It’s my 21st birthday! To be honest, most days, I feel older than I am, but then there are days when I wish I could stay a child forever. However, getting older means growing as a person, and even though I am scared of the future, I am also looking forward to becoming the person I am meant to be. Today, more than ever, I am incredibly thankful for every beautiful and magical thing in my life.
I first did these types of posts for my 19th birthday, where I shared 19 of my favourite books and last year, I shared 20 books I want to read while I’m 20 years old. This year, I am sharing 21 books I want to add to my never-ending collection that I want to read before my next birthday (in no particular order).
Trying and expanding new genres is something I have been wanting to do for a while now, and even though not much change has happened from last year to now, I am going to make it a priority in the new year. I want to read more mystery/thriller and literary fiction novels in 2023, so adding new books from these genres to my collection is something I want to do in the following year. This list includes books that are part of the aesthetic books I wish to buy.
Without further ado, let us look at the 21 books on my wish list!
1. Almond by Won-Pyung Sohn
This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster.
One of the monsters is me.
Yunjae was born with a brain condition called Alexithymia that makes it hard for him to feel emotions like fear or anger. He does not have friends—the two almond-shaped neurons located deep in his brain have seen to that—but his devoted mother and grandmother aren’t fazed by his condition. Their little home above his mother’s used bookstore is decorated with colorful post-it notes that remind him when to smile, when to say “thank you,” and when to laugh. Yunjae grows up content, even happy, with his small family in this quiet, peaceful space.
Then on Christmas Eve—Yunjae’s sixteenth birthday—everything changes. A shocking act of random violence shatters his world, leaving him alone and on his own. Struggling to cope with his loss, Yunjae retreats into silent isolation, until troubled teenager Gon arrives at his school and begins to bully Yunjae.
Against all odds, tormentor and victim learn they have more in common than they realized. Gon is stumped by Yunjae’s impassive calm, while Yunjae thinks if he gets to know the hotheaded Gon, he might learn how to experience true feelings. Drawn by curiosity, the two strike up a surprising friendship. As Yunjae begins to open his life to new people—including a girl at school—something slowly changes inside him. And when Gon suddenly finds his life in danger, it is Yunjae who will step outside of every comfort zone he has created to perhaps become a most unlikely hero.
The Emissary meets The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in this poignant and triumphant story about how love, friendship, and persistence can change a life forever.
2. A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G. Summers
Food critic Dorothy Daniels loves what she does. Discerning, meticulous, and very, very smart, Dorothy’s clear mastery of the culinary arts make it likely that she could, on any given night, whip up a more inspired dish than any one of the chefs she writes about. Dorothy loves sex as much as she loves food, and while she has struggled to find a long-term partner that can keep up with her, she makes the best of her single life, frequently traveling from Manhattan to Italy for a taste of both.
But there is something within Dorothy that’s different from everyone else, and having suppressed it long enough, she starts to embrace what makes Dorothy uniquely, terrifyingly herself. Recounting her life from a seemingly idyllic farm-to-table childhood, the heights of her career, to the moment she plunges an ice pick into a man’s neck on Fire Island, Dorothy Daniels show us what happens when a woman finally embraces her superiority.
A satire of early foodieism, a critique of how gender is defined, and a showcase of virtuoso storytelling, Chelsea G. Summers’ A Certain Hunger introduces us to the food world’s most charming psychopath and an exciting new voice in fiction.
3. Acts of Desperation by Megan Nolan
In the first scene of this provocative gut-punch of a novel, our unnamed narrator meets a magnetic writer named Ciaran and falls, against her better judgment, completely in his power. After a brief, all-consuming romance he abruptly rejects her, sending her into a tailspin of jealous obsession and longing. If he ever comes back to her, she resolves to hang onto him and his love at all costs, even if it destroys her…
Part breathless confession, part lucid critique, Acts of Desperation renders a consciousness split between rebellion and submission, between escaping degradation and eroticizing it, between loving and being lovable. With unsettling, electric precision, Nolan dissects one of life’s most elusive mysteries: Why do we want what we want, and how do we want it?
Heralding the arrival of a stunning new literary talent, Acts of Desperation interrogates the nature of fantasy, desire, and power, challenging us to reckon honestly with our own instability.
4. Alone With You in the Ether by Olivie Blake
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Atlas Six comes an intimate and contemporary study of time, space, and the nature of love. Alone with You in the Ether explores what it means to be unwell, and how to face the fractures of yourself and still love as if you’re not broken.
