Why is reading so hard, and why have I only made it through half a book in two years?
These are the questions I ask myself at least once or twice a month.
As an avid reader throughout my childhood, I was convinced reading would always be a passion … but now, as a 20-year-old university student, that passion has faded away.
I took to the internet to ask, “does anyone still read?” and found a 2017 Macquarie University study that showed just 65.5 per cent of Australians read a book at least once a week, as opposed to 92 per cent who watched TV.
I asked my friendship group if any of them read, but not one could confidently claim to have read a book, not even a page or two, within the past year.
Australian young adult fiction author Alysha King said teenagers and young adults were reading less and less.
Ms King, whose novels include the popular Rose Chronicles series, said it only ignited her passion to write more.
“It’s certainly a motivator … if I can tell a story that will get more people reading, then great, that’s awesome,” she said.
“It’s definitely a goal of every author to inspire more people to read.”
“Reading helps to expand your vocabulary, helps you experience life from different perspectives,” she said.
“[Reading] can help you explore your feelings and identity and expand your imagination.”
With Melbourne locked down again, and university wrapping up for the semester, I thought I should give this whole reading thing another crack. And so, I did.
But here’s a new puzzle: was I too old to read the same books I used to love?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a dash of Hunger Games or a dabble of Harry Potter, but at 20 years old was it embarrassing to be reading young adult fiction that was probably a 2010s motion picture … and probably starred Dylan O’Brien?
I asked young adult fiction expert Ms King what inspired her to become a young adult author.
“I find young adult [fiction] to be not as serious or full-on as adult [fiction], and enjoy writing in that style,” Ms King said.
Young adult fiction is the funny, romantic, suspenseful and imaginative world that I grew to love as a young reader.
I am yet to unlock the secret to understanding and enjoying adult fiction the same way, but maybe Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations weren’t for me—not yet, at least.
It was time to scour the internet and the minds of book-loving-fanatics to gather some, actually enjoyable, book recommendations.
Here are five lists from the experts.
1. Trust the internet
I began by typing in “top books for young adults” and stumbled across this blog post by Australian bookstore Readings.
Here are some of the standouts from a top 10 list of young adult books, voted by Readings staff.
The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love, by Davina Bell
Twin sisters Summer and Winter must hide from a destroyed world, but when a mysterious stranger arrives, the sisters must come out of hiding to protect their family secrets and the very ground under their feet.
None Shall Sleep, by Ellie Marney
Two untrained teenagers, Emma and Travis, are recruited into the FBI to track down convicted juvenile killers for information on cold cases with the help (or hindrance) of 19-year-old sociopath Simon.
Future Girl, by Asphyxia
Always taught to hide her deafness to be more “normal”, Piper’s world is turned upside down when she meets Marley, a child of deaf parents who teaches her Auslan and sign language.
The Erasure Initiative, by Lili Wilkinson
A group of people wake up on a moving bus with no memory of how they got there. Forced to compete in a series of tests, the passengers must work together to make decisions under pressure as the stakes get higher and higher.
Taking Down Evelyn Tait, by Poppy Nwosu
When Lottie’s best friend starts dating her mortal enemy, Evelyn Tait, she must come up with the perfect war plan to get revenge and beat Evelyn at her own game.
2. Trust the librarian
Former librarian at Deakin University Greg Marat has compiled a list of some of the most “important” books he has read.
Mr Marat’s list delves into a genre I’ve titled “timeless literature you were probably forced to read in high school”.
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
“It captures how … life loses meaning when all social problems are solved,” Mr Marat said.
An ideal future world has been created with the goal of perfection, through genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational drugs. Bernard wants to break free to the only place where imperfect life remains.
1984, by George Orwell
“Pretty much the opposite of Brave New World,” Mr Marat said.
“[It explores] how meaningless life is when everything is controlled by the government, including your own thoughts.”
Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
“Written in 1953, it’s more relevant today [than when it was written] in this phase of rising cancel culture,” Mr Marat said.
In a world where books are forbidden, the solution is to burn them. The only choice is to comply or side with those who choose to defy society to preserve and read books, even if it means death.
A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Forced to marry someone 30 years her senior, Mariam is sent away to a distant country. The sound of bombs and gunfire fill the streets amid a climate of growing unrest and Taliban rule over Afghanistan.
Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman
“A really well-written story about falling in love and falling out of love, and the heartache of pondering ‘what if?’,” Mr Marat said.
Side note … I know you’ve already seen the movie, now go read the book!
3. Trust The Standard crew
We’re meant to be the experts, right? Below are recommendations from The Standard crew on the reads that inspired them to pick up a book again.
The Forest of Enchantments, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
“A fantastic read for anyone interested in lyrical literature, Indian culture or tragic romance.”
