10 on a Theme: Messy

Earlier this week, I read The Eden Test by Adam Sternbergh. It’s a thriller about a couple whose marriage is falling apart. I thought, “Their relationship is so messy.” And since I love reading about messy people and situations, I was delighted by the messiness. That thought inspired this post. So today, I’m sharing ten books about relational, mental, or physical messiness. I’ll start with one of my all-time favorites.

Gone girl book cover

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read Gone Girl shortly after its release in 2012. Before that, I’d only read a couple of mysteries or thrillers. I only picked up Gone Girl because it was getting so much hype. But, as I read it, I understood why.

The story follows Nick and Amy Dunne, a couple who look perfect on the outside. When Amy vanishes, Nick is the prime suspect, though he swears his innocence. As with any good thriller, nothing is quite as it seems. The Dunne’s relationship is incredibly messy, and reading about it made me realize how much I like stories that show behind-the-scenes glimpses of seemingly idyllic lives. We’ve all got our messes; some are just more obvious than others. 

Now is not the time to panic

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Frankie and Zeke are two misfits who come together one fateful summer. They’ve never fit in, but they find acceptance in each other. When they create mysterious posters and hang them all over their small town, rumors and fear-mongering immediately follow, causing repercussions they could never have anticipated.

Everything feels so intense when you’re a teenager. The lows are lower, and the highs are higher when you’re young and trying to figure out who you are. It’s easy to make a mess of things because you sometimes don’t know any better. But, you learn as you live, and Frankie and Zeke spend many years wrestling with what they learned from the messes their art created.

Yellowface book cover

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang

Have you ever spilled something and had to use a thin, non-absorbant paper towel to clean it up? As a result, the mess sometimes gets worse, even though you’re trying to tidy. June, the protagonist in R. F. Kuang’s Yellowface, knows a lot about trying to clean up a mess. When her friend Athena, a fellow writer, dies in her presence, June takes the printed manuscript she finds on Athena’s desk. She’s just going to edit the novel but then claims the work as her own. The mess June created threatens to bury her alive when the book becomes a huge success. June quickly learns that you can’t hide from the chaos you create for yourself. This page turner is one of my favorite reads of 2023 so far.

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Shaker Heights, Ohio, was designed as a sort of utopian paradise. The city was meticulously planned, and the impressive homes belong to the most successful residents, including Elena Richardson and her four children. Mia and her daughter Pearl are new to Shaker Heights and rent a house from Elena. The two families quickly become enmeshed, but the messiness of a controversial custody battle and Mia’s unexplained past cause ruptures that aren’t supposed to happen in Shaker Heights. If you like novels with large casts of characters and stories full of messy drama, you’ll love this well-written gem.

She said book cover

She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement
by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey

A sentence about halfway through The Eden Test struck me: “How weird that the person who transgresses has the freedom of being unburdened.” I thought about that idea concerning She Said and Harvey Weinstein’s crimes. 

Many women were preyed upon by Weinstein; his abuse continued for years. Yet he still made money, had famous friends, and got thanked by Oscar winners. Weinstein made the messes, but his victims had to live in the filth. And yet, they told the truth. Kantor and Twohey pursued a story that involved people far more powerful than they were and gave survivors a chance at justice. She Said is a powerful book about women raising their voices.

The recovering book cover

The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison

I don’t drink alcohol. That’s true for several reasons, but chief among them is the knowledge that alcoholism has deeply hurt some of the people I love. The messes from addiction can be the most damaging because they affect everyone in the addict’s orbit. Decisions made decades before can still cause pain, even if the one who caused the pain tries to clean up the mess.

In The Recovering, Leslie Jamison explores her own relationship with alcohol while also discussing how substance abuse affected beloved writers such as Raymond Carver and David Foster Wallace. This brilliant, well-written book seamlessly blends memoir and criticism. The Recovering is one of those books that continues speaking to me years after I’ve read it. Jamison’s writing reads like poetry.

