100

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 Books for (Mostly) Everyone

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

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

“I don’t know.”

“I like everything.”

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

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

All the light we cannot see book cover

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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

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

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

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

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

Born a crime book cover

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

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

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

Calypso book cover

Calypso by David Sedaris

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

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

Educated book cover

Educated by Tara Westover

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

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

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French

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

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

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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

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

Never let me go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

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

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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

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

Small fry book cover

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

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

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

Literary Superlatives: The Books Most Likely To. . .

Photo by Alireza Attari on Unsplash

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

Most Likely to Make You Cry

A little life book cover

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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

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

For more tear-jerkers, try:

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

Most Likely to Change Your Mind

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

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

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

For more blow-your-mind books, try:

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

Most Likely to Make You Laugh

Southern lady code book cover

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

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

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

For more funny books, try:

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

Most Likely to Open Your Eyes

Random family book cover

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

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

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

For more eye-opening books, try:

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

Most Likely to Inspire You

Becoming book cover

Becoming by Michelle Obama

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

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

For more inspiring memoirs and biographies, try:

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

Most Likely to Keep You Reading
All Night Long

The guest list book cover

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

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

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

For more unputdownable books, try:

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

Most Likely to Keep Your Book Club Talking for Hours

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

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

For more book-club-friendly books, try:

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

Most Likely to Encourage You

Miracles and other reasonable things book cover

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

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

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

For more encouraging books, try:

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

Most Likely to Surprise You

Behind her eyes book cover

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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

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

For more surprising books, try:

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

Most Likely to Make You Feel
Warm and Fuzzy Inside

We met in December book cover

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis

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

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

For more warm and fuzzy books, try:

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

What I Read and Loved in July 2020

Photo by Corey Agopian on Unsplash

Despite the stress and mental exhaustion from living during a global pandemic, July went by quickly. I’m not sure how that happened, but I’m more than okay with it. I celebrated my birthday, my mother’s birthday, and my grandmother’s 96th birthday. I also watched Hamilton (along with everyone else, I think), and it blew me away and basically turned me into a new peron. More on that later. 

Because of the aforementioned stress and mental exhaustion, I preferred television and music to books throughout July, though I did finish four titles (and am in the middle of reading this one). But before I talk about that stuff, let’s talk about the books!

What I Read

Bring me back book cover

Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris

Finn and Layla are driving home from vacation when they stop at a service station. Finn gets out of the car to use the restroom, and when he returns, Layla has vanished for good. Ten years later, Finn has moved on and has fallen in love with Layla’s sister, Ellen. They’re engaged, and once they made that news public, things from Layla’s past started showing up, including clues that Layla herself might be alive and closer than they think. 

(MILD SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Though there’s a lack of character development, Bring Me Back is gripping and held my attention, and that’s where my compliments end. The ridiculously unbelievable ending ruined this entire book for me and made me wish I hadn’t read it. I can’t remember another conclusion that I hated as much as I hated this one. I wanted to throw this book across the room, go pick it up, set it on fire, and then bury its ashes in the backyard. Since it was a library book, I opted to return it instead. If you’ve read this, what did you think of the ending?

Dear Martin book cover

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce is a Black teen with a bright future ahead. He attends an elite school and is bound for an Ivy League college. When Justyce goes to help an ex-girlfriend who’s intoxicated, the police approach and assume Justyce is trying to steal her car. He’s handcuffed for hours. This incident brings to the surface issues like police brutality, racism, and belonging that Justcye tries to process by writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dear Martin is a slim YA book that I read in one day. Nic Stone has so much to offer her readers in its pages. Justyce is a compelling, profoundly sympathetic lead character whose questions are more timely now than ever. This novel is one I would hand to any teen who likes realistic fiction, and I think it would be especially great for reluctant readers. 

Home before dark book cover

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager

Maggie is the daughter of Ewan Holt, the author of the bestselling book House of Horrors in which he tells what he claims is the true story of the few days his family spent living in Baneberry Hall. Ewan’s book recounts the strange and spooky events that led his family to leave the house behind in the middle of the night, without possessions or looking back. Maggie feels as if this book has defined her life, and she hates it. 

When Ewan dies, Maggie realizes he never sold Baneberry Hall. She has a business in which she restores old homes, so Maggie heads to the property to fix it up and maybe even get some answers for what she knows are her father’s lies. When strange things start happening, Maggie wonders if House of Horrors contains more truth than she thought. 

