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Some sample reading goals: 

To find a paper topic or write a paper;

To have a comment for discussion;

To supplement ideas from lecture;

To understand a particular concept;

To memorize material for an exam;

To research for an assignment;

To enjoy the process (i.e., reading for pleasure!).

Seeing Textbook Reading in a New Light Students often come into college with negative associations surrounding textbook reading. It can be dry, dense, and draining; and in high school, sometimes we're left to our textbooks as a last resort for learning material.

A supportive resource : In college, textbooks can be a fantastic supportive resource. Some of your faculty may have authored their own for the specific course you're in!

Textbooks can provide:

A fresh voice through which to absorb material. Especially when it comes to challenging concepts, this can be a great asset in your quest for that "a-ha" moment.

The chance to “preview” lecture material, priming your mind for the big ideas you'll be exposed to in class.

The chance to review material, making sense of the finer points after class.

A resource that is accessible any time, whether it's while you are studying for an exam, writing a paper, or completing a homework assignment. 

Textbook reading is similar to and different from other kinds of reading . Some things to keep in mind as you experiment with its use:

Is it best to read the textbook before class or after?

Active reading is everything, apply the sq3r method., don’t forget to recite and review..

If you find yourself struggling through the readings for a course, you can ask the course instructor for guidance. Some ways to ask for help are: "How would you recommend I go about approaching the reading for this course?" or "Is there a way for me to check whether I am getting what I should be out of the readings?" 

Marking Text

Marking text – making marginal notes – helps with reading comprehension by keeping you focused and facilitating connections across readings. It also helps you find important information when reviewing for an exam or preparing to write an essay. The next time you’re reading, write notes in the margins as you go or, if you prefer, make notes on a separate sheet of paper. 

Your marginal notes will vary depending on the type of reading. Some possible areas of focus:

What themes do you see in the reading that relate to class discussions?

What themes do you see in the reading that you have seen in other readings?

What questions does the reading raise in your mind?

What does the reading make you want to research more?

Where do you see contradictions within the reading or in relation to other readings for the course?

Can you connect themes or events to your own experiences?

Your notes don’t have to be long. You can just write two or three words to jog your memory. For example, if you notice that a book has a theme relating to friendship, you can just write, “pp. 52-53 Theme: Friendship.” If you need to remind yourself of the details later in the semester, you can re-read that part of the text more closely. 

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If you are looking for help with developing best practices and using strategies for some of the tips discussed above, come to an ARC workshop on reading!

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26 spectacular books that made it onto college summer reading lists this year at universities around the country

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

  • Many colleges release summer reading lists for incoming students.
  • We compiled some of the best books from university reading lists in 2021.
  • Included on the list: " Caste ," " The Alchemist ," " The Vanishing Half ," and more.

Insider Today

Every summer, universities around the country release their recommended summer books and reading lists for incoming students. 

This year, schools like Columbia , Duke , UC Berkeley , NYU , Northwestern , and more shared their 2021 reading lists online. They included books like " Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent ," " The Vanishing Half ," " The Alchemist ," " The Nickel Boys ," " Think Again ," and more.

Read below to see some of the best books to have made it on reading lists this year. 

Copy provided by Amazon and edited lightly for length.

"Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent" by Isabel Wilkerson

academic read books

Read by students at: The University of California, Berkeley ; The University of Maryland

Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people's lives and behavior and the nation's fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.

Using riveting stories about people — including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball's Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others — she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day.

"The Vanishing Half" by Brit Bennett

academic read books

Read by students at: Bryn Mawr College ; The University of St. Thomas

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it's not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it's everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Many years later, one sister lives with her Black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past.

Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters' storylines intersect?

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

academic read books

Read by students at: New York University

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, and as a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings ― asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass ― offer us gifts and lessons, even if we've forgotten how to hear their voices.

In reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings will we be capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learn to give our own gifts in return.

"Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

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Read by students at: Northwestern University 

System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The impact of overconfidence on corporate strategies, the difficulties of predicting what will make us happy in the future, the profound effect of cognitive biases on everything from playing the stock market to planning our next vacation—each of these can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions.

Engaging the reader in a lively conversation about how we think, Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. He offers practical and enlightening insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives—and how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble. You can read Insider's review of this book here.

"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coehlo

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Read by students at: The University of California, Berkeley ;  Bryn Mawr College

Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different — and far more satisfying — than he ever imagined.

Santiago's journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.

"Somebody's Daughter" by Ashley C. Ford

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Read by students at: Boston University

Through poverty, adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother, Ashley Ford wishes she could turn to her father for hope and encouragement. There are just a few problems: he's in prison, and she doesn't know what he did to end up there. She doesn't know how to deal with the incessant worries that keep her up at night, or how to handle the changes in her body that draw unwanted attention from men.

In her search for unconditional love, Ashley begins dating a boy her mother hates. When the relationship turns sour, he assaults her. Still reeling from the rape, which she keeps secret from her family, Ashley desperately searches for meaning in the chaos. Then, her grandmother reveals the truth about her father's incarceration...and Ashley's entire world is turned upside down.

"Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know" by Adam Grant

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Read by students at: The University of Maryland

Organizational psychologist Adam Grant is an expert on opening other people's minds — and our own. As Wharton's top-rated professor and the bestselling author of "Originals" and "Give and Take," he makes it one of his guiding principles to argue like he's right but listen like he's wrong. With bold ideas and rigorous evidence, he investigates how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.

You'll learn how an international debate champion wins arguments, a Black musician persuades white supremacists to abandon hate, a vaccine whisperer convinces concerned parents to immunize their children, and Adam has coaxed Yankees fans to root for the Red Sox.

"Such a Fun Age" by Kiley Reid

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Read by students at: Duke University

Alix Chamberlain is a woman who gets what she wants and has made a living, with her confidence-driven brand, showing other women how to do the same. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira Tucker, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains' toddler one night, walking the aisles of their local high-end supermarket. The store's security guard, seeing a young black woman out late with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping two-year-old Briar. A small crowd gathers, a bystander films everything, and Emira is furious and humiliated. Alix resolves to make things right. With empathy and piercing social commentary, "Such a Fun Age" explores the stickiness of transactional relationships, what it means to make someone "family," and the complicated reality of being a grown-up.

"Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid

academic read books

Read by students at: Smith College

In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet — sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, and are soon cloistered in a premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors — doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price.

As the violence escalates, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. Leaving their homeland and their old lives behind, they find a door and step through...

"The Nickel Boys" by Colson Whitehead

academic read books

Read by students at: Siena College

When Elwood Curtis, a Black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood's only salvation is his friendship with fellow "delinquent" Turner, which deepens despite Turner's conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood's ideals and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, "The Nickel Boys" is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers and "should further cement Whitehead as one of his generation's best" (" Entertainment Weekly" ).

"The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice" by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

academic read books

Read by students at: The University of Kentucky

In 2014, northeastern Syria might have been the last place you would expect to find a revolution centered on women's rights. But that year, an all-female militia faced off against ISIS in a little town few had ever heard of: Kobani. By then, the Islamic State had swept across vast swaths of the country, taking town after town and spreading terror as the civil war burned all around it. From that unlikely showdown in Kobani emerged a fighting force that would wage war against ISIS across northern Syria alongside the United States. In the process, these women would spread their own political vision, determined to make women's equality a reality by fighting — house by house, street by street, city by city — the men who bought and sold women.

Based on years of on-the-ground reporting, "The Daughters of Kobani" is the unforgettable story of the women of the Kurdish militia that improbably became part of the world's best hope for stopping ISIS in Syria.

"When the Emperor Was Divine" by Julie Otsuka

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Read by students at: Augustana College

On a sunny day in Berkeley, California, in 1942, a woman sees a sign in a post office window, returns to her home, and matter-of-factly begins to pack her family's possessions. Like thousands of other Japanese Americans, they have been reclassified, virtually overnight, as enemy aliens and are about to be uprooted from their home and sent to a dusty internment camp in the Utah desert.

In this lean and devastatingly evocative first novel, Julie Otsuka tells their story from five flawlessly realized points of view and conveys the exact emotional texture of their experience: the thin-walled barracks and barbed-wire fences, the omnipresent fear and loneliness, the unheralded feats of heroism.

"Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships, and Motherhood Among Black Women" by Mignon R. Moore

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Read by students at: Columbia University

Mignon R. Moore brings to light the family life of a group that has been largely invisible — gay women of color — in a book that challenges long-standing ideas about racial identity, family formation, and motherhood.

Drawing from interviews and surveys of one hundred black gay women in New York City, "Invisible Families" explores the ways that race and class have influenced how these women understand their sexual orientation, find partners, and form families. In particular, the study looks at the ways in which the past experiences of women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s shape their thinking, and have structured their lives in communities that are not always accepting of their openly gay status.

"The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America" by Richard Rothstein

academic read books

Read by students at: The University of California, Berkeley

Widely heralded as a "masterful" ("Washington Post") and "essential" ("Slate") history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein's "The Color of Law" offers "the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation" (William Julius Wilson).

Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods.

A groundbreaking, "virtually indispensable" study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history ("Chicago Daily Observer"), "The Color of Law" forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past.

"Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption" by Bryan Stevenson

academic read books

Read by students at: Seton Hall University

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.

One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship — and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

"The Death of Vivek Oji" by Akwaeke Emezi

academic read books

Read by students at: The University of St. Thomas

One afternoon, in a town in southeastern Nigeria, a mother opens her front door to discover her son's body, wrapped in colorful fabric, at her feet. What follows is the tumultuous, heart-wrenching story of one family's struggle to understand a child whose spirit is both gentle and mysterious. Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings.

As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek's closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens — and Osita struggles to understand Vivek's escalating crisis — the mystery gives way to a heart-stopping act of violence in a moment of exhilarating freedom.

"The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race" by Walter Isaacson

academic read books

When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled "The Double Helix" on her bed. She put it aside, thinking it was one of those detective tales she loved. When she read it on a rainy Saturday, she discovered she was right, in a way. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn't become scientists, she decided she would.

Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book's author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned ​ a curiosity ​of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.

"The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion" by Jonathan Haidt

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Read by students at: Bryn Mawr College

Drawing on his 25 years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns.

In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts. If you're ready to trade in anger for understanding, read "The Righteous Mind."

"The Undocumented Americans" by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio

academic read books

Writer Karla Cornejo Villavicencio was on DACA when she decided to write about being undocumented for the first time using her own name. It was right after the election of 2016, the day she realized the story she'd tried to steer clear of was the only one she wanted to tell. 

So she wrote her immigration lawyer's phone number on her hand in Sharpie and embarked on a trip across the country to tell the stories of her fellow undocumented immigrants — and to find the hidden key to her own.

"Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles" by Rivvy Neshama

academic read books

On a dark winter night with little to do, Rivvy Neshama took a "Find Your Highest Purpose" quiz. And the funny thing was, she found it: to live a sacred life. Problem was, she didn't know how. 

But she set out to learn. And in the weeks and months that followed, she began to remember and encounter all the people and experiences featured in this book — from her father's jokes to her mother's prayers, from Billie in Harlem to a stranger in Salzburg, and from warm tortillas to the humble oatmeal. Each became a story, like a recipe passed down, beginning with her mother and her simple toast to life.

"The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" by Julia Cameron

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Read by students at: Spelman College

Since its first publication, "The Artist's Way" phenomena has inspired the genius of Elizabeth Gilbert and millions of readers to embark on a creative journey and find a deeper connection to process and purpose. Julia Cameron's novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery.

The program begins with Cameron's most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a "Creative Cluster" of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors.

"The Water Dancer" by Ta-Nehisi Coates

academic read books

Young Hiram Walker was born into bondage. When his mother was sold away, Hiram was robbed of all memory of her — but was gifted with a mysterious power. Years later, when Hiram almost drowns in a river, that same power saves his life. This brush with death births an urgency in Hiram and a daring scheme: to escape from the only home he's ever known.

So begins an unexpected journey that takes Hiram from the corrupt grandeur of Virginia's proud plantations to desperate guerrilla cells in the wilderness, from the coffin of the Deep South to dangerously idealistic movements in the North. Even as he's enlisted in the underground war between slavers and the enslaved, Hiram's resolve to rescue the family he left behind endures.

"The Feeling Economy: How Artificial Intelligence is Creating the Era of Empathy" by Roland T. Rust and Ming-Hui Huang

academic read books

As machines are trained to "think," many tasks that previously required human intelligence are becoming automated through artificial intelligence. However, it is more difficult to automate emotional intelligence, and this is where the human worker's competitive advantage over machines currently lies. 

The book argues that AI is rapidly assuming a larger share of thinking tasks, leaving human intelligence to focus on feeling. The result is the "Feeling Economy," in which both employees and consumers emphasize feeling to an unprecedented extent, with thinking tasks largely delegated to AI. The book shows both theoretical and empirical evidence that this shift is well underway. Further, it explores the effect of the Feeling Economy on our everyday lives in the areas such as shopping, politics, and education. Specifically, it argues that in this new economy, through empathy and people skills, women may gain an unprecedented degree of power and influence.

"Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity" by Walter Scheidel

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Read by students at: Northwestern University

The fall of the Roman Empire has long been considered one of the greatest disasters in history. But in this groundbreaking book, Walter Scheidel argues that Rome's dramatic collapse was actually the best thing that ever happened, clearing the path for Europe's economic rise and the creation of the modern age. Ranging across the entire premodern world, "Escape from Rome" offers new answers to some of the biggest questions in history: Why did the Roman Empire appear? Why did nothing like it ever return to Europe? And, above all, why did Europeans come to dominate the world?

In an absorbing narrative that begins with ancient Rome but stretches far beyond it, from Byzantium to China and from Genghis Khan to Napoleon, Scheidel shows how the demise of Rome and the enduring failure of empire-building on European soil launched an economic transformation that changed the continent and ultimately the world.

"The Book of Longings" by Sue Monk Kidd

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In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.

Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana's pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome's occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas.  When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.

"This I Believe: Life Lessons" edited by Dan Gediman, John Gregors, and Mary Jo Gediman

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Read by students at: The University of Louisiana, Monroe

Based on the NPR series of the same name, "This I Believe" features eighty Americans ― from the famous to the unknown ― completing the thought that the book's title begins. Each piece compels readers to rethink not only how they have arrived at their own personal beliefs but also the extent to which they share them with others.

The result is a stirring and provocative trip inside the minds and hearts of a diverse group of people whose beliefs ― and the incredibly varied ways in which they choose to express them ― reveal the American spirit at its best.

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Mastering Academic Reading

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  • To the Teacher and Student
  • Sample Unit 1

Copyright © 2009, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.


Mastering Academic Reading is meant to challenge advanced academically oriented students of English. The units and the readings within them are long. The comprehension and expansion exercises after them are demanding. The hoped-for outcome is that students trained using this textbook will be able to better hold their own in university classes where the reading volume across disciplines and vocabulary demands are high.

Almost every reading is taken, in minimally adapted form, from a book or academic / professional journal. Two introductory passages have been composed expressly for this book in order to provide narrowly focused background material. Beyond these pieces, readers are in the hands of “real-world” authors and their difficult, lexically diffuse, and allusion-filled creations. Journal articles and book excerpts predominate, but Mastering Academic Reading also offers  a book review and a government pamphlet as well.

Since one aspect of reading practice builds on others, the units are laid out in tiers, not in sections. Each unit has been organized into three tiers. In general, there is one reading per tier, although the first tier in Unit 3 contains two passages (both necessary to provide conceptual background for the other two tiers). Each reading is 3,500-5,000 words. The book focuses on the three primary goals of academic reading: reading to learn; reading to integrate, write, and critique texts; and reading for basic comprehension.