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Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

The Recovering talked about true stories of substance abuse and the consequences of it, but Transcendent Kingdom is about a fictional family scarred by addiction. The novel revolves around Gifty, a Ghanaian immigrant who grew up in Alabama with her mom and brother. When her brother overdoses on heroin, Gifty turns her scientific interests toward addiction research. She’s studying neuroscience in California when her mother arrives to stay with her. Her mom has been a shell of herself since her son’s death, and the two women have to wrestle with their loss and how their religious faith seems to have failed them. Transcendent Kingdom is a stunning novel about the messiness of grief, disappointment, and separation. 

Jesus and John Wayne book cover

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

There are few topics more controversial or divisive than religion and politics. Believers and voters cling tightly to what they believe to be true and often try to persuade others to join their side. But, unfortunately, religion and politics create messes when one fuels the other. Kristin Kobes Du Mez explores this in her brilliant book Jesus and John Wayne.

Du Mez unpacks decades of religious and political movements and shows how entangled evangelicalism and conservative politics have become. A mess inevitably follows when people begin loving power more than they love their God or their fellow citizens. This book is a must-read if you don’t understand how so many evangelicals could love a man as messy as Donald Trump.

How to Keep House While Drowning: A Gentle Approach to Cleaning and Organizing
by K. C. Davis

Most of the other books on this list focus on internal messiness, but How to Keep House While Drowning addresses the physical messes in our homes. What I appreciate most about K. C. Davis is her focus on people struggling with mental health. The messiness in our homes can often mimic the messiness in our heads. But, according to Davis, messiness is morally neutral. Her book is full of brief thoughts about dealing with the messes we make, even when our minds are also cluttered. 

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Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

In Salvage the Bones, a poor Black family in Mississippi is trying to prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Esch is a fourteen-year-old girl who’s pregnant and dealing with morning sickness. Her father isn’t around much, and her brothers are mostly left on their own. This family is dealing with the messiness of addiction, a natural disaster, and no parental supervision. While many novels are about the wealthy and elite, Jesmyn Ward’s story of poverty in the rural South is a reminder that stories need to be told about all kinds of families and situations. 

Those are my ten messy books. What titles would make your list? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What I Read and Loved in April 2023

I was on spring break the first week of April. My only plans were to read. I picked up my first book but couldn’t get into it, so I tried another. I couldn’t get into that one either, so I tried again. This cycle happened about five or six times until I gave up. Even though the month started with a reading slump, it was short-lived, and I persevered. I’m so brave.

Anyway, here’s what I read and loved in April.

What I Read

Home therapy book cover

Home Therapy: Interior Design for Increasing Happiness, Boosting Confidence, and Creating Calm: An Interior Design Book by Anita Yokota
Format: eBook

Home Therapy features some beautiful interiors that I thoroughly enjoyed. I wanted more emphasis on the ideas in the subtitle, however. Most of the designs in this book feel out of reach for most people.

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Beware the Woman by Megan Abbott
Format: eBook

Jed and Jacy, a recently married couple expecting their first child, travel to the middle of nowhere to visit Jed’s father. At first, Jacy is thrilled to learn more about her husband and his late mother. Her father-in-law likes her immediately, and the fact that he was a doctor gives her a sense of calm since she’s pregnant. However, as more and more unwanted attention is given to Jacy and her unborn child, she begins to question her own thoughts and concerns.

As usual, Megan Abbott delivers impressive suspense that builds slowly with every page. I like the facet of the book a lot, and I also appreciate her commentary on motherhood and bodily autonomy. While this novel’s ending felt rushed and clumsy, Abbott fans will still find a lot to enjoy here.

Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book. Beware the Woman releases on May 30th.

Above ground book cover

Above Ground by Clint Smith
Format: eBook

Clint Smith’s new poetry collection is full of gorgeous and playful meditations on parenthood, love, and family.

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Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency by Chen Chen
Format: Print

Chen Chen’s poems are both topical and timeless. He addresses recent events, such as the pandemic and the Trump presidency, but he also writes about evergreen topics like family, belonging, and falling in love.

