I think it’s safe to say that most of us read books because of how they make us feel. Through the many conversations I’ve had about literature, I’ve realised we want to relate to and feel represented by the books we choose to read.
Yes, great writing, a gripping plot, and likeable characters are all very important, but ultimately, the way a book makes us feel – at the beginning, in the middle and at the end – is what we remember and mention when recommending books to others.
Whether it’s crying into the pages at 2am while reading the words of Mieko Kawakami or feeling genuinely seen and comforted by Meg Mason’s honest exploration of mental health and love – I’ve read so many books of late that have not only stayed with me, but given me a raw, emotional release.
Here are 10 books that offered that catharsis – I hope they do for you, too.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
You’ll probably have seen the film posters. Now read the fast-paced and suspenseful novel behind them that will leave your tension-filled body and racing heart desperate to find out how the story ends. Young Kya Clark, also known as ‘The Marsh Girl’, finds herself abandoned by family in the wilds of North Carolina. When a dead body is found in this strange place, readers are left trying to figure out whether Kya is capable of such a heinous act of violence. The last page of this book may well evoke an exclamation of disbelief, as Owens deftly conceals the truth until the final few lines of the book.
Sorrow And Bliss by Meg Mason
This beautiful and witty novel explores how mental illness can impact every aspect of an individual’s life. Through the main character and narrator, the now 40-year-old magazine columnist, bad wife and perpetually unhappy Martha Friel, we are taken on an uncomfortable, at times depressing study of how an unnamed mental illness affects her life. But Sorrow And Bliss also offers hope to anyone who needs it that love, normality and understanding are possible despite the challenges we face with our mental health.
Reclaiming: Essays on Finding Yourself One Piece at a Time by Yewande Biala
A collection of non-fiction essays that explores topics a varied as body image, insecurities, relationships both platonic and romantic, and mental health – all against the backdrop of former Love Island contestant Yewande Biala’s own life experiences. Reclaiming is an open and honest exploration of Yewande’s struggle with colourism, social media pressures, body dysmorphia and many more topics that readers may relate to, and feel relieved that a public figure can also speak to experiences these issues.
When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo
This is an alluring, mythical love story set in the beautiful and authentically-depicted Port Angeles in Trinidad. The novel follows the lives of star-crossed lovers Darwin and Yejide, two bodies and souls destined to intersect both in life and in death. When We Were Birds does well in answering a question I’ve heard many people ask: Will anyone love me as I am?
Humble: The Quiet Power of an Ancient Virtue by Dr R. Van Tongeren
This title offers a relevant and interesting study of narcissism vs humility and challenges the rise of the narcissistic personality trait – while suggesting that being humble is the key to living a happier, more fulfilled life. In a world where self-centredness is often masked as ‘self-care’, Humble makes the case for why humility is what readers really need to practise for a truly better quality of life
These Impossible Things by Salma El-Wardany
This is a fantastic coming of age story that offers a particular study of ‘adulting’ by following the the lives of three Muslim women, Malak, Kees and Jenna, as they navigate their way through love, sex and faith. The friendship these three women share, and how it feeds into their exploration of these different areas of their lives is sure to remind readers of their own relationships and dynamics.
All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living by Morgan Harper Nichols
A beautiful collection of poetry and artwork from the Instagram-famous writer and illustrator, this book aims to penetrate what we feel, what we think and who we are. Comprised of encouraging and inspiring poetic sermons, the words in this book will cause you to pause, reflect and think about your sense of self, your desires and your future, leaving you with an overwhelming feeling of warmth, love or hope.
The Baby is Mine by Oyinkan Braithwaite
A scandalous and entertaining novella about two possessive women in dispute over a newborn. When our main character, a Nigerian playboy named Bambi, finds himself cast out into the streets of a locked-down Lagos, he’s left trying to uncover the truth of who this mysterious newborn belongs to, as he seeks food, shelter and comfort at a relative’s house. Even while exploring serious topics, Oyinkan Braithwaite writes with humour in this light-hearted and funny read that is a combination of mystery, crime and psychological thriller.
All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami
Fuyuko Irie is a 34-year-old freelance proofreader living a painful and isolated life in the big and busy city of Tokyo. The beginning of this tale traps us in the mundane and repetitive happenings of this anxious woman’s life, but having learned about her sexual encounters and short stints with love and friendship, by the end of the book readers are left with a sense of belonging that is often absent in our everyday lives
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré
Readers will be left feeling connected to the protagonist and narrator of this book, the feisty and fearless Adunni, for the rest of their lives. Despite being dealt several unfortunate hands in life – the death of her mother and being forced into an arranged marriage by her father – Adunni maintains the belief that she will one day achieve her dream of receiving an education. The Girl with the Louding Voice will rejuvenate your belief in your own vision, and Adunni will inspire you to never give up, even in the face of adversity.