100

This is the 100th post on Andrea Is Reading! I’m thrilled to have hit this milestone. This space has been such a lovely creative outlet. Andrea Is Reading has been an entirely selfish endeavor, a project I’ve undertaken to satisfy my desire to create and discuss books, however and whenever I want. It’s satisfying and surprising that others have come to enjoy this space, too. I appreciate every follow, comment, and show of enthusiasm.

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. The first book I remember reading on my own was Green Eggs and Ham. Another of my earliest reading memories is me sitting on the couch reading the Gospel of Matthew in my children’s Bible and highlighting whole pages. Even as a small child, I had a deep love for both the written word and office supplies. The last time I was in Barnes & Noble, I saw they had a section just for pens, and it was almost too much for me to handle. 

When I got into chapter books, I liked The Boxcar Children series, The Van Gogh Cafe by Cynthia Rylant, and Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan. Nothing could have prepared me for my first love, though: The Baby-Sitters Club. Kristy, Claudia, Mary-Anne, and Stacy felt as real to me as my own real-life friends. Ann M. Martin (and her team of ghostwriters, as I’d figure out later on) provided me with hours and hours of entertainment. Though I didn’t think about this until years later, that book series showed me an essential display of girls being strong, bold, and decisive. It thrills my BSC-loving soul that the series is getting another chance to grab readers through the Netflix series, graphic novels, and new editions of the classic chapter books. 

When I was in middle school, Ann M. Martin released a spin-off to BSC called California Diaries. This series was everything to my 11-year-old self. I lived in a small town at the time, but whenever my family ventured to the big city and went to a mall, I’d go straight to the bookstore and pick up a new book in the series. I’d never read a book written as a diary before and came to love the format. I’d kept diaries, but California Diaries inspired me to journal and write more regularly, a habit I’m thankful to have picked up so young. 

My middle school years also introduced me to Nicholas Sparks. As a kid, all I wanted was to be an adult, so it was a thrill to be reading an adult author. I remember sobbing on my bedroom floor after finishing A Walk to Remember and then playing the soundtrack to Message in a Bottle repeatedly in my CD player. My childhood was filled with peace and happiness, which disappointed me sometimes because I didn’t have much material to work with for my journals and poems. I couldn’t just write about good stuff happening every day! California Diaries and Nicholas Sparks gave me the drama I desperately craved, and to this day, my middle school self is grateful. 

High school was all about John Grisham and Oprah’s Book Club selections. My brother introduced me to Grisham, and I quickly tore through A Time to Kill and The Firm, hooked by the exciting plots. I was a pretentious teen (sorry, friends and family!) who wanted to read Great Literature™ but was bored by most classics I picked up. That’s where Oprah’s Book Club came in. I considered her selections to be authentic literature, so I was drawn to it whenever I’d see that book club symbol on a book at the library. Some of the books I remember reading include She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb, The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds, and White Oleander by Janet Fitch. 

As I’m sure many English majors will agree, my college years were some of the most formative for my reading life. During that time, I was introduced to Raymond Carver, John Donne, Toni Morrison, Zadie Smith, Louise Erdrich, and T. S. Eliot. I dove deep into the work of C. S. Lewis during a philosophy class and couldn’t believe getting to read the magnificent Till We Have Faces was considered homework. I took a sociology course and a feminist literature course simultaneously one semester, and reading feminist writers from the 1960s and ’70s was mind-blowing and exciting. I minored in history and ended up taking several Asian history classes. I adored the professor, who knew how much I love reading. He recommended several Japanese writers to me, and that’s how I found Haruki Murakami. 

Thanks to Goodreads, I’ve kept track of all the books I’ve read since college. My grand total right now for the past 10 years is 706 books. Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

  • Stoner by John Williams
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The Inner Voice of Love by Henri J. M. Nouwen

It took me far too long to start caring about making sure I was reading diverse voices. Over the last few years, that urge has turned into a passion both for my own reading and in my job. Ensuring that the students I serve have access to stories that reflect their lives is more important to me than just about anything else right now. I’m thankful for the voices of young adult authors such as Angie Thomas, Jason Reynolds, Elizabeth Acevedo, Nic Stone, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Tahereh Mafi. Today’s teens have access to all kinds of stories that weren’t published when I was growing up. I want students to realize books can offer them so much more than they might assume just from reading assigned books from Salinger and Steinbeck, two authors I’ve read and admire a great deal, but whose work can’t give all teens the mirror they need from literature.

