’d find myself in the library.
So perhaps it’s fitting that I was drawn to the book called The Historian. The blurb described the adventures of a girl who discovers a book in her father’s library, left to “My dear and unfortunate successor.”
Now that I look back at it, my experience with this book is just like that girl’s, who remains unnamed for the rest of the novel. I needed a break in between all the studying and tests, searching for something to read to get away from the stress for a while.
And just like her, I was thrown straight into one of the most immersive mysteries of my life.
The Historian is told through a series of letters and diary entries, taking you back and forth through time, and up and down the streets of Europe and the Ottoman Empire through three time periods in the 1900s.
All while you’re both investigating, along with our unnamed protagonist, what happened to her parents, who appear to have been in danger from the accounts they left behind.
And if the mysterious figure they had described, who might be chasing her right now, is really Count Dracula.
Bouncing back and forth through time, we visit libraries and archives across Europe and dig through records and books, maps and manuscripts, searching for information about the folklore surrounding Vlad Tepes and trying to hunt down his tomb.
The mystery of the novel really is that – does he exist? Is he real? Is the menacing figure in the shadows pursuing you really an undead vampire keen on keeping you from his sacred place?
You uncover the puzzle piece by piece, and each piece is rich in history, imagination, and a beautiful love for literature.
The novel shows you that reading does not have to be a dull, passive thing – that you can learn, and discover, and by putting together all that knowledge, you can be a detective and adventurer yourself. It treats reading the way it should be experienced – as exciting and eye-opening.
- The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This novel came to me sometime before I started my Master’s degree. During my Bachelor’s, I didn’t leave too much time for reading, and I felt I’d fallen out of practice, or perhaps even lost my fervor for novels.
This book, entirely due to its own merit, proved me wrong.
The novel features a young boy, Daniel, who is taken by his father, a humble bookshop owner in Barcelona, to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. He is allowed to choose one volume there to bring home for himself.
By luck or by misfortune, the novel Daniel chooses is called The Shadow of the Wind. Daniel, in a completely relatable way, blazes through the novel and is so overcome by the brilliance of it that he immediately begins to try and find other works by the author, one Julián Carax.
Inadvertently, he gets more than he bargained for.
Despite how anyone who has ever read a Carax novel finds themselves in the throes of the absolute genius of his writing, for some reason, no bookshop or library knows of him. In fact, someone appears to be actively finding and destroying his books, while Carax himself is nowhere to be found.
Hooked to his writing and the mystery surrounding Carax, we follow Daniel through the unraveling of years’ worth of secrets, the tragedy of the lives of everyone Carax once knew, navigating the dangerous waters of post-Spanish Civil War Barcelona.
This is especially because it soon becomes evident that whoever seems determined to erase Carax’s existence completely seems to have gotten whiff of Daniel, too.
This is the first book I recommend to anyone who asks me for a good, thrilling read. Not only does it suck you in and keep you waiting with bated breath for the next jaw-dropping secret, but it fully captures what it’s like to fall in love with a book.
Carax’s novels are described in so much loving detail that it’s easy to forget that they don’t really exist in our reality, and gives away just enough detail to leave you craving for more.
The emotions characters brim over with through his words feel like they’re pouring out of the page, resonating with the reader, because that is exactly how it feels to read a work of sheer brilliance. That is exactly how it felt, to read The Shadow of the Wind.
And I promise you, once you begin this book, you won’t be able to put it down. Compelling plot aside, it is possibly the novel with the wittiest and most cynical sense of humor I’ve ever read, making it a fun repository of quotes that will undoubtedly make you crack up in between the suspense.
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
I read this in between semesters for Master’s, and I’m glad I did, because it grabbed hold of me so hard I don’t think I would have been able to get any work done if I had started it while having classes.
Set in World War II Europe, we flip back and forth between two characters, Marie-Laure, a young blind girl, the daughter of a locksmith at Paris’ Museum of Natural History, and Werner, a German boy who eventually leaves the orphanage to enrol in a school under the Nazi regime.
With our characters on different ends of the war, you might wonder if their stories can possibly be connected. But it is how they inch towards each other, so subtly it catches you by surprise, and meets in the middle, that completely take you off guard.
Through Marie-Laure and Werner, we get to see the war as it really is. A disaster that breaks apart families, destroys a nation’s history and heritage, and forces difficult decisions you will have to live with for the rest of your life, if you manage to survive.
There is no good side and bad side – just two innocent children, curious about the world, emblematic of all the potential and talent wasted because of the devastation of the war.
Marie-Laure’s father teaches her braille, and she reads and rereads her favorite Jules Verne novel, to explore a world she can’t see, and later to hold on to a piece of hope as her world begins to fall apart.
Werner discovers physics textbooks and unlocks a knack for machines and radios, and is permanently changed by a voice he hears one night through a makeshift radio he had salvaged and fixed, teaching kids about science.
Both characters hold on to these comforts, of imaginary worlds and the wonders of science, as they grow and acquaint themselves to the grim reality of war. In this novel, books represent something priceless – hope.
- The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book actually took me a long time to read. Not because it wasn’t good, but because it was so heartbreaking and so beautiful.
Zusak’s prose is like watercolor paintings, splashing vivid images through his unique style of imagery, and gentle way with words. It is quite possibly the most beautifully written book I’ve ever read, and I would recommend it just for that alone.
We meet our titular book thief through the eyes of possibly the main character of this novel – Death.
Call him the Grim Reaper if you like, but Zusak’s personification of Death in Nazi Germany makes him one of the most sympathetic characters in the novel.
Death is weary, and exhausted, and as he speaks about the people, the old and the young, soldiers and schoolboys, that he ferries away into the afterlife, you feel, keenly, the hopelessness, the futility, of war.
And for Death, the book thief, Liesel, adopted into a humble German family, is a source of hope. She is at the heart of the destruction the German people suffer, from the effects of inflation and unemployment to bombings and bomb shelters, and even before she can read, she’s stolen a book.
As an act of defiance, perhaps. As a silent way of fighting back, against the unfairness of it all.
And as she learns to read, under the guidance of her adoptive father, a gentle man who is perhaps too good for the world they live in, she uses her books to spread kindness, and hope.
She records the love and the loss, the unfairness and the way you can find fragile happiness even in the darkest places, with the words she worked so hard to learn.
These novels beautifully embody how reading can change people’s lives – can give them hope, bring them adventure, shape them into better people.
Personally, these novels have fed and enhanced the joy and hunger I have for reading, and taught me about cultures and histories and facts about the world I wasn’t aware of from a different perspective than that of a textbook.
And truly, that’s what a good novel does. So, give them a go, and hopefully, they will also turn you into a happy bibliophile.
Nafisa Shamim is a writer who enjoys asking questions, and enjoys finding their answers even more. She has been a student, even while working full time, so her more productive study tips are a great resource for you.
As she works towards her Ph.D., she hopes to actively contribute to academic literature on communication, especially how individuals use and process new media, and learn while helping others learn.
Nafisa Shamim is a writer, blogger and researcher who truly loves reading and wants to share its profound beauty and ability to touch your soul.
She has recently received her master’s degree and is getting ready to pursue her Ph.D. As she works towards her Ph.D., she hopes to actively contribute to academic literature on communication, especially how individuals use and process new media, and learn while helping others learn.