Love in the library book cover

Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Format: Print

I no longer work in elementary schools, and I don’t have any little ones in my day-to-day life anymore, so I rarely pick up picture books. However, this book has been in the news lately, which put it on my radar. It tells the true story of the author’s grandparents meeting and falling in love in a Japanese internment camp. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story is touching and meaningful. I’m so glad I read this.

How to love the world book cover

How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope edited by James Crews
Format: Print

I’m taking part in the Unread Shelf’s monthly challenge to read more of the books I own. April’s theme was “delight,” so I knew this poetry collection was perfect. As with any anthology, there are so-so pieces, but overall, this book is full of delightful poems and writing. Some poets featured include Joy Harjo, Tracy K. Smith, Amanda Gorman, and Jane Hirschfield.

The laughter book cover

The Laughter by Sonora Jha
Format: eBook

I discovered this book while scrolling through the new arrivals on my library’s Libby app. The cover caught my eye, and when I read the summary, I couldn’t click “borrow” fast enough.

The Laughter is the story of a white, middle-aged man who’s an English professor in Seattle. He becomes obsessed with his Pakistani colleague and her nephew. The story is told from his perspective, which is great if you like unreliable narrators like I do. This book becomes increasingly tense as it moves along, and I loved every minute.

What I Loved

EVENT: Trevor Noah’s Off the Record Tour

My book club read Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime a few years ago, so we decided to see him when he came to town. I’ve never been to a comedy show with this large of an audience before, and I was surprised about how moved I felt to be part of such a massive number of people all laughing at the same thing. Noah was hilarious, and the night was so much fun.

MUSIC: New albums from JOSEPH, The National, The Hold Steady, and Josh Ritter

My musical cup was running over in April. The new JOSEPH album is fantastic, and I’ve also been listening to long-time favorites like The National, The Hold Steady, and Josh Ritter.

What did you read or love in April? What are you looking forward to in May?

20 Books That Showcase the Power of Friendship

Friendship can be such a complicated thing, yet it’s essential to our happiness and sense of belonging. I’m an introvert who needs a lot of alone time to feel like myself, but even I know how important it is to spend time with my friends. Romantic and familial relationships are the ones that get the most focus, yet friendship can sustain us even when our partners or family fail us.

This post was born when I was looking through my recent reads on Goodreads and realized how many books have friendship at the center, so today, I’m sharing 20 titles that show the good and bad in friendships. The books on this list celebrate or explore friends in all their complexities and shortcomings. I hope you’re inspired to pick up one of these books and to maybe even text that friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

The all night sun book cover

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

Bonding with a charismatic student during a summer trip to Sweden, a writing teacher at a Washington, D.C. college discovers the student’s dark nature during a Midsommar’s Eve seaside camping trip that takes an ominous turn.

The first book on this list is about a codependent friendship that gets incredibly messy. I appreciate novels about complex women, which I found in this underrated gem from Diane Zinna. Thanks to the setting, this book makes for a great summer read.

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The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks by Shauna Robinson

When Maggie Banks arrives in Bell River to run her best friend’s struggling bookstore, she expects to sell bestsellers to her small-town clientele. But running a bookstore in a town with a famously bookish history isn’t easy. Bell River’s literary society insists on keeping the bookstore stuck in the past, and Maggie is banned from selling anything written this century. So, when a series of mishaps suddenly tip the bookstore toward ruin, Maggie will have to get creative to keep the shop afloat.

I’m usually out if I hear a book described as “heartwarming,” but my love of books about books drew me to this novel anyway. I tend to prefer darker stories, yet I was utterly delighted by The Banned Bookshop of Maggie Banks. Seeing a diverse community come together in the name of literacy and the freedom to read made for a feel-good and satisfying story. 

Beautiful world where are you book cover

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney

Alice, a novelist, encounters Felix, who works in a warehouse, and asks him if he’d like to travel to Rome with her. In Dublin, her best friend Eileen is recovering from a break-up and starts flirting with Simon, a man she has known since childhood.