Riley Sager is one of my favorite contemporary writers. His thrillers are consistently addictive, and Home Before Dark is no different. The novel is a book within a book; chapters alternate between Maggie’s point of view and passages from House of Horrors. I almost had to put this book in the freezer, so I think this novel creeps closer to horror than any of Sager’s previous work (except for maybe Final Girls). If you’re a Sager fan or just need a good thriller to keep you occupied, don’t miss this one.

The Dilemma by B. A. Paris

Even though I was still angry at B. A. Paris for Bring Her Back, I couldn’t say no to this title when OverDrive told me my library hold was available. One of the reasons I couldn’t say no was because my Kindle was right next to me, and I didn’t want to get up to grab anything else. Anyway. 

The Dilemma revolves around Livia and Adam, a happily married couple with two adult children. Livia is about to turn 40, and she’s throwing herself the lavish birthday party she’s been dreaming of and planning since her 20s. There’s a secret Livia knows about, though, that’s weighing on her. And on the day of her party, Adam is carrying a secret of his own that might change everything. 

I knew nothing about this book going in, and that was for the best. The Dilemma is more of a family drama than a thriller like Paris’s other books, yet I still found myself getting nervous and holding my breath in certain parts. If you need a good escapist read, I think this novel will be just the thing. I couldn’t put it down and have forgiven B. A. Paris.

What I Loved

MOVIE/THEATER: Hamilton

I’ve wanted to see Hamilton as long as I’ve known about it. When I found out it would be streaming on Disney+, I heard choruses of angels singing as glee filled my heart. Despite that, I tried to keep my expectations reasonable. I thought there was no chance that Hamilton could live up to the hype. I’m thrilled to say I was wrong. These words will probably sound hyperbolic, but watching Hamilton was one of the most profound and moving experiences I’ve ever had with a piece of art. I was in awe from the first second to the final gasp.

MUSIC: Folklore, Taylor Swift

God bless Taylor Swift for making the album I didn’t know I needed. I’ve listened to Folklore on repeat since its surprise release and find it incredibly soothing, fascinating, and lovely. My heart has a soft spot for 1989, but I think Folklore might be Swift’s best work yet. 

MOVIE: Palm Springs (Streaming on Hulu)

Palm Springs is a surprisingly sweet and funny romcom starring Andy Samberg (Nyles) and Cristin Milioti (Sarah). Nyles, a guest at a wedding, finds himself in a time loop in which he experiences the wedding day over and over again. He’s drawn to Sarah, the maid of honor, and wonders what forever might look like with her. I enjoyed this film immensely.

MOVIE: Troop Zero (Streaming on Amazon Prime)

Troop Zero is such a sweet little gem of a movie. McKenna Grace plays a girl who’s lost her mother and is obsessed with outer space. When she hears about an opportunity for Birdie Scouts to record their voice on NASA’s Golden Record, nothing will stop her from taking her shot (Hamilton reference for the win!). The film also stars Viola Davis, Allison Janney, and Jim Gaffigan. Its cast and earnestness make Troop Zero a delight.

The baby-sitters club poster

TELEVISION: The Baby-Sitters Club (Streaming on Netflix)

I was unprepared for how much I was going to love this show. I was obsessed with The Baby-Sitters Club as a kid and would read any of the books I could get my hands on. (I still have my collection because I can’t bear to part with it.) I knew the characters as well as I knew myself. Thankfully, this new show keeps all the characteristics of my beloved babysitters yet modernizes them and the books’ plots for today’s audience. I’m eagerly awaiting season two. 


That’s it for me. What did you read and love in July?

10 Books for Black History Month (And the 11 Other Months, Too)

February is Black History Month, and I couldn’t let the month go by without sharing some of my favorite titles by black writers. Diversifying my reading has been a priority for me over the past few years, and following through on that goal has been wonderfully illuminating. Reading books by people who don’t look like me, have grown up in different environments than I have, or who have faced discrimination that I will never know is incredibly important for developing my empathy and understanding. Have you read any of these books? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Americanah book cover

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

At its heart, Americanah is a love story between Ifemelu and Obinze, two Nigerians who fall in love as kids. They go their separate ways, however, when Ifemelu heads to America and Obinze goes to London. This novel has much to say about immigration, identity, and finding your place in the world. It’s beautifully written and engaging from beginning to end.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming is the story of Michelle Obama’s life from her childhood in Chicago to her role as First Lady of the United States. All of the political stuff is as fascinating as you imagine it is, but Obama’s focus on family and education are my favorite parts of this outstanding and inspiring memoir.