Supplemental Materials

Video: Larry Zwier on Mastering Academic Reading

The 100 Must-Read Books of 2023

The fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that entertained and enlightened us

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A Day in the Life of Abed Salama

A living remedy, above ground, after sappho, after the funeral, all the sinners bleed, anansi's gold, august blue, the bee sting, biography of x, birnam wood, chrome valley, the covenant of water, crook manifesto, the deadline, doppelganger, dyscalculia, the end of drum-time, family lore, fire weather, ghost music, the good life, the great reclamation, the great white bard, greek lessons, the half known life, the heaven & earth grocery store, hello beautiful, the hive and the honey, holding pattern, holler, child, how not to kill yourself, how to say babylon, i am still with you, i do everything i'm told, i have some questions for you, i love russia, king: a life, let us descend, let's go let's go let's go, liliana’s invincible summer, the male gazed, master slave husband wife, mott street, my name is barbra, none of the above, north woods, nothing special, our migrant souls, our share of night, owner of a lonely heart, pineapple street, the postcard, poverty, by america, the rachel incident, river sing me home, some people need killing, temple folk, terrace story, this other eden, the three of us, thunderclap, to free the captives, the vaster wilds, vengeance is mine, victory city, waiting to be arrested at night, wandering souls, what happened to ruthy ramirez, what you are looking for is in the library, when crack was king, the wren, the wren, you could make this place beautiful, the young man.

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This project is led by Lucy Feldman and Annabel Gutterman, with writing by Judy Berman, Shannon Carlin, Eliana Dockterman, Mahita Gajanan, Cady Lang, Megan McCluskey, Rachel Sonis, Karl Vick, Olivia B. Waxman, Lucas Wittmann, Laura Zornosa, and Meg Zukin; photography editing by Eli Cohen; art direction by Victor Williams; video by Andrew Johnson and Sam McPeak; and production by  Juwayriah   Wright .

Guide to Academic Reading

Reading is fundamental to college success, regardless of your major or field of study. According to the University of Michigan-Flint , the average college student enrolled in standard courses should study between four and six hours per day. Reading comprehension and retention of facts and data are two skills you need to master in order to get the most out of your college experience.

Here we’ll explore various techniques for academic reading: what to do and what not to do as you try to maximize your reading comprehension. We also consider a sample essay about radiation chemistry ( courtesy of WyzAnt ) to illustrate the strategies we explore.

How to Improve Your Academic Reading

The following techniques will help you gain the most knowledge from each reading resource you consult.

Read with purpose

Before you begin reading, try to determine the purpose of the reading as it relates to the rest of the course curriculum. You should first pinpoint the type of information that can be gleaned from the text: does the resource contain data and figures you need to memorize, or does it describe abstract concepts you need to be familiar with in order to progress in the course?

Master the art of ‘skimming’

Rather than poring over an assigned text in its entirety, skimming the pages for important content saves you a lot of time and reading energy. As noted by an academic reading guide from Swarthmore College : “[Skimming] is not just reading in a hurry, or reading sloppily, or reading the last line and the first line. It’s actually a disciplined activity in its own right. A good skimmer has a systematic technique for finding the most information in the least amount of time.”

You should pay close attention to the text to differentiate key passages from tangents, extraneous remarks, and other information that is somewhat irrelevant to the assignment. Keep an eye out for “signposts,” or terms/phrases that denote sidebar discussions. “I would argue” and “As a side note” are two examples. Generally speaking, you can avoid reading these paragraphs in detail. While skimming implies selective reading, it’s also important to review the entire text to ensure there aren’t any key facts or data hidden in seemingly unimportant paragraphs.

There are, of course, certain assignments you should not skim: works of fiction for a literature class or long readings intended to be essay prompts, for instance. When it comes to textbooks and other standard academic readings, skimming can be quite effective.

Assess the validity and relevance of the text

In addition to course assignments, a substantial amount of academic reading is required in order to write high-quality research papers. For these compositions, students are often asked to curate reference materials and resources on their own.

First, as noted by the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana , you should make sure all resources for your research paper are scholarly, or “written by experts in a particular field and serve to keep others interested in that field up to date on the most recent research, findings, and news.” While not all of these resources are necessarily relevant to any given research paper, scholarly publications are regarded as more credible and authoritative than non-scholarly works.

Most university libraries allow students to perform customized searches in order to pinpoint books and other publications with specific information. Once you outline your research paper, conduct a thorough search of your school’s library system to locate the resources you need. This illustrated example from the University at Buffalo’s library system explains how to search for different works by keyword, subject, author, and title. Remember to scan the shelves around books you locate, since reference materials are usually categorized by subject.

Once you obtain a few potential research paper sources, take some time to skim the content and flag particularly informative sections or quotes. If you are required to return the books in relatively little time or are unable to check them out, make photocopies and organize the documents to match the general outline of your paper.

Approach articles and books differently

The bulk of your academic reading takes one of two forms: published books or journal articles. Although these two sources feature a different layout and composition style, they generally cover the same topics, and you can use the same strategy to review books and journals before a thorough reading.

If you are assigned a book reading, it might be helpful to begin with introductory passages before delving into the core text. According to the University of Southern Queensland , students should “never start reading at page 1 of the text.” Instead, you should first consult the introduction, table of contents, index, author’s notes, even the conclusion. These resources help you establish the main focus of the reading, which, in turn, allows you to read with purpose and skim the text more effectively. Additionally, taking a glance at book reviews on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble is a useful way to capture the theme of a publication before you begin reading.

Just as most scholarly books have an introduction or cursory passage of some kind, the majority of journal articles come with a brief abstract, or summary, of the entire piece. Most abstracts are two to three paragraphs in length. Although many academic journals are only available for purchase, most corresponding abstracts are available free-of-charge.

Prioritize and organize your reading assignments

If you have a large amount of reading to do, it’s easier to stay on task if you pick out the most important assignments and group readings by topic beforehand. Consider putting the books and printouts into piles by subject or theme, with the most important readings on top. Then, work through your assignments methodically. Chunks of reading can make an enormous pile of reading seem manageable, and it’ll be easier to identify and track overarching themes and connections between assignments.

Develop effective ways to remember important content

As you engage in academic reading, it is crucial to retain all of the important facts and data present in the text; for most people, this means multiple read-throughs. The University of Southern Queensland notes that one’s ability to retain information from a book or journal article is linked to their reading experience. “The quality of memory is related to the quality of your interaction with what you are trying to remember. Obviously, if you have organised, dissected, questioned, reviewed and assessed the material you are reading, it will sit more firmly in your memory, and be more accessible.” For this reason, most students have an easier time remembering articles about recreational subjects than academic texts; personal stake or interest in a topic generates higher levels of retention.

You can increase “memorability” of a certain reading by utilizing visualization, oral recitation, and other cognitive techniques that enable you to totally comprehend the text. Some students create mnemonic devices to help remember ordered lists, formulas, and other detailed information sets. One example is the phrase “Dear King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti,” which is a mnemonic device for remembering the eight standard rankings of biological classification (Domain, Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species).

In the next section, we discuss some note-taking techniques that further increase your retention of academic readings.

Impose time limits

Despite the common practice of all-night cram sessions, most academic experts agree that students should set time limits for their academic readings – and stick to them. A carefully budgeted reading schedule allots more than enough time to complete the work, re-read the material once or twice to increase memorability, and compose some useful notes about the text.

According to a report from Utah State University titled, “ How Many Hours Do I Need To Study? “, the relative difficulty of all your courses during a given semester/quarter should dictate how much time you spend studying per week. “High difficulty” courses require three hours of study, “Medium difficulty” courses require two hours, and “Low difficulty” courses require one hour. Once you determine the levels of difficulty, multiply the hours of each course by the number of hours you attend the class per week. This yields the number of hours you should devote to each course on a weekly basis. For example, a high difficulty course you attend three hours per week generally requires nine hours of weekly study.

The USU report recommends no more than 20-25 study hours per week. Students should enroll in a combination of high, medium, and low difficulty courses each term to ensure they are not overwhelmed with the weekly requirements.

Taking Notes as You Read

Every student has his or her own preferred technique of academic note-taking. Whichever method you choose, the same rule applies: clear, informative notes are fundamental to successful memorization.

According to a tutorial from California Polytechnic Institute (Cal Poly) , there are five distinct schools of thought when it comes to academic note-taking; these systems can be used to take notes during a live lecture or when you are engaged in academic reading.

