10 Books for (Mostly) Everyone

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

“I don’t know.”

“I like everything.”

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

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

All the light we cannot see book cover

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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

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

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

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

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

Born a crime book cover

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

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

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

Calypso book cover

Calypso by David Sedaris

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

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

Educated book cover

Educated by Tara Westover

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

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

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French

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

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

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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

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

Never let me go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

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

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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

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

Small fry book cover

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

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

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

Literary Superlatives: The Books Most Likely To. . .

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

Most Likely to Make You Cry

A little life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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

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

For more tear-jerkers, try:

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

Most Likely to Change Your Mind

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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

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

For more blow-your-mind books, try:

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

Most Likely to Make You Laugh

Southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

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

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

For more funny books, try:

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

Most Likely to Open Your Eyes

Random family book cover

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

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

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

For more eye-opening books, try:

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

Most Likely to Inspire You

Becoming book cover

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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

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

For more inspiring memoirs and biographies, try:

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

Most Likely to Keep You Reading
All Night Long

The guest list book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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

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

For more unputdownable books, try:

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

Most Likely to Keep Your Book Club Talking for Hours

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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

For more book-club-friendly books, try:

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

Most Likely to Encourage You

Miracles and other reasonable things book cover

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

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

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

For more encouraging books, try:

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

Most Likely to Surprise You

Behind her eyes book cover

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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

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

For more surprising books, try:

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

Most Likely to Make You Feel
Warm and Fuzzy Inside

We met in December book cover

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis

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

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

For more warm and fuzzy books, try:

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

A Black Lives Matter Book List for Teens and Children

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

Summaries are from NoveList.

Teen Books

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

Black enough book cover

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

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

I'm not dying with you tonight book cover

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

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

stamped book cover

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

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

We are not yet equal book cover

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

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

dark sky rising book cover

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

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

dear martin book cover

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

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

kindred book cover

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

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

Pride book cover

Pride by Ibi Zoboi

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

piecing me together book cover

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

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

Long way down book cover

Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

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

the hate u give book cover

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

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

March book cover

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

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

Middle School
& Elementary Books

Genesis begins again book cover

Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams

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

Ghost book cover

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

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

Ghost boys book cover

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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

The blossoming universe of violet diamond book cover

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods

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

Frederick Douglass biography book cover

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

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

brown girl dreaming book cover

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

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

one last word book cover

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

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

blended book cover

Blended by Sharon M. Draper

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

Picture Books

crown book cover

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

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

hair love book cover

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

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

woke baby book cover

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

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

dream bnig book cover

Dream Big, Little One by Vashti Harrison

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

the undefeated book cover

The Undefeated
Written by Kwame Alexander; illustrated by Kadir Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

20 of My Favorite Contemporary Writers

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

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

Megan Abbott

What she writes: Crime fiction and suspense

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

Where to start: You Will Know Me

Jami Attenberg

What she writes: Domestic fiction full of dysfunctional characters

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

Where to start: All Grown Up

Sarah Bessey

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

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

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

Brené Brown

What she writes: Candid nonfiction about shame and vulnerability

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

Where to start: The Gifts of Imperfection

Gillian Flynn

What she writes: Dark, twisted suspense

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

Where to start: Gone Girl

Tana French

What she writes: Crime and mystery fiction

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

Where to start: In the Woods

Roxane Gay

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

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

Where to start: Bad Feminist

Jane Harper

What she writes: Atmospheric mysteries set in Australia

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

Where to start: The Dry

Leslie Jamison

What she writes: Memoir, essays, criticism, fiction

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

Where to start: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Lisa Jewell

What she writes: Fast-paced mysteries and thrillers

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

Where to start: Watching You

Anne Lamott

What she writes: Spiritual essays, memoir, fiction

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

Where to start: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Liane Moriarty

