10 Books for (Mostly) Everyone

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When I’m at work, patrons often ask for book recommendations. I usually start by asking them what kinds of books they enjoy, and there are two answers I dread hearing:

“I don’t know.”

“I like everything.”

When I know a patron has no idea what they want, I move away from books and ask what types of TV shows or movies they’re into to gauge their interest and genre preferences. But with the people who claim to like everything, I always feel a bit stuck. Suddenly, what should be the easier answer becomes complicated because there are too many options.

Today I want to share a list of 10 books that have broad appeal. These titles could attract nonreaders and should satisfy those who claim to like anything. The books I chose have universal themes, memorable stories, and excellent storytelling. Take a look at my choices and see if you agree.

All the light we cannot see book cover

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A blind French girl on the run from the German occupation and a German orphan-turned-Resistance tracker struggle with their respective beliefs after meeting on the Brittany coast.

I don’t reach for historical fiction very often, but I absolutely loved All the Light We Cannot See. So did the Pulitzer Prize judges since this book won. This novel was published in 2014, yet remains extremely popular in my libraries.

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

In a rural East Texas town of fewer than 200 people, the body of an African American lawyer from Chicago is found in a bayou, followed several days later by that of a local white woman. What’s going on? African American Texas Ranger Darren Mathews hopes to find out, which means talking to relatives of the deceased, including the woman’s white supremacist husband — and Mathews soon discovers things are more complex than they seem.

This mystery novel is unputdownable, but I added it to this list because of its themes. Are you interested in crime? Racism? Politics in the South? Marriage? Complicated family relationships? Addiction? It’s all in here. 

Born a crime book cover

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood
by Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, shares his remarkable story of growing up in South Africa, with a black South African mother and a white European father at a time when it was against the law for a mixed-race child like him to exist. In a country where racism barred blacks from social, educational, and economic opportunity, Trevor surmounted staggering obstacles and created a promising future for himself, thanks to his mother’s unwavering love and indomitable will.

As you’d expect from anything authored by Trevor Noah, Born a Crime is hilarious. It’s also profound and moving and tells an important story about racism that is more relevant than ever.

Calypso book cover

Calypso by David Sedaris

A latest collection of personal essays by the best-selling author of Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls and Me Talk Pretty One Day shares even more revealing and intimate memories from his upbringing and family life.

I’m biased since David Sedaris is one of my all-time favorite writers, but I can’t imagine someone picking up Calypso and not enjoying it. Sedaris is always hilarious, but he can be surprisingly poignant, too, like when he’s writing about his family and grief.

Educated book cover

Educated by Tara Westover

Traces the author’s experiences as a child born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, describing her participation in her family’s paranoid stockpiling activities and her resolve to educate herself well enough to earn an acceptance into a prestigious university and the unfamiliar world beyond.

If Educated were a novel, I’d say it’s too much. No plot should involve that many twists, no story should feel that outlandish. Tara Westover’s story is unbelievable, yet it all happened. Not only is this book a page-turner, but it’s also an inspiring look at a woman persevering against all the odds.

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French

Twenty years after witnessing the violent disappearances of two companions from their small Dublin suburb, detective Rob Ryan investigates a chillingly similar murder that takes place in the same wooded area, a case that forces him to piece together his traumatic memories.

Tana French is the queen of mysteries as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never read a mystery novel that is as well-written as In the Woods. Even readers who don’t consider themselves mystery lovers might appreciate this relatable story about brokenness and loss.

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Calliope’s friendship with a classmate and her sense of identity are compromised by the adolescent discovery that she is a hermaphrodite, a situation with roots in her grandparent’s desperate struggle for survival in the 1920s.

Middlesex is a sweeping family saga, and I find that’s what many readers are looking for when they pick up fiction. That construct gives them something to get lost in. Plus, it’s somewhat comforting when you read about a far more complicated family than your own.

Never let me go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A reunion with two childhood friends–Ruth and Tommy–draws Kath and her companions on a nostalgic odyssey into the supposedly idyllic years of their lives at Hailsham, an isolated private school in the serene English countryside, and a dramatic confrontation with the truth about their childhoods and about their lives in the present.

This book is a campus novel, a sci-fi tale, a heartbreaking tear-jerker, a love story, and full of suspense. It’s also relatively short. I have no idea how Ishiguro accomplished what he did with Never Let Me Go, but I’m glad he did.

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A transfer student from a small town in California, Richard Papen is determined to affect the ways of his Hampden College peers, and he begins his intense studies under the tutelage of eccentric Julian Morrow.

The Secret History is one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It pulls you in immediately and doesn’t let go until the final word. Many novels are compared to this one, but none of the ones I’ve read have come close.

Small fry book cover

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

The daughter of Steve Jobs offers a firsthand account of the difficult relationship she had with her father and the poignant story of a childhood spent between two imperfect but extraordinary homes.

Small Fry surprised me. I picked it up and wasn’t expecting much, yet I found myself unable to put it down. Even non-readers have opinions about Apple and Steve Jobs, so this memoir from his daughter is not to be missed.

Literary Superlatives: The Books Most Likely To. . .

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One of my favorite things to do is make lists. I like to make lists of anything and everything. I especially enjoy lists that include additional lists. Welcome to this blog post, which features ten bookish categories and six recommendations per group. This post was a delight to write and reminded me of many of my favorite reads. I hope this is as fun for you to read as it was for me to put together. Enjoy the superlatives!

Most Likely to Make You Cry

A little life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Moving to New York to pursue creative ambitions, four former classmates share decades marked by love, loss, addiction and haunting elements from a brutal childhood.

I rarely cry when I read, but I sobbed like a baby when I finished this book. Yanagihara’s real, deeply sympathetic characters earned my compassion and empathy. I felt like I was in a daze for a while after finishing A Little Life. I’m thankful for books like this that leave a mark.

