My Favorite Book Settings

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I’m not a fan of traveling. I’m a homebody who’d rather be in my favorite cozy chair than on an airplane or exotic vacation. Despite my lack of interest in globetrotting, I like visiting different places when I read.

Book settings are something I’ve only started thinking about somewhat recently. I never paid much attention to them a few years ago, but my reading life improved when I realized what books I’m drawn to and why. Knowing what settings you like in your books is a quick and easy way to help you find your next read, so I’m sharing my favorites today.

NYC skyline
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New York City

I’ve always been interested in New York City, even though I’ve never been to the East Coast. I have a feeling I’d be overwhelmed in NYC after only 10 minutes of being there, but my fascination persists. I’m intrigued by how people live there: apartments instead of houses, public transportation instead of having your own car, affording rent, and having so many options for what to eat and drink and do. I follow several Instagram and TikTok accounts of New Yorkers who share what it’s like in the city, and they’re a delight. Armchair travel is my favorite.

Here are some of my favorite books set in New York City:

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
  • When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
  • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin
London skyline
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London

One of the reasons I’m intrigued by London is its history. When I drive around my city, I see coffee stands and Old Navy. There are no old, gothic buildings, palaces, or famous museums, which is quite disappointing.

Here are some of my favorite books set in London:

  • The Downstairs Neighbor by Helen Cooper
  • Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
  • The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver
  • About a Boy by Nick Hornby
College campus with a bike rack and ivy
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Campuses

I love when books are set in the world of academia. (I just wrote about this.) I don’t care whether it’s a university, boarding school, high school, elementary classroom; I want all of it. I’ve noticed a trend on social media of highlighting dark academia as a genre, and while I do enjoy that, I also appreciate less-dark takes, like satire.

Here are some of my favorite books set on campuses:

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • Stoner by John Williams
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
  • Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden
A beach view through a window
Photo by Johannes W on Unsplash

Vacation Homes

One of my friends and I have a running joke that someday we’ll have a house in the Hamptons. While I definitely will not ever have a home in the Hamptons, I can read about people who do. The home could also be a cabin in the woods, a beach house, a deserted property once in the family; all I want is for a family to go there together and entertain me in the pages of my book.

Some of my favorite vacation home books are:

  • Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel
  • The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
  • Maine by Courtney J. Sullivan
  • Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
Inside of a bookstore looking out onto the street
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Bookstores & Libraries

There are few places I’d rather be than a bookstore or library. I went to both places just the other day, and I was in bookish nirvana. Since I love these spots so much in my real life, it’s fitting that I want to experience them in my reading life, too.

Here are some of my favorite books set in bookstores and libraries:

  • 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
  • The Shelf: From LEQ to LES: Adventures in Extreme Reading by Phyllis Rose
  • Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  • How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry
  • Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan

What about you? What are you favorite book settings?

What I Read and Loved in September 2021

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I love September. Fall slowly begins its arrival, school resumes, I light my apple-scented candles, and my cardigans find their way back into my closet. This September had all of that plus some great reading. Here’s what I read and loved this past month.

What I Read

People We Meet on Vacation by Emily Henry
Format: Print

Poppy and Alex have been best friends since college. Once a year, they take a vacation together until something happens during one trip that drives the two apart. They reconnect after two years, and Poppy is desperate to rekindle her friendship with Alex. She plans one last trip and asks Alex to come along. He says yes, and the two are forced to confront what went wrong and how to move forward. 

People We Meet on Vacation is such a sweet, feel-good love story without being too sweet. The characters are well developed, something that’s essential to my literary happiness, no matter how good a plot might be. I liked spending time with Poppy and Alex and feel eager to pick up another book by Emily Henry. 

Hacking School Libraries: 10 Ways to Incorporate Library Media Centers into Your Learning Community  by Kristina A. Holzweiss and Stony Evans
Format: Print

This book is a quick read that offers many ideas for school library staff to market their collection, further literacy in their building, and increase their number of library patrons. I appreciated how many of the authors’ ideas were attainable. I’ve read many articles and essays over the years that offer great suggestions that just so happen to cost a whole lot of money. Hacking School Libraries provides more straightforward and cost-effective ideas that still increase student and staff engagement.

Beautiful World, Where Are You by Sally Rooney
Format: Print

Sally Rooney’s latest novel concerns itself with four friends: Alice, Eileen, Felix, and Simon. They’re a group of Dubliners around 30 who are still trying to figure out their lives. Some chapters are letters between best friends Alice and Eileen, while others explore the relationships between the women and men. There’s not much plot in this novel, but Rooney’s prose and characterizations are so lovely that I’m just fine with that. This novel beautifully explores themes of friendship, sex, religion, and adulthood.

