4th June 2018
20 Popular Books from Semester One at SURLY
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
At 36 years old, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He was just completing ten years of neurosurgeon training, and started to ask himself – what makes a life worth living? How do you create meaning in the present when you have no future to work towards? This is an engaging, life-affirming book by a sensitive, intelligent writer. It’s been very popular at Surly and all around the globe, translated into 39 languages and topping numerous best-seller lists.
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
The resurgent popularity of this book is unsurprising given the upcoming movie adaptation, but it’s been a fan favourite for several years – in fact it was brought into the library by student recommendation! This is a dramatic, hilarious, slightly ridiculous story about the flamboyant lives of the Singaporean elite; followed by China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
This semi-autobiographical graphic novel is relatively new to the library, but proving popular and in receipt of rave reviews. The book explores a young woman’s burgeoning sexuality, as well as her journey with self-development and mental health. Nagata tells real-life stories with humour, heart, and great vulnerability – and the two-tone artwork is a millennial pink dream 😉
Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson
Has there ever been a ‘most popular’ library book list without at least one Brandon Sanderson novel? Unlikely; his epic, magic-rich fantasy series are always extremely popular. Arcanam Unbounded is a set of short stories set in the Cosmere universe – the universe of the Mistborn series; the Stormlight Archive; Elantris; Warbreaker & more.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K Rowling
We know there are a lot of Harry Potter fans in the library! The only real mystery is why Book 4 specifically is the most popular – funnily enough the same is true of the translated editions in our Indonesian collection: Harry Potter dan Piala Api was the most popular this semester. You can read (or re-read) the full series as physical copies, ebooks, audiobooks; or do some wider reading with Harry Potter: A History of Magic; J. K. Rowling : The wizard behind Harry Potter; or The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook.
Maya Angelou: the complete poetry by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou was one of the most influential American poets, writers, and civil rights activists of the Twentieth Century. Her poetry is powerful and moving; this book, published in 1994, still resonates loudly today – in fact it featured in our patron-recommended poetry list recently. You’ll likely recognise some of her famous works (e.g. ‘Still I Rise’); her eight-part autobiography, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is an essential read as well.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Perspolis is an autobiography in graphic novel format, narrating Starapi’s experiences growing up in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution – If you’ve not read the graphic novel you may have seen the award-winning animated movie. The story contains very personal, real-life coming-of-age experiences, along with broader themes of democracy, warfare, political freedom & cultural change. Unsurprisingly, this graphic novel has been on popular book lists before.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
This is the first book in a fantasy trilogy which – fair warning – is as yet unfinished. But given this book’s continued popularity having been published a full decade ago, it’s safe to say the series is worth a read. The Kingkiller Chronicle follows the adventures of Kvothe, an young orphan making his way through university on his skills as a lute player and pursing the arcanist’s art, as he dictates his memoirs to a man at Waystone Inn.
Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven
In a similar vein to her earlier All The Bright Places (although thankfully less of a tear-jerker), this is a sweet, contemporary young adult romance. Niven is known for her memorable characters, poetic dialogue and writing that pulls on the heart strings. In this book, Libby Strout – once known as ‘America’s Fattest Teen’ – is pulling her life back together after her mum’s death, going back to school after years in isolation, and learning to come out of her shell. Also available as an audiobook.
Invisible Planets by Ken Liu
You may know Ken Liu from the Dandelion Dynasty series; his short fiction collection The Paper Menagerie; or as the translator of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. In this book, he has personally curated a selection of short speculative fiction from Chinese writers – some award-winners, some critically-reviewed, and some of his own favourites. The book also contains three literary essays on the phenomena and development of Chinese Science Fiction.
The Girl Before by J.P Delaney
This psychological thriller was on our most popular list for 2017, and has remained popular this semester. A winding, sadistic story about a young woman who moves into a minimalist-style apartment with a wealthy, controlling, obsessive (read: creepy) architect, and starts finding troubling parallels between herself and the mysterious girl who lived there previously. Daphne Du Maurier vibes, anyone?
Sun and her flowers by Rupi Kaur
Rupi Kaur featured in our list of patron-recommended poets recently, and her first book Milk & Honey was in our Most Popular 2017 list. If you’ve even dabbled in contemporary poetry you’ve no doubt seen excerpts of her writing or illustrations – she is known for sparse lines filled with deep emotion and multiple metaphors. While the first book was largely about overcoming pain, this second book focuses on growth, divided into five chapters following the botanical metaphor of wilting, falling, rooting rising & blooming.
The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari by Robin Sharma
This is a conversational, semi-autobiographical book about a man who foregoes the trappings of the modern career world, to instead seek personal fulfilment, balance and joy on a spiritual journey to the Himalayas. Though not an unfamiliar story arc, the book has sold over 3 million copies and is still popular more than 20 years after being released – so it’s clear that Sharma has some important things to say.
Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
This is the first in Pratchett’s endlessly-entertaining, endlessly-popular (and nearly endless, with 41 novels) Discworld series. The books are as funny as they are fantastical – Pratchett is an institution of the genre, and this book has been on many people’s favourites lists for over 35 years. Fantasy readers will enjoy both the world-building and the clever satire. Also available as an e-book.
Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama
This memoir was first published in 1995, when Obama was first starting his political campaign in Illinois and fifteen years before he was elected as POTUS. The book follows his early life and college years, exploring the family ties that shaped him; and also his own reflections on race relations, and the importance of community, faith and hope.
Power of Habit: why we do what we do, and how to change by Charles Duhigg
This books takes vast quantities of information, and distils it into a series of engaging narratives and practical tips. Duhigg’s contention is that our everyday habits establish the patterns that ensure our success or failure, productivity or time-wasting, profit or loss, life or death. Looking at areas from business to child-rearing, from health to social movements, he breaks down the science of how habits work, and how we can harness their power to change our lives and worlds.
Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The ultimate in comedy sci-fi, this ‘trilogy’ of five-books is a must-read for anyone who likes weird aliens, raucous plot-twists, ridiculous use of science for narrative purposes, and genuinely clever comedic writing. Also available as an e-book, a film adaptation, and we’ve got part of the radio show on LP as well!
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay
After the popularity of Bad Feminist, the collective ‘buzz;’ around this book when it was released last year was significant, with news articles, interviews, thinkpieces & blogposted opinions galore. The general vibe is that it’s lived up to the hype. IN this memoir Gay writes with her trademark candour and intimacy about body image, weight issues, PTSD, self-care, and the causes and cures of hungers. Her writing is simple but strong, blending personal narrative with intelligent social critique and insight.
First Person by Richard Flanagan
Flanagan is one of the most highly-acclaimed contemporary Australian novelists; his ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North‘ won the Man Booker Prize in 2014, and First Person has also been well enjoyed. Based loosely on his own experiences, the setup is of a young penniless writer offered a (slightly shady) deal to ghost-write the memoirs of a notorious con-man and criminal. As their questionable working relationship develops, the writer becomes engrossed in and haunted by the conman’s life and starts to question his own motivations and ambitions.
The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
A few Atwood books were popular this semester, including The Handmaid’s Tale (of course), Alias Grace, and this surreal, slightly lighter dystopia. After economic collapse, job loss and a stint of living out of their car, a thirty-somethings couple sign up for an experimental living project. In the town of ‘Positron’, they alternate each month between life in a nice suburban house, and working in a prison facility – but evidently there is more to this set-up than meets the eye. The book provides both humorous and heartfelt moments, along with allusions to the prison industrial complex, social slavery and the trappings of capitalism.