For more tear-jerkers, try:

  • The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
  • Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Most Likely to Change Your Mind

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

From the National Book Award–winning author comes a bracingly original approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves. Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

When I started seeing the word “antiracist,” I assumed it referred to someone who wasn’t racist. After reading How to Be an Antiracist, I realized antiracism is much more than a position or belief system. Antiracism is about our actions and decisions determining our way of being. There’s a reason this book has appeared on many recent book lists featuring Black voices.

For more blow-your-mind books, try:

  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson
  • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
  • The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race edited by Jesmyn Ward
  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
  • This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

Most Likely to Make You Laugh

Southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

A riotous collection of essays on the art of living as a “Southern Lady” that explores subjects ranging from marriage and manners to women’s health and entertaining.

Helen Ellis is from Alabama but moves to New York City with her husband. The essays in this collection discuss how she assimilates to NYC while keeping her Southern roots. The mark of a good humor book is that it makes me laugh out loud, and this one did that repeatedly.

For more funny books, try:

  • Calypso by David Sedaris
  • Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
  • Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas
  • One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron

Most Likely to Open Your Eyes

Random family book cover

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

Follows two teenagers coming of age in the midst of the Bronx drug trade as they experience budding sexuality, teen parenthood, and gang identity in a social examination of the challenges of family life in the face of violence.

This book opened my eyes to many things, but the most impactful thing was finally realizing how poverty is the root of so much trauma and pain. This book is a difficult one to read, but I’m thankful I read it. I think about the characters a lot and often wonder what their lives look like today. (This book was published in 2004.)

For more eye-opening books, try:

  • Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
  • Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari
  • Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
  • Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
  • Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Most Likely to Inspire You

Becoming book cover

Becoming by Michelle Obama

An intimate memoir by the former First Lady chronicles the experiences that have shaped her remarkable life, from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago through her setbacks and achievements in the White House.

Becoming is one of those rare books that I want to hand to every high school student I work with at my schools. Obama’s passion for education and her drive to succeed should make this book required reading for any student.

For more inspiring memoirs and biographies, try:

  • Educated by Tara Westoever
  • I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
  • Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon
  • First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies by Kate Andersen Brower
  • Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

Most Likely to Keep You Reading
All Night Long

The guest list book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

An expertly planned celebrity wedding between a rising television star and an ambitious magazine publisher is thrown into turmoil by petty jealousies, a college drinking game, the bride’s ruined dress and an untimely murder.

For this category, I looked for books I read in just a day or two. This thriller is the most recent addition to that list. I love many things about The Guest List, including the twists, but the star of the show is the setting: an abandoned island that’s rumored to be haunted. 

For more unputdownable books, try:

  • Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
  • The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
  • The Dry by Jane Harper
  • The Lies We Told by Camilla Way
  • The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani

Most Likely to Keep Your Book Club Talking for Hours

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Add this to the list of the books that I want to hand out to everyone. No other books have opened my eyes to the horrors of slavery the way this book did. Though slavery is a thread running through the stories in this novel, Homegoing is full of love and hope. There is so much to talk about thanks to the book’s long list of characters. 

For more book-club-friendly books, try:

  • Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett

Most Likely to Encourage You

Miracles and other reasonable things book cover

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God by Sarah Bessey

The author tells her story of recovering from a traffic accident and how this experience changed everything she believed about God.

Sometimes I need a pep talk, and this book provided one. It’s also one of the most beautifully written and compelling stories I’ve read in a long time.

For more encouraging books, try:

  • Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown
  • Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
  • Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair by Anne Lamott
  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  • The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen

Most Likely to Surprise You

Behind her eyes book cover

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

The secretary of a successful psychiatrist is drawn into the seemingly picture-perfect life of her boss and his wife before discovering a complex web of controlling behaviors and secrets that gradually reveal profound and dangerous flaws in the couple’s relationship.

I can’t think of another ending that surprised me as much as the one in Behind Her Eyes. While this book isn’t my favorite thriller, it is the one that kept me frantically turning pages until the last twist. Sometimes–like when there’s a global pandemic happening–that’s all I want. 

For more surprising books, try:

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Most Likely to Make You Feel
Warm and Fuzzy Inside

We met in December book cover

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis

An American, Jess, follows her dream and moves to London where she becomes enmeshed in a love triangle with Alex and Emma all who live as housemates in a grand, Notting Hill house share.

Warm and fuzzy stories are what I read the least, but sometimes I need a palette cleanser for the more substantial stories I gravitate toward in my reading life. We Met in December is a lovely book with a feel-good story. It was the perfect Christmas break book and one I can see myself revisiting when I want a sweet tale.

For more warm and fuzzy books, try:

  • One Day in December by Josie Silver
  • How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
  • Someday, Someday, Maybe by Lauren Graham
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

A Black Lives Matter Book List for Teens and Children

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The other day I posted a book list for adults who support the Black Lives Matter movement and want to learn more. Today I want to share a list of books for the teens and kids in your life.

Summaries are from NoveList.

Teen Books

Most of the books in this category are already on the shelves in my high school libraries, and the rest I’ll be purchasing soon.

Black enough book cover

Black Enough: Stories of Being Young and Black in America
Edited by Ibi Zoboi

Edited by National Book Award finalist Ibi Zoboi, and featuring some of the most acclaimed bestselling Black authors writing for teens today—Black Enough is an essential collection of captivating stories about what it’s like to be young and Black in America.

I'm not dying with you tonight book cover

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones

Told from two viewpoints, Atlanta high school seniors Lena and Campbell, one black, one white, must rely on each other to survive after a football rivalry escalates into a riot.

stamped book cover

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You
by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi

A history of racist and antiracist ideas in America, from their roots in Europe until today, adapted from the National Book Award winner Stamped from the Beginning.

