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Reader's List: All the Books to Read Before Going Back to School
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Reader's List: All the Books to Read Before Going Back to School

After having your fair share of summer fun, consider picking up a book from our reader’s list and getting lost in a different world.

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5 min read

August 14, 2021

Reading isn’t exactly a bucket list summer activity for many students, but these books right here show why it should be. After having your fair share of careless summer fun, consider picking up a book from our reader’s list and getting lost in a different world. From beloved classics to modern graphic novels, these books explore ever-relevant topics any student navigating life could benefit from and relate to. Without further ado, these are the top books to read before going back to school.

Top Books To Read Before September Rolls In

Man Enough transcends the limitations of media to create a community with reimagined masculinity. Photo courtesy of Justin Baldoni.

1. Man Enough: Undefining my Masculinity

Author: Justin Baldoni

Originally published: 2021

Masculinity as it is traditionally defined is behind some of the most prevalent social issues of our time. In his provocative book titled Man Enough: Undefining my Masculinity, Justin Baldoni raises important questions by reflecting on his own struggles with masculinity. Add this book to your reading list if you’re up for open and honest explorations of a range of difficult (and sometimes uncomfortable) topics in the realm of relationships and marriage, body image, sex and sexuality, strength and vulnerability, racial justice, and gender equality.

Navigating life in high school or college is hard as it is, and sometimes, all you need is to see someone raising the same questions as you and showing you that you’re not alone in your fight. This book belongs on a student's reader’s list because that’s what it does, and it does it so well. 

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2. What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self

Author: Ellyn Spragins

Originally published: 2006

For a good dose of pure motivation, add What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self to your back-to-school reader’s list. This moving collection combines letters from 41 famous women addressed to their younger selves full of advice and insight on what they wish they knew when they were younger. You’ll find letters from famous Californian women in the book like Maya Angelou, as well as other inspirational and remarkable women like Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, and more.

“The universe, I'd learned, was never, ever kidding. It would take whatever it wanted and it would never give it back.” ― Cheryl Strayed.

3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Author: Cheryl Strayed

Originally published: 2012

If reading inspirational letters isn’t something you’re interested in, take the less straightforward route and read a book about a motivational true story. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail tells the story of author Cheryl Strayed, who at 22, had already thought her life was over. She had lost her mother and her marriage, and with nothing else to lose, decided to embark on a journey of a lifetime, hiking more than 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. Told grippingly with plenty of warmth and humor, this powerful story is a must-add on any reader’s list—it’s bound to inspire and strengthen anyone on their own personal journey.

4. Kindred

Author: Octavia E. Butler

Originally published: 1979

Kindred is as important today as it has ever been and belongs on your reading list—it’s a groundbreaking, genre-bending novel that explores the serious topics of slavery and prejudice through an exciting and thought-provoking approach. This book tells the story of a young African American writer forced to shuffle between her 20th century life in Los Angeles and the drastically different world of a pre-Civil War Maryland plantation through time travel.

Pasadena-native Octavia Butler, an African American woman, was a pioneer in science fiction writing, a field historically dominated by white men. Kindred, which combines elements of sci-fi with the U.S. slave narrative is perhaps her most famous work and one of the great novels of all time.

There There was a finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize. The book was also awarded a Gold Medal for First Fiction by the California Book Awards.

5. There There

Author: Tommy Orange

Originally published: 2018

Much of the history and American literature taught in school gives young students a fairly limited, often romanticized, and not-so-accurate way of thinking about Indigenous cultures. Well, There There by Tommy Orange doesn’t fall into that category. Add this book to your reader’s list for a corrective view of Indigenous peoples, which sadly is also the alternative way of telling things in comparison to the one typically taught in high school. 

Set in modern-day, this novel follows 12 characters from native communities living in 21st-century Oakland as they deal with issues like addiction, depression, and cultural dispossession. In its consideration of modern-day Indigenous peoples and urban life, this novel shows readers how the cultures have survived and thrived into the present day.

With deep insight into character and the modern search for personal freedom, In the Not Quite Dark is powerful new work that's timeless and urgent.

6. In the Not Quite Dark

Author: Dana Johnson

Originally published: 2016

In the Not Quite Dark is a collection of 11 bold stories all set in Downtown Los Angeles touching upon topics like love, class, and race, and how they influence and define our most intimate moments. These are all topics that are forever relevant, but they’re especially important to read about and explore as students questioning life. Hence, this is a reader’s list must-add that you should definitely check your local bookstore for. Depicting the search for personal freedom and portraying how differently relationships can progress, In the Not Quite Dark offers a timeless reading experience anyone will find relatable in at least one instance.

7. Of Mice and Men

Author: John Steinbeck

Originally published: 1937

John Steinbeck is probably already on your classic literature list. But, if not, then you should definitely read Of Mice and Men in your free time. This novella centers around George Milton and Lennie Small, two migrant ranch workers, who are on the constant move from one place to another in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression. Steinbeck’s story is largely based on his own experiences working alongside migrant workers as a teenager in the 1910s. The novella uses outdated language, but provides enough good life lessons and quality writing to find a place on many schools’ reading lists.

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde.

8. Drama

Author: Raina Telgemeier

Originally published: 2012

Drama by Raina Telgemeier is perhaps the most tween-friendly book on our reader’s list. This graphic novel finds its protagonist in Callie, a middle schooler and theater-lover, who works in her school's drama crew. Callie navigates tween hardship, confusing crushes, budding friendships, and middle school drama as she takes us along her coming-of-age story. The themes of friendship, teamwork, inclusion, and determination are also touched upon in the novel as Callie explores her relationship with the people around her.

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