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

If you’re paying attention, you know that the publishing industry is primarily white. That seems especially true when it comes to the mystery genre. I think Bluebird, Bluebird is the first mystery I’ve read by and about a person of color. Texas Ranger Darren Mathews begins investigating two murders in the small town of Lark. One of the victims is a black lawyer from out of town, and the other is a local white woman. Attica Locke has delivered an unputdownable mystery that’s also a smart look at racism and justice.

Born a crime book cover

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

You probably know Trevor Noah as host of The Daily Show, but you’ll know him a lot better after reading this fantastic memoir. In it, Noah talks about growing up biracial in South Africa during apartheid, what it’s like to grow up poor, how his mother survived an abusive relationship, and how he found his way to comedy. Born a Crime is funny, sad, and ultimately hopeful.

Homegoing book cover

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing is in a rare category of books that left me stunned. Somehow, first-time novelist Yaa Gyasi includes 300 years of Ghanian history in a mere 320 pages and does so beautifully. Each chapter tells the story of a different person who is a descendant of either Effia and Esi, two sisters born in the eighteenth-century. Homegoing is an unforgettable and frank look at the horrific legacy of slavery.

I'm still here book cover

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

In this memoir, Austin Channing Brown discusses what it was like to grow up black and Christian in a predominantly white culture. Brown cares deeply about racial justice, and that passion shines through each page of this book. I’m Still Here is a good book for anyone to read, but it should be required reading for white Christians who want to do better about honoring black lives and stories.

The mothers book cover

The Mothers by Brit Bennett

When Nadia is seventeen, she gets pregnant by Luke, the pastor’s son. How Nadia handles this pregnancy is what fuels the drama of this excellent novel. The Mothers is a page-turner but is also a smart meditation on grief, secrets, and love.

The nickel boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Nickel Boys was a novel that I couldn’t stop reading even when I wanted to put it down. It’s about a terrible reform school in Florida that leaves physical and emotional scars on its students. Two of those students are Elwood and Turner, who face abuse, violence, and racism. The Nickel Boys is a bleak, haunting, but ultimately essential story of life in the Jim Crow era.

Sing unburied sing book cover

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Sing, Unburied, Sing is one of my favorite novels from the past few years. At the heart of the story are Jojo and Kayla, two young biracial kids living with their grandparents. Their mostly-absent mother, Leonie, is in and out of their lives due to drug addiction, and their father is in prison. He’s about to be released, though, so Leonie loads up the kids and her best friend and sets off on a road trip to pick him up. Like The Nickel Boys, this novel can be a challenging read due to its bleak subject matter, but it’s also a gripping look at how love can sustain us even when things are falling apart.

An untamed state book cover

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

I think Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer. She writes essays, memoir, short stories, and criticism and executes each flawlessly. An Untamed State is her first and only novel about a woman named Mireille. Like Gay, Mireille is of Haitian descent but currently living in America. On a trip to visit her wealthy parents in Port au Prince, Mireille is kidnapped by violent criminals who want money from her father. If you’re a sensitive reader, know that this book contains some rather graphic depictions of assault. It’s a difficult but excellent novel.


What other books by black authors should I add to my reading list? Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts.

What I Read and Loved in January 2020

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

I’m usually glad when January is over since it often feels like a slog. After the excitement of the holidays, January comes as a kind of cold and dreary buzzkill that makes me want to curl up in a blanket every second of the day. And there’s usually snow, which is gross and terrible and limits my shoe choices. The good news is that I read some great books in January and made some new discoveries that I’m excited to talk about today. Let’s get to it.

What I Read

On earth we're briefly gorgeous book cover

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Since Ocean Vuong is a poet, I knew the writing in this novel would be beautiful, and it is. It’s written as a letter from a son to his mother in which he discusses growing up, sexuality, heritage, and family. My only criticism of the book is the somewhat choppy narrative style. Just as I’d be getting into the flow of a particular story, it would end, and another would begin. Even so, this novel is definitely worth reading if you love good, realistic prose.