We are not yet equal book cover

We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson with Tonya Bolden

From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.

dark sky rising book cover

Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow
by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. with Tonya Bolden

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. presents a journey through America’s past and our nation’s attempts at renewal in this look at the Civil War’s conclusion, Reconstruction, and the rise of Jim Crow segregation.

dear martin book cover

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.

kindred book cover

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation
Adapted by Damian Duffy; illustrated by John Jennings

Presents a graphic novelization of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred in which a young African-American woman is mysteriously transferred back in time leading to an irresistible curiosity about her family’s past.

Pride book cover

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

In a timely update of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, critically acclaimed author Ibi Zoboi skillfully balances cultural identity, class, and gentrification against the heady magic of first love in her vibrant reimagining of this beloved classic.

piecing me together book cover

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

Tired of being singled out at her mostly-white private school as someone who needs support, high school junior Jade would rather participate in the school’s amazing Study Abroad program than join Women to Women, a mentorship program for at-risk girls.

Long way down book cover

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Driven by the secrets and vengeance that mark his street culture, 15-year-old Will contemplates over the course of 60 psychologically suspenseful seconds whether or not he is going to murder the person who killed his brother.

the hate u give book cover

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

After witnessing her friend’s death at the hands of a police officer, Starr Carter’s life is complicated when the police and a local drug lord try to intimidate her in an effort to learn what happened the night Kahlil died.

March book cover

March: Book One
W
ritten by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell

A first-hand account of the author’s lifelong struggle for civil and human rights spans his youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement.

Middle School
& Elementary Books

Genesis begins again book cover

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

Thirteen-year-old Genesis tries again and again to lighten her black skin, thinking it is the root of her family’s troubles, before discovering reasons to love herself as is.

Ghost book cover

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Ghost, a naturally talented runner and troublemaker, is recruited for an elite middle school track team. He must stay on track, literally and figuratively, to reach his full potential.

Ghost boys book cover

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

After seventh-grader Jerome is shot by a white police officer, he observes the aftermath of his death and meets the ghosts of other fallen black boys including historical figure Emmett Till.

The blossoming universe of violet diamond book cover

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

A biracial girl finally gets the chance to meet the African American side of her family.

Frederick Douglass biography book cover

Frederick’s Journey: The Life of Frederick Douglass
Written by Doreen Rappaport; illustrated by London Ladd

Shares the life of the abolitionist, including his life as a slave, how he learned to read even though it was illegal for him to do so, and his work speaking out against slavery.

brown girl dreaming book cover

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.

one last word book cover

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
by Nikki Grimes

The Coretta Scott King Award-winning author of What Is Goodbye? presents a collection of poetry inspired by the Harlem Renaissance and complemented by full-color artwork by such esteemed artists as Pat Cummings, Brian Pinkney and Sean Qualls.

blended book cover

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

Piano-prodigy Isabella, eleven, whose black father and white mother struggle to share custody, never feels whole, especially as racial tensions affect her school, her parents’ both become engaged, and she and her stepbrother are stopped by police.

Picture Books

crown book cover

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Written by Derrick Barnes; illustrated by Gordon C. James

Celebrates the magnificent feeling that comes from walking out of a barber shop with newly-cut hair.

hair love book cover

Hair Love
Written by Matthew A. Cherry; illustrated by Vashti Harrison

An ode to self-confidence and the love between fathers and daughters by the former NFL wide receiver depicts an exuberant little girl whose dad helps her arrange her curly, coiling, wild hair into styles that allow her to be her natural, beautiful self.

woke baby book cover

Woke Baby
Written by Mahogany L. Browne; illustrated by Theodore Taylor III

This lyrical and empowering book is both a celebration of what it means to be a baby and what it means to be woke. With bright playful art, Woke Baby is an anthem of hope in a world where the only limit to a skyscraper is more blue.

dream bnig book cover

Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

Features female figures of black history, including pilot Bessie Coleman, politician Shirley Chisholm, mathematician Katherine Johnson, poet Maya Angelou, and filmmaker Julie Dash.

the undefeated book cover

The Undefeated
Written by Kwame Alexander; illustrated by Kadir Nelson

The Newbery Award-winning author of The Crossover pens an ode to black American triumph and tribulation, with art from a two-time Caldecott Honoree.

I Am Enough
Written by Grace Byers; illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

This is a gorgeous, lyrical ode to loving who you are, respecting others, and being kind to one another—from Empire actor and activist Grace Byers and talented newcomer artist Keturah A. Bobo.

I Am Perfectly Designed
Written by Karamo Brown with Jason “Rachel” Brown; illustrated by Anoosha Syed

In this empowering ode to modern families, a boy and his father take a joyful walk through the city, discovering all the ways in which they are perfectly designed for each other.

A Black Lives Matter Book List for Adults

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Two of the things I appreciate most about literature is that it nurtures empathy and furthers knowledge. When it comes to issues of race, I, as a white woman, desperately need both of those things. I will never read enough books to completely understand what it’s like to live in a black body, but I can learn from those who do.

As the news stories keep coming in about George Floyd, I think of some who were killed before him.

Michael Brown.
Trayvon Martin.
Breonna Taylor.
Eric Garner.
Tamir Rice.
Philando Castile.

I don’t know enough about their lives or the violence which led to their deaths. When I realize my shortcomings in a particular area, the first thing I do is turn to books. Today I’m sharing books that have helped give me the empathy and knowledge I’m seeking and am also listing some of the books I plan to read next. I hope this post is helpful for those of you trying to learn along with me.

Most summaries are from NoveList.

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
by Austin Channing Brown

A leading new voice on race and justice lays bare what it’s like to grow up a black woman in white Christian America, in this idea-driven memoir about how her determined quest for identity, understanding, and justice shows a way forward for us all.–Goodreads

If beale street could talk book cover

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

When a pregnant Tish’s boyfriend Fonny, a sculptor, is wrongfully jailed for the rape of a Puerto Rican woman, their families unite to prove the charge false.

such a fun age book cover

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

A story about race and privilege is centered around a young black babysitter, her well-intentioned employer and a surprising connection that threatens to undo them both.

The nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Follows the harrowing experiences of two African-American teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th-century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration and the realities of 20th-century Harlem.

The fire next itme book cover

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

A plea and a warning to citizens to examine the actual state of America after a century of emancipation.

The fire this time book cover

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race
edited by Jesmyn Ward

The National Book Award-winning author of Salvage the Bones presents a continuation of James Baldwin’s 1963 The Fire Next Time that examines race issues from the past half century through essays, poems and memoir pieces by some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers.

Salvage the bones book cover

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Enduring a hardscrabble existence as the children of alcoholic and absent parents, four siblings from a coastal Mississippi town prepare their meager stores for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina while struggling with such challenges as a teen pregnancy and a dying litter of prize pups.

American sonnets from my past and future assassin book cover

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
by Terrance Hayes

One of America’s most acclaimed poets presents 70 poems bearing the same title that, written during the first 200 days of the Trump presidency, are haunted by the country’s past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares.

Passing book cover

Passing by Nella Larsen

First published in 1929, Passing is a remarkable exploration of the shifting racial and sexual boundaries in America. Larsen, a premier writer of the Harlem Renaissance, captures the rewards and dangers faced by two negro women who pass for white in a deeply segregated world.

The color purple book cover

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The lives of two sisters–Nettie, a missionary in Africa, and Celie, a southern woman married to a man she hates–are revealed in a series of letters exchanged over thirty years.

Jazz book cover

Jazz by Toni Morrison

In Harlem, 1926, Joe Trace, a door-to-door salesman in his fifties, kills his teenage lover. A profound love story which depicts the sights and sounds of Black urban life during the Jazz Age.

This will be my undoing book cover

This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jerkins

An influential literary critic presents a highly anticipated collection of linked essays interweaving incisive commentaries on subjects ranging from pop culture and feminism to black history, misogyny and racism to confront the challenges of being a black woman in today’s world.

Between the world and me book cover

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Told through the author’s own evolving understanding of the subject over the course of his life comes a bold and personal investigation into America’s racial history and its contemporary echoes.

The Books I’m Reading Next

How to be an antiracist book cover

How To Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

From the National Book Award–winning author comes a bracingly original approach to understanding and uprooting racism and inequality in our society—and in ourselves. Ibram X. Kendi’s concept of antiracism reenergizes and reshapes the conversation about racial justice in America—but even more fundamentally, points us toward liberating new ways of thinking about ourselves and each other.

Stamped from the beginning book cover

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi

A comprehensive history of anti-black racism focuses on the lives of five major players in American history, including Cotton Mather and Thomas Jefferson, and highlights the debates that took place between assimilationists and segregationists and between racists and antiracists.

The cross and the lunching tree book cover

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone

The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk.–Goodreads

Just Mercy book cover

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

The founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama recounts his experiences as a lawyer working to assist those desperately in need, reflecting on his pursuit of the ideal of compassion in American justice.

So you want to talk about race book cover

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

A Seattle-based writer, editor and speaker tackles the sensitive, hyper-charged racial landscape in current America, discussing the issues of privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the “N” word.

What I Read and Loved in April 2020

Photo by the Bialons on Unsplash

I feel as if I aged about five years in April. I intended to be far more productive than I actually was, but I figured that if there was ever a time to slack off, it was during a worldwide pandemic. Instead of saying I’m a teensy bit lazy, I prefer saying that I’m treating myself with grace. And I’m doing that by reading a lot (and also buying stuff from Sephora). I finished eight books in April and enjoyed each of them. Keep reading to see what else I loved last month. You probably don’t have anything better to do right now.

What I Read

The body double book cover

The Body Double by Emily Beyda

The nameless narrator of The Body Double is living in a small town and working in a movie theater. Her life changes when a mysterious stranger approaches her and makes her an offer. In exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars, she will leave behind every single facet of her current life, move to Los Angeles, and live as the body double for Rosanna, a famous starlet who has suffered a breakdown. She agrees, vowing to cut all ties to her current world. 

This book is eerie, strange, and unsettling. It’s a page-turner, yet it has a slower burn than most thrillers. I enjoyed the commentary on Hollywood and its beauty ideals but was a bit disappointed in the ending. 

The office book cover

The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s
by Andy Greene

The Office has been one of my favorite TV shows for years, so I’d been eagerly anticipating this book. Andy Greene delivered everything I hoped for and more. The book is written as an oral history, and we hear from all the cast members, writers, producers, crew, and many others. If you’re a fan of The Office, you’ll enjoy hearing its origin story and getting to see behind the scenes.

Adequate yearly progress book cover

Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden

Adequate Yearly Progress is one of those books that I judged by the cover. It caught my eye, and when I read the back and learned it was a satirical story set in a suburban high school, I had to read it. The cast of characters is diverse and always entertaining. There’s an overwhelmed principal who is suddenly thrust into the spotlight after an awkward encounter with the new superintendent. A history teacher is writing a secret blog in which she seems to have it together far more than she actually does. A spoken-word poet tries and fails to connect with her students in a meaningful way. The football coach can be there for his players but has no idea how to be a father. There’s more depth to this novel than you might expect. Teachers and school staff will especially enjoy this gem.

Dark places book cover

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

In this strange season, my attention span comes and goes depending on how I’m feeling. I was in the mood to read one day but knew I had to find a book that would instantly hook me. I perused my shelves, saw Dark Places, and knew it was The One. This book is about Libby Day, the lone survivor of a massacre in which her mother and sisters were killed. Her brother was arrested and convicted of the crime, and she hasn’t spoken to him since. Years later, when Libby is in her 20s, she’s approached by a group of people obsessed with crimes who call themselves the Kill Club. They offer her money to come to their events, and Libby has to take them up on it since she’s nearly broke. Life begins to unravel for Libby as she’s faced with her past, and she’s forced to confront things she thought she’d buried.

As always, Gillian Flynn’s writing is gripping from the first sentence. Dark Places is indeed dark and creepy, but it came through as the unputdownable book I needed at the time.