This book got more mixed reviews than Sally Rooney’s earlier novels, but I loved this one. The interactions of the four protagonists, specifically the relationship between the two women, were consistently engaging, thanks to Rooney’s excellent prose. Readers more interested in characters than plot will enjoy this book the most.

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Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Two young couples, Sid and Charity and Larry and Sally, from different backgrounds–East and West, rich and poor–befriend each other in 1937 Madison, Wisconsin.

Crossing to Safety is a lovely character study that explores marriage and friendship. (In some ways, it reminds me of Stoner by John Williams because of its excellent simplicity.) When I read this book, I didn’t love it at first, but I still remember these characters and how Stegner made me feel, so I knew it earned a place on this list. 

Dinosaurs book cover

Dinosaurs by Lydia Millet

After walking from New York to Arizona to recover from a failed relationship, Gil discovers new neighbors in the glass-walled house next-door and finds his life meshing with theirs.

I read Dinosuars toward the end of 2022 and promptly recommended it to friends I knew would appreciate it. Like Beautiful World, Where Are You, this novel is a character study that takes relationships seriously, both long-term friendships and new ones. Lydia Millet shows how friendship can give us roots when we’re just wandering through life. 

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Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer

A tale loosely inspired by Robert Lowell and Flannery O’Connor traces the intense friendship and literary bond shared by two mid-20th-century New York writers through an exchange of letters that explores their respective writing forms and beliefs about faith, passion and the nature of acceptable sacrifice.

Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite writers, so I knew I’d love this book before I read a paragraph. Thankfully, I was right. Books and creativity can unite people in powerful ways, which this novel beautifully explores.

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Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Distancing herself from an intense best friend who inspired her scientific ambitions before divulging a life-changing secret, Kit competes for a dream research job and finds herself in a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

Megan Abbott writes suspense so well. I keep coming back to her work because it’s atmospheric and surprising; I can feel the tension her words create. Give Me Your Hand shows what happens when friendship turns into rivalry. I read this book several years ago, but I still remember how unsettled it made me feel. 

The great believers book cover

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

A novel set in 1980s Chicago and contemporary Paris follows the director of a Chicago art gallery and a woman looking for her estranged daughter in Paris who both struggle to come to terms with the ways AIDS has affected their lives.

The Great Believers is an outstanding novel about all kinds of relationships, but friendship is at its heart. I’ve read many books over the years that didn’t stick with me, but the characters Rebecca Makkai created still live in my head. After reading the excellent I Have Some Questions for You, Makkai has become one of my favorite novelists.

The gunners book cover

The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman

Reconnecting with a group of childhood friends after one of them committed suicide, Mikey needs to confront dark secrets from his past involving his father to assess how much of this is impacting his current emotional stupor.

Making and keeping friends often seems more challenging as I get older, which is one of the reasons I like The Gunners so much. The story is about a group of friends in their 30s, and I appreciate the exploration of adult friendship and the changes that occur as we age. 

The life council book cover

The Life Council: 10 Friends Every Woman Needs by Laura Tremaine

Author and podcaster Laura Tremaine offers women a new way to think about friendships and practical ways to find, build, and keep the right friend for every season of their lives.

Laura Tremaine consistently provides wise guidance on friendship, whether on her podcast, Instagram stories, or books. I’ve learned much from Laura about being a better friend. She writes without judgment or shame, gently encouraging her audience to give their friendships the care they deserve.

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.

A Little Life wins the award for the most devastating novel I’ve ever read. It took me days to mentally move on from this book. It’s bleak and heartbreaking, but that makes the friendships even more powerful. 

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The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988. Frank owns a music shop, jam-packed with records of every speed, size and genre–as long as it’s vinyl. Day after day Frank finds his customers the music they need. Then into this shop arrives Ilse Brauchmann, and Frank falls for this curious woman.