I’d been looking forward to this book for months, and it didn’t disappoint. Beautiful World, Where Are You isn’t for everyone, but give this one a chance if you like beautiful writing and don’t mind stories with a slow burn. (Plus, that cover is so pretty!)

Goldenrod by Maggie Smith
Format: Print

I don’t usually rush to the bookstore for poetry releases, but I made my way to my local indie to pick up Goldenrod the week it was released. I’ve liked Maggie Smith’s work since her poem “Good Bones” went viral a few years ago. Goldenrod is filled with more poems that pack as much punch as that one does, exploring themes of marriage and motherhood. 

One of my favorite poetry-reading experiences is when I read a line or two that are like a gut punch. I love it when a poet can string words and images together in a way that makes me pause and shake my head. I had several of those moments reading Smith’s newest book. 

Little Secrets by Jennifer Hillier
Format: eBook

Marin and Derek are attractive, successful, and wealthy. Their lives seem perfect until the day their little boy is kidnapped. Unbeknownst to her husband, Marin hires a private investigator to help find the boy after the FBI turns up zero leads. The investigator calls Marin with news one day, but it’s about Derek, not her son. Derek is having an affair, and Marin must stop it. 

I’ve mentioned before on this site that @things.i.bought.and.liked is one of my favorite Instagram follows because of her exceptional beauty, home, and lifestyle recommendations. It turns out she also has good taste in reading. She recommended this book, and I’m so glad she did. Little Secrets is packed full of twists and turns, making this a thriller I couldn’t put down. 

What I Loved

TELEVISION: Only Murders in the Building

Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building is an absolute delight. This smart, funny, and suspenseful show is about a trio of misfits who live in the Arconia, a beautiful NYC apartment building. They come together over their shared love of a popular podcast and decide to start their own when one of their neighbors is murdered.

I’ve loved Steve Martin and Martin Short for a long time, so I knew I’d like this show, but it surpassed my expectations. Selena Gomez rounds out the cast perfectly with her wit and dry humor.

TELEVISION: The Chair

The Chair is about an English department at a struggling liberal arts college. Sandra Oh has just become the new department chair and wants to change the school’s culture. As with any TV show, things don’t go according to plan. Jay Duplass is fantastic as Oh’s fellow professor, friend, and love interest. Holland Taylor should be handed her Emmy right now for her excellent portrayal of a Chaucer scholar whose office has just been moved underneath the gym. The Chair is immensely entertaining, but it also has important things to say about gender, cancel culture, and academia. 

What I Wrote


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

Ten Books for Back-to-School Season

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Since I work in education, September feels more like a new year than January does. When I go back to work, sometimes I want to pick up a book that mirrors my current season. If a book is set inside a school or is about a professor, I’m interested right away. I’m not sure if my intrigue stems from working in schools or fond memories of college, but no matter the reason why, I love academic settings and characters. Today I’m sharing ten books that are just right for back-to-school season. Sharpen your pencils, and let’s begin.

Adequate yearly progress book cover

Adequate Yearly Progress by Roxanna Elden

This novel presents a satirical look at a public high school in Texas. We meet an earnest English teacher who yearns for a deeper connection with her students. The principal ends up in the news for saying something controversial on camera. Other main characters include a math teacher, biology teacher, football coach, and a second-year history teacher who blogs about the school and starts to go viral.

I found this novel to be equal parts funny and insightful. Many of the characters are people I feel like I’ve met over the years. If you’re looking for a lighthearted book to welcome you into a new school year, this is the one.

The all-night sun book cover

The All-Night Sun by Diane Zinna

I wrote about this book in last week’s recap, so I’ll repeat what I said then:

Lauren is a lonely, 30-year-old woman teaching college writing near Washington, D.C. She lost her parents years ago in a car accident and is still trying to find her way after their deaths. When Siri shows up in Lauren’s classroom, the two women strike up a friendship. Siri has also lost her parents, so the two feel a special kinship. Siri invites Lauren back to her home in Sweden, and Lauren, blurring professional boundaries, accepts.

The All-Night Sun follows the two women through their time in Sweden. This novel explores friendship, loneliness, and professionalism through beautiful prose and memorable characters. The cover of this book caught my eye at my local indie bookstore, and I’m so glad it did. I think most literary fiction fans will enjoy this story.