What she writes: Character-driven suspense and domestic fiction

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

Where to start: Big Little Lies

Haruki Murakami

What he writes: Surrealist fiction

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

Where to start: Norwegian Wood

Celeste Ng

What she writes: Complex literary fiction that grapples with identity

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

Where to start: Everything I Never Told You

Marisha Pessl

What she writes: Twisty mysteries and suspense

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

Where to start: Night Film

Riley Sager

What he writes: Creepy suspense

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

Where to start: Final Girls

David Sedaris

What he writes: Humorous essays

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

Where to start: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Donna Tartt

What she writes: Psychological and atmospheric literary fiction

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

Where to start: The Secret History

Barbara Brown Taylor

What she writes: Spiritual memoir and religion

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

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

Jesmyn Ward

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

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

Where to start: Sing, Unburied, Sing


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

Book Options for the Modern Mrs. Darcy 2020 Reading Challenge

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Though I didn’t meet the reading goal I set for 2019, I did manage to complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy reading challenge. If you’re unfamiliar, Modern Mrs. Darcy is a delightful book blog by Anne Bogel, who’s also an author and host of the spectacular What Should I Read Next? podcast.

I just want Anne to be proud of me, so I’m going to attempt her 2020 reading challenge. Today I’ll share some books that I’m thinking about reading for the prompts that will hopefully inspire you to take on the challenge yourself.

But first, let’s take a look at last year’s challenge and what I read for it. For most prompts, I read several books that could count, so I’m sharing my favorite per category.

What I Read for 2019’s Challenge

  1. Book I’ve been meaning to read: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  2. A book about a topic that fascinates me: Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy
  3. A book in the backlist of a favorite author: Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
  4. A book recommended by someone with great taste: Tenth of December by George Saunders
  5. Three books by the same author: I Found You, The Family Upstairs, and Watching You by Lisa Jewell
  6. A book you chose for the cover: My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  7. A book by an author who is new to you: Normal People by Sally Rooney
  8. A book in translation: A Nearly Normal Family by M. T. Edvardsson, translated by Rachel Wilson-Broyles
  9. A book outside your (genre) comfort zone: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
  10. A book published before you were born: If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

Possibilities for the 2020 Challenge

A book published the decade you were born:

Beloved book cover

I was born in 1987, and Beloved by Toni Morrison is what sounds most appealing to me from that year. Plus, it’s been sitting unread on my bookshelf for far too long.

A debut novel:

Such a Fun Age, Pizza Girl, and Creatures book covers

The debuts I’m most excited about right now are Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier, and Creatures by Crissy Van Meter.

A book recommended by a source you trust:

Book covers for The Dearly Beloved and The Dutch House

I’m a big fan of the Popcast podcast, and appreciate how often the hosts reference books. Co-host Knox McCoy said how much he loves The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall. Since his literary tastes often align with mine, I’m looking forward to reading this story about faith and friendship.

I’m also eager to pick up Ann Patchett’s latest, The Dutch House, recommended by co-host Jamie Golden.

A book by a local author:

Book covers for Beautiful Ruins, The Arsonist, and Among the Dead and Dreaming

I’m lucky to live in a city with a several notable writers, such as Shann Ray, Samuel Ligon, Stephanie Oakes, Jess Walter, and Sharma Shields.

A book outside your (genre) comfort zone:

Book covers for The Two Lives of Lydia Bird and The City We Became

In 2018, I read Josie Silver’s One Day in December when I was seeking a lighthearted holiday read. I never read romance, but I enjoyed that book so much. I’m excited for her next release, The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, even though the genre isn’t my typical fare.

In a preview of books coming out in 2020, I read about N. K. Jemisin’s new release, The City We Became. It’s a fantasy novel set in New York City about residents having to defend NYC from an ancient evil. Even though I never read fantasy, this book sounds intriguing.

A book in translation:

3 Haruki Murakami book covers

I first read Japanese writer Haruki Murakami over ten years ago when I randomly picked up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I’ve been a fan ever since. There are still several of his books on my shelf that I haven’t read, though, including Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, Kafka on the Shore, and Killing Commendatore. I also want to read My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

A book nominated for an award in 2020:

Book covers for Death in her hands, American Dirt, and Transcendent Kingdom

It’s too soon to say for sure what books will be nominated for awards in 2020, but based on history and current buzz, I’m willing to bet the new novels from Yaa Gyasi and Ottessa Moshfegh will get nominated for something, along with American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, her debut. (EDIT: Or maybe not.)