If you just finished A Little Life and need a pick-me-up, try The Music Shop. This book has some romance, but my favorite part of the story is the relationships between the townspeople. 

My best friend's exorcism book cover

My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

The year: 1988. The place: Charleston, South Carolina. Abby and Gretchen have been BFFs since fifth grade, but now that they’re in high school, Gretchen seems different. After a series of bizarre events, Abby realizes that Gretchen has a demon living inside her — and it’s up to Abby to rescue her friend.

And now for another novel set in the 1980s! I’m not entirely sure what inspired me to pick up My Best Friend’s Exorcism since it differs from what I usually read, but I’m so glad I encountered this wild story. Grady Hendrix writes about female friendship incredibly well.

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.

Never Let Me Go is one of the most emotional friendship stories I’ve read. This novel is the type of book that could be discussed for hours. Ishiguro raises interesting questions in his work, and this book is no exception. 

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Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Twenty years after secretly causing panic in her hometown through the written word and artwork, along with a fellow loner named Zeke, famous author, mom and wife Frances Eleanor Budge gets a call that brings her past rushing back, threatening to upend everything.

Common obsessions make it easy to bond with certain people, and that’s what serves as the glue for this novel’s protagonists. I recently saw this book at a thrift store and was appalled that someone got rid of it because I love it so much.

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The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin

Daniel, a troubled man who lives alone, detached from the world, passes his time filling out contest applications and counting ceiling tiles, until his attachment to Clarissa and Teddy helps him rediscover the outside world.

This slim book is such a joy, especially on audio. Of course, since Steve Martin writes it, it has moments of humor, but The Pleasure of My Company also has a lot of heart. Of all the books on this list, this friendship might be my favorite. 

Providence book cover

Providence by Caroline Kepnes

A tale of two childhood best friends—part love story, part detective story and part supernatural thriller—follows Jon, a boy with a strange power that can harm those he most loves, as he aims to protect his friend, Chloe, from it.

Providence is super weird, and I’ve never heard another person talk about it, but I stand by my adoration. I have such love for my childhood friends that I can’t help but root for friendships that got their start in those early years. 

Signal to noise book cover

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Returing to Mexico City to attend her father’s funeral, Meche runs into an old friend, with whom she discovered she could cast spells using music, reviving buried memories that cause her to question her estrangement from her loved ones.

Music has been a big part of my life, which is one of the reasons I like this story about its power. This book recently got rereleased, and I’m happy it gets another chance to shine and find an audience.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow book cover

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, this is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

When I started reading this book, I worried it couldn’t live up to the hype. Thankfully, it does. Gabrielle Zevin has written an unforgettable story about friendship and all its difficulties and triumphs.

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Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois

Pulled back into her past when a posthumous work needs a publisher, reconnecting her with an old friend, successful book editor and new mom Emily is forced to reckon with her decisions, her failures and what kind of creative life she wants to lead.

Vintage Contemporaries focuses on two friendships: one between peers and one between a woman and the friend of her mother. As someone with intergenerational friendships that are dear to me, I love seeing that type of bond represented in fiction.

All summaries are from NoveList.

What books would you add to this list? What’s the best book a friend has ever recommended to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

What I Read and Loved in March 2023

You never know what you’ll get with March, at least in the Pacific Northwest, where I live. There could be a blizzard, or I could comfortably wear sandals. Each day is a surprise. Thankfully, this March had decent weather and some excellent reads. I also watched and listened to some great stuff, so stick around to see what I enjoyed last month.

what I read and loved in March 2023

What I Read

yellowface book cover

Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Format: eBook

Athena and June are writers whose careers are going in different directions. June’s first novel wasn’t very successful, while Athena is literature’s new darling. Her work is beloved, and she just signed a deal with Netflix. While celebrating with June, Athena dies, leaving behind her newly-finished manuscript. June takes the draft, decides to do some editing, and presents the book as hers. What follows is a timely story about representation, creativity, and who can tell what stories. 