Two people meet in the armory of the Art Institute by chance. Prior to their encounter, he is a doctoral student who manages his destructive thoughts with compulsive calculations about time travel; she is a bipolar counterfeit artist undergoing court-ordered psychotherapy. By the end of the story, these things will still be true.
But this is not a story about endings.
For Regan, life is a finish line of mutually assured disappointment. Her method of coping with the dreariness of existence is to project herself into imagined multipotency, spinning new threads of destiny with every impulsive decision she makes. For Aldo, life is a plague of constancy–a structure of rules and formulas that keep him going, without which the entire frame of his existence would collapse.
For both of them, life is a matter of resigning themselves to the blueprints of inevitability, until six conversations with a stranger form the variable that glitches the entire simulation.
5. Black Swans by Eve Babitz
Black Swans is a collection of nine stories that look back on the 1980s and early 1990s—decades of dreams, drink, and stoned youth turning Republican. Babitz prowls California, telling tales of a changing world. She writes about the Rodeo Gardens, about AIDS, about learning to tango, about the Hollywood Cemetery, about the self-enchanted city, and, most important, about the envy and jealousy underneath it all.
Babitz’s inimitable voice propels these stories forward, corralling everything that gets in their way: sex, rage, the Château Marmont, youth, beauty, Jim Morrison, men, women, and black swans. This exciting reissue further celebrates the phenomenon of Eve Babitz, cementing her reputation as the voice of a generation.
6. Bunny by Mona Awad
We were just these innocent girls in the night trying to make something beautiful. We nearly died. We very nearly did, didn’t we?
Samantha Heather Mackey couldn’t be more of an outsider in her small, highly selective MFA program at New England’s Warren University. A scholarship student who prefers the company of her dark imagination to that of most people, she is utterly repelled by the rest of her fiction writing cohort–a clique of unbearably twee rich girls who call each other Bunny, and seem to move and speak as one.
But everything changes when Samantha receives an invitation to the Bunnies’ fabled Smut Salon, and finds herself inexplicably drawn to their front door–ditching her only friend, Ava, in the process. As Samantha plunges deeper and deeper into the Bunnies’ sinister yet saccharine world, beginning to take part in the ritualistic off-campus Workshop where they conjure their monstrous creations, the edges of reality begin to blur. Soon, her friendships with Ava and the Bunnies will be brought into deadly collision.
The spellbinding new novel from one of our most fearless chroniclers of the female experience, Bunny is a down-the-rabbit-hole tale of loneliness and belonging, friendship and desire, and the fantastic and terrible power of the imagination.
Named a Best Book of 2019 by TIME, Vogue, Electric Literature, and The New York Public Library
7. Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors
New York is slipping from Cleo’s grasp. Sure, she’s at a different party every other night, but she barely knows anyone. Her student visa is running out, and she doesn’t even have money for cigarettes. But then she meets Frank. Twenty years older, Frank’s life is full of all the success and excess that Cleo’s lacks. He offers her the chance to be happy, the freedom to paint, and the opportunity to apply for a green card. She offers him a life imbued with beauty and art―and, hopefully, a reason to cut back on his drinking. He is everything she needs right now.
Cleo and Frank run head-first into a romance that neither of them can quite keep up with. It reshapes their lives and the lives of those around them, whether that’s Cleo’s best friend struggling to embrace his gender identity in the wake of her marriage, or Frank’s financially dependent sister arranging sugar daddy dates after being cut off. Ultimately, this chance meeting between two strangers outside of a New Year’s Eve party changes everything, for better or worse.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein is an astounding and painfully relatable debut novel about the spontaneous decisions that shape our entire lives and those imperfect relationships born of unexpectedly perfect evenings.
NYU MFA graduate Coco Mellors’s CLEOPATRA AND FRANKENSTEIN, a portrait of a brief marriage between a painter and an advertising executive, dealing with themes of mental health, addiction, maturity, and the joys and challenges of marriage, to Grace McNamee at Bloomsbury, for publication in winter 2022.
8. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life. In the store, unlike anywhere else, she understands the rules of social interaction ― many are laid out line by line in the store’s manual ― and she does her best to copy the dress, mannerisms, and speech of her colleagues, playing the part of a “normal” person excellently, more or less. Managers come and go, but Keiko stays at the store for eighteen years. It’s almost hard to tell where the store ends and she begins. Keiko is very happy, but the people close to her, from her family to her coworkers, increasingly pressure her to find a husband, and to start a proper career, prompting her to take desperate action…
A brilliant depiction of an unusual psyche and a world hidden from view, Convenience Store Woman is an ironic and sharp-eyed look at contemporary work culture and the pressures to conform, as well as a charming and completely fresh portrait of an unforgettable heroine.
9. Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors.
Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. But her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.
10. Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
The wildly funny, occasionally heartbreaking internationally bestselling memoir about growing up, growing older, and learning to navigate friendships, jobs, loss, and love along the ride
When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming an adult, journalist and former Sunday Times columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, finding a job, getting drunk, getting dumped, realizing that Ivan from the corner shop might just be the only reliable man in her life, and that absolutely no one can ever compare to her best girlfriends. Everything I Know About Love is about bad dates, good friends and—above all else— realizing that you are enough.
Glittering with wit and insight, heart and humor, Dolly Alderton’s unforgettable debut weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age—making you want to pick up the phone and tell your best friends all about it. Like Bridget Jones’ Diary but all true, Everything I Know About Love is about the struggles of early adulthood in all its terrifying and hopeful uncertainty.
11. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Chuck Palahniuk showed himself to be his generation’s most visionary satirist in this, his first book. Fight Club’s estranged narrator leaves his lackluster job when he comes under the thrall of Tyler Durden, an enigmatic young man who holds secret after-hours boxing matches in the basement of bars. There, two men fight “as long as they have to.” This is a gloriously original work that exposes the darkness at the core of our modern world.
12. Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
In Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado blithely demolishes the arbitrary borders between psychological realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. While her work has earned her comparisons to Karen Russell and Kelly Link, she has a voice that is all her own. In this electric and provocative debut, Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited upon their bodies.
A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the store’s prom dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest. And in the bravura novella Especially Heinous, Machado reimagines every episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, a show we naively assumed had shown it all, generating a phantasmagoric police procedural full of doppelgangers, ghosts, and girls with bells for eyes.
Earthy and otherworldly, antic and sexy, queer and caustic, comic and deadly serious, Her Body and Other Parties swings from horrific violence to the most exquisite sentiment. In their explosive originality, these stories enlarge the possibilities of contemporary fiction.
13. Layla by Colleen Hoover
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Colleen Hoover comes a novel that explores life after tragedy and the enduring spirit of love.
When Leeds meets Layla, he’s convinced he’ll spend the rest of his life with her—until an unexpected attack leaves Layla fighting for her life. After weeks in the hospital, Layla recovers physically, but the emotional and mental scarring has altered the woman Leeds fell in love with. In order to put their relationship back on track, Leeds whisks Layla away to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. Once they arrive, Layla’s behavior takes a bizarre turn. And that’s just one of many inexplicable occurrences.
Feeling distant from Layla, Leeds soon finds solace in Willow—another guest of the B&B with whom he forms a connection through their shared concerns. As his curiosity for Willow grows, his decision to help her find answers puts him in direct conflict with Layla’s well-being. Leeds soon realizes he has to make a choice because he can’t help both of them. But if he makes the wrong choice, it could be detrimental for all of them.
14. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
On a dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the river Thames, an extraordinary event takes place. The regulars are telling stories to while away the dark hours, when the door bursts open on a grievously wounded stranger. In his arms is the lifeless body of a small child. Hours later, the girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can science provide an explanation? These questions have many answers, some of them quite dark indeed.
Those who dwell on the river bank apply all their ingenuity to solving the puzzle of the girl who died and lived again, yet as the days pass the mystery only deepens. The child herself is mute and unable to answer the essential questions: Who is she? Where did she come from? And to whom does she belong? But answers proliferate nonetheless.
Three families are keen to claim her. A wealthy young mother knows the girl is her kidnapped daughter, missing for two years. A farming family reeling from the discovery of their son’s secret liaison, stand ready to welcome their granddaughter. The parson’s housekeeper, humble and isolated, sees in the child the image of her younger sister. But the return of a lost child is not without complications and no matter how heartbreaking the past losses, no matter how precious the child herself, this girl cannot be everyone’s. Each family has mysteries of its own, and many secrets must be revealed before the girl’s identity can be known.