A re-read:

Book covers for Stoner, The Secret History, and The Remains of the Day

I hardly ever re-read books, but it’s a habit I’d like to start. I love Stoner by John Williams, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, so those seem like good options.

A classic you didn’t read in school:

book covers for East of Eden, A Farewell to Arms, and Their Eyes Were Watching God

There are many classics I haven’t read, but three came to mind immediately for this prompt: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. These titles have been on my to-read list for years.

Three books by the same author:

I’m looking forward to reading more from these prolific authors:

  • James Baldwin
  • Tana French
  • Rebecca Makkai
  • Ruth Ware
  • George Saunders
  • Jami Attenberg
  • Ottessa Moshfegh

Are you participating in the MMD challenge this year? If so, what are you most excited to read?

My 10 Favorite Books of 2019

Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

2019 was a hot and cold reading year for me. There were months when I devoured books and others in which I barely read at all. I did manage to read many of the books I own but didn’t get around to as many new releases as I’d hoped. I set a goal to read 75 books but ended up reading 57 instead. 34 were fiction, and 23 were nonfiction. Most of what I read was in print, but 13 were ebooks, and one was an audiobook.

Despite my stops and starts, I did read some excellent books and want to share my top 10 picks today. All summaries are from NoveList, and all opinions are from my currently sleep-deprived brain.

2019 Releases

All this could be yours book cover

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Family secrets are revealed in the heat of a New Orleans summer.

WHY I LIKE IT: The family secrets to which the description refers center around a dying man named Victor. He’s a terrible person, and his family knows it. There’s his daughter Alex, a strong-willed lawyer and single mom who visits her dad in his final hours. Alex’s brother Gary is in Los Angeles, chasing his dreams and refusing to come home. Gary’s wife Twyla is falling apart and has a compulsion to buy more lipstick than she could ever use. And then there’s Barbra, Victor’s wife, who doesn’t want to face the dysfunction of her life and family. These characters are memorable and engaging, making for a page-turner of a book.

Daisy Jones and the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When singer Daisy Jones meets Billy Dunne of the band The Six, the two rising 70s rock-and-roll artists are catapulted into stardom when a producer puts them together, a decision that is complicated by a pregnancy and the seductions of fame.

WHY I LIKE IT: One of the best experiences while reading fiction is losing yourself in a story, becoming so absorbed in an author’s creation that you ignore the clock for a few hours. That was my experience with Daisy Jones and the Six. Because the book is written as an oral history, the characters and their interactions seem real. It was like I could almost hear the songs the band was playing. I expected to like this book, but it exceeded any expectations I had. (I’m excited about the TV adaption, too!)

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God book cover

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

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The author tells her story of recovering from a traffic accident and how this experience changed everything she believed about God.

WHY I LIKE IT: I’ve followed Sarah Bessey’s work for many years, and believe this book is her best yet. It’s a mix of memoir and theology, tragedy and spirituality, and stories of physical pain and unseen wounds. Bessey’s vulnerability is as beautiful as her writing, which is poetic and seemingly effortless. I’ve read many spiritual memoirs, and but none have been this creative or thought-provoking.

The Nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Follows the harrowing experiences of two African-American teens at an abusive reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

WHY I LIKE IT: Due to its violence and depictions of cruelty, this was a tough book for me to read, yet I couldn’t put it down. Knowing that this novel is based on a true story makes it all the more timely and important. Ellwood and Turner, the boys of the title, are unforgettable. This is a short but powerful book.

Normal people book cover

Normal People by Sally Rooney

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The unconventional secret childhood bond between a popular boy and a lonely, intensely private girl is tested by character reversals in their first year at a Dublin college that render one introspective and the other social, but self-destructive.

WHY I LIKE IT: Whether I’m reading literary fiction or a bestselling thriller, I enjoy novels with good dialogue. Without it, I’m not interested in the book, no matter how intriguing the premise. Normal People has excellent dialogue thanks to Sally Rooney’s sharp attentiveness to the awkwardness and complexities of young love and identity.