The books we read matter more than we might realize. Words are powerful. They can be exciting or moving or thought-provoking or dangerous. They’ve changed minds and have given the broken a new way to see the world. Words can also entertain, amuse and enthrall us amid a horrifying worldwide pandemic, just to use a random example pulled out of thin air.

A book might demand hours of our time, so it serves us well to think critically about what and how we’re reading. Are our dollars supporting diverse voices and our local indie bookstore? Are we voting on behalf of our public libraries? Are we reaching for authors who look just like us or are we engaging in stories that might stretch us? Reading is fun, and there’s nothing wrong with the lighthearted entertainment gained from a book, but it serves our neighbors and us well to be thoughtful readers and consumers.

Books are one of the great delights of my life. They’ve been a constant companion for as long as I can remember. Reading provides opportunities to go deeper inside ourselves and also to see far beyond our own limited vision. I hope the next book you pick up gives you precisely what you need. Thanks so much for following along on my reading journey. There’s more to come.

What I Read and Loved in September 2020

I barely remember September. It’s only October 10th as I write this, yet September seems so long ago. I was a different person then, young and naive. So much is happening every day that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. Despite my current headspace, I read seven books in September. It was a great reading month and I’m excited to share it with you.

What I Read

Grand Union book cover

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

In August, I read Zadie Smith’s latest book, a small collection of essays called Intimations. Reading that reminded me how great a writer Smith is, so I was eager to read something else. I have several of her books on my shelf at the moment, but Grand Union was the one that caught my eye. This book is her first collection of short stories. Like most story collections, there are some hits and misses, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed these stories. Zadie Smith is such a brilliant writer; her fiction is unlike anything else I’ve read. 

Musical chairs book cover

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

A trope I often enjoy in novels is a family coming together on a vacation or second home. That plot is exactly what Musical Chairs provides. The protagonist is Bridget, a New Yorker and musician who has a family home in Connecticut. She plans to spend the summer there with her boyfriend, but he breaks up with her first. Instead of the romantic summer she envisioned, Bridget is suddenly grappling with a broken heart, her grown children coming back home, her elderly father’s sudden engagement, and her fledgling career as part of the Forsyth Trio. This novel is full of interesting characters, including Bridget’s best friend and fellow musician Will. Musical Chairs is a delightful novel that made me eager to read more from Amy Poeppel. 

Let's pretend this never happened book cover

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson

This book is a memoir in essays about Jenny Lawson’s life growing up with mental illness in a small town with a quirky family. That summary sounds right up my alley, but this book didn’t work for me for some reason. I know Lawson is a beloved writer, but I just never connected with what she was saying. I listened to this book, so maybe I would have enjoyed it more in print.

Transcendent kingdom book cover

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

As soon as I finished Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, I was eager to get my hands on her second. I had to wait a while, but Transcedent Kingdom is worth the wait. The story is about a young woman named Gifty, who’s studying neuroscience and living in California. She’s focusing on the brain and addiction, an interest that was sparked when her older brother overdosed as a teen. Her complicated family also includes a God-fearing mother who is barely functioning through the fog of depression of grief. When she comes to California, Gifty has to confront her past, her trauma, and her thoughts about religion. This novel is a slow burn, and I loved every minute. 

Good talk book cover

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

I’ve only read a handful of graphic novels. I enjoyed them, but find that graphic novels just aren’t my thing. I might need to reevaluate that, though. Despite not being drawn to the format very often, there was something about Good Talk that made me pick it up. I’m glad I did because it’s fantastic. I couldn’t put it down. Good Talk is about how Mira Jacob–a first-generation American–addresses race and injustice issues during conversations with her little boy. That sounds heavy, and it certainly is at times, but this book is also funny and sweet. 

