In Long Beach, Calif., the Center's library features LGBTQ books. (Noor Aldayeh / L.A. Times HS Insider)
Orange County School of the Arts

Opinion: Reading for mental health

From the required 15 minutes of reading a day in elementary school to the lengthy and dense literature vaguely about the American dream assigned in later years, reading is always something that is associated in our brains with productivity and success. And although reading is great for the general brain functions, I also believe it has great benefits for the mental health and soul, here is why.

According to Healthline, reading strengthens and connects various pathways in the brain, and that the more you read, the stronger the brain gets. Further, reading also reduces stress, even just 30 minutes a day can do wonders for stress levels. 

But beyond these studies and fact-checked proofs that reading does wonder for brain health. I also believe it’s great for the soul.

There is nothing like finishing a book, satisfied with the lessons you took away and the general task of simply reading. In a world so controlled by the digital, taking a break from all screens to physically read a book is a very calming and self-soothing act.

When watching a show or scrolling on social media, you are in a way forced into interaction as the constant calls and texts are at the forefront, but reading takes a break from the outside world and is one of the only remaining mediums that allows one to completely delve into the fictitious. 

Reading always leaves me feeling satisfied and happy, no matter the subject matter of the book. And the knowledge that it’s working wonders for physical and mental health just adds to that feeling of accomplishment. 

Here 10 books I love and why:

The first section, books I recommend if you are just coming out of a reading break: 

Gone Girl” (TW: violence and death, discussion of S.A.) — Gillian Flynn 

  • Gone Girl is one of my favorite books ever. It’s a brilliant thriller and an absolute page-turner. It can be seen as a soapy thriller at first glance but I think it goes into the ideas of who a woman is, and how women are viewed. What versions of the self are desirable to men and how women decide to present the self. I can’t say too much without giving it all away, but I love this book and I think all its themes are truly fascinating. 

Red White & Royal Blue — Casey McQuiston

  • A book-TikTok favorite, this is another one of my favorites. Author Casey Mcquinstin’s writing style is absolutely addictive and all of the characters, main and supporting characters are so well developed a reader feels like they know them. The political relations aspect of this book is incredible, and it would be a great first book to dive into after a bit of a reading slump.

The List” (TW: ED) — Siobhan Vivian 

  • This is one of my favorite YA books. It focuses on a list that goes up in a high school once every year dictating the prettiest and ugliest girls in every grade. The way each character on the list grapples with the social and emotional effects of being on the list is so well written and developed, and one can find a connection with each and every narrator. This book focuses on how women view themselves and others, which I love and is an overall great, short read. 

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” (series) — Jenny Han

  • My comfort series. Whenever a problem presents itself in my life, I reread the second book in this series “P.S. I still love you” to calm down. The characters in this series were made popular by the movies, but those films don’t hold a candle to these books. Everyone is so lovable, especially the narrator Lara Jean. This series is a quick read that is great to settle into after a reading dry spell. 

Save the Date” — Morgan Matson

  • Save the Date is a cute, witty, easy-to-read coming-of-age book. I have read this book twice and both times it was a sweet fun read. This is another one I HIGHLY recommend if you are just coming out of a reading slump as its witty and quick nature makes it super easy to settle right into. 

Next, general goodies. Some of these are a bit heavier but are still really incredible. 

Conversations with Friends” (TW: self harm) — Sally Rooney 

  • Sally Rooney is widely regarded as an incredible author, and I agree. Her plots are character-driven in a way that makes all the characters so developed that you love but also hate them. They have depths and thoughts just like people do and you feel for each and every person in this story. Overall, due to the lack of crazy plot twists and such, it might be harder to dig into for some newer readers, but it’s still so incredible and a must-read in my book. 

Luckiest Girl Alive” (TW: death, violence, sexual assault) — Jessica Knoll 

  • This book is very “Gone Girl”-esque and is a shocking page-turner. The author’s writing style is so captivating and although a wide range of events happen in this book, the way Knoll puts it all together just makes it all work.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation” (TW: suicide) — Ottessa Moshfegh 

  • Great beginning and end, rough middle. The middle of this book can be a bit hard to read, and it can get repetitive, but it is a five-star read nonetheless and has gotten all the praise it deserves. The beginning and the end are so captivating any rough patches are forgettable and the strength of this book shines through. 

Watching You” (TW: death) — Lisa Jewell 

  • I tell everyone I meet to read this book. It’s a creepy one and reading it at night is a choice for the brave but all the twists and turns mixed with the eerie last chapter just make this book so perfect. 

It Ends With Us” (TW: abuse) — Colleen Hoover

  • This one changed many of my views on things. In my opinion, sometimes a lovey-dovey romance can be cringe, but this book’s sharp edges make up for any sickly sweet scenes. It touches on many important topics, so it’s incredible, but also necessary. 

There you have it! My favorite reads mixed with why you should read overall. Picking up a book is great for the mind, body and soul.