Good girls lie book cover

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

This thriller is set at an elite private high school for girls in a small Virginia town. When the novel opens, a student has been found dead. The novel explores who this person was and why they were killed. I’ve read one of J. T. Ellison’s books before, and my issues with that book are present here, too, in that there’s not enough character development and too many twists. Good Girls Lie is entertaining from beginning to end, but doesn’t offer much else.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Alix is a white 30-something influencer who’s recently moved to Philadelphia with her husband and two kids. She hires a black woman named Emira as a babysitter to help care for her three-year-old daughter, Briar. When an emergency happens at Alix’s house one night, she calls Emira and begs her to pick up Briar and get her out of the house for a bit. Emira takes to the girl to a nearby high-end grocery store where she’s accused of kidnapping the child. The exchange between her and the security guard is all caught on tape. Such a Fun Age starts there and goes on to explore how Alix and Emira handle the fallout from this incident. This novel is a smart, thoughtful story about race, class, and privilege that I absolutely devoured. I imagine this book will be high on my best of 2020 list.

twenty-one truths about love book cover

Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks

Do you know what I love almost as much as I love books? Lists. When I heard about Twenty-One Truths About Love and learned the entire thing is structured as various lists, I was intrigued but skeptical. My skepticism abated quickly, though, as I got to know Daniel, the novel’s protagonist. He’s a struggling bookstore owner and soon to be a first-time father. His finances are getting worse every month, and he can’t bear to tell his wife. Daniel is a sympathetic, funny, well-rounded character, especially considering this book’s structure. There was one plot point that I found to be silly, but otherwise, this novel is charming and inventive.

What I Loved

TELEVISION: Next in Fashion

Netflix’s new fashion competition show is an absolute delight. The designers are insanely talented, producing beautiful clothes in less than 48 hours. And unlike a lot of other competition shows, this one is exceedingly positive, with cast members appreciating and showing kindness to one another instead of tearing each other apart to win. Prepare to want a whole new wardrobe after watching this.

Power bank

TECH: Power Bank

One of my favorite Instagram accounts is @things.i.bought.and.liked. She continually has good recommendations, including beauty, lifestyle, and home products. She recently recommended this power bank, and when I saw it, I knew it was The Thing That Would Change My Life™. And it has! Instead of keeping track of cords for my phone, Kindle, wireless headphones, Bluetooth speaker, etc., I can use this one device to charge all of them. The cables fold into the device itself, and the power bank charges through an outlet. I love that it’s self-contained and small enough to fit in any handbag. 

Maggie Rogers album cover

MUSIC: Maggie Rogers, Heard It in a Past Life

This album isn’t a new discovery, but it’s the one I’ve been listening to all month. “Back in My Body” has been on constant repeat lately, and “Light On” is another favorite.

15 New Books I Want to Read This Summer

My summer break officially begins on Friday, and I cannot wait. People have been asking me what I plan to do over the summer, and my answer is absolutely nothing, which actually means sitting in front of a fan and reading a large stack of books.

One of my summer reading goals is to read a lot of the stuff that’s on my shelves already. I’ve owned some books for years and need to either read them or pass them on. I was excited about this plan, and then I realized how many library holds I’ve placed for books coming out over the next couple of months. Summer hasn’t even started yet, and I’m already buried in summer reading choices.

Today I want to share 15 new books that I’m excited to read this summer. My list includes mysteries, thrillers, essays, historical fiction, and some quirky novels. The first two books on my list have already been released, but the rest come out over the next few months. I know I won’t get to all of them by the time I go back to work in August, but I’m certainly going to try.

All summaries are from Goodreads.

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves-and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now ninety-five years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it.

mostly dead things book cover

Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett

One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the failing business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles. Her mother starts sneaking into the shop to make aggressively lewd art with the taxidermied animals. Her brother Milo withdraws, struggling to function. And Brynn, Milo’s wife—and the only person Jessa’s ever been in love with—walks out without a word. As Jessa seeks out less-than-legal ways of generating income, her mother’s art escalates—picture a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose—and the Mortons reach a tipping point. For the first time, Jessa has no choice but to learn who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them.

Fake like me book cover

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

Release Date: June 18

After a fire decimates her studio, including the seven billboard-size paintings for her next show, a young, no-name painter is left with an impossible task: recreate her art in three months-or ruin her fledgling career. 