The guest list book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

There’s a small island off the coast of Ireland that’s rumored to be haunted. A couple hopes to change that, though, when they turn it into a destination wedding spot. Their first bride and groom couldn’t be more perfect. The groom is a handsome TV star, and the bride is an online magazine editor. Their wedding will be chic, expensive, and memorable. As their guests start arriving, readers experience the wedding weekend through the eyes of various characters. The bride’s sister has been through something traumatic. The best man doesn’t get the respect he craves. The wedding planner is trying to make sure the weekend goes smoothly. It doesn’t, of course, but that makes for an exciting thriller. If you liked Lucy Foley’s previous novel, The Hunting Party, you’ll like this one too, thanks to the similar construct and narrative structure.

Wow, no thank you book cover

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

After reading a couple of eerie thrillers in a row, I wanted a change of pace, and a funny essay collection seemed like just the thing. I don’t often laugh out loud when I read, but Samantha Irby changed that. Her essays are hilarious, and her voice is entirely her own. Some of these essays are pretty raunchy, but this book makes for a good “I’m quarantined and need to laugh a lot” read.

Unabrow: Misadventures of a Late Bloomer by Una LaMarche

I stayed on the funny essay path and picked up Unabrow next. It had been sitting on my shelf for years, though I don’t remember where or why I bought it. I’m glad I did, though, because it’s quite funny. Una LaMarche writes about what it’s like growing up female and the complexities that women encounter as they become wives and mothers. Unabrow is lighthearted and fun, perfect for fans of Sloane Crosley. (And what a cover, huh?)

All things reconsidered book cover

All Things Reconsidered: How Rethinking What We Know Helps Us Know What We Believe by Knox McCoy

I’ve been a Knox McCoy fan for a long time now thanks to the podcasts The Popcast and The Bible Binge that he hosts with Jamie Golden. He’s funny and thoughtful, a combination I love. All Things Reconsidered doesn’t come out until next month, but I got an advanced copy since I preordered the book. Knox covers a lot of different subjects, some of them silly and some of them deeply personal and theological. No matter the topic, his voice always comes through. If you’re a Popcast/Bible Binge fan (or just want a good book about reconsideration), mark your calendar for June 2nd and pick this up.

What I Loved

Honey grail face oil

SKINCARE: Farmacy’s Honey Grail Ultra-Hydrating Face Oil

As I said at the beginning of this post, I feel as if April aged me. To stop the ravages of time, I’ve been slathering my face with different potions, the newest of which is this oil from Farmacy. It’s thicker than the average facial oil and leaves my skin soft, even hours post-application. Can this oil help make me look 22 again? It’s certainly worth a try.

Devi from Never Have I Ever

TV: Never Have I Ever

I love Mindy Kaling and am always intrigued when she releases something new. Her newest effort is a Netflix show called Never Have I Ever. It’s about a 15-year-old Indian girl named Devi who’s growing up with her mom in California. Her dad died during her freshman year, but Devi is feisty and is determined to make her sophomore year the best yet. This show is a teen rom-com, but it’s got a surprising amount of depth, too. It’s funny, yes, but it also has its share of sincerely heartwarming moments. I loved it and can’t wait for season two.

Asian woman with a green face mask on
Photo by Arya Pratama on Unsplash

PEOPLE: Healthcare workers, janitors, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks, fast food cooks, and all the other people who are working to make our lives as normal as possible

I’m blessed that I get to work from home, but I know that’s not possible for everyone. I am incredibly grateful for the people who are on the front lines right now, the ones who are putting themselves at risk for the good of everyone else. If that’s you, thank you!


That’s it for me. What did you read and love in April? What’s getting you through this weird season we’re in? I’d love to know!

What I Read and Loved in March 2020

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March was certainly a chaotic month, and April promises more of the same. I always strive to be a grateful person, but more than ever, I’m thankful for things I usually take for granted, like having enough food to eat, a home where I’m safe, and a job that continues to support me as I work from home.

I’m also grateful for books and the escape they provide in times of stress. Keep on reading to see what books I devoured last month (and for a lengthy list of other things that have helped keep me sane).

What I Read

Here for it book cover

Here for It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

I was unfamiliar with R. Eric Thomas before I read this book, and now I want to be his best friend. He writes a humor column for Elle, which, according to the site, “skewers politics, pop culture, celebrity shade, and schadenfreude.” Here for It is so funny that it made me laugh out loud several times, but Thomas also knows how to be serious, like in the essay where he talks about a friend’s death. If you enjoy writers like David Sedaris and Sloane Crosley, don’t miss this gem of a debut.

The girls in the garden book cover

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

Everything I love about Lisa Jewell’s books is present in The Girls in the Garden: a lush English setting, characters whose lives intersect in surprising ways, and the perfect amount of suspense. The setting for this book is an urban London neighborhood where the houses share a communal park that serves as their backyard. One night after a neighborhood party has ended, a teen girl is found battered and half-naked in the grass. As the book progresses, readers learn more about who she is and who might have left her for dead. If you’re looking for a great page-turner, this is it.

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

If you’re sensitive to stories of abuse, it’s probably best to skip this one.

When we meet Vanessa Wye, she’s a grown woman working at the concierge desk of a hotel. She used to attend boarding school, and one day a former peer reaches out to her about a teacher there she says abused both of them. Vanessa doesn’t see it that way, though. The man, a then-42-year-old named Jacob Strane, loved her, and she loved him. What her peer sees as abuse, Vanessa sees as her life’s great love story. The novel goes back and forth between timelines, giving readers Vanessa’s point of view as a teen and an adult. First-time novelist Kate Elizabeth Russell beautifully captures the way Vanessa must reinterpret her past and come to terms with her life. My Dark Vanessa is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2020. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Eight perfect murders book cover

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Malcolm co-owns and manages a bookstore that sells mysteries. Soon he’s thrust into the middle of his own when an FBI agent comes into his store and starts asking him questions about a list he posted online. Years earlier, Malcolm published a blog post on the bookstore’s website that listed eight perfect murders from various books. The FBI agent suspects someone is using Malcolm’s list to kill and wants his help. Peter Swanson has delivered another great mystery with this book, which is perfect for fans of thrillers and suspense stories. This novel is such a fun, twisted, and exciting book, and an ideal choice if you need a good distraction right about now.