  • The Cornell Method Lecture/reading notes are transcribed (using shorthand language) on a sheet of paper with clear margins. Once the lecture/reading is finished, write one- or two-word cues in the margins beside each important information point. To review the material, cover the main body of your notes and leave the cues exposed; with proper studying, you should eventually be able to recite all of the information by just seeing the cue.
  • The Outlining Method Most students learn this method during their primary/secondary school education. General ideas are written on the far left-hand side of the page and, as the material becomes more specific, the notes are indented further to the right.
  • The Mapping Method Rather than simply writing the notes, mapping typically entails a visual component: numbers, marks, color coding, or some other sort of illustration of the academic text.
  • The Charting Method Like the mapping method, charting includes an element of graphic representation to supplement the written notes. In this case, it usually takes the form of a graph or data table.
  • The Sentence Method This system involves creating a different sentence for each distinct thought, fact, or data point, and then numbering them on the page in an order that corresponds to the lecture/reading. You can build on sentence-based notes by adding page numbers or other markers for your own reference.

In addition to different note-taking methods, here are a few extra tips to help you generate better notes for your academic readings:

  • Make flashcards These can be especially useful for memorizing vocabulary terms, key concepts, and important dates. Create a set of flashcards for each distinct section of the course; this allows you to learn each section individually, and then combine all of the flashcards to comprehensively study for midterms and final exams.
  • Rewrite til it hurts For formulas, chronological timelines, and other subjects that require understanding of a specific order, it can be helpful to simply transcribe the notes by hand until you’ve memorized the proper sequence.
  • Mark quotes If you are writing an academic research paper, quotes from authoritative sources are a valuable commodity. Use color-coded Post-It notes to mark useful passages in your book sources, and create a digital document with copy-pasted blurbs from online journals and publications. Do not forget to note the page number as well as the individual who has coined the quote, and his/her official title if it isn’t the author of the work.
  • Refer to more than one source for tricky topics Having trouble understanding the fundamentals of a certain idea or concept? Locate a source that covers the same ground and compare/contrast the different definitions. Sometimes it is easier to grasp information with more than one frame of reference.
  • Create a list of remaining questions Sometimes, an academic source does not cover all of the information you need. Once you finish reading and compiling notes from a given work, take the time to consider and write out other topics you still need to research in order to fully understand the material.

Sample Essay

To demonstrate what a thorough job of academic reading looks like, we have evaluated an excerpt from an undergraduate chemistry class. In the margins of the essay, we explain the mentality and strategies an attentive student should employ when reading the sample. This advice can be applied to any assigned reading given to you throughout your undergraduate studies.

essay sample


Reading and making notes

  • Introduction

Setting reading goals

Choosing the right texts, how many sources should you read, going beyond the reading list, active reading, reading techniques, common abbreviations in academic texts.

  • Effective note-making
  • Reading e-books for university study
  • Using and evaluating websites

academic read books

This guide will suggest ways for you to improve your reading skills and to read in a more focused and selective manner.

  • Reading academic texts (video) Watch this brief video tutorial for more on the topic.
  • Reading academic texts (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.
  • The best file formats and how to use them An interactive guide by the Technology Enhanced Learning team on the key features of alternative formats (such as PDF and ePUB), and how to make the most of these in developing your reading habits.

Before starting to read you need to consider why you are reading and what you are trying to learn. You will need to vary the way you read accordingly.

  • If you are reading for general interest and to acquire background information for lectures you will need to read the topic widely but with not much depth.
  • If you are reading for an essay you will need to focus the reading around the essay question and may need to study a small area of the subject in great depth. Jot down the essay question, make a note of any questions you have about it, and don't get side-tracked and waste time on non-relevant issues.

Below is an excellent short video tutorial on  reading and notemaking  developed by the Learning Development team at the University of Leicester.

  • Reading and note making (video) Video tutorial from the Study Advice Team.
  • Researching your assignment (video) A brief screencast on what you need to think about when starting your research.
  • Researching for your assignment (transcript) Read along while watching the video tutorial.

It is unlikely that you will be able - or be expected - to read all the books and articles on your reading list. You will be limited by time and by the availability of the material.

To decide whether a book is relevant and useful:

  • Look at the author's name, the title and the date of publication. Is it essential reading? Is it out of date?
  • Read the publisher's blurb on the cover or look through the editor's introduction to see whether it is relevant.
  • Look at the contents page. Does it cover what you want? Is it at the right level? Are there too few pages on the topic - or too many?
  • Look through the introduction to get an idea of the author's approach.
  • Look up an item in the index (preferably something you know a bit about) and read through one or two paragraphs to see how the author deals with the material.
  • Look though the bibliography to see the range of the author's sources.
  • Are the examples, illustrations, diagrams etc. easy to follow and helpful for your purpose?

To select useful articles from journals or research papers :

  • Read the summary or abstract. Is it relevant?
  • Look at the Conclusions and skim-read the Discussion, looking at headings. Is it worth reading carefully because it is relevant or interesting?
  • Look through the Introduction. Does it summarise the field in a helpful way? Does it provide a useful literature review?
  • It is a seminal piece of work – essential reading.
  • It is highly relevant to your essay, etc.
  • It is likely that you can get ideas from it.
  • There is nothing else available and you are going to have to make the most of this.
  • It is so interesting that you can't put it down!

If there is no reading list...

  • Use the library website and look up  Subject help .
  • Find a general textbook on the subject.
  • Use encyclopaedias and subject based dictionaries.
  • Do a web search BUT stay focused on your topic AND think about the reliability of the web sites. (For help with this, see the Library's guide to  Evaluating websites .)
  • Browse the relevant shelves in the library and look for related topics.
  • Ask your tutor for a suggestion for where to start.
  • The Library also have advice on how to  and a series of brief videos  showing you how to find and access Library resources.
  • To help you decide whether a source is appropriate for academic research, try this short training resource from the University of Manchester -  Know your sources 
  • Subject guides Guides to specialist resources in subjects studied at the University.
  • Evaluating websites Hints on assessing the reliability of information you find on the Internet.
  • Library videos A link to Library videos on how to use the Library and access resources
  • Know your sources On-line training tutorial from Manchester University on evaluating academic sources

academic read books

It is not a good idea to rely on 1 or 2 sources very heavily as this shows a lack of wider reading, and can mean you just get a limited view without thinking of an argument of your own.

Nor is it useful (or possible) to read everything on the reading list and try to fit it all into your assignment. This usually leads to losing your own thoughts under a mass of reading.

The best way is to be strategic about your reading and identify what you need to find out and what the best sources to use to find this information.

It can be better to read less and try to think about, and understand, the issues more clearly - take time to make sure you really get the ideas rather than reading more and more which can increase your confusion.

  • Use the Library catalogue to find other books on that topic. Either click on the subject headings in the full record of the books you wanted; or make a note of their Call Numbers and check on the shelves for similar titles.
  • Look for relevant journal articles using the Summon search box on the Library homepage or using key resources listed on the guide for your subject.
  • Use online resources BUT always evaluate them to see if they are appropriate for academic purposes. (For help with this, see the Library's guide to  Evaluating websites .)  
  • Ask around to see if any of your fellow students has the books you need. You may be able to borrow them briefly to photocopy any material you need. But be careful to return it promptly - and if you lend a Library book taken out with your ticket to someone else, make sure they take it back on time, or your account will be blocked!
  • Don't forget to ask your friendly Academic Liaison Librarian for advice - they are happy to help you find relevant, academic sources for your assignments.
  • Contact your Academic Liaison Librarian

Keep focused on your reading goals. One way to do this is to ask questions as you read and try to read actively and creatively. It is a good idea to think of your own subject related questions but the following may be generally useful

academic read books

  • What do I want to know about?
  • What is the main idea behind the writing?
  • What conclusions can be drawn from the evidence?
  • In research, what are the major findings?

Questioning the writing

  • What are the limitations or flaws in the evidence?
  • Can the theory be disproved or is it too general?
  • What examples would prove the opposite theory?
  • What would you expect to come next?
  • What would you like to ask the author?

Forming your own opinion

  • How does this fit in with my own theory/beliefs?
  • How does it fit with the opposite theory/beliefs?
  • Is my own theory/beliefs still valid?
  • Am I surprised?
  • Do I agree?

Your reading speed is generally limited by your thinking speed. If ideas or information requires lots of understanding then it is necessary to read slowly. Choosing a reading technique must depend upon why you are reading:

  • To enjoy the language or the narrative.
  • As a source of information and/or ideas.
  • To discover the scope of a subject - before a lecture, seminar or research project.
  • To compare theories or approaches by different authors or researchers.
  • For a particular piece of work e.g. essay, dissertation.