Yellowface isn’t a thriller, but it’s most certainly a page-turner. The tension builds slowly as June’s lies start to unravel. I found her panic and sense of entitlement fascinating, as well as the behind-the-scenes look at publishing. I know Yellowface will be toward the top of my 2023 favorites list, and I can’t wait for readers to pick it up. 

Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book. It releases on May 16.

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Vintage Contemporaries by Dan Kois
Format: eBook

Emily and Em are quick friends when they meet in the early ’90s. Emily is loud and rebellious, and Em is a bookish woman finding her way in publishing as an editor. Em also befriends Lucy, a dear friend of her mother’s, and helps bring Lucy’s books to life. These two friendships are the foundation of Vintage Contemporaries, a novel set in New York City during 1991 and the early 2000s.

As a reader who loves books about books and stories set in NYC, I’m the ideal audience for this novel, so I thought I’d love this one. While I do like it, I think it’s overstuffed with storylines. In addition to the novel’s two primary relationships, Dan Kois addresses housing rights, police brutality, and workplace harassment. The last topic seemed like an afterthought instead of an organic part of the story.

Despite my issues with the book’s occasional lack of focus, I loved Kois’s take on female friendship, specifically the intergenerational bond between Em and Lucy. I also enjoyed the honest look at how relationships change and evolve as people’s lives get more complicated. Patient readers who are looking for books about complex women and the bonds between them will appreciate the heart of this tale.

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The Kind Worth Saving by Peter Swanson
Format: eBook

Henry Kimball is working as a private investigator when Joan enters his office. She was one of his students when he taught high school, and now she’d like to hire him to ascertain whether or not her husband is having an affair. As Kimball starts working on the case, he realizes Joan is much more complicated than he initially assumed. 

Peter Swanson is one of my go-to mystery writers; this book reminded me why. His stories are always fast-paced, exciting, and feature twists I don’t see coming. The Kind Worth Saving is the sequel to Swanson’s The Kind Worth Killing, which I haven’t read. Since I enjoyed this book so much, I want to go back and read the first one. 

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My Last Innocent Year by Daisy Alpert Florin
Format: eBook

It’s 1998, and Isabel is finishing up her senior year of college at a prestigious East Coast university. Early on in the novel, she has a sexual encounter with a date that leaves her wondering whether what happened between them was assault or just awkward. As she processes what happened, she begins an affair with a creative writing professor who fills her with praise and acknowledges her talent.

This story is set at the time of the Clinton and Lewinsky scandal, and the novel does an excellent job of using that background to explore relationship dynamics two decades before the #MeToo movement would do the same thing. I love campus novels and stories with messy relationships, so I thoroughly enjoyed this book and can’t wait to see what’s next for Daisy Alpert Florin.

Games and rituals book cover

Games and Rituals by Katherine Heiney
Format: eBook

Games and Rituals is a hilarious, sharply written short story collection that made me laugh repeatedly. The first story is about a group of employees at the DMV, while a story with a more serious tone reveals how a woman found out her husband is seeing someone else. One of my favorite stories is about a woman and her husband who get roped into helping his ex-wife move. I really liked this book and was disappointed when it ended. 

Thanks to NetGalley for an early copy of this book. It releases on April 18.

What I Loved

The edge, Bono, and Dave Letterman sitting at a table

DOCUMENTARY: Bono and the Edge: A Sort of Homecoming, with Dave Letterman

U2 has been my favorite band for nearly 20 years, so it’s no surprise I loved this documentary with Bono and the Edge. It’s set in Dublin, and Letterman talks to the guys about how they started the band, what was happening in Ireland at the time, and their music’s impact on the world. The doc also includes scenes from an intimate acoustic concert performed by only the Edge and Bono. This film reminded me why I love this band so much.

MUSIC: Songs of Surrender by U2

This album contains 40 rerecorded, stripped-down songs from throughout U2’s career.

