Hi everyone, it’s Sabrina again! I have another book recommendations post today and this time my recs are going to be based off of aesthetics! I’ve got a list of several different ones, both popular and less popular…and some that I made up… and I have one book or more for each! I got most of my information from the aesthetics fandom wiki, so if you are interested in learning more, you can check that website out. Without further ado, let me recommend you some books!
*For this post, when I say “aesthetic” I am essentially meaning style and atmosphere.
“an aesthetic inspired by a romanticized interpretation of western agricultural life. It is centred on ideas around a more simple life and harmony with nature.“1
Of course I put cottagecore first, being that it has been so popular recently and is probably something you are, if not familiar with, aware of. I have three book recommendations for this aesthetic: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh and The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill.
If you have seen the movie, or any stills from it, you would probably already understand why I picked Howl’s Moving Castle. The book is quite different, but it still gives me cottagecore vibes – especially the parts with the flowers which I will say no more about. It’s one of my top two favourite books, so of course I am taking this opportunity to suggest it.
Silver in the Wood is almost entirely about a man that lives in a cottage, so there’s no elaboration really needed, is there? I will anyway though: it’s a wonderful fantasy novella with an m/m romance and lots of nature. The sequel is out as well, and I’m hoping to get to that as soon as possible!
The Tea Dragon Society is an adorable picture book/comic about dragons that grow ingredients for different teas on their bodies and the people who take care of them – including a blacksmith apprentice! It doesn’t get much more cottagecore than that!
“combines medieval aesthetics (ones generally found in fantasy and such) along with the weapons of the time with highly advanced futuristic technology such as mechs, holograms, gene recombination and AI.”2
As far as my understanding goes, this aesthetic involves a combination of medieval weaponry and architecture and advances in technology, as well as a rejection of authority. Of course my recommendation for this is Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, an incredible book that fits in both the fantasy and sci-fi genres, involving both swords and space travel. It’s got a lot of humour, interesting characters and an intriguing murder mystery too.
“an aesthetic that revolves around classic literature, the pursuit of self-discovery, and a general passion for knowledge and learning.”3
Dark Academia is another popular aesthetic and I believe it is even considered to be a specific subgenre of book now. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is probably the most recommended, and read, book for this genre, but my favourite that I’ve read so far is If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. I love the character dynamics and seeing how they shift over the course of the book. My other recommendation today is The Furies by Katie Lowe, though it probably fits more in the witchy academia subcategory. This is again, a bit of a murder mystery, but it centres around a group of girls and their exclusive class at their prestigious school. I want more people to read it!
science academia x spacecore
“While most Academia aesthetics focus more on literature, arts, writing, philosophy or history, Science Academia focuses on scientific knowledge and studies, the scientific process.”4
“Spacecore is a type of aesthetic that is centred around astronomy, stars and planets.”5
Did you know there are many branches of the “academia” aesthetic? Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh fits perfectly with science academia, in my opinion, especially in the parts where all the characters describe undergoing intense study at their fancy astronaut school. I’ve added spacecore to it as well, because the whole book is about a space mission, so…obviously. This is a great book about expectations vs reality and how our environment shapes us.
I would also like to recommend The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum in this category! It’s definitely less on the science academia side, but the vibe is still present, in my opinion, and it is super spacecore. Again, it’s a very character-driven book and I loved those characters a whole lot, especially the main two.
“an umbrella term used to refer to aesthetics which evoke a certain period (or mixture of periods) from the past.”6
It would be very easy for me to get away with recommending historical fiction to you here, and… I guess I’m kind of doing that? In my defence, I do feel like The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters has a very distinct vintage atmosphere to it, perhaps because of the cool book cover, but also because of the different settings and their descriptions. I truly loved this book about a suffragist and a hypnotist with a sprinkling of the supernatural.