It is important to keep your aims in mind. Most reading will require a mixture of techniques e.g. scanning to find the critical passages followed by reflective reading.

Good for searching for particular information or to see if a passage is relevant:

  • Look up a word or subject in the index or look for the chapter most likely to contain the required information.
  • Use a pencil and run it down the page to keep your eyes focusing on the search for key words

Skim reading

Good to quickly gain an overview, familiarise yourself with a chapter or an article or to understand the structure for later note-taking

  • Don't read every word.
  • Do read summaries, heading and subheadings.
  • Look at tables, diagrams, illustrations, etc.
  • Read first sentences of paragraphs to see what they are about.
  • If the material is useful or interesting, decide whether just some sections are relevant or whether you need to read it all.

Reflective or critical reading

Good for building your understanding and knowledge.

  • Think about the questions you want to answer.
  • Read actively in the search for answers.
  • Look for an indication of the chapter's structure or any other "map" provided by the author.
  • reasons, qualifications, evidence, examples...
  • Look for "signposts" –sentences or phrases to indicate the structure e.g. "There are three main reasons, First.. Secondly.. Thirdly.." or to emphasise the main ideas e.g. "Most importantly.." "To summarise.."
  • Connecting words may indicate separate steps in the argument e.g. "but", "on the other hand", "furthermore", "however"..
  • After you have read a chunk, make brief notes remembering to record the page number as well as the complete reference (Author, title, date, journal/publisher, etc)
  • At the end of the chapter or article put the book aside and go over your notes, to ensure that they adequately reflect the main points.
  • Ask yourself - how has this added to your knowledge?
  • Will it help you to make out an argument for your essay?
  • Do you agree with the arguments, research methods, evidence..?
  • Add any of your own ideas – indicating that they are YOUR ideas use [ ] or different colours.

Rapid reading

Good for scanning and skim-reading,  but  remember that it is usually more important to understand what you read than to read quickly. Reading at speed is unlikely to work for reflective, critical reading.

If you are concerned that you are really slow:

  • Check that you are not mouthing the words – it will slow you down
  • Do not stare at individual words – let your eyes run along a line stopping at every third word. Practise and then lengthen the run until you are stopping only four times per line, then three times, etc.
  • The more you read, the faster you will become as you grow more familiar with specialist vocabulary, academic language and reading about theories and ideas. So keep practising…

If you still have concerns about your reading speed, book an  individual advice session  with a Study Adviser.

  • ibid : In the same work as the last footnote or reference (from ibidem meaning: in the same place)
  • op.cit: In the work already mentioned (from operato citato meaning in the work cited)
  • ff: and the following pages
  • cf: compare
  • passim: to be found throughout a particular book.

You may also find journal titles abbreviated. You will often find a list in your Course Handbook of the most often used in your discipline. Or ask the Academic Liaison Librarian for your subject.

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The 30 Best Dark Academia Books of All Time

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Blog – Posted on Wednesday, Mar 16

The 30 best dark academia books of all time.

The 30 Best Dark Academia Books of All Time

Given its rapid rise from internet subculture to literary phenomenon, you’ve probably heard of dark academia. But what is this new genre? Put simply, dark academia books handle all things literary, moody, and macabre. A love for classic literature, ancient art, and the pursuit of knowledge have combined to form a unique aesthetic that centers around elite universities, mysterious societies, and dark secrets.

But the best way to understand the concept of dark academia is by example. With that being said, here are 30 of the best dark academia books — best enjoyed while strolling through hushed cloisters or hiding in a shadowy corner of a library, bats fluttering behind you.

1) The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The book that launched an entire subculture, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is quintessential dark academic reading. Following a group of six high-minded Classics students at an elite New England college, Tartt’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story with a twist. Over the course of the novel, we learn that pretentiousness isn’t the gang’s greatest crime; something far darker binds them to one another, a secret that threatens to destroy their insular world of learning and privilege. This tale of sex, death, and literature sets up the moody atmosphere and cultured allusions that have gone on to characterize dark academia books. If you’re looking for an entry point into the genre, look no further.

2) Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Alex Stern has the odds stacked against her. The high-school-dropout daughter of a dead-beat mom, she’s been crashing from precarious situation to even more precarious situation her entire life. After surviving a horrific and unsolved attack, Alex has finally reached breaking point — until an unexpected opportunity appears as she’s lying in a hospital bed. A mysterious benefactor sees something special in Alex, offering her a full-ride scholarship to Yale — but only if she agrees to use her unusual abilities to monitor occult activity on campus. A twisty tale of secret societies and the supernatural, Ninth House is a must-read dark academia book with a touch of the fantastical.

3) Bunny by Mona Awad

Bold, singular, and experimental, Mona Awad’s Bunny is as head-spinning as it is gripping. The novel tells the story of Samantha — MFA student, loner, and all round fish out of water — attempting to navigate life at a highly competitive university, surrounded by the kind of preppy rich girls she less-than-affectionately refers to as “Bunnies”. Despite her initial aversion to the gang, an invitation to their mysterious “Smut Salon” draws Samantha in despite herself. An unexpected world of grotesque ritual awaits, as the once bland Bunnies reveal themselves to be nothing of the sort. Caustic and subversive, Bunny is well worth the read.

4) Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Aptly marketed as “ Gossip Girl meets Get Out ”, Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s explosive debut novel burst onto the YA fiction scene in 2021, and has been generating buzz among dark academia fans ever since. Ace of Spades follows the story of two students at Niveus Private Academy: high-achieving and ambitious head girl Chiamaka, and reclusive musician Devon. When an anonymous source begins leaking private information about the pair, they’re drawn into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse which threatens to destroy them both. In a genre that at times lacks BIPOC voices, Ace of Spades is a breath of fresh air, with its adept handling of complex issues like racism, classism, and homophobia — a not-to-be-missed new release. 

5) The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Originally self-published before becoming a social media sensation and being snapped up by Macmillan, The Atlas Six tells the story of the Alexandrian Society, the foremost secret society of magical academicians across the world. Invitees gain access to knowledge from the most powerful ancient civilizations, supposedly lost to the people of today. Six magicians are recruited to vie for entry, and must contribute their findings to subjects ranging from space and time to luck and thought. Among the six recruits are earth-benders, mind-readers, and truth-seers. The catch? There are only five spots available. In a competition for not just prestige, but survival, all are faced with one question: what are you willing to risk for the honor of the Alexandrian Society?

📈Curious for more stories about self-published books that broke into the mainstream? Check out our list of self-publishing success stories .

6) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Charles Ryder and his noble-born companion Sebastian may attend Oxford, but not much studying happens in the pages of Brideshead Revisited . Instead, school’s out for the summer, and Charles makes a visit to Sebastian’s family home at Brideshead. The visit sets into motion a course of events that will change both of their lives forever. Moody and opulent, Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel contains the kind of esotericism and tragedy that dark academia fans are sure to love — and one counted as a major influence on Donna Tartt’s The Secret History .

7) If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

If We Were Villains has the classic scholastic setting of dark academia, but with a twist: this time, we’re at drama school. A group of seven actors study the works of Shakespeare, while studying the off-stage drama of their peers. There are some attending this elite arts school who’ll do anything to get the part, so it's little surprise when one of them is found dead. If you’re interested in some amped-up theater kid drama, serious suspense, and a lot of Shakespeare quotes, give If We Were Villains a try.

8) How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

Nancy and Jamie are best friends — until Jamie unexpectedly goes missing, and is soon found dead. Shock turns to terror when Nancy and her friends become prime suspects in Jamie’s murder thanks to The Proctor, an anonymous user on their school’s social media app. The Proctor is steadily revealing secrets about Nancy and her friends, secrets that might cost Nancy her future college scholarship. Paranoia peppers the pages of this textbook dark academia novel, as a previously unbreakable bond of friendship is pushed to its limits. Punchy and thrilling, Katie Zhao’s work provides stark insight into the often overlooked issues facing many Asian-American students, and the tensions inherent in being a “model minority”, navigating a pressure-cooker environment that will be all too relatable to many.

