So You Want to Read More Diversely

I’m a white, middle-class woman. That comes with certain privileges not given to those who don’t look or live like me. As a way to learn from different viewpoints and broaden my view of the world, diversifying my reading has been one of my primary goals over the past few years.

One of the best things about reading is that it helps develop empathy, and empathy makes us better humans. If you too are hoping to read more diversely, the books below are a good start.

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

The title of Trevor Noah’s book comes from the fact that his entire early existence was indeed a crime. He has a black mother and a white father whose relationship was forbidden during apartheid. Noah tells the story of his struggle to find a place as a biracial kid growing up poor in South Africa. Though this book grapples with abuse, poverty, and systemic oppression, it’s also incredibly funny. One of my favorite parts of the book is when Noah talks about how humor in dark times isn’t just necessary, but that it helps tear down barriers between people on opposite sides of an argument. If you’re an audiobook fan, that’s definitely the best way to read this book. Noah narrates and does an excellent job telling his story.

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

The best word I can use to describe the essays in this collection is “fierce.” I was blown away by the honesty and vulnerability in this book, the author’s first. Jerkins in only in her mid-twenties, so her insights are especially impressive. There were sections of her book that made me uncomfortable because I didn’t want them to be true. I don’t want it to be true that black women are often ignored in the discussion and practice of feminism. I don’t want it to be true that black women will not be forgiven for the same mistakes white women make all the time. That discomfort is exactly why reading diversely is important. This book expanded what I thought I already knew and reminded me how important it is to listen.

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One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

This collection of humorous essays discusses Koul’s unique experiences growing up in an Indian family living in Canada. She wrestles with feeling out of place in her family’s traditions. I loved reading about her life, and especially like the essay in which she travels to India for a family wedding. Koul’s discussion about introducing her white boyfriend to her parents was another highlight for me. If you’re looking for a lighthearted, funny book, this is a great choice.

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The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

I’ve only read a handful of graphic novels because it’s just not a format I like that much. I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic memoir, though, and suggest it even to those of you who might not think the format is for you. Persepolis is about Satrapi’s coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. She has to navigate all the difficulties of growing up alongside great political unrest in a culture in which females aren’t fully valued. This was an engrossing, eye-opening story that I’m glad I took a chance on.

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The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez

While all the other books on this list are true stories, I wanted to recommend this piece of fiction too. Henriquez tells the story of the Rivera family. They move to the United States seeking better medical care for their daughter, Mirabel, who has just suffered a terrible accident. Eventually, a romance develops between Mirabel and a boy who also lives in her family’s apartment complex, but this story is really about the struggles immigrants face as they chase after the elusive American Dream.


I realized while putting this post together that not only are all of these books worth reading, but they’re worth staring at too. How great are these covers? What books would you suggest to someone who wants to expand their literary horizons?

Top Five Friday: Mysteries & Suspense

Until the past couple of years, I’d never been a reader of genre fiction. I was all about realistic literary fiction and, when I was feeling especially wild, maybe a bit of magical realism. I’d pick up the occasional mystery or suspense novel when something like Gone Girl came along that was impossible to ignore, but I never sought out mysteries or suspense stories until recently.

I’ve found that when I’m feeling tired or stressed there’s nothing I’d rather pick up than an engrossing page-turner. Sometimes I need a plot-driven novel to get me out of my head, yet good writing is still a must. I want the beautifully crafted sentences, character development, and the strong sense of place that make me love literary fiction so much.

Today I’m sharing five novels that had the engrossing plot I was looking for and great writing. Since I’ve already mentioned Gone Girl, let’s start there.

gonegirl.jpgGone Girl by Gillian Flynn

The girl in the title is Amy who vanishes from her Missouri home. Her husband Nick claims his innocence in her disappearance, yet few believe him. From there, Flynn examines their personalities and marriage with gripping tension and precision.

This is a twisted tale that lets readers into the minds of two fascinating characters. I enjoy stories about the inner workings of marriages, and this one didn’t disappoint. When I got to the end of the novel, I thought, “Of course. This is exactly how it should end.” That’s always a great feeling when you finish a mystery.