Backlist Titles

Dopesick book cover

Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America
by Beth Macy

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: In a book that includes deeply human and unforgettable portraits of the families and first responders affected, the author takes readers into the epicenter of America’s more than 20-year struggle with opioid addiction.

WHY I LIKE IT: If you pay much attention to American news, you’ll often see articles about opioid addiction. After reading some of them, I wanted to know more, so I picked up Dopesick. Beth Macy has crafted a fascinating, heartbreaking book about the history of the opioid epidemic, the lives impacted by it, and the damage left in its wake. If you think nonfiction is boring, this book will change your mind.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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

WHY I LIKE IT: I’d heard nothing but praise about Homegoing and doubted it could live up to the hype. I was wrong, dear reader, and knew it within reading a few pages. This book left me stunned. Somehow, Yaa Gyasi has fit hundreds of years worth of history into 300-ish pages. I cannot wait for her new book, due later this year.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: After losing her parents, a young college graduate in New York City spends a year alienating the world under the influence of a crazy combination of drugs.

WHY I LIKE IT: What person hasn’t wanted to climb into bed and stay there for an indefinite amount of time? I have, and so does the narrator of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Grieving the loss of her parents and overwhelmed by the world, a woman decides all she wants is to sleep. A premise like this could have gone a lot of different directions, but Ottessa Moshfegh infuses her novel with compassion, warmth, understanding, and just the right amount of quirk to make this a compelling story.

Sadie book cover

Sadie by Courtney Summers

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: Told from the alternating perspectives of nineteen-year-old Sadie who runs away from her isolated small Colorado town to find her younger sister’s killer, and a true crime podcast exploring Sadie’s disappearance.

WHY I LIKE IT: I love true crime podcasts and mysteries, so of course I love Sadie, which combines both. It’s a sophisticated young adult book that blends suspense with pitch-perfect restraint. The story didn’t go where I expected it to go, and the characters didn’t always feel what I expected them to feel. Sadie’s structure and writing make for an exciting and unique story, one which I’ve recommended to many students who have also enjoyed it.

Watching you book cover

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: When a murder occurs in Melville Heights, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Bristol, England, dangerous obsessions come to light involving the headmaster at a local school, in this place where everyone has a secret.

WHY I LIKE IT: One of my favorite story structures is a varied cast of characters who are all connected in ways that are slowly revealed to the reader. Lisa Jewell executes that structure so well, especially in Watching You. I was hooked from the first page and sped through this novel. It reminded me why I love mysteries and thrillers and is a definite highlight of my reading year.


Do you like any of these books as much as I do? What are your favorite books of 2019? Leave a comment and let me know!

The Best Books I’ve Read in the Last Decade

Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

With a new decade soon upon us, many lists have appeared ranking the best whatever of the last ten years, like this one from Lit Hub, which ranks novels. Their list inspired me to start thinking about one of my own. I’ve tracked each book I’ve read since 2010, so I looked over all of those titles and tried to narrow it down to a top ten. This project did not go well at first. After several drafts and deep breaths, though, I’ve finally put together a list that feels right. To avoid a nervous breakdown, I focused only on fiction (sorry, poetry and nonfiction). I might change my mind tomorrow, but as of now, here are the novels I’ve loved most during the past ten years. 

Stoner book cover

Stoner by John Williams
Published in 1965 | Read in 2010

When Stoner appeared in 1965, it didn’t make much impact. It received praise but wasn’t popular. When New York Review Books published the book again in the 2000s, it became a cult hit. A former coworker recommended the book to me, raving about how good it was. I knew he was right within a few pages. I’ve seen Stoner referred to as a perfect novel, and I tend to agree. It’s a quiet, unassuming story about the life of William Stoner, a midwestern man who pursues his love of literature, gets married, has a daughter, and must face his share of regrets and disappointments. This novel is for readers who love character development and appreciate stories about the ordinariness of life. I’m grateful Stoner finally got the attention it deserves. 