Daisy Jones and the Six poster

TELEVISION: Daisy Jones & the Six

Like many readers, I loved the Daisy Jones & the Six book by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It’s written as an oral history, so I knew it would translate beautifully to the screen. This 10-episode series has its flaws, but I did enjoy it, especially the music. It was fun to hear this fictional band come to life. 

Next in fashion poster

TELEVISION: Next in Fashion season 2

I don’t watch much reality TV, but when I do, I like lighthearted shows that champion creativity and star people who actually like each other. Those attributes are exactly what I got with season 2 of Next in Fashion, hosted by Tan France and Gigi Hadid. Each episode features a different challenge in which designers sketch and sew an outfit (or more). I know very little about fashion, but I do know this show is a lot of fun. (This second season is much better than the first.)

Ted Lasso season 3 poster

TELEVISION: Ted Lasso season 3

I love Ted and his group of friends. I’ll miss this show when I get to the last episode.

What did you read and enjoy this month? Is there anything I should read or watch in April?

10 on a Theme: Enough

This year, in an attempt to read more of my unread books, I’m participating in a monthly challenge from Whitney at the Unread Shelf. Each month has a one-word prompt, and the goal is to read a book I own that ties into that prompt. March’s word is “enough.” As I thought about what “enough” means to me, I decided to read Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. I kept thinking of other books that fit this theme, though, which inspired me to start a new 10 on a Theme series today by sharing ten books that mean “enough” to me. (You can read Whitney’s thoughts on the prompt here.)

March’s word resonated so strongly because I find that I’m constantly feeling the tug of wanting less and more at the same time: 

  • I want less clutter but more stuff (clothes, shoes, makeup, books, etc.). 
  • I want less stress but often take on more projects or responsibilities. 
  • I want less pressure but hold myself to more ever-growing standards. 

If you relate to those dueling desires, I hope you find a book in today’s post that will inspire and remind you that you are and have enough. 

Content note: Some of these books address sexual assault, eating disorders, and suicide.

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Diary of a Void by Emi Yagi

This quirky novel about an office worker who pretends to be pregnant might seem like an odd choice for this list, but I chose it for a reason. As an unmarried woman who doesn’t want children, I’ve been on the receiving end of pity. “One day, it will happen for you,” some people have said. I smile politely, but what I want to say is, “I really hope it doesn’t.” 

Emi Yagi’s protagonist knew she would have to become a mother to get respect in her male-dominated office. She knew she would have to become a mother to please her family and form the connections she longed to have. This darkly humorous story reminds me that women should never feel pressured to procreate to be taken seriously. Diary of a Void reminds me that I’m enough without kids.

Essentialism book cover

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

Essentialism is the title that inspired this whole list. I haven’t finished the book yet, but within a few days of starting it, I said no to something someone asked me to do. It was for a good cause, something I had done in the past, but I knew I already had too much on my plate. This image toward the beginning of the book struck a nerve:

A circle has the word energy in the middle with short arrows going out in every direction. Another circle says energy but has only one long arrow coming out.

I knew I was doing too much, but seeing the visual of what that looked like was powerful. This book is the right one at the right time because it advises me that I’m already doing enough. More isn’t always better.

The gifts of imperfection book cover

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

As I pondered this list, I kept returning to Brené Brown’s idea of hustling for worthiness. I do it, and you probably do, too. We think we have to be a certain way or do specific things to be worthy or whole. I love this quote from Brown:

When we spend a lifetime trying to distance ourselves from the parts of our lives that don’t fit with who we think we’re supposed to be, we stand outside of our story and hustle for our worthiness by constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving. Our sense of worthiness—that critically important piece that gives us access to love and belonging—lives inside of our story.

Brown’s work points out how vulnerability is powerful, and perfectionism is dangerous. The latter comes to me easier than the former, but I’m working on ceasing the hustle and embracing the rest that comes with living fully in my story.

Glaciers book cover

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

There are moments when I put pressure on myself to succeed in significant, splashy ways. I’ll believe I need a more impressive job, a new, expensive car, or a certain kind of home. But I find great joy and contentment in my day-to-day life. It’s a life that isn’t exciting, but it’s a life I love. 