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The Dry by Jane Harper

A friend and coworker of mine (hi, Irene!) read The Dry and raved about it. I’d also read many positive reviews and was worried Harper’s debut novel couldn’t possibly live up to the hype. Needless to say, it did. I love books with a strong sense of place, and this book delivers.

It’s set in a small Australian town during a drought. The heat and thirsty land are palpable as we read about Aaron Falk,  a federal agent who travels from his home in Melbourne back to the town in which he grew up. His former friend Luke is dead, along with Luke’s wife and son. Folks are saying it was murder/suicide, but Aaron’s not so sure. The novel explores the mystery of these deaths, but also Aaron’s past and connection to the victims. The next book in the series, Force of Nature, is also great.

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Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Like The Dry, this novel has a vivid setting. It’s set in a rural town in East Texas where racism runs deep. Darren Matthews is a black Texas Ranger who begins investigating the death of a black lawyer from Chicago and a local white woman who was married to a white supremacist. Though they died days apart, Darren is convinced there’s a connection between the two victims. Darren’s marriage is in trouble, and he drinks a bit too much, but he pursues the truth with a passionate focus. He’s a well-developed character who I was rooting for the whole time. I’m excited about the next book in this series since Bluebird, Bluebird ends with an exciting twist.

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The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

The Woman in the Window is named Anna. She struggles with agoraphobia and drinks a little too much these days. She loves wine and spying on the neighbors who share her block in New York City. One day she sees a crime she shouldn’t have, and that causes her to unravel even more than she already was. Anna is a wonderfully complex character, and the story of how her phobia developed is as satisfying as watching her try to overcome it.

In some mysteries and suspense novels, it’s easy to predict where the story is headed. I thought I knew exactly what was going on in this book, but I was wrong. There were several twists I didn’t see coming, which made this such a fun read. So far, this is one of my favorite books of 2018.

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In the Woods by Tana French

This story is told from the perspective of Rob Ryan, a Dublin detective who’s still carrying baggage from a strange childhood event. When he was twelve, he woke up in the woods alone and bloodied, not knowing what happened to the two friends who were with him. Years later, Rob and his partner Cassie start investigating the murder of a young girl found in the woods in which Rob’s friends disappeared. He has a hunch the crimes are connected, but his identity as the kid who got left behind is a secret only his partner knows.

The mystery in this book is intense, but just as intense is the deep dive readers get into Rob’s head. We not only get to see him grappling with the murder investigation, but we learn more about his past and see how what he thought he’d overcome still haunts him.


What are your favorite mysteries and thrillers? Based on these books, what would you recommend I pick up next?

Books for Anxious People

Anxiety is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever experienced. If you haven’t been through it, know that it’s a grating mixture of fear, uncertainty, and unsettledness that combine to create a deep sense that something is terribly wrong, even when it isn’t. I’ve struggled with anxiety off and on for many years, and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Sometimes when I’m anxious, I can’t read because my mind just won’t slow down enough for me to process anything. Other times, though, I’m able to find comfort in books. Today I’m sharing a few that have encouraged me. If you’re struggling with anxiety or know someone who is, I’d recommend checking out these titles.

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Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

When Matt Haig was twenty-four, his anxiety and depression pushed him to consider ending his life. He didn’t, and he explains some of the reasons why in this brief but powerful book. Haig engagingly discusses his struggles, able to reflect on his past with vulnerability and insight only gained in hindsight. Despite such dark subject matter, Haig’s writing is witty and joyful. This book is an excellent reminder that things get better.

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Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I adore Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, so when I saw this book on the discard shelf at my library for only 50 cents I grabbed it immediately. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of essays by Strayed from the time she was Dear Sugar, an advice columnist for The Rumpus. The advice she gives in this book isn’t full of warm and fuzzy self-help tricks; Strayed tells the truth with a combination of fierceness, generosity, and kindness that makes this book extremely comforting for me.

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The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom
by Henri J. M. Nouwen

This little green book is one of the most beloved books I own. It’s a small collection of writings that Nouwen, a priest who dedicated the last decade of his life to helping those with special needs,  wrote to himself during periods of great loneliness and depression. When I’m feeling overwhelmed, scared, or discouraged, I always reach for this book. It’s divided up into short sections, some only a page long, so it’s perfect for flipping through until you find the words you need. No matter what my situation, I always see hope and wisdom in Nouwen’s words.