Homeless and desperate, she flees to an exclusive retreat in upstate New York famous for its outrageous revelries and glamorous artists. And notorious as the place where brilliant young artist Carey Logan-one of her idols-drowned in the lake. 

But when she arrives, the retreat is a ghost of its former self. No one shares their work. No parties light up the deck. No one speaks of Carey, though her death haunts the cabins and the black lake, lurking beneath the surface like a shipwreck. As the young painter works obsessively in Carey’s former studio, uncovers strange secrets and starts to fall–hard and fast–for Carey’s mysterious boyfriend, it’s as if she’s taking her place. 

But one thought shadows her every move: What really happened to Carey Logan?

Fleishman is in trouble book cover

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Release date: June 18

Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.

But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.

Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.

I like to watch book cover

I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution
by Emily Nussbaum

Release date: June 25

From her creation of the first “Approval Matrix” in New York magazine in 2004 to her Pulitzer Prize–winning columns for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum has known all along that what we watch is who we are. In this collection, including two never-before-published essays, Nussbaum writes about her passion for television that began with stumbling upon “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”—a show that was so much more than it appeared—while she was a graduate student studying Victorian literature. What followed was a love affair with television, an education, and a fierce debate about whose work gets to be called “great” that led Nussbaum to a trailblazing career as a critic whose reviews said so much more about our culture than just what’s good on television. Through these pieces, she traces the evolution of female protagonists over the last decade, the complex role of sexual violence on TV, and what to do about art when the artist is revealed to be a monster. And she explores the links between the television antihero and the rise of Donald Trump.

The book is more than a collection of essays. With each piece, Nussbaum recounts her fervent search, over fifteen years, for a new kind of criticism that resists the false hierarchy that elevates one form of culture over another. It traces her own struggle to punch through stifling notions of “prestige television,” searching for a wilder and freer and more varied idea of artistic ambition—one that acknowledges many types of beauty and complexity, and that opens to more varied voices. It’s a book that celebrates television as television, even as each year warps the definition of just what that might mean.

Lock every door book cover

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager

Release date: July 2

No visitors. No nights spent away from the apartment. No disturbing the other residents, all of whom are rich or famous or both. These are the only rules for Jules Larsen’s new job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, one of Manhattan’s most high-profile and mysterious buildings. Recently heartbroken and just plain broke, Jules is taken in by the splendor of her surroundings and accepts the terms, ready to leave her past life behind.

As she gets to know the residents and staff of the Bartholomew, Jules finds herself drawn to fellow apartment sitter Ingrid, who comfortingly, disturbingly reminds her of the sister she lost eight years ago. When Ingrid confides that the Bartholomew is not what it seems and the dark history hidden beneath its gleaming facade is starting to frighten her, Jules brushes it off as a harmless ghost story . . . until the next day, when Ingrid disappears.

Searching for the truth about Ingrid’s disappearance, Jules digs deeper into the Bartholomew’s dark past and into the secrets kept within its walls. Her discovery that Ingrid is not the first apartment sitter to go missing at the Bartholomew pits Jules against the clock as she races to unmask a killer, expose the building’s hidden past, and escape the Bartholomew before her temporary status becomes permanent.

Whisper network book cover

Whisper Network by Chandler Baker

Release date: July 2

Sloane, Ardie, Grace, and Rosalita are four women who have worked at Truviv, Inc., for years. The sudden death of Truviv’s CEO means their boss, Ames, will likely take over the entire company. Ames is a complicated man, a man they’ve all known for a long time, a man who’s always been surrounded by…whispers. Whispers that have always been ignored by those in charge. But the world has changed, and the women are watching Ames’s latest promotion differently. This time, they’ve decided enough is enough. 

Sloane and her colleagues set in motion a catastrophic shift within every floor and department of the Truviv offices. All four women’s lives—as women, colleagues, mothers, wives, friends, even adversaries—will change dramatically as a result.

“If only you had listened to us,” they tell us on page one, “none of this would have happened.”

The Nickel Boys book cover

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Release date: July 16

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. 

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.

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Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman

Release date: July 23

In 1966, Baltimore is a city of secrets that everyone seems to know–everyone, that is, except Madeline “Maddie” Schwartz. Last year, she was a happy, even pampered housewife. This year, she’s bolted from her marriage of almost twenty years, determined to make good on her youthful ambitions to live a passionate, meaningful life.