Then she was gone book cover

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

One day, fifteen-year-old Ellie was walking to the library, but never came home. Ten years later, her family is still trying to pick up the pieces, desperate for answers about what happened to her. In an effort to move on, her mom, Laurel, starts a new relationship with Floyd, a charming man who quickly sweeps her off her feet. But the more Laurel gets to know Floyd and his young daughter, the more questions she has about what really happened to Ellie. Then She Was Gone is a fine book, but it’s my least favorite Lisa Jewell novel so far. I saw the ending coming and wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the story wrapped up.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I’ve been a fan of Matt Haig since I read his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. I love that book and think it should be required reading for anyone struggling with anxiety and depression. In this follow-up, Haig talks about what it’s like to live in a world that’s continually provoking anxiety. People are more connected than ever, yet loneliness is still a huge problem. We have more options today than we’ve ever had before, but that much freedom can provoke plenty of worries. Haig’s short chapters and helpful lists give readers a lot to think about, and his vulnerability in sharing his own mental health struggles is refreshing and appreciated.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
by Casey Cep

Furious Hours is divided into three parts: the story of the alleged serial murderer and fraudster Reverend Willie Maxwell, the trial against Maxwell’s eventual killer, and Harper Lee’s attempt to chronicle these stories in the long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Each part is interesting, but I think the book could have been a bit shorter. Casey Cep is a great writer who provides a lot of detail, and I didn’t think all of those details were necessary to the overall story she’s trying to tell. Still, Furious Hours is a fascinating book that’s perfect for true-crime lovers who are also interested in American literature.

What I Loved

All I can say in this time of great distress is thank God for streaming services that fill me with endless entertainment and stories of people who are crazier than I thought anyone could ever be.

The McMillions docuseries on HBO is an excellent fraud story, and I’m convinced that Doug, the FBI agent, needs his own show.

Like nearly everyone else in the world, I watched and was amazed by Netflix’s Tiger King. I listened to the podcast version of this story, but seeing these characters come to life onscreen was certainly an experience I won’t soon forget. Some of those images are seared into my mind forever.

Schitt’s Creek is one of my favorite discoveries so far this year. I love love love this show and have already watched several episodes multiple times. I will never get tired of Moira and David on my television screen.

I was not expecting how tense I’d feel while watching a baking show, but when a custard doesn’t set or a tiered cake comes crashing down, part of me withers and dies inside. In spite of that, The Great British Baking Show is exactly the kind of entertainment I need right now.


What did you read and love in March? What should I read and watch next? Let me know in the comments! Stay safe and healthy.

10 Lighthearted Reads for Times of Chaos

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This is my question for 2020:

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Like many people around the world right now, I’m spending a lot of time at home, trying my best to avoid endless scrolling on my phone, where I see nonstop articles about impending doom. I think books are fantastic all the time, but they’re especially enjoyable when I need a distraction. I think most of us could use a distraction right about now, so today I want to share a list of lighthearted reads that will entertain you and, hopefully, make you smile.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

I’ve been a Steve Martin fan since I was a little kid who was obsessed with Father of the Bride. As I’ve seen more of his work, there’s something about Martin’s quirky comedy that always surprises me and makes me laugh. Born Standing Up is an excellent memoir about Martin’s rise to fame and why he decided to walk away at the height of it.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I don’t think it’s possible for me to love Tina Fey more than I already do. I recently rewatched 30 Rock and was reminded just how brilliant she is as a writer and performer. Bossypants is as funny as you hope it’ll be, especially the audiobook, which Fey reads herself. If you’re interested in comedy as an art form, don’t miss this gem of a book.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
by Ruth Reichl

Even though I have the palate of an eight-year-old child, I love food and cooking. I kept seeing Ruth Reichl’s name pop up as a can’t-miss food writer, so I decided to pick up Garlic and Sapphires. I read it in a couple of days because it’s such a fun book chronicling Reichl’s time as a food critic. Even if your favorite meal is chicken nuggets, Reichl’s passion for food will inspire you to get in the kitchen and distract yourself with something delicious.

Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

You might already know R. Eric Thomas from his Elle column or his hilarious Twitter feed. If you don’t know him, change that immediately and start with his new book. Here For It is a funny, thoughtful, and of-the-moment collection of essays about making it as a writer, racism, going viral, politics, religion, sexuality, and so much more. These essays made me laugh out loud, but also included stories that touched me deeply. I love this book and know I’ll be recommending it often.

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller

When I’m stressed, one of my favorite things to do is put on my comfiest pajamas, curl up in front of the TV, and watch a show I’ve seen countless times. For many people, that show is Friends. If you’re a fan, I’ll Be There for You will be a fun look behind the scenes of the show that took America by storm.

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley is one of my favorite essayists. She’s consistently funny, which makes her books perfect companions for times of stress. Her latest collection is Look Alive Out There, which is worth reading just for the story of her guest role on Gossip Girl. Crosley’s growth as a writer shines in these essays.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988, and Frank owns a music store full of records. Because he refuses to sell CDs, he’s struggling to keep the store open. One day a customer walks in and wants to know more about music. She’s a mysterious woman who ends up opening some old wounds, but Frank can’t get her out of his head. The Music Shop is a sweet, hope-filled story about second chances, forgiveness, and belonging that inspires without being saccharine. Plus, that cover is major eye candy.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Looking out from a bus window, Laurie locks eyes with Jack. Something comes over her and convinces her this stranger is the one. And then the bus drives away. Laurie spends a year hoping to find this mystery man, and then he shows up at her flat to attend a party. The only problem is that he’s dating her best friend. One Day in December is the charming story of two people whose paths keep crossing, but never at the right time. You’ll be rooting for Laurie and Jack until the final sentence.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak

If your favorite TV show to rewatch is The Office, don’t miss this collection of stories by B. J. Novak, a.k.a. Ryan the Temp. Some stories are just quick blurbs, and others are several pages. No matter the length, Novak’s writing is always witty and matches the tone of the show where he got his start.