Retelling one of the world’s greatest epics, The Ramayana, through the eyes of Sita, a young woman struggling to retain autonomy in a world that always privileges men.
Red, White and Royal Blue, by Casey McQuiston
“…A cheesy LGBTQ+ romance.”
Cast as the American equivalent of a young royal when his mother became President, Alex must find a way to stage a truce with the prince who he hates … or loves?
Illuminae Files, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
It’s 2575 and war rages over a planet that’s little more than an ice-covered speck in the corner of the universe. The war, the plague, and now the ex-boyfriend she swore she’d never talk to again are not the only problems Kady must solve.
Normal People, by Sally Rooney
“This book helped me get back into reading after academia put me off it for years.”
Growing up together may be the only similarity between Connell and Marianne. Yet, they are brought together in a love that is tender but secretive, exploring the difficulty of saying what we truly want to say.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
“One of the best thriller novels I’ve read.”
A journalist, a lost relative and a tattooed punk prodigy must work together to seek the truth about what happened to Harriet, a descendant of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families who mysteriously disappeared over 40 years ago.
4. Trust the bookshop employee
Here’s what Dymock’s employee and bookworm Taya would recommend to someone who walked into the store and ashamedly whispered, “I haven’t read a book in two years”.
House of Hollow, by Krystal Sutherland
“A contemporary thriller that is written in such beauty.”
Odd and eerie circumstances seem to follow Iris and her strange sisters—their dark hair turning white, their blue eyes turning black, their unbearable beauty becoming inexplicably dangerous.
Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid
“Excellently tells the story of the rise and fall of a band in a way not seen before.”
In a world where it’s never really about the music, Daisy and the band are surrounded by feuding, binge-drinking men that transform these women from sparks into flames.
The Dry, by Jane Harper
“A captivating story of the murder of a typical family.”
A husband who turned a gun on his wife, his child, then himself prompts police investigator Aaron to reopen old wounds and unbury secrets that should have died with the Hadler family.
Girls with Sharp Sticks, by Suzanne Young
“This book I can’t recommend enough … set in an all-girls boarding school that explores the patriarchal systems and the way men suck (in an amazing way).”
The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak
“A must-read historical fiction.”
Liesel’s life is completely changed when she discovers a book. She must hide her love affair with books from the German Nazi’s who threaten to burn her whole world down.
5. Trust my Mum
Who better to ask for book recommendations than the woman who wishes her daughter would read more? So this is Mum’s list of the books she wishes I would read, and probably wishes you would too.
The Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King
As mum says, “it’s about a guy in prison.”
The ultimate escape novel tells the story of Andy, a convict sentenced to life despite his claims of innocence.
“It was more about friendship than anything else,” Mum said. “It was not about perseverance, but patience.”
Howard’s End, by E.M. Forster
“It portrays an era I especially enjoyed, think Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre,” said Mum.
Exploring class warfare, conflict, lies and death, three families are drawn together in a string of heartbreak and love.
“There is literally a character in the book that everyone can relate to. That’s what I love, you can do the cheerleading for at least one character in the book.”
Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
“The greatest book ever written. Oh, if I could just shake his hand now,” Mum said.
“I think I have a crush on Charles Dickens. It’s the plots he weaves in and the characters he creates that are so richly described, you don’t need a movie to visualise them.”
“Dickens builds this journey through the book in such a way that you feel like you’re in the book, among the pages … I could be biased, but I’m a massive Dickens fan.”
I Heard the Owl Call My Name, by Margaret Craven
“Now, this is a real tear-jerker,” Mum said. “It’s the story of two cultures trying to understand each other.”
“It’s a very small book. It’s easy to read.”
Braving his way into an ancient and unknown land, Mark begins on a journey of discovery and the collision of two cultures, old and new.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
Mum’s unsure why she liked this one.
“I probably read the book because it was written by Mary Shelley, and not her husband. While everybody thought it was written by her husband it wasn’t, and I like that … that interested me more than anything else.”
Dad’s honourable mention
Yes, he’s also a trustworthy source and wanted to share a recommendation with you as well.
The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
No one knows if Santiago can overcome the obstacles in his path or what treasures he is searching for, but one thing is for sure, this quest will forever change the young boy’s heart.
Dad said this book left the biggest impact on him as a young adult.
“It’s an adventure with moral lessons in it … every part of the adventure there is a new life lesson.,” he said.
“I found it fascinating and enlightening, and it really made me think.”
Overwhelmed with all of these new suggestions, I’ve set myself the goal of finishing at least one book this year—didn’t want to get too crazy.
Despite my Dylan O’Brien reservations, I’ve picked up The Maze Runner with the hopes of reviving that un-put-downable feeling.
Wish me luck.