“an aesthetic centred around an Afrocentric view of the future…and buys into the philosophy that the future is black… [it] tackles themes such as feminism, alienation from your people, the grotesque, water symbolism, and reclamation of one’s identity through their roots.”7
Like dark academia, I would consider this a whole genre on its own. I am going to recommend The Fifth Season (and the entire The Broken Earth trilogy) by N.K. Jemisin to you. I read these books over the last few months and absolutely fell in love with them. They are so clever and intricate and expansive and I want everyone to read them. It’s about people with earth-moving powers in an apocalyptic society and so much more.
Another suggestion I have is Binti by Nnedi Okorafor – a short novella about a girl pursuing an education far away from her home and has more of a space vibe. It’s a very quick read but it’s also very interesting – sorry, I can’t say much more because of spoilers!
art deco x steampunk
“a twentieth century aesthetic that emerged after World War 1. It flourished in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, before becoming less popular after World War Two ended… [Its] influence permeated everything from architecture to jewellery.”8
“Steampunk aesthetics come from a sub-genre of science fiction of the same name that incorporates technology and designs inspired by 19th-century fashion and industrial machinery (including steam-powered machinery, hence the name).”9
This is straight from the synopsis of Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda: “set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk”! I absolutely adore this graphic novel series. I love the characters and the worldbuilding and the sense of magic and the art style is beautiful. Being that it is illustrated, the aesthetic is even more important and prevalent to the story and it’s great.
“an internet aesthetic which combines dark, romantic elements of Gothic culture with light subjects like flowers or soft woodland animals. The aesthetic is based off woodland survival and agriculture with a gothic twist.”10
I have three recommendations for this aesthetic: Grim by multiple authors and edited by Christine Johnson, Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé and Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart.
It’s been a really long time since I read Grim, and I know some of the short stories contained in it definitely fit this vibe more than others. However, “woodland goth” is also known as “dark fairycore”, so I am sure you can understand why I made this connection being as the book is a collection of fairytale retellings with a dark twist. I did love a lot of them and for that reason I can’t not recommend it.
Here There Are Monsters fits so well with this aesthetic – it follows two sisters who move house and end up very close to the woods. One of the sisters spends all her time out there and creates things with what she finds. The book is partly a horror, so it definitely fits with the goth atmosphere, I would say.
Wicked Plants is a nonfiction, but it’s all about plants that can kill – or significantly harm – you. I really enjoyed learning about all those plants at the time, though I sadly can’t remember much about them now.
ballet academia x liminal space
“Coming from the Dark/Light Academia genre, Ballet Academia takes aspects from many of the different academias and focuses them on ballet and the ballet world.”11
“Liminal Space is an aesthetic that refers to the feeling of being in a transitional space that has been abandoned – a mall at 4 am or a school hallway in summer, for example. This makes it feel frozen and slightly unsettling.“12
I suppose it’s quite obvious that I picked the aesthetic to fit the book this time, rather than the other way around, but the whole atmosphere of The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma evokes so much emotion in me that I knew I had to include it in this post. Half the book is from the perspective of a young ballerina who is super, super invested in the dance – you can really tell how intensely she feels about it. The other half is set in a juvenile detention centre that feels so much like a liminal space. I can’t recommend this book enough.
“Biopunk is considered a subgenre of Cyberpunk, with more of a focus on biotechnology than the focus on information technology that Cyberpunk focuses on. Biopunk stories tend to focus more on genetic engineering, biohacking, bio-tech mega-corporations, and oppressive government agencies focused on manipulating human DNA.”13
I’m guessing if you have read This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone you would know that this is pure conjecture because there’s not really all that much information in the book about the situation of the world and the specifics behind how the two main characters came to be… honestly, I can’t even remember if they’re technically human. Still, I believe this story fits with the biopunk aesthetic, considering the main characters’ huge differences from each other. Anyway, the story is beautifully written and full of yearning so I highly recommend it!
What do you think?
Have you read any of these books, and do you think I’ve categorised them well? Are there any aesthetics you would want book recommendations for? What aesthetic do you most connect with? Let me know!