Imperfect women book cover

Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Nancy, Eleanor, and Mary have been friends since they met at Oxford years ago. Nancy is beautiful, wealthy, and is cheating on her husband, a secret only Eleanor knows. Eleanor is single, throwing herself into relief work. Mary is married and drowning in the responsibilities of raising children and caring for a sick husband. When Nancy is murdered, her friends are left shattered and scared. Imperfect Women is a good thriller. I enjoyed its focus on female friendship. I don’t think it’s a book that will stay with me very long, but it’s certainly worth reading if you need something suspenseful.

Sigh, gone book cover

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fight In by Phuc Tran

Sigh, Gone is a total delight. Phuc Tran takes us through his childhood and teen years through the lens of classic books. He and his family immigrated to the US in the 1970s, leaving Vietnam behind. Tran’s English is better than his Vietnamese. He loves punk rock and Albert Camus. His parents can spoil him in some moments and wound him deeply in others. The stories in this book range from hilarious to heartbreaking and back again. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and would recommend the audio version. The author reads it himself, which makes the whole story feel even more authentic.

What I Loved

Ted Lasso poster

TELEVISION: Ted Lasso

There are many things in 2020 that I didn’t see coming. Among them is my love of a show about a soccer coach. Jason Sudeikis is brilliant as Ted Lasso, a kind and big-hearted football coach from Kansas who ends up coaching soccer in England. I laugh out loud during each episode of this show, but the series is unique because of its heart. In a time when there is so much sadness in the world, watching Ted Lasso is a welcome much-needed reprieve from reality that leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy every time I watch.

Reply All logo

PODCAST: Reply All

Reply All has been on my radar for a long time, but I only recently started listening to it. All I knew about the show was that it’s about the internet. That didn’t sound especially interesting, but now I’m officially hooked. The show is about the internet, sure, but it’s so much more than that. The first episode I listened to was #166, A Country of Liars. It’s all about Q-Anon and how that conspiracy theory began. My favorite episode so far–and one of the best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard–is episode #158, The Case of the Missing Hit, in which the hosts help find a phantom song for a listener. I’m late to the party on this podcast, but I’m glad I’m here now. 

Get organized with the home edit photo

TELEVISION: Get Organized with the Home Edit

As you know, 2020 has been. . .not great. I’ve needed some escapism lately, and I found it in a show where I watch women organize pantries and closets. Like any self-respecting organization lover, I’ve followed the Home Edit on Instagram for a long time, so I was eager when I heard they had a Netflix show. I didn’t know that what I needed right now was to see Khloe Kardashian’s garage get a makeover, but apparently, that was just what the doctor ordered.


That’s it for me! What did you read and love in September?

10 Books for (Mostly) Everyone

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

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.

What I Read and Loved in August 2020

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Even though it’s only September 7th, it feels like August was months ago. Time feels stranger than ever in this COVID-19 world. I spent most of August wondering if I’d still have a job since my school district is starting the year doing virtual-only classes. Thankfully, I’m still employed, and after I knew that for sure, I was so excited to get back to work. It’s strange without the students there, but I now have a lot of time to get tasks done that I never had time to do before. Silver linings!

And now for the good stuff. Keep reading to see what I read and loved in August.

What I Read

The lazy genius way book cover

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done by Kendra Adachi

I’ve been a fan of Kendra and her Lazy Genius podcast for a long time, so I was eager to get my hands on this book. I had high expectations, yet Kendra managed to exceed all of them. The Lazy Genius Way is not a typical self-help book or organizational guide. It doesn’t have lists of what you need to be doing or formulas for a perfect home. Instead, Kendra guides you to living your best life through 13 principles that you can customize for your own needs. That customization is what sets this book apart from others like it. After reading this book, I sent a copy to a dear friend and mom of three kids. My copy is currently in my mom’s hands. The three of us are in entirely different stages of our lives, but each of us finds the book helpful and encouraging. Do yourself a favor and pick this up ASAP. I’ve underlined every other sentence, and you probably will too. 

Hamilton: the revolutions book cover

Hamilton: The Revolution
by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

As you know if you read last month’s recap post, I watched and immediately became obsessed with Hamilton. This book helped me during my Hamilton hangover and is a must-read for fans of the acclaimed musical. The book contains beautiful photos and behind the scenes essays, but my favorite part is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s notes for each song. I loved getting to peek inside his head and see what he thought as he wrote the most iconic musical of our time.