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published in 1992 | Read in 2012

I wish I could remember what led me to Donna Tartt, but I don’t. What I do remember, though, is finishing the last page of The Secret History and wishing I could start all over again, never having read it before. I wanted to experience the book again for the first time because the story and eccentric characters enthralled me. The novel takes place at a college in New Hampshire, where a small group of classics students becomes devoted to a mysterious professor. In the book’s first few pages, readers know that one of those students has died. What we don’t know is what led to his death and how the others were involved. Tartt’s prose is gorgeous, and her ability to build suspense even after revealing a major plot point at the very beginning is unmatched. The Secret History is fiction at its finest. 

Gilead book cover

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Published in 2004 | Read in 2015

You might not think a novel written in the form of a father’s letter to his son would make for fascinating reading, but you’d be wrong. Gilead is a stunning meditation on faith, family, and what makes us human. I rarely write in my fiction books, yet it seems as if every other sentence of this novel is underlined. If you appreciate thoughtful, reflective literature, don’t miss this gem. 

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French
Published in 2007 | Read in 2018

One of my biggest reading regrets is waiting so long to read Tana French. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the reigning queen of the police procedural. In the Woods is everything I want in a suspense or mystery novel: it’s well-written, has a moody setting, is full of well-rounded characters, and contains just enough creepiness to keep me on the edge of my seat. French starts her Dublin Murder Squad series with Rob, a detective with a lot of baggage. He started life as Adam, the boy who was left behind when two of his friends vanished in the woods one day. They were never found and Adam couldn’t remember what happened, so he changed his name and everything else about his life. When a young girl is found dead in the same woods where his friends disappeared, Rob must face everything he’s been running from, whether he’s ready or not. (If you’re a fan of this book, check out the new Dublin Murders series on STARZ. It’s fantastic.)

Night film book cover

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published in 2013 | Read in 2013

Saying that Night Film is a suspense novel feels like saying the Beatles were a rock band. It’s true, but there’s so much more that needs to be said. Pessl’s second novel tells the story of a young woman’s apparent suicide. Her father is an iconic and reclusive horror filmmaker. When a journalist gets suspicious and starts investigating the death, he sets out on a journey that will keep you turning the pages all night long. Night Film makes the reader feel as if she’s in one of the horror films the book references. This novel is creepy, engaging, well-written, and utterly brilliant. I love it. 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published in 2015 | Read in 2016

No other novel has wrecked me the way A Little Life did. I was an emotional mess for several days after finishing this 720-page masterpiece. The book is about a group of four male friends but focuses on Jude, a deeply-wounded man who is no stranger to trauma and heartache. A Little Life follows him, Willem, JB, and Malcolm throughout a few decades of their lives. Though this book contains some genuinely bleak content, it’s a love letter to friendship, the families we choose, and the families who choose us. 

The nix book cover

The Nix by Nathan Hill
Published in 2016 | Read in 2017

Two things surprise me about The Nix. The first is that it’s a debut novel, and the second is that it works. It’s over 500 pages, goes back and forth in time, is full of different characters, addresses topics like academia, war, relationships, politics, and old family myths, and somehow it not only works but exceeds any expectations I had for it. At the center of this sweeping story is Samuel, a bored college professor whose only joy in life is a video game. After being out of touch with his mother for years, they reunite, and their reunion sets off a series of events and remembrances. There were so many different threads throughout this novel, and I knew there was no way Hill was going to weave them all together in the end. I was wrong, and he did. The Nix is an outstanding novel, and I cannot wait to see what Hill does next. 

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Published in 2016 | Read in 2019

Homegoing isn’t a long novel, yet it encompasses over three hundred years. The story begins during the eighteenth century in Ghana, where we meet two sisters named Esi and Effia. Their lives diverge, and the rest of the novel follows their descendants to present-day America. Homegoing is not only an excellent piece of fiction, but it helped me understand how the shameful legacy of slavery affects generations. 