9) These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever

Micah Nemerever’s award-winning debut novel These Violent Delights begins with two university freshmen meeting in 1970s Pittsburgh. Paul is talented, sensitive, and deeply insecure; in other words, he feels like he belongs away from the world of his working class upbringing. Julian, on the other hand, has an easy charm and self-possessed magnetism that makes Paul both idolize him and see him as his sole creative equal. But beneath his golden-boy exterior, Julian hides a dark side. These Violent Delights will take you on a trip through love, obsession, and unforgivable violence. Can these men, these boys, confront the difficult truths at the core of their increasingly intimate relationship — or will they let their lives crumble? 

10) Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

Ines, a wild-child teenager, is accepted into Catherine House, the most prestigious boarding college in the country — one that turns recent high school graduates into prize-winning authors, artists, Supreme Court justices, and even presidents. Tuition, rooming, and living costs are all free for the lucky few who make it past the intensive admissions process. So, what’s the catch? Catherine House requires all students to come with nothing but the clothes on their back and spend three full years completely disconnected from the outside world. Ines’s dangerous rebellion gets her tangled in the school’s secret inner-circle of students — it turns out there’s a dark truth behind holding such high prestige. 

11) The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

When a member of an all-female secret society turns up dead at the University of Cambridge, therapist Mariana becomes obsessed with bringing her killer to justice. And she’s convinced she knows who did it; Edward Fosca. Charismatic heartthrob Fosca is a lecturer in Greek tragedy, whose fixation on Persephone’s journey to the underworld begins to trouble Mariana. As the bodies begin to pile up, Mariana’s conviction grows, and she decides it’s her job alone to stop Fosca before it’s too late. Deliciously dark and atmospheric, The Maidens is the kind of classicising dark academia book that fans of The Secret History will love. Claim your hipster points by reading the source material before you watch the TV adaptation.

12) Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Superpowers do not a hero make, as senior year college students Victor and Eli learn the hard way after their research project goes terribly wrong. The two share a burning interest in studying adrenaline, near-death experiences, and supernatural events. When their research moves into the practicum phase, they learn that under the right circumstances, average humans can develop superhuman powers. Consequences are catastrophic, landing both men in serious trouble. Ten years on, Victor is breaking free from prison, with vengeance on his mind. He’s on a manhunt for Eli, who’s on a mission of his own: to destroy anyone with superhuman powers. When the former allies finally reconnect, who will survive? Vicious reads like a graphic novel in prose, and asks what we’re willing to give up to become extraordinary.

13) A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

For a queer take on dark academia, try this one out for size. In A Lesson in Vengeance, protagonist Felicity is returning to Dalloway to finish her senior year, following a year’s absence after the death of her girlfriend. All she wants is to move on, but it turns out the past will refuse to stay in the past. Enter Ellis, a freshman at Dalloway and a prodigy-novelist researching her next book. She’s at Dalloway because of its supernatural history, specifically the story of the Dalloway Five: five women who died mysteriously one after the other on school grounds, all of whom were suspected of witchcraft. Ellis approaches Felicity for her research — given what happened to her girlfriend, she’s the perfect resource. And while Felicity wants nothing to do with the school’s occult underbelly, Ellis proves difficult to resist…

14) Plain Bad Heroines: A Novel by Emily M. Danforth

Flo and Clara attend The Brookhants School for Girls in 1902, where they become completely obsessed with daring young writer Mary McLane’s scandalous memoir . They form The Plain Bad Heroine Society, meeting at the orchard to discuss McLane. Fast forward, and the girls are found dead, with only McLane’s book between them. After further mysterious deaths, the school closes its doors for good — until a century later, when it becomes a movie set for a film based on Flo and Clara’s story. The past and present become indistinguishable when the set feels the wrath of whatever haunts the school grounds. As history begins to repeat, this book’s version of dark academia with a twist delivers a sharp warning not to mess with what we can’t understand.

15) Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

Ukrainian husband-and-wife duo Marina and Sergey Dyachenko are a prolific writing team, with dozens of novels, novellas , and short stories to their name. One of their biggest international hits is Vita Nostra, the story of a young girl, her domineering mentor, and a mysterious education at the “Institute of Special Technologies”. A brilliant work of speculative fantasy fiction, Vita Nostra takes fantasy, philosophy, and metaphysics in its stride as its protagonist Sasha becomes more and more deeply entrenched in the Institute and its shadowy practices. It’s a strange and enchanting story — Harry Potter with a sting in the tail. 

16) People Like Us by Dana Mele

Marketed as the literary lovechild of Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars , People Like Us is a dark, character-driven thriller about Kay — a girl with a troubled past who's trying hard to reinvent herself. She’s done a pretty good job so far: nowadays, she’s the centerpiece of a mega-popular friend group, and the star of her school soccer team. Or, at least, she was... until a dead girl’s body appears in the lake. The deceased girl left behind a series of computer-coded clues which implicate numerous suspects in the murder — Kay being one of them. As her intricately crafted life starts to crumble, Kay finds out that she’s  not the only one who’s been hiding behind a mask. The twists, turns, and distorted dynamics in this boarding-school mystery will keep you guessing until the end. 

17) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Narrated retrospectively by Kathy, a now 31-year old former student of Hailsham boarding school, the Booker Prize winning Never Let Me Go feels like a slow descent into madness. The school she once attended is inhabited exclusively by students with a ‘special purpose’, and their ‘education’ is more like a process of conditioning, aligning them with their specific destiny. You might not find anything too outwardly ominous in the first pages of this dystopian story. But as the years pass, the relationship between Kathy and her friends shift from teenage competition and affection to painful realization about a sinister subcurrent stemming from Hailsham that is slowly brought to life. 

18) Lessons by Naomi Alderman

Need your fix of elite, rich, and poorly-adjusted Oxford students with undesirable secrets? Then Naomi Alderman’s The Lessons is for you. The protagonist James Stieff is a physics student in the city of dreaming spires, but who, like many freshmen, has trouble coming to terms with the loneliness of university — and the reality of no longer being the only rising star around.Enter a very impressionable circle of friends who orbit trust-fund baby Mark Winters. Mark lives an unconventional lifestyle in a worn-out Georgian mansion, where he’s happy to host his friends, including James. But when the reality that lurks behind Mark’s wealth begins to affect those around him, can James really trust what he sees? An earlier work from the author of award-winning feminist tome The Power, this one isn’t to be missed.

19) In My Dreams I Hold a Knife by Ashley Winstead

In Ashley Winstead’s debut novel, In My Dreams I Hold a Knife, protagonist Jessica returns to Duquette University for the first time for a ten-year reunion. She’s confident, successful, and living a life polar opposite to her college days. However, many of her peers haven’t left college behind so thrivingly, rocked still by the unsolved murder of their friend and classmate, Heather. When the reunion brings everyone together, they are forced to confront every lingering secret and mystery from the past ten years. There are those who want to solve Heather’s murder, and those who would do anything to keep their secrets safe. Told in dual timelines, this captivating whodunit explores the dark limits of friendship and shared trauma.

20) Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

Truly Devious is set in the seemingly idyllic Ellingham Academy — a peculiarly laid-back private school situated in the remote Vermont mountains, attended exclusively by gifted pupils. Founded by Albert Ellingham in the early 20th century, the school’s unconventional, relaxed approach to education is overshadowed by the mysterious fate of the Ellingham family. Ellingham’s wife and daughter had both gone missing — and the body of the latter was never found. Ellingham himself died in suspicious circumstances shortly after, leaving behind the school as his only legacy. Given all this mystery, it’s only fitting that our true crime loving protagonist, Stevie Bell, picks Criminal Investigation as her subject of choice upon joining the academy. If anyone is  able to solve the Agatha Christie-esque riddle that lies at the heart of Ellingham, it’s Stevie.

21) The Truants by Kate Weinberg

If you’re craving an untrustworthy cast of characters, numerous intertwined mysteries, and strong dark academia vibes — this novel is the one for you. Our protagonist, Jess Walker, is nineteen and heading off to college for her first flash of adult ‘freedom’. However, things soon become complicated as Jess encounters roadblocks in the form of her charismatic lead professor and idol, Lorna Clay, and an exiled journalist with a fatal attraction to women. Equally forbidden for different reasons, Jess’ romances with these two unfold into a story filled to the brim with longing, obsession, and unstable characters. 

22) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

While technically a gothic classic, some consider Frankenstein the original dark academia book, and we’re here to tell you why. The novel chronicles Victor Frankenstein’s childhood, leading up to his young adulthood as a dark, moody, and deeply curious scientist at the University of Ingolstadt in Germany. The loss of a loved one sends him spiraling into experimentation — first to cope with the grief, but ultimately leading to a lapse in sanity. You might already have an idea of what happens next, but The Creature birthed from Victor’s scientific aberration isn’t as monstrous as he looks. Beyond potentially marking the birth of dark academia, this novel will have you questioning your conceptions of morality and personhood. 

23) The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Ever heard of a little indie book called Dracula? Well, Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel The Historian is a (much lauded) tribute to that. The story follows a hereditary quest to find Vladimir Țepeș’s (A.K.A. Dracula’s) tomb, a quest which spans the lifetime of a mentor, a student, and his daughter — the latter being the primary narrator throughout the story. Told through a series of letters and conversations between father, daughter, and tutor, The Historian is a gripping slow-burn of a tale that would entice even those new to the genre. If you’re interested in paranormal history, and especially vampire mythology , this is worth a try. 

24) Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer

What’s more dark academia-esque than three students who share an obsession with poetry and death? The students in question are known by the collective nickname “the death girls”, dress from head to toe in black, and each have a singular, all-consuming obsession with the psychology and suicide of a poet. The story focuses on one “death girl” in particular: Claire. S he is dealing with inner turmoil caused by the successive deaths of her favorite poet and her brother, her world falling apart. But, despite their morbid exterior, the “death girls” might just be her saviors.

25) A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

After failing to protest his estranged father and reject his rugby scholarship, Jamie Watson is shipped off to a Connecticut boarding school. Like any eccentric school, Sherringford Prep counts a number of fascinating characters among its students, none more captivating than Charlotte Holmes, the brilliant, mysterious, and kind of crabby granddaughter of Sherlock Holmes — yes, that Sherlock Holmes . The two don’t get off to the best start, and it seems Jamie should just keep his distance. That is, until the pair are framed for murder. Will they be able to track down their accuser and clear their names? Or will their suspicion begin to turn inwards? You’ll have to pick up A Study in Charlotte to find out. 

26) Confessions by Kanae Minato

Yuko Moriguchi teaches middle school, has a four-year old daughter, and has just broken off her engagement after an earth-shattering revelation. To add to the turbulence, in the wake of an accident on school grounds involving her own daughter, Yuko is forced to resign. But, before she goes, she delivers one last lecture to her students and reveals shocking information about two of their peers. This plot of maniacal revenge told from alternating points of view twists and turns from one revelation to the next, all while exploring heavy themes of despair, punishment, and tragic love. Not for the faint of heart, Confessions is definitely on the darker side, even in a genre with “dark” in the title.

27) They Wish They Were Us by Jessica Goodman

Jill’s a Player. No, she’s not taking names and breaking hearts — she’s a member of her Long Island prep school’s much-admired secret society, The Players. She’s trying to enjoy this social privilege in her senior year, but has been haunted by the  murder of her bestfriend her boyfriend during their freshman year. The case closed three years ago when Graham confessed on a dark night at the beach; but now, Jill hears whispers of information that would suggest he’s innocent. Jill wants to ensure that the right man is behind bars, but the more she digs into the mystery, the more her friendships and future are in jeopardy. Suspenseful and sharp, you’ll find a lot dwelling under the glossy surface of this high-school story.

28) Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Like Frankenstein , this novel is considered an OG of dark academia. Tortured intellectuals, outcasts, lovers, dark British moors, and human monsters — though it’s not set in a school, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights has it all. The novel opens as a man rents Thrushcross Grange manor in the Yorkshire moors, meets his grumpy landlord, and becomes intrigued by his story. He teases the tale of the Lintons and the Earnshaws — two families of landed gentry who both have tempestuous relationships with the latter’s adopted son — out of the housekeeper  This son, Heathcliff, and Catherine Linton are soulmates, but their love is a poison that pollutes everyone around them. This is a story you need to read before you die , especially if you fancy sitting in a moody low-light library on a rainy day. 

29) The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldavsky

Rachel is the new girl at Manhattan Prep, and to make matters worse, she’s one of the few scholarship students walking its fancy hallways. Inevitably, she ends up caught in a prank gone wrong with the school’s secret society, The Mary Shelley Club, whose goal is to orchestrate pranks that elicit real fear in its victims. But when a trickster’s war breaks out and the competition turns cut-throat, each outcome becomes less of a laughing matter. Rachel must find the real monster living among her classmates, even if it means confronting her own dark secrets. The Mary Shelley Club is a Scream -like horror story cum fight for power, and a tale of rich kids with too much time on their hands.

30) Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Despite only being released in 2020, Brandon Taylor’s debut novel Real Life has already made its way onto our list of must-read books by black authors — and for good reason. Based in part on Taylor’s own experiences in academia, the novel is an exquisitely drawn and intimate portrait of Wallace, a black, queer PhD student navigating life at a predominantly white college. Over one transformative weekend,  unspoken aggressions come to the surface and Wallace is forced to confront the realities of how his white colleagues view him. A stunningly self-assured debut, Real Life will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Looking for more moody reading recommendations? Why not check out the best mystery books of all time , or stay on the dark side with our guide to gothic literature .

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The Case for Reading Fiction

  • Christine Seifert

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It’s an easy way to build emotional intelligence.

When it comes to reading, we may be assuming that reading for knowledge is the best reason to pick up a book. Research, however, suggests that reading fiction may provide far more important benefits than nonfiction. For example, reading fiction predicts increased social acuity and a sharper ability to comprehend other people’s motivations. Reading nonfiction might certainly be valuable for collecting knowledge, it does little to develop EQ, a far more elusive goal.

Some of the most valuable skills that managers look for in employees are often difficult to define, let alone evaluate or quantify: self-discipline, self-awareness, creative problem-solving, empathy, learning agility, adaptiveness, flexibility, positivity, rational judgment, generosity, and kindness, among others. How can you tell if your future employees have these skills? And if your current team is lacking them, how do you teach them? Recent research in neuroscience suggests that you might look to the library for solutions; reading literary fiction helps people develop empathy , theory of mind , and critical thinking .

  • CS Christine Seifert is a professor of communication at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, where she teaches rhetoric, strategy, and professional writing

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9 New Books We Recommend This Week

Suggested reading from critics and editors at The New York Times.

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Happy Thanksgiving. Have you had a chance yet to browse our list of 100 Notable Books of 2023 ? Some of those books are drawn from the list below; all of them are drawn from one or another of the lists of recommended titles we bring you each week throughout the year, with an eye toward variety and quality and enlightenment or pure entertainment. This week, our recommendations include a noir crime novel, a ghost story and an Australian family drama, along with nonfiction books covering everything from a poet’s memoir of her Rastafarian childhood to a culinary history and a biography of the stalwart Republican politician Mitt Romney. Happy reading. — Gregory Cowles

SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET Jean-Patrick Manchette

Originally published in 1976, and translated here by Alyson Waters, this is one of Manchette’s finest noir novels — a brutal, comic, ravishing account of government corruption, starring a wily private detective named Eugène Tarpon who has a strong sense of the absurd.

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“Tarpon, as usual, realizes the only way out of a violent situation is by bulldozing through its messy, bloody center.”

From Sarah Weinman’s crime column

NYRB | Paperback, $16.95

ENDANGERED EATING: America’s Vanishing Foods Sarah Lohman

With much of America’s traditional diet in jeopardy, Lohman, a gastronomic historian, here tours the country to promote culinary diversity and investigate the forces that menace eight staple foods. Part travelogue, part history and part eulogy, her book plumbs not just the American plate, but its soul.

academic read books

“It’s as much a fascinating study of heirloom cider apples and Buckeye chickens as it is a commentary on the way politics, money and convenience have conspired against America’s culinary history.”

From Kim Severson’s review

Norton | $28.95


Garner’s masterly novel, originally published in 1984, captures in deft pointillist vignettes the emotional fallout when the lives of a motley group of adults in suburban Melbourne, Australia, are gradually upended by way of adulterous pairings that pit order against chaos.

academic read books

“Achieves a cumulative effect that leaves a lasting impression. ... It’s high time American readers knew her generous, category-defying imagination.”