Maddie wants to matter, to leave her mark on a swiftly changing world. Drawing on her own secrets, she helps Baltimore police find a murdered girl–assistance that leads to a job at the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Star. Working at the newspaper offers Maddie the opportunity to make her name, and she has found just the story to do it: a missing woman whose body was discovered in the fountain of a city park lake.

Cleo Sherwood was a young African-American woman who liked to have a good time. No one seems to know or care why she was killed except Maddie–and the dead woman herself. Maddie’s going to find the truth about Cleo’s life and death. Cleo’s ghost, privy to Maddie’s poking and prying, wants to be left alone.

Maddie’s investigation brings her into contact with people that used to be on the periphery of her life–a jewelery store clerk, a waitress, a rising star on the Baltimore Orioles, a patrol cop, a hardened female reporter, a lonely man in a movie theater. But for all her ambition and drive, Maddie often fails to see the people right in front of her. Her inability to look beyond her own needs will lead to tragedy and turmoil for all sorts of people–including the man who shares her bed, a black police officer who cares for Maddie more than she knows. 

Speaking of Summer by Kalisha Buckhanon

Release date: July 30

On a cold December evening, Autumn Spencer’s twin sister Summer walks to the roof of their shared Harlem brownstone and is never seen again—the door to the roof is locked, and no footsteps are found. Faced with authorities indifferent to another missing woman, Autumn must pursue answers on her own, all while grieving her mother’s recent death.

With her friends and neighbors, Autumn pretends to hold up through the crisis. She falls into an affair with Summer’s boyfriend to cope with the disappearance of a woman they both loved. But the loss becomes too great, the mystery too inexplicable, and Autumn starts to unravel, all the while becoming obsessed with murdered women and the men who kill them.

In Speaking of Summer, critically acclaimed author Kalisha Buckhanon has created a postmodern, fast-paced story of urban peril and victim invisibility, and the fight to discover truth at any cost.

Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino

Release date: August 6

Trick Mirror is an enlightening, unforgettable trip through the river of self-delusion that surges just beneath the surface of our lives. This is a book about the incentives that shape us, and about how hard it is to see ourselves clearly in a culture that revolves around the self. In each essay, Jia writes about the cultural prisms that have shaped her: the rise of the nightmare social internet; the American scammer as millennial hero; the literary heroine’s journey from brave to blank to bitter; the mandate that everything, including our bodies, should always be getting more efficient and beautiful until we die. text

The Yellow House book cover

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

Release date: August 13

In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant–the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow Housetells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house’s entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.

Coventry book cover

Coventry by Rachel Cusk

Release date: August 20

Rachel Cusk gathers a selection of her nonfiction writings that both offers new insights on the themes at the heart of her fiction and forges a startling critical voice on some of our most personal, social, and artistic questions. Coventry encompasses memoir, cultural criticism, and writing about literature, with pieces on family life, gender, and politics, and on D. H. Lawrence, Francoise Sagan, and Elena Ferrante. Named for an essay in Granta (“Every so often, for offences actual or hypothetical, my mother and father stop speaking to me. There’s a funny phrase for this phenomenon in England: it’s called being sent to Coventry”), this collection is pure Cusk and essential reading for our age: fearless, unrepentantly erudite, and dazzling to behold.

Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe

Release date: August 20

In this illuminating exploration of women, violence, and obsession, Rachel Monroe interrogates the appeal of true crime through four narratives of fixation. In the 1940s, a bored heiress began creating dollhouse crime scenes depicting murders, suicides, and accidental deaths. Known as the “Mother of Forensic Science,” she revolutionized the field of what was then called legal medicine. In the aftermath of the Manson Family murders, a young woman moved into Sharon Tate’s guesthouse and, over the next two decades, entwined herself with the Tate family. In the mid-nineties, a landscape architect in Brooklyn fell in love with a convicted murderer, the supposed ringleader of the West Memphis Three, through an intense series of letters. After they married, she devoted her life to getting him freed from death row. And in 2015, a teenager deeply involved in the online fandom for the Columbine killers planned a mass shooting of her own.