Sing unburied sing book cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
Published in 2017 | Read in 2017

Jojo and his little sister Kayla live with their grandparents in Mississippi. Their black mother, Leonie, is a drug addict, and their white father is in prison. When he gets released, Leonie packs up the kids and her best friend and sets out on a road trip to pick him up. Sing, Unburied, Sing is set mostly during that trip. Jesmyn Ward tells a beautiful story about family, love, addiction, and the ghosts that haunt us. The relationship between Jojo and Kayla is precious, and the presence of their caring grandparents lends some joy to an otherwise sad novel. I read this book in one day because I couldn’t put it down. 

The great believers book cover

The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
Published in 2018 | Read in 2018

This novel goes back and forth between two timeless. One focuses on Yale, an art gallery director living in Chicago during the mid-1980s. The other is about Fiona, the little sister of one of Yale’s friends, who heads to Paris in the early 2000s in search of her daughter. Yale is presented with an opportunity to acquire an incredible collection of art for his gallery. However, while he’s achieving personal success, his friends are all dying of AIDS, including Fiona’s brother. The Great Believers is a novel about friendship, art, and the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. The stories of Yale and Fiona intersect beautifully. If you read and loved A Little Life as much as I did, make sure you read this one, too, as it has a similar tone. It’s a novel that has haunted me ever since I finished it. 

5 of My Favorite School Novels

We’re halfway through May now which means the school year is finally winding down. I have about four weeks left until I’m on summer vacation from my library job. Thanks to all of the graduations, tests, and year-end checklists, I’ve thought about school a lot lately, and I’m using that as inspiration for today’s post featuring some of my favorite novels set in a school or focused on students. A couple of these books deal with suicide, so if that’s not a topic you’re comfortable reading about this would be a good post to skip. Let’s dive in!

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Connell and Marianne meet in high school. He’s popular but poor. Marianne is a social outcast, but she comes from a wealthy family full of terrible people. Though these two would never speak at school, they’re brought together when Connell shows up at Marianne’s house to pick up his mother who works as the family’s maid. They soon embark on a romantic relationship that Connell is desperate to keep secret so as not to jeopardize his social standing. Normal People follows Connell and Marianne through their high school love and explores how their bond is deepened and tested throughout college. Sally Rooney has important things to say about class and gender, and her dialog is fantastic. I’d been looking forward to this novel for months, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth book cover

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

During his eighth grade year, a bullied boy named Tristan kills himself after a love letter he wrote a girl is shared on Facebook. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth tells the story of the students who were involved in Tristan’s life, examines their guilt in the aftermath, and presents a harsh yet realistic look at life in high school. In addition to the students, readers meet Molly, an earnest new teacher hoping to make a significant impact on her students. The novel switches back and forth between perspectives, and I was fascinated by each one. I haven’t heard many people talk about this book, but it’s worth your time and attention, especially if you work with teens like I do.

Dare Me book cover

Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Megan Abbott’s books are adult fiction, yet she writes teenagers so well. In Dare Me, she tells the story of a high school cheerleading squad living in the aftermath of a suspicious suicide. As an investigation into the death begins, the girls form new alliances, bond with their cool new coach, and treat each other with a viciousness masked by pompoms and the perfect routine. This book is chilling and impossible to put down. Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and Dare Me is an excellent place to start if you haven’t read her work before.

The Secret History book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In the first few pages of The Secret History, readers find out that a student at an elite college has died. The rest of the novel explores why and how. Richard is the main character, and when he transfers to Hampden College, he joins a group studying Greek classics under the direction of a professor the students nearly worship. Donna Tartt explores friendship, morality, literature, and devotion with great care and nonstop drama. The Secret History is suspense fiction at its finest, and one of my favorite novels of all time.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics book cover

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Blue lives with her professor father and has moved a lot for his work. When she’s a senior in high school, she and her father finally settle down, and Blue falls in with an eccentric group of students and their beloved teacher. Special Topics in Calamity Physics has been compared to The Secret History because of its plot, but this book has a lighter tone, though it too involves death and mysterious circumstances. This novel is what got Marisha Pessl added to my “I’ll Read Everything They Write” list. I’ve never read anything else quite like this book. I adore it, and I think literature-lovers who appreciate quirky fiction will, too.