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

Any David Sedaris book is a good choice when you want something fun to read, but Theft by Finding is the one that’ll keep you entertained the longest thanks to its page count. It’s a lengthy collection of diary entries that prove Sedaris is still hilarious even when he’s not trying.


What are your go-to books in chaotic times? What authors can you always trust to distract you?

7 Elements I Look for in Books (And 35 Titles That Deliver)

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February was an awful reading month for me. I only finished one book, though I started several. There were books I was excited to read, but once I started, I quickly realized they weren’t for me. This situation got me thinking: what do I look for in a book? What elements pique my interest enough for me to want to read something? I thought about those questions, and today I’m sharing my answers.

Element #1: Good Writing

My #1 criteria for a book is good writing. I want beautiful prose and sentences that give me pause. I want writing that moves and surprises me.

When I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, it was easy to tell from the language that Vuong is also a poet. Normal People by Sally Rooney has excellent dialogue, which makes it feel like she eavesdropped on two people trying to navigate their relationship and wrote a book about it. When I read Leslie Jamison’s newest essay collection, Let It Scream, Let It Burn, I was reminded of how lovely her writing is and why I keep picking up her work. No other essayist makes me laugh like David Sedaris does. He combines hilarity and heartbreak like no one else, especially in his latest, Calypso. The profound and heartfelt letters from a preacher to his young son in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson have stayed with me for years.

Good writing makes for books that get inside my head and stay there.

Element #2: Well-Developed Characters

When I read fiction, I consider characters before plot. I’ve read several books that have a great plot yet zero character development. No matter how entertaining those books might have been, they were ultimately unsatisfying.

After reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, I felt like I knew the unnamed narrator because Moshfegh described her emotional crisis so intimately. I enjoyed Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid because the ever-so-complicated Alix Chamberlain seems like a real blogger, someone whose Instagram I might follow because her life looks perfect on the outside. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is a novel that’s precious to me because of Yale and Fiona, Makkai’s two protagonists whose lives intertwine over the years. I remember sitting in my car listening to This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel and feeling such concern for Rosie and Penn as they figure out the best way to support their child. When I heard that Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was being turned in a TV show, I was thrilled because Elena and Mia captivate me because of their different worldviews, and I want to know them even better.

I’m fascinated by people (even fictional ones) and want nothing more than to learn what makes someone who they are. Good character development gives me that and is one of the many reasons I adore books.

Element #3: A Vivid Setting

When I read, I like to feel immersed in a text. I want to see the world inside the pages clearly in my mind.

That experience is precisely what I got when I read In the Woods by Tana French. I felt the eeriness of the dark, creepy woods and the chilly Irish air. I felt the stifling Australian heat when I read Jane Harper’s The Dry. I imagined I was in the middle of a busy and loud NYC restaurant as I made my way through Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 is mostly set on a luxury cruise, and the confined spaces make the tension even higher. Though I don’t like snow in real life, I enjoyed it in The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley because it stranded a group of friends at a remote lodge, provoking excellent drama found in the best thrillers.

I love plenty of books that don’t have a vivid setting, but I always appreciate it when I find a book that takes me someplace new and uses setting to add to the story.

Element #4: Knowledge

When I was a child, my mom tells me I’d come up to her and ask, “Mommy, will you learn me?” I’ve always loved learning, and when I want to know about something, my first instinct is to read.

I wanted to know more about America’s opioid epidemic, and Beth Macy’s Dopesick certainly delivered. I finished that book with a mix of sadness and anger because of what I’d learned. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick shines a light on what it’s like in North Korea, a place unlike any other in the world. One of my favorite things to learn about is presidential history, and The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject. Their stories about the relationships between presidents were riveting and inspiring. I think Missoula by Jon Krakauer should be required reading for anyone about to go off to college because his reporting on rape and justice on a college campus is an essential addition to the conversation about sexual assault. I work with teenagers every day, so I picked up American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales, hoping to learn more about their social media habits. What I found out shocked me.

Thanks to the internet and the spread of media, learning is easier now than it’s ever been. For me, though, nothing beats a book when I want to know more about a topic.

Element #5: Entertainment

Though I’m passionate about learning, sometimes I want a book that will just entertain me.

Gillan Flynn’s Gone Girl was the book that hooked me on mysteries and thrillers because I couldn’t put it down. I raced through Lisa Jewell’s Watching You, wholly wrapped up in the lives of the people whose lives intersected in the upscale English neighborhood she created. Though it’s long, I devoured Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty in one sitting. I did the same with Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Few things entertain me the way humor does, and Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead, and None of This Will Matter is a hilarious and thoughtful essay collection.

My perfect reading life consists of a balance between books that teach and entertain me. The best books do both.

Element #6: Creativity

I’ve read a lot over the years, so it’s a particular delight when I find a book that offers originality.

Providence by Caroline Kepnes was a mixture of horror, mystery, thriller, and romance, all coming together to create a novel that I love and have recommended. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is a combination of essay and poetry, which perfectly captures the racial tension in modern America. Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks is a novel written in the form of lists. I was skeptical, yet ended up charmed and surprised by the book’s depth. Something I love almost as much as a good book is a good podcast, so when I heard that Sadie by Courtney Summers is partially written as a podcast, I was sold. Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (which I’ve referenced about 4782 times on this blog) includes photos, articles, and screenshots, making an already creepy novel about ten times spookier.

No matter what form creativity takes, I always appreciate and remember it.