Intimations book cover

Intimations by Zadie Smith

It had been a long time since I’d read anything by Zadie Smith, and this slim essay collection seemed like a must-read. Smith wrote each essay during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reading this reminded me of just how brilliant Smith is and how I need to read more of her work. (Which I did! Thoughts on that next month.)

The bright lands book cover

The Bright Lands by John Fram

I placed a copy of The Bright Lands on hold at the library as soon as I heard about it. The plot–a high school football star in small-town Texas goes missing, and his brother comes back from NYC to investigate–intrigued me. When I picked up the book, I realized that my library had categorized it in the horror section. I started reading and wondered why. Then the last few chapters came, and it all made sense. I enjoyed the first three-quarters of this novel, but the last part was far too violent and scary for my taste. I had to skim the last quarter of the book and wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion.

What Will Soon Take Place by Tania Runyan

Before finishing this book, it had been two years since I’d read a poetry collection. As I mentioned above, August had its fair share of stress, and I find it hard to read sometimes when I feel overwhelmed. I thought a volume of poetry might be just what I needed, and it was. Tania Runyan is one of my favorite contemporary poets. Her work combines religion and meditations on daily life in a way that is profound yet wholly relatable to me. What Will Soon Take Place is a look at the book of Revelation. Several lines throughout Runyan’s poems felt like gut-punches. Not only did I love this collection, but it inspired me to read poetry more often. 

What I Loved

The morning show poster featuring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carrell, and Reese Witherspoon

TELEVISION: The Morning Show

I’d heard mixed reviews for this show, and while I understand some of the criticisms, it provided a much welcome TV binge. Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup are great in this show, and the finale left me eager for season two.

TECHNOLOGY: Apple AirPods

My Macbook was starting misbehave, so I looked up some of its issues on Apple’s website. According to them, my beloved 8-year-old computer was “vintage.” Ouch. I needed a new one. Thankfully, Apple was running a great deal for students and school staff that included a new Macbook at a reduced price that came with a free pair of AirPods. I would never pay $150.00 for AirPods, but I was certainly not opposed to a free pair. It turns out that if I ever lose these, I might pay $150.00 for AirPods after all. I love these little things so much. I’ve had other Bluetooth headphones and earbuds before, but none have worked as well or have sounded as good as these do. They sync to my phone automatically and hold a charge for a long time. My AirPods aren’t noise-canceling, but that’s good for when I’m wearing these at work. I like that I can still hear when people are trying to get my attention. As you’ll see below, I’ve been listening to many podcasts, so my AirPods and I have become very close in a short amount of time.

PODCAST: The Bible Binge

The Bible Binge is a podcast from the folks who host the Popcast, a podcast about pop culture that I never miss. The Bible Binge looks at stories from the Bible and the hosts–Knox McCoy and Jamie Golden–recap those stories as if they were movies or TV shows. The show was seasonal but has recently changed to a weekly format with two additional episode types. One is called Favored or Forsaken, in which the hosts discuss religious topics in the news. The most recent episode discusses Jerry Fallwell, Jr. and Christian colleges, and it is [insert fire emoji here]. The other new episode format is hosted by a gem of Instagram and resident Bible Scholar Erin Moon. In Faith Adjacent episodes, Erin looks at pop culture through a biblical lens to see what spiritual truths we can take away from cultural icons. Her first episode was about Hamilton, and I devoured every word. If you’re interested in a smart and funny look at how faith intersects with modern culture, don’t miss this show. 

PODCAST: The Lazy Genius

As I said, I’ve been a fan of this podcast for a while. A couple of episodes were August-specific favorites, though. One episode is called How to Lazy Genius Anything. In this episode, Kendra takes an issue and walks through how to resolve the problem and make it better. The other episode I loved is How to Make the Perfect Playlist. I’d wanted to get back into music more but was overwhelmed with where to begin. I took Kendra’s advice in this episode and started making some new playlists, and they have given me so much joy. My favorite one is linked here. 

That’s it for me! What did you read and love in August?

Literary Superlatives: The Books Most Likely To. . .

Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

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