What are your favorite school novels? What should I read next based on these books? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

8 of My Favorite Short Books

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Last month, I wrote a post about my favorite long books. I’ve been in a reading slump this April, and sometimes when that’s the case, I want to pick up something short. These past few weeks have been stressful for many different reasons (like this one), so I haven’t had the stamina for a long book.

With that in mind, today I want to share eight of my favorite short books. (I define short as being less than 250 pages.) If you too are in the midst of a reading slump, maybe something on this list will spark your interest and help you get your momentum back.

The Pleasure of My Company book cover

The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin
163 pages

This brief, sweet story is about a man named Daniel who lives alone and suffers from OCD. He only leaves his house to go to Rite-Aid, and to get there, he has to use sloped driveways since he can’t step over curbs. A psychiatry student named Clarissa visits Daniel regularly in an attempt to figure out what’s going on in his head. When her abusive ex-husband shows up and threatens to take away their son Teddy, Daniel steps in and tries to save Clarissa and the boy. Through his relationship with these two, Daniel starts opening up and being able to embrace the world around him. Steve Martin narrates this audiobook, so if you’re a Martin fan like I am, that’s a great way to read this gem of a book.

Glaciers book cover

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
174 pages

Glaciers is a novel about a day in the life of Isabel, a twenty-something library employee working with damaged books in Portland. She lives a quiet life, loves anything vintage, and has unrequited feelings for a man at work. If you like books that dive deep into a character’s head and emotions, this is the novel for you. There’s not a lot of action or plot; instead, readers are allowed into Isabel’s head as she reflects on her past and thinks about her future. Glaciers is a charming, well-written delight of a book.

Dept. of Speculation book cover

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
179 pages

Though I’m happily unmarried, I love reading novels about marriage, especially when things aren’t going very well for the couple in question. Dept. of Speculation is about an unnamed woman known throughout the book as “the wife.” She and her husband used to write long, reflective letters to each other in which they would consider their lives and the world around them. In this novel, the wife is reflecting on her role as a mother, spouse, and lover of art and culture. I can’t believe how much depth Jenny Offill was able to reach in such few pages. Dept. of Speculation is a tightly constructed, excellent book about female identity and longing.

If Beale Street Could Talk book cover

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
197 pages

A few months ago, I started reading An American Marriage. I’d heard nothing but praise about the book, but I realized it just wasn’t for me. I couldn’t get into it, even though I made it halfway through the novel. After I read If Beale Street Could Talk, I realized how similar the plot is to An American Marriage. Both books are about couples who are forced apart when the man is arrested and imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. While An American Marriage didn’t work for me, I loved If Beale Street Could Talk. Baldwin’s characters are well-developed, and their love is evident throughout the story. If Beale Street Could Talk is a compelling story about love, race, and the lengths we’ll go to save the people we love.

Interpreter of Maladies book cover

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
198 pages

When I read work by an excellent short story writer, I’m always in awe of their ability to tell a complete, meaningful story in so few words. Jhumpa Lahiri is an excellent short story writer, and Interpreter of Maladies is a beautiful example of the form. Many story collections can be hit and miss in terms of quality, but I love each story in this book.

When you reach me book cover

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
199 pages

When You Reach Me is a middle-grade novel, a type of book I never read. Something about it caught my interest, though, so I decided to give it a try. It takes place in New York City during the late 1970s and includes three storylines revolving around a sixth-grade girl named Miranda. Her mom is about to appear on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid, she and her best friend Sal have a falling out, and she starts receiving mysterious notes, including one that says, “I’m coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” Somehow, Rebecca Stead ties these storylines together and throws in a bit of sci-fi and references to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, too. This novel is a beautifully written and engaging story, one I couldn’t put down. I am so glad I gave this book a chance. It was a good reminder that a particular age range shouldn’t dictate what I read. 

Frances and Bernard book cover

Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
208 pages

When I heard that Frances and Bernard was inspired by Flannery O’Connor and her friendship with Robert Lowell, I was immediately interested as my love for O’Connor knows no bounds. This book is an epistolary novel comprised of letters between the two title characters who are writers that meet at an artists’ colony. Their bond is beautiful, as is Carlene Bauer’s prose. Frances and Bernard is a sweet story about friendship, love, creativity, and connection.