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The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

Remember a few years ago when Brene Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability went viral? I watched it one night when I was feeling discouraged and scared about the future, and it was indeed a game-changer for me, a person who struggles with vulnerability. I quickly sought out Brown’s other work and started with The Gifts of Imperfection. In it, Brown talks about her research on shame, courage, compassion, and connection. This is one of those books that has my underlining all through it. Brown’s words helped ground me during a time when I felt so much anxiety about my future and gave me helpful strategies to take control of it.  I heartily recommend all of Brown’s other books, as well.

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The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook by Edmund J. Bourne

In addition to struggling with anxiety, I’ve also been burdened with phobias throughout my life. The worst one has been a fear of bees and wasps that got so bad I barely wanted to leave my house in the summertime.  Thankfully, a gifted therapist helped me work through that phobia, but she did tell me I might need a “tune-up” every now and then.

That’s where this book comes in. It serves as a good reminder of how to face and conquer phobias, steps to take to minimize anxiety, and even lists and explains some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, so you know you’re not dying when panic hits. If you too deal with phobias and anxiety, I can’t recommend this workbook enough.


Are there any books you turn to in tough times? I’d love to hear about them.

Favorite Horror Novels from Someone Who Thought She Didn’t Like Horror

As a person who hates being scared and is easily startled, I’ve never understood the appeal of horror novels. I love a good suspense story, but stories that are too violent or just plain scary aren’t for me.

I was going to do a post called “(Almost) Horror Novels” about books I found extra-creepy, but as I was looking up the books I wanted to discuss on NoveList, I realized I could strike the “almost” from the post’s title. Based on NoveList’s genre descriptions and reviewer commentary, these books could accurately be described as horror novels.

In an article for NoveList, librarian Sarah S. Davis defines the horror genre like this:

“The goal of horror is to inspire fear. Horror manipulates our deep-rooted anxieties and brings them vividly to life on the page. These fears could be material — clowns, wolves, vampires — or they could be intangible, like solitude, poverty, and failure. Escalating tension pits an everyman against his own mind in a clash that is often more psychological than physical.”

I’ve read many books that made me fearful, had escalating tension, and messed with my anxiety. Today I’m sharing four favorites.

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Final Girls by Riley Sager

Quincy is the only survivor of a horrifying massacre. As a sole survivor, she’s automatically added to a group of women the media calls Final Girls. Each girl was the only survivor of a brutal crime, and as the book progresses, we learn more about what those crimes were. Quincy can’t bear to think about the night of the massacre, but she’s forced to when another tragedy occurs, and one of the other Final Girls shows up at her door.

This novel is dark, twisted, and there were a few violent scenes which I had to skip. But even though this story made me squirm, I read it straight through. If you like this type of fiction, I bet you’ll read it that way too.

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Providence by Caroline Kepnes

Jon and Chloe were best friends in middle school. Chloe was beautiful and had the attention of the popular kids, but Jon was the target of their scorn. As he walked to school one day, Jon was kidnapped. Four years later, Jon wakes up alone and reads a note from his abductor saying he’s been in an induced coma. When Jon reenters his life, he realizes he has an unwanted power: he can give people heart attacks and kill them. Until he’s cured, he can’t be around his parents or Chloe, who he’s in love with.

Kepnes tells this story in alternating chapters between Jon, Chloe, and a detective nicknamed Eggs who wants to know why healthy people are dying of heart attacks. Providence is as much of a love story as it is a detective novel. It’s as much of a science fiction tale as it is a work of suspense. It reveals the horror of someone who would abduct and manipulate a teenage boy just as it shows the horror of loving someone you can’t have. So far, this is one of my top novels of 2018. Don’t let the offbeat plot keep you from giving this book a try.

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The Monk by Matthew Lewis

Speaking of offbeat plots, we’re going from 2018 back to 1796. This gothic novel is difficult to summarize. There’s a monk, of course, named Ambrosio. There’s a woman and/or demon who tempts him. Eventually, Ambrosio sells his soul to the Devil, which is never a good move, in my opinion. In the NoveList description of this book, they call it “an extravagant blend of sex, death, politics, Satanism, and poetry.”

