Book Recommendations From a Harvard College Student

Category Student Voices

Author

Helen Blake
Authored on July 25, 2023

Article

I cannot recall a time in which I did not love reading. 

I’ve said before that both reading and writing have been ingrained in my soul, but while writing is a place of ecstasy, it is also one of great frustration, and indeed, reading is what I turn back to, time after time. With that, this blog post will be a space to share some of the books I hold closest to my heart, from ones that I picked up years ago and still re-read to this day, to the ones that I more recently read for the first time. I hope you find something that piques your interest within this selection!


Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

The book Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


Perhaps a bit of a basic choice, as in over 600,000 people have reviewed this book on Goodreads, but in case you haven’t heard of Never Let Me Go, or if you have and just haven’t quite had the chance to pick it up, here is your first recommendation. NLMG follows three friends – Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy – from their younger years as they grow up at a boarding school called Hailsham to their early twenties as they move away from Hailsham and more into the real world. What’s incredible about this book is that it does incorporate sci-fi themes and scenarios into the story, but it’s never heavily done or too focused on the science behind the plot. Rather, Ishiguro uses the sci-fi as a mode to hone in on the relationships between the characters and explore how the sci-fi parts of the world influences these dynamics. First of all, Ishiguro is and forever will be the best writer I’ve ever read. He writes with such precision and clarity and is never overbearing with vocabulary, and always manages to weave such rich emotion into his words. His words are always delicate and placed in their sentences carefully, and his writing, as a whole, manages to encapsulate so much without any sort of convolution or long, rambling sentences. It’s absolutely beautiful. 

Another picture of my bookshelf, this time including my collection of Kazuo Ishiguro books, alongside some other decorations.

My collection of Kazuo Ishiguro books – my favorite author! Helen Blake

My collection of Kazuo Ishiguro books – my favorite author! Helen Blake

The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey

The book The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey

A little less known, The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey follows three siblings after they discover an unconscious boy laying in a field on their walk home from school, thus marking a turning point in each of their lives. Livesey (based partly in Cambridge, MA!) has, like Ishiguro, a simple and clear voice that manages to capture her readers with its beauty. She also does an incredible job building her characters and their voices and weaving together each of their individual paths to create the complex tapestry that is their entire family. With alternating chapters from each of the siblings’ “points of view”, Livesey does an immaculate job of exploring how and why the moment they find the boy in the field influences their lives going forward, and each of the decisions the characters make feel consistent to who they are. At the end of the day, Livesey creates a detailed and beautiful painting about the power of single, rippling moments, how that influences us and the people around us, and why these moments matter – and she does so with grace and care. Highly recommend!


Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman 

The book Einstein's Dream by Alan Lightman

Alan Lightman’s Einstein's Dreams follows a young Einstein as he’s working in Switzerland. However, the story consists not of Einstein’s work, but rather, hence the title, his dreams. Split into thirty ‘chapters’, each chapter consists of a different dream Einstein has, each considering different ways in which time is structured. This collection of dreams is not only unique and fascinating to think about, but the writing is absolutely superb. One of my favorite dreams is when Einstein considers a world in which time doesn’t flow in any sort of way, instead, the world is formulated by images. The rest of the chapter spends five pages listing these images, one right after the other without any paragraph breaks, and though this sounds messy and confusing and too list-y for most people’s tastes, Lightman ends up nailing it in every sense. Each image is magnificent in and of itself, but tied together they create the most human work of writing I’ve ever read in my life. Indeed, although this is just one example of a dream, it nonetheless captures the essence of the entire novel (in my opinion): that although the passing of time is regarded as something to mourn and something to fear, Einstein’s Dreams proves the opposite, that instead, time is beautiful.

I hope you enjoy reading about these books, and perhaps one of these inspired you to pick it up. Happy reading!

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