Gilead book cover

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
247 pages

Like Frances and Bernard, Gilead is also an epistolary novel. Rev. John Ames is an older man with a young son, and he decides to write him letters about his life and faith since he knows he won’t be around to tell him in person. Gilead is a masterpiece about family, memory, and God. It’s deeply theological yet also profoundly human. It’s one of my favorite novels of all time and truly deserves all the praise it’s received. This book is a modern classic.


What short books would you recommend? Do you find reading short things helpful sometimes?

My Favorite Books about Music (And a Reading Playlist!)

I’ve enjoyed music even longer than I’ve loved books. My parents listened to “oldies” growing up, so the first artists I remember knowing about are the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the Beach Boys. Unlike some of my friends, I loved the music my parents played. They were just listening to music they liked, but I was soaking up a musical education. I had a boy band phase in middle school and wanted a Spice Girls CD more than I cared to admit even at 11, but my musical foundation is solid thanks to the songs I grew up hearing.

It makes sense, then, that I enjoy two of my favorite things coming together: music and books. Today I want to share some of my favorite books about music and explain why I like them so much.

Daisy Jones and the Six book cover

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones is an up and coming singer in the late 1960s. She’s beautiful and talented, but also a drug addict. Billy Dunne (who also has issues with substance abuse) is the lead singer/songwriter for a band called the Six which he’s in with his brother and four others. When a producer realizes that Daisy and Billy are magnetic together, Daisy joins the band. Soon the group becomes one of the most popular rock bands in America.

Daisy Jones & The Six is the book that inspired this whole post. I finished reading it a couple of weeks ago and it’s one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It’s a novel, but it’s written as an oral history which makes it seem as if every word is real. You might not think oral history about a fake rock band would result in a page-turner, but this novel is an addictive read from start to finish. It’s utterly original and full of songs you’ll wish you could hear. Thankfully, Daisy Jones is becoming a 13-part series for Amazon. I’m excited about the soundtrack more than anything else.

The Song Is You book cover

The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips

This novel was released in 2009 when people still used iPods. Julian is obsessed with his and uses music as a way to connect with memories of his past. After something tragic happens to Julian and his wife, he loses interest in everything, including music. It’s only when he hears Cait O’Dwyer sing in a bar one night that he starts to feel things again.

The Song Is You follows Julian and Cait’s relationship through their correspondence. The way Arthur Phillips portrays grief, longing, and marriage in this novel is consistently compelling. I remember one particular scene that made me physically ache. This book feels true, and I think that makes for the best fiction.

The Music Shop book cover

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988, and Frank, the owner of a small music shop in London, is getting pressured to start selling CDs. He’s devoted to his vinyl records, however, and refuses to change. His life is a simple one, and he’s okay with that. But then, of course, there’s this girl. She walks into the store one day, and Frank (along with all of his friends in the neighborhood) is instantly captivated. She ends up asking him to teach her about music, which forces Frank to face some painful memories.

The Music Shop is a sweet story that never feels saccharine. The supporting characters are colorful, the love story is heartfelt, and the music references throughout are delightful. If you had your heart broken by Daisy Jones & The Six and The Song Is You, this book will help put it back together.

Signal to Noise book cover

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Meche is a teenager in the late 1980s. She isn’t cool and hangs out with two equally uncool friends, Daniela and Sebastian. The trio often listens to records and one day they realize that Meche has the power to cast spells through music.

Flash forward to 2009 when Meche’s estranged father dies. She’s forced to return to Mexico City where she grew up. She runs into Sebastian and is brought face-to-face with memories she’s tried to bury.

Through these two timelines, readers learn about Meche’s musical power, how she uses it, and what happened with her family and friends to make her want to leave everything and everyone behind. This book is more fantastical than what I usually read, but I love it and wish it had a broader audience.


Sometimes when I’m reading, I like to have some background music playing. If you do too, here’s a playlist I made full of slow, folksy songs that pair nicely with a good book for a cozy night at home. Happy reading (and listening)!


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