Based on that description, I probably never would have selected this book on my own, but it was assigned to me in a college English course. My professor was giddy that the Catholic university I attended let him teach this, and perhaps some of his enthusiasm rubbed off on me because I ended up engrossed in this sordid tale. If you like your fiction a little weird and disturbing, give this classic a try.

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Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Ashley Cordova is the 24-year-old daughter of reclusive Stanislaus Cordova, a movie director known for his cult classic horror films. One night, Ashley turns up dead in an apparent suicide. Scott McGrath, a journalist, doesn’t believe Ashley killed herself. He knows the Cordova family has a lot of secrets and he recruits a couple of scrappy strangers in his quest to get answers.

Night Film is one of my favorite novels of all time. I’ve never read anything like it. The prose itself creates such a spooky atmosphere, but Pessl includes images in the book depicting things such as websites and photos pertinent to Scott’s investigation which add even more interest. This book got a bit of buzz when it was released in 2014, but I never felt it got enough praise for its originality.


What (somewhat mild) horror would you suggest I try next time I want some literary excitement? I’d love some more recommendations.

Top Five Friday: Books about Books

Some people like books and some people love books so much they want to read books about other books. I fall into the second camp. If you’re reading this blog post, I assume you do too. Today I’m sharing my top five favorite books about books.

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The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading
by Phyllis Rose

One day Phyllis Rose decides that she’s going to read through an entire shelf of books at her library. She chooses LEQ – LES because of the diversity of its stories and authors. I was unfamiliar with many of the books Rose discusses, but I think that’s part of what makes this book so enjoyable. Even if I didn’t have much interest in the book Rose was discussing, I was still captivated because her excitement for the project and passion for good books is contagious. Plus, any book that has the subtitle “adventures in extreme reading” is a book for me. This one doesn’t disappoint.

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Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby

Always interested in other people’s reading habits, I grabbed this book from the library shelf intending to skim a few pages just to indulge my curiosity about what Nick Hornby likes to read. My skimming quickly turned into actual reading which then led to that fun and frantic feeling of “I can’t put down this book.” What appeals to me so much about Hornby’s writing here is that he’s serious about books, but he doesn’t take books too seriously. He’s all for putting down a book that just isn’t working for him, even if it seems to be working for everyone else. He helped me feel better about my own propensity to buy more books than I can ever hope to read, and I’m always thankful when someone manages to affirm my literary choices. (“Literary choices” sounds better than “book hoarding.”)

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84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This short book is an absolute delight. It’s a collection of letters between Helene Hanff, a writer living in New York City, and Frank Doel, a used-book dealer in London. Their friendship ends up spanning over 20 years, and even the staff at Frank’s store come to love Helene. The pair’s letters are funny, sweet, and overflowing with their mutual love for books. This is a must-read for book lovers.

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My Ideal Bookshelf by Thessaly La Force (editor) and Jane Mount (illustrator)

I’ve heard this book referred to as a coffee table book, and I suppose that’s true due to its size. (It’s not huge but is a bit bigger than an average hardcover.) But all the coffee table books I own are there for me to skim. I don’t pick up and read my coffee table books from cover to cover, but that’s precisely what I did with this book. It’s full of illustrations depicting the favorite books of people like Judd Apatow, Malcolm Gladwell, Dave Eggers, and many other creators. The most obvious thing about this book is that it’s beautiful; Jane Mount is a great illustrator. But besides the illustrations, it’s so fun to read about the books that have inspired others.

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My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues by Pamela Paul

This book was so good that it held my attention when I was in the waiting room at urgent care with a bout of pneumonia. If that’s not a great endorsement, I don’t know what is. The “Bob” of the title is Pamela Paul’s Book of Books. In it, Paul, editor of the New York Times Book Review, has tracked every book she’s read since high school. Paul goes beyond just plot summaries and criticism, reflecting on her life as she talks about the literature that’s shaped it. I love how her life story is woven into what she has to say about the books she’s read.


What about you? What books about books are your favorites?