From Daphne Merkin’s review

Pantheon | $25

THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF: The Story of a Murder Trial Helen Garner

The trial of an Australian man accused of drowning his three sons following his bitter separation from their mother forms the basis for Garner’s book (originally published in 2014), a rigorous, compassionate meditation on the unfathomable depths of human behavior.

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“Garner is good at capturing it all, the longueurs as well as the suspense. ... The sort of book Joan Didion might have written if she’d had more of a heart.”

Pantheon | $27

ROMNEY: A Reckoning McKay Coppins

Coppins, a writer for The Atlantic, presents the senator and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney as a man given to cycles of rationalization and guilt, as well as near-O.C.D. levels of repetitive thinking. This intimate portrait draws on Romney’s private journals and dozens of interviews with the subject over two years.

academic read books

“Revealing. ... The depicted ‘reckoning’ is actually lifelong and, more important, something that has always been made from within. Romney’s moral vitality, for all its fitfulness and ambivalence, has kept him a free man.”

From Thomas Mallon’s review

Scribner | $32.50

PREQUEL: An American Fight Against Fascism Rachel Maddow

This history of the interwar period in the United States tracks homegrown fascists and white supremacists who worked, sometimes with inside help, to bring a bloody end to American democracy. Maddow’s writing is delivered with the same panache she brings to a broadcast.

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“A valuable window into the authoritarian mind-set — and the process by which self-professed patriots turn against democracy. ... The parallels to the present day are strong, even startling.”

From Jeff Shesol’s review

Viking | $32


Due’s novel follows a 12-year-old boy in Jim Crow Florida who is sentenced to live at a brutal reform school — one haunted by the literal ghosts of previous residents — after he defends his sister from a racist attack.

academic read books

“The novel’s extended, layered denouement is so heart-smashingly good, it made me late for work. I couldn’t stop reading.”

From Randy Boyagoda’s review

Saga Press | $28.99

HOW TO SAY BABYLON: A Memoir Safiya Sinclair

In this scorching memoir of fundamentalism and rebellion, about a girlhood spent becoming the perfect Rasta daughter and an adolescence spent becoming one of Jamaica’s most promising poets, Montego Bay drips with tender sensuality and complexity.

academic read books

“For its sheer lusciousness of prose, the book’s a banquet. ... Critiques of colonial and patriarchal violence weave throughout, made all the more scathing by Sinclair’s patient understatement. At the book’s core, though, is a personal tale of two artists separated by a chasm.”

From Quiara Alegría Hudes’s review

37 Ink | $28.99

THE PICNIC: A Dream of Freedom and the Collapse of the Iron Curtain Matthew Longo

Longo’s engaging account of the fall of the Soviet empire focuses on ordinary protesters like the organizers of a picnic attended by thousands on the border between Austria and Hungary in 1989.

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“Blending oral history and political theory (including cameos by Plato and Isaiah Berlin), Longo recounts the drama in a vivid, fast-paced narrative.”

From Andrew Meier’s review

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TONI MORRISON WROTE, “Efforts to censor, starve, regulate, and annihilate us are clear signs that something important has taken place. The thought that leads me to contemplate with dread the erasure of other voices, of unwritten novels, poems whispered or swallowed for fear of being overheard by the wrong people, outlawed languages flourishing underground, essayists’ questions challenging authority never being posed, unstaged plays, canceled films—that thought is a nightmare.”

You are the ones doing the important work—giving children access to the life-changing books that will inspire them to create the unwritten novels, unstaged plays, and essays that challenge authority and the powers that be.

We hope that our 169 choices help you do that important work.

THE BEST BOOKS PROCESS is a long one. It begins even as we finalize the prior year’s list, as we’ve already begun assigning books to review in advance of the new year. The editors keep track of every title we have starred, because our contenders are selected from among them. In the summer, we start the process in earnest, selecting committee members from our talented reviewers. They help us identify books we may have missed or gems that may have not been starred but deserve a second look. Then, after months of reading, discussion, and deliberation, each committee makes their selections, with 15 to 25 titles per category.

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This list wouldn’t be as rich and relevant without them.

Much appreciation to the indomitable Michaela Goade for her incredible artistry and breathtaking art. Just, wow. She stands in for all the authors and illustrators represented on this list.

Last, behind the scenes, this issue and all year long, thanks to the creative team of Mark Tuchman and Josephine Marc-Anthony (with editorial assistant Andrew Giakoumis’s help), who set covers and illustrations into the text like jewels and make the entire magazine the accessible, beautiful volume it is.

Over the next few days, we’re revealing the 169 selections by categories. Below is the schedule.  11/20 – Transitional Books , Poetry Books , Top 10 Manga 11/21 – Graphic Novels, YA , Middle Grade 11/22 – Nonfiction Elementary , Nonfiction Middle to High School , Picture Books

A PDF of the full list will also be available on November 22. You can find all the lists on our Best Books 2023 landing page .

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Apple unveils the top books of 2023 and a new Year in Review experience

A user’s Year in Review is shown in Apple Books on 11-inch iPad Pro and iPhone 15 Pro.

Discover Year in Review

A user’s Year in Review is shown on the Read Now page in Apple Books on iPhone 15 Pro.

Find Reader Types

The Contemporary reader type is shown in Apple Books on iPhone 15 Pro.

Explore the Best and Top Books and Audiobooks of 2023

  • Spare by Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex
  • The Woman in Me by Britney Spears
  • The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann
  • Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia and Bill Gifford
  • Elon Musk by Walter Isaacson
  • Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros
  • Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros
  • Happy Place by Emily Henry
  • Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano
  • The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese
  • The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin
  • Only the Dead by Jack Carr
  • Tom Lake by Ann Patchett
  • Year in Review is available for free for Apple Books users in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S.
  • For users with at least three books marked as finished, Year in Review is available on iPhone with iOS 17.1 and iPadOS 17.1 at books.apple.com/year-in-review .
  • Users can share purchased titles with up to five family members using Family Sharing.

Text of this article

November 28, 2023

Apple unveils the top books :br(l)::br(xl):of 2023 and a new Year in Review experience

Users can browse the top books and audiobooks of 2023 and explore personalized insights about the books they enjoyed this year

Apple Books is the single destination for all the books and audiobooks readers love, featuring the ability to set Reading Goals, organize books into collections, share purchases using Family Sharing, and browse personalized recommendations for new titles.

Today, Apple Books unveiled the top books and audiobooks of 2023 and launched Year in Review, a new in-app experience that helps readers to celebrate the titles, authors, and genres that defined their year. With Year in Review, users can view personalized reading highlights about the books and audiobooks they enjoyed in 2023, including their total time spent reading, the longest book or audiobook they read, the series they completed, their most-read author and genre, and their highest-rated book — all presented in a simple and engaging experience with visuals that are easy to share.

Here’s how to access Year in Review on Apple Books:

Year in Review is available on iPhone and iPad within the Read Now tab under Top Picks to users with at least three titles marked as finished.

To add books or audiobooks, readers can tap and hold on any book in the app and choose Mark as Finished. To change the finished date shown, users can hold down on the book and select Edit Finished Date. For titles read elsewhere, such as in hardcover or paperback, users can search for them in Apple Books and select Mark as Finished to add them to their Year in Review.

Year in Review uses anonymized reader insights to determine a personal reading type. There are six reader types to discover, including The Contemporary for readers of trendy titles; The Completist for readers of multiple books in a series; The Seeker for nonfiction readers; The Wanderer for multigenre readers; The Deep Diver for single-genre readers; or The Free Spirit for readers with wide-ranging interests across the book world.

At the end of a user’s Year in Review, they can see an overview of their year in Books, featuring the total books read and total minutes spent reading, with an accompanying grid of book covers they’ve finished.

To close the chapter on a remarkable year, Apple Books published the Best of 2023, an editorially curated collection of standout books and audiobooks across a variety of genres, and the most popular titles of the year. Topping the charts in many countries were two prominent celebrity memoirs that bookended 2023: Prince Harry’s Spare in January and Britney Spears’s The Woman in Me , narrated by actor Michelle Williams, in October. Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros was also a must-read for fans of romance and fantasy during the spring and summer. Check out the most popular books and audiobooks of 2023 and browse the top charts for all titles on Apple Books.

Top Nonfiction Books of 2023

Top Fiction Books of 2023

Top Nonfiction Audiobooks of 2023

Top Fiction Audiobooks of 2023


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