Glaciers is a short but powerful book about a day in the life of Isabel, a twenty-something woman who works in library archives. She, too, has a quiet life in which she goes to cafes, thrift stores, and pines for the man down the hall. The ordinariness of her life emphasizes the beauty in the everyday familiarities we often take for granted. Glaciers tells me my life is enough just like it is. 

Hunger book cover

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

I recently told a friend that I try to do most of what Roxane Gay tells me to do. She’s a brilliant cultural critic and writer, and Hunger is an incredible book. In it, Gay describes a tragic sexual assault that happened to her as a girl. As a result, she developed an eating disorder. (Hunger doesn’t shy away from details, so if you’re sensitive to those topics, this might not be the book for you.) Though much of this book is heartbreaking, Gay’s resilience and vulnerability convince me that my body is enough just as it is, no matter its size, wounds, or scars. Hers is too, and so is yours. 

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

For a while, Chanel Miller was known as Jane Doe in the sexual assault case against Brock Turner. Throughout the trial, her body, behavior, and everything else about her life were up for scrutiny and debate. What must have felt powerless at the time fuels this gorgeous memoir in which Miller claims her voice. Know My Name is a book I’d eagerly hand to any woman who needs a nudge to use her voice too.

My bright abyss book cover

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman

Several years ago, Christian Wiman was diagnosed with cancer. Yet, as he faced mortality, he rediscovered faith. This book is a collection of essays in which he talks about his faith and how complex it truly is. Wiman is a poet, and that’s obvious on every page. His prose is exquisite, and his musings are relatable to any person of faith who’s been a believer for longer than a week. He addresses contradictions and questions with tenderness and curiosity, never settling for sweeping uncertainties under the rug. Wiman’s thoughts on belief tell me that faith isn’t always a big emotion or production; sometimes it’s a crumb that you guard with your life, and that’s enough.

Quiet book cover

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

“You’re so quiet.”

I’m never sure how to respond when someone says this to me. “Yes, I know,” seems rude. “What would you like me to say?” does too. This is another moment when I smile and shrug my shoulders, knowing the person who spoke those words doesn’t know me and has likely shut down the possibility of me wanting to know them. 

In Quiet, Susan Cain explores the nature of introversion. This book is a gift to those of us who need plenty of aloneness to recharge, who weigh our words carefully or who choose not to use them at all. It celebrates introverts and explains what extroverts can learn from their quiet peers. Cain’s work tells me that what some people may view as a deficiency is actually a strength.

Reasons to stay alive book cover

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Matt Haig is a prolific writer who also struggles with depression. He’s exceptionally open about his battles, and in this book, he shares the ups and downs of his life and explains how he found the will to go on after a suicide attempt. This book is written in short vignettes, perfect for those who are anxious or have trouble focusing. Haig’s book isn’t a self-help guide that includes 8 Steps to a Happier Life. Instead, he gives readers an honest account of how depression can be endured and managed and shares what joy exists on the other side of its darkness. Reasons to Stay Alive is an important book about how the small, ordinary things in our lives can be enough for us to keep going, even when there’s pain. 

Simple matters book cover

Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More by Erin Boyle

All the other books on this list address the internal idea of enoughness; this book addresses our physical spaces. Part of me wants a minimalist home, a capsule wardrobe, and only essential items in my drawers or cabinets. But another part wants to purchase the entirety of Barnes and Noble and Anthropologie. My maximalist side usually wins out, and this can be a problem. 

Simple Matters is a beautifully written and photographed book that speaks to my maximalist self and gently nudges me toward the minimalist life that is probably better for me in the end. Erin Boyle is never preachy or condescending to those of us with 11 backup hand soaps or 17 half-burned candles. (I only have seven backup hand soaps now, so I’m doing great.) I return to this book when I need a gentle reminder that I have enough stuff. 

How do you interpret this theme? What books would make your “enough” list? I’d love to know!