6 Must-Read Books to Get You Out of a Reading Slump
A man’s favorite books are revelations of his personality, or so we’re told.
There’s plenty of debate on the validity of this “fact”—on whether matters of taste are simply matters of taste alone, not matters of moral and intellectual superiority, or otherwise open for rational dispute. Far less debate is triggered by the claim that you can make out a man’s character based on what he writes. The writer, through his creative pursuits, must always be a little more honest than he is comfortable with.
But apart from a willingness to bare one’s soul, the makings of a decent writer are hard to pin down; how do you form a connection with your readers? Weave old ideas into something unique? Get all the facts straight while also being witty, evocative, and daring? There are millions of articles, videos, and books in the world on how to be a compelling storyteller. But the linchpin of writing advice, given by writers across all genres, is that if you want to write, then you must read.
Read voraciously, to be more specific. Read wide-ranging books in towering heights, and once finished: read more. Thus and so, here are six literary gems for you to intellectually feast on—personally recommended to you by the editors of Esquire, who eat stories for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We asked them which books sit at the top of their favorites lists, in the hopes that these would get our readers out of a reading slump. Here’s what they had to say.
(In true, intellectually-and-spiritually-naked writer fashion, they’ve also agreed to show you their own well-loved copies. Cracked spines, worn pages, personal bookstands and all.)
Cloud Atlas and Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell
Picking a favorite book is like picking a favorite parent. It’s virtually impossible. But if I had to choose now, gun to my head, my top pick would be David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. And I can’t recommend it enough. It’s tough to explain what it’s about but here’s an attempt: six interconnected stories that span thousands of years, from a ship in the mid-19th century to a post-apocalyptic Earth where mankind has devolved back into hunter-gatherers. It’s a difficult but tremendously absorbing read, and displays the brilliant Mitchell at the top of his game.
The author’s fans know that all of his books are connected in what is now often referred to as the Mitchell universe (Think the MCU but with, um, less superheroes). His most recent book called Utopia Avenue is one that quickly climbed up my own favorites’ charts. A novel about a fictional British band in the 1960s on their way to becoming superstars, it’s just as riveting as all of Mitchell’s other works, but this one has the advantage of delightful cameos from some real-life rock stars—from David Bowie and Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen. Even John Lennon makes an appearance.
Truly, a new David Mitchell book is cause for celebration. And I can’t wait for the next one.
—PJ Caña, Associate Editor
America’s Boy by James Hamilton-Paterson
Right now, my top-recommended book is America's Boy by James Hamilton-Paterson—a real and compelling story behind the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. A must-read for anyone, whatever their political leanings are.
It is one of the most eye-opening, straightforward, and beautifully written books written about Marcos and his times. Paterson was an extremely gifted writer who lived in the Philippines for quite some time, so the research and the writing are solid. Even for someone as aware of the effects of the Marcos dictatorship as I was, it still surprised me at many turns.
—Sarge Lacuesta, Editor at Large
Noli Me Tangere by Jose Rizal, English Translation by Soleda Lacson Locsin
I highly recommend Soledad Lacson Locsin’s masterful English translation of Noli Me Tangere. She accurately captured in English the color and cadence of Rizal’s Spanish, allowing us to witness the wit and humor of the national hero. It feels like immersing in a modern-day narrative.
What struck me about Noli is how its characters and issues—written over 135 years ago—are still potently relatable today, as if the novel were written yesterday. There are obnoxious characters you can compare with modern-day Marites, and its depiction of hypocrisy among the common people makes it seem like Rizal was alluding to the present day. Filipinos who revisit the Noli would find that it is alive and mirrors today’s society. It is both frightening and enthralling.
—Mario Alvaro Limos, Features Editor
“Picking a favorite book is like picking a favorite parent. It’s virtually impossible”
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Before BookTok caught on, I’d already finished The Night Circus in 2013 after Rick Riordan left a review on Goodreads. Anything Riordan-approved will get my attention, but I was pleasantly surprised when The Night Circus turned out to be one of the most poetic novels I’ve ever read. It’s the debut novel of Erin Morgenstern, who took 10 years to write another book after The Night Circus blew everyone out of the water. It follows an immortal night circus, a centuries-long competition, and very strange twins. It’s best to dive into this without knowing much else so you can be spellbound by the most enchanting of prose.
To this day, I haven’t read another book that beats The Night Circus’ opening lines: “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”
Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
“This was my gateway drug into the fantasy genre. I read this when I was 14 because it was being marketed as a young adult novel, despite the trigger warnings that have no business being in a middle-grade/YA novel. Written by Australian author Melina Marchetta, Finnikin of the Rock is a story about exiles of a dead nation seeking community and identity. When I first read it, I was too young to appreciate the complex themes, heartbreaking storylines, and message of hope. I loved everything else, though: magic, curses, intrigue, and the classic journey trope. The story stuck with me, and it was only later that I got to appreciate just how breathtaking the writing was, told in a style that made you think of fables or legends. And it was this line that made it one of my all-time favorites: "Everything is evil that humans can't control or conquer." I was sold.
—Anri Ichimura, Section Editor