Each woman, Monroe argues, represents and identifies with a particular archetype that provides an entryway into true crime. Through these four cases, she traces the history of American crime through the growth of forensic science, the evolving role of victims, the Satanic Panic, the rise of online detectives, and the long shadow of the Columbine shooting. In a combination of personal narrative, reportage, and a sociological examination of violence and media in the twentieth and twenty-first century, Savage Appetites scrupulously explores empathy, justice, and the persistent appeal of violence.

Red at the bone book cover

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

Release date: September 17

Two families from different social classes are joined together by an unexpected pregnancy and the child that it produces. Moving forward and backward in time, with the power of poetry and the emotional richness of a narrative ten times its length, Jacqueline Woodson’s extraordinary new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of this child. 

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s birthday celebration in her grandparent’s Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, escorted by her father to the soundtrack of Prince, she wears a special, custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own sixteenth birthday party and a celebration which ultimately never took place. 

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.


What books are on your summer reading list?

Poetry Recommendations for People Who Are Scared of Poetry

Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

April is National Poetry Month, and I’m always glad to see poetry getting special recognition since I consider it to be an under-appreciated art form. It seems as if poetry intimidates a lot of readers. I’ve heard people say they can’t understand it or don’t want to spend their reading time having to analyze something. While there is certainly a lot of complex poetry out there, there are also many options for people who want accessible, beginner-friendly poetry. I want to share some of those options with you today.

Second Sky book cover

Second Sky by Tania Runyan

Second Sky is one of my favorite poetry books. Tania Runyan writes about faith and spirituality in a way that is entirely relatable. She does what all great poets do and illuminates the extraordinary and profound in the everyday. You can read two of her poems here.

Mezzanines book cover

Mezzanines by Matthew Olzmann

I first heard of Matthew Olzmann when I came across his poem “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem.” It was love at first read. I bought Olzmann’s debut book just because I love that poem so much and I wasn’t disappointed. Olzmann can gut-punch you in just a line or two. He can be playful and profound. You can read more of his work here.

The Poetry of Rilke translated by Edward Snow

I own quite a few poetry books, and this collection is one of my most beloved volumes. I first encountered Rainer Maria Rilke when I read Letters to a Young Poet, which I love. When I saw this edition of Rilke’s work, I knew I had to have it. I was captivated instantly, and I think you will be too. Rilke has such a gift with words. Like Tania Runyan, he talks a lot about faith, and like Matthew Olzmann, he can deliver profound insight in just a few words. This specific edition of Rilke’s poetry is noteworthy because Edward Snow did a fantastic job translating Rilke’s work from German to English. You can read many of Rilke’s poems here.

Life on Mars book cover

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Sometimes after I read a book that earned a Pulitzer or other esteemed book award, I think, “Really?” Thankfully, that wasn’t the case when I read this beautiful collection from Tracy K. Smith. She deserves her Pulitzer for creating such unique and memorable work. I love this description of Life on Mars from Goodreads: “With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures, and oddities of human existence.” To see what they’re talking about, read her poem “Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?” here.

devotions book cover

Devotions by Mary Oliver

If you’ve read any poetry at all, chances are it’s by Mary Oliver. She’s one of the most beloved contemporary poets for a good reason. Her work focuses on nature, love, God, and the beauty of the world around us. Her recent death was heartbreaking to many of us who have appreciated her words and found solace in them. If you want to get started with Oliver, pick up Devotions. She chose the poems in this book herself, and they span her entire career. If you want even more Oliver goodness in your life, check out this Book Riot post that helps you know where to start.


More poets I love:

  • John Donne
  • Langston Hughes
  • Kim Addonizio
  • Andrea Gibson
  • Christian Wiman
  • Maya Angelou
  • Mary Karr
  • Carrie Fountain
  • Ellen Bass
  • Jack Gilbert
  • William Carlos Williams
  • Pablo Neruda
  • Sharon Olds
  • T. S. Eliot
  • Billy Collins
  • Joseph Millar
  • Robert Hass

Poetry resources:

I can’t recommend Poetry Foundation enough. Poets.org is another favorite. If you want daily poetry, this site gives you just that. Beloved contemporary poet Billy Collins is the brainchild behind Poetry 180, a collection of work that introduces high school students to great poems.


I hope this post is helpful for those of you wanting to dip your toe into the world of poetry. There’s so much goodness out there to find. Happy reading!