Element #7: Honesty

Like most people, I just want Brené Brown to be proud of me. I value vulnerability, which is only possible with honesty.

In The Wondering Years, Knox McCoy talks about his evolving faith and the role pop culture plays in it in a way that makes sense to me, someone who grew up in an evangelical world just like he did. Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey helped bring about the #MeToo movement because of their courageous reporting and the frankness of the women who shared their stories with them. Their book She Said is a must-read. Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up encapsulates the messiness and confusion adulthood can bring, something we don’t talk about nearly enough. Kristi Coulter’s Nothing Good Can Come from This is a funny and smart story of giving up alcohol in a world that seems to be obsessed with it. When I read Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, a blunt memoir about growing up with Steve Jobs as a father, I realized how many assumptions I made about what it would be like to grow up around so much wealth and prestige.

All of these books taught me something thanks to the honesty of their authors who faced the chaos of life head-on and then wrote it down.


What about you? What elements do you look for in books? What is it that makes you love your favorite book? I’ve love to hear your thoughts!

20 of My Favorite Contemporary Writers

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Have you ever loved an author’s work so much that you’re willing to read whatever they write next? Donna Tartt could write a review for her local hardware store, and I’d read it. David Sedaris could write about his sock drawer, and I’d curl up with that book right now.

Today I want to share 20 of my favorite contemporary writers. (To make this list, I had to have read at least two of their books.) Most of these writers are names you’ll probably know since you’re reading a book blog, but maybe there will be a discovery or two. Let my fangirling commence.

Megan Abbott

What she writes: Crime fiction and suspense

Why I like her work: Her books are unputdownable, keeping me in my chair until the final twist is revealed.

Where to start: You Will Know Me

Jami Attenberg

What she writes: Domestic fiction full of dysfunctional characters

What I like her work: I love books full of flawed yet fascinating characters, and Attenberg always delivers.

Where to start: All Grown Up

Sarah Bessey

What she writes: Poetic spiritual memoirs chronicling the evolution of her faith and theology

Why I like her work: Bessey is a skilled writer who can discuss complicated theology with a gentle touch.

Where to start: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women

Brené Brown

What she writes: Candid nonfiction about shame and vulnerability

Why I like her work: Few books have been life-changing for me, but Brown’s truly have been. I can’t think of any other writers doing the type of work she’s doing.

Where to start: The Gifts of Imperfection

Gillian Flynn

What she writes: Dark, twisted suspense

Why I like her work: When I read thrillers, plot is important, but good characters are my first priority. Flynn writes complex (and terribly messed up) characters so well.

Where to start: Gone Girl

Tana French

What she writes: Crime and mystery fiction

Why I like her work: Tana French is the queen of her genre. Her prose is fantastic and her character development is second to none.

Where to start: In the Woods

Roxane Gay

What she writes: Everything: cultural criticism, essays, memoir, fiction

Why I like her work: Gay is an incredibly engaging writer. She can make any topic interesting. She’s as funny as she can be heartbreaking.

Where to start: Bad Feminist

Jane Harper

What she writes: Atmospheric mysteries set in Australia

Why I like her work: I appreciate books with a strong sense of place, and that’s where Harper excels. When I read her books, I feel like I’m right there in the world she’s created.

Where to start: The Dry

Leslie Jamison

What she writes: Memoir, essays, criticism, fiction

Why I like her work: Her prose is gorgeous. She writes like a poet.

Where to start: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Lisa Jewell

What she writes: Fast-paced mysteries and thrillers

Why I like her work: I like books that are suspenseful, set in England, and full of compelling characters and stories. Jewell gives me all that and more.

Where to start: Watching You

Anne Lamott

What she writes: Spiritual essays, memoir, fiction

Why I like her work: Lamott is unabashedly herself. Her work is thoughtful, joyful, and always worth reading.

Where to start: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Liane Moriarty

What she writes: Character-driven suspense and domestic fiction

Why I like her work: Moriarty’s books have a lot going on. Sometimes when books are plot-heavy, characterization is sacrificed. That’s not the case with her work, though. Her characters are as well-developed as her stories are gripping.

Where to start: Big Little Lies

Haruki Murakami

What he writes: Surrealist fiction

Why I like his work: Murakami’s fiction is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. It’s weird, wonderful, and hard to explain.

Where to start: Norwegian Wood

Celeste Ng

What she writes: Complex literary fiction that grapples with identity

Why I like her work: Ng’s novels are beautifully written, well-paced, and memorable. I find myself thinking about her characters long after I’ve finished her books.

Where to start: Everything I Never Told You

Marisha Pessl

What she writes: Twisty mysteries and suspense

Why I like her work: Pessl crafts superb, inventive stories that keep you guessing and thinking until the last page.

Where to start: Night Film

Riley Sager

What he writes: Creepy suspense

Why I like his work: Sager’s novels are the definition of page-turners. I know I can count on him to deliver a book I want to read in one sitting.

Where to start: Final Girls

David Sedaris

What he writes: Humorous essays

Why I like his work: Sedaris is hilarious. That’s all you need to know.

Where to start: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Donna Tartt

What she writes: Psychological and atmospheric literary fiction

Why I like her work: When I read Donna Tartt, I feel wholly immersed in the situations she’s created for her complex characters.

Where to start: The Secret History

Barbara Brown Taylor

What she writes: Spiritual memoir and religion

Why I like her work: Some spiritual books can come across as preachy or too sentimental. Barbara Brown Taylor writes about spirituality and religion with tenderness, care, insight, and great love for the Church.

Where to start: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith

Jesmyn Ward

What she writes: Memoir and devastating-yet-somehow-still-hopeful fiction

Why I like her work: I read a lot of fiction and end up forgetting many plot lines and characters, but that doesn’t happen with Ward’s books. Her stories are emotionally resonant and stick with you.

Where to start: Sing, Unburied, Sing


Who are your must-read authors? Do you share any of mine? I’d love to hear!