Once Upon a River is a glorious tapestry of a book that combines folklore and science, magic and myth. Suspenseful, romantic, and richly atmospheric, the beginning of this novel will sweep you away on a powerful current of storytelling, transporting you through worlds both real and imagined, to the triumphant conclusion whose depths will continue to give up their treasures long after the last page is turned.
15. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy
A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
16. Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion
A ruthless dissection of American life in the late 1960s, Play It as It Lays captures the mood of an entire generation, the ennui of contemporary society reflected in spare prose that blisters and haunts the reader. Set in a place beyond good and evil – literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul – it remains more than three decades after its original publication a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis and stunning in the still-startling intensity of its prose.
17. Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth
A darkly funny domestic horror novel about a woman who must take drastic measures to save her husband and herself from the vengeful ghost of her mother-in-law.
When Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby hopes it’s just what she and her mother-in-law need to finally connect. After a traumatic childhood, Abby is desperate for a mother figure, especially now that she and Ralph are trying to become parents themselves. Abby just has so much love to give—to Ralph, to Laura, and to Mrs. Bondy, her favorite resident at the long-term care home where she works. But Laura isn’t interested in bonding with her daughter-in-law. She’s venomous and cruel, especially to Abby, and life with her is hellish.
When Laura takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby and Ralph in very different ways: Ralph is plunged into depression, and Abby is terrorized by a force intent on destroying everything she loves. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move Mrs. Bondy from the home, leaving Abby totally alone. With everything on the line, Abby comes up with a chilling plan that will allow her to keep Mrs. Bondy, rescue Ralph from his tortured mind, and break Laura’s hold on the family for good. All it requires is a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and a unique recipe for chicken à la king…
18. Severance by Ling Ma
Candace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. So she barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.
Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?
A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Ling Ma’s Severance is a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale and satire.
19. Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh
A novel of haunting metaphysical suspense about an elderly widow whose life is upturned when she finds a cryptic note on a walk in the woods that ultimately makes her question everything about her new home.
While on her normal daily walk with her dog in the forest woods, our protagonist comes across a note, handwritten and carefully pinned to the ground with a frame of stones. “Her name was Magda. Nobody will ever know who killed her. It wasn’t me. Here is her dead body”. Our narrator is deeply shaken; she has no idea what to make of this. She is new to area, having moved her from her longtime home after the death of her husband, and she knows very few people. And she’s a little shaky even on best days. Her brooding about this note quickly grows into a full-blown obsession, and she begins to devote herself to exploring the possibilities of her conjectures about who this woman was and how she met her fate. Her suppositions begin to find echoes in the real world, and with mounting excitement and dread, the fog of mystery starts to form into a concrete and menacing shape. But as we follow her in her investigation, strange dissonances start to accrue, and our faith in her grip on reality weakens, until finally, just as she seems be facing some of the darkness in her own past with her late husband, we are forced to face the prospect that there is either a more innocent explanation for all this or a much more sinister one – one that strikes closer to home.
A triumphant blend of horror, suspense, and pitch-black comedy, ‘Death in Her Hands’ asks us to consider how the stories we tell ourselves both guide us closer to the truth and keep us at bay from it. Once again, we are in the hands of a narrator whose unreliability is well earned, only this time the stakes have never been higher.
20. Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
A memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
Michelle Zauner tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.
As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
21. Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
Challenging every preconception about storytelling and prose style, mixing wry humor and riveting emotional depth, Kawakami is today one of Japan’s most important and best-selling writers. She exploded onto the cultural scene first as a musician, then as a poet and popular blogger, and is now an award-winning novelist.
Breasts and Eggs paints a portrait of contemporary womanhood in Japan and recounts the intimate journeys of three women as they confront oppressive mores and their own uncertainties on the road to finding peace and futures they can truly call their own.
It tells the story of three women: the thirty-year-old Natsu, her older sister, Makiko, and Makiko’s daughter, Midoriko. Makiko has traveled to Tokyo in search of an affordable breast enhancement procedure. She is accompanied by Midoriko, who has recently grown silent, finding herself unable to voice the vague yet overwhelming pressures associated with growing up. Her silence proves a catalyst for each woman to confront her fears and frustrations.
On another hot summer’s day ten years later, Natsu, on a journey back to her native city, struggles with her own indeterminate identity as she confronts anxieties about growing old alone and childless.
Keep reading and never stop telling stories.