Good girls lie book cover

Good Girls Lie by J. T. Ellison

Good Girls Lie is set at a prestigious all-girls prep school in Virginia. The Goode School is for the rich and influential, the types of girls who will head off to Yale and Harvard. Beneath the impressive exterior is a secret society whose members push past the strict behavioral lines the administration has drawn for them. When a popular student ends up dead, people say it was suicide, but there are too many questions about the death for the interest to end there.

While I didn’t love this book’s conclusion, I did love the setting and the story’s fast pace. Good Girls Lie is the perfect escapist novel for anyone in the mood for a dark academic tale.

Looking for Alaska book cover

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Looking for Alaska is the first novel by young adult legend John Green. (It’s also my favorite of his books.) The story follows a boy named Miles who attends a coed boarding school. It’s there he meets a girl named Alaska. He’s immediately smitten and is soon drawn into her fascinating, self-destructive world. When tragedy strikes, Miles is forced to reevaluate everything he thought he knew. 

I’ve read all of the novels Green has authored alone, and this is the one that has stuck with me the most. He writes teenagers so well, and their desperation and strivings toward adulthood are profound in this story. 

The most dangerous place on earth book cover

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

In some ways, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth is the opposite of Adequate Yearly Progress. While that novel was satirical and followed teachers at a struggling school, this novel is much darker and primarily follows students at a school full of privileged families. The staff member readers get to know the most is a new teacher named Molly. She’s unaware of a tragic event that happened in middle school, an event still reverberating through the high school years later.

I appreciated how Lindsey Lee Johnson juxtaposed privilege and tragedy, earnestness and facade. This novel felt achingly real and has some critical things to say about how our actions can haunt us.

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

As the #MeToo movement continued to pick up steam in 2017, allegations come out against Jacob Strane, the man who groomed and started a relationship with his student Vanessa when she was just 15. The two are still entwined years later, even though Vanessa is in her late 20s and living her own life. Because of the allegations, she’s forced to remember what she had with Strane and reevaluate it. In her mind, she was in love. She’s not a victim. She chose Strane. Or did she?

This novel focuses on an abusive relationship between a high school teacher and his student, so know that My Dark Vanessa is not for everyone. It’s sad and disturbing, but I ended up loving it. It has important things to say about responsibility and consent.

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This novel is set at a small, elite college in New England. A group of eccentric students grows close with an equally eccentric classics professor. Readers find out within the first few pages that one of the students is dead. The tension of this book is how it got to that point. 

The Secret History is probably the most popular, beloved book of the dark academia theme, and for good reason. It’s beautifully written and is full of memorable characters who you’re never quite sure you trust. This book is one of my all-time favorite novels, one I wish I could read again for the first time. It’ll never leave my personal library. 

Stoner by John Williams book cover

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner is a simple book with a simple story. The novel follows a man named William Stoner throughout his life in Missouri. Stoner is expected to take over the family farm, but he is fascinated by literature and becomes a professor. We follow Stoner through his work life and marriage as he struggles with the things we all struggle with: being present, working hard, and showing up for the people who need us.

This book has been called a perfect novel, and I wholeheartedly agree. Stoner is not to be missed for readers who appreciate character development and a deep look into a person’s mind and spirit. It might be a simple story, but John Williams has profound things to say about being human.

Surprised by Oxford book cover

Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

If you like nonfiction, here’s a recommendation for you. Surprised by Oxford is a memoir of Carolyn Weber’s time as a student. She begins attending Oxford as an agnostic but ends up becoming a committed Christian. This book is the story of how and why she converted. It’s a love story between Weber and Jesus, but also between Weber and her future husband.

Weber talks about faith with such nuance, intelligence, and warmth. The prose in this book is gorgeous, and you can’t ask for a much better setting than Oxford. If you’re a fan of Lauren Winner or Sara Miles, make sure to find a copy of this book and read it immediately.

Trust exercise book cover

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi

This novel begins in the 1980s at a performing arts high school. The two primary characters are students David and Sarah, who fall in love. Their classmates’ rolling eyes can’t dim their passion or commitment. About halfway through this book, something changes, and readers are faced with a new reality that’s hard to explain.

Trust Exercise is a book that has kept on surprising me. The initial twist surprised me when I read it and ultimately left me disappointed. But I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after I finished it. The characters and their stories kept rolling around in my head. While Trust Exercise won’t be for everyone, I do believe it’s worth your time. (And so did the people who gave it the National Book Award.)


That’s my list! What novels would be on your back-to-school syllabus?

My Favorite Books of 2020

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As you might have heard, 2020 was full of unprecedented times. All of the worry, uncertainty, and change of routine negatively impacted my reading life. I managed to read my average number of books (54), but I would sometimes go weeks without reading a single page because I didn’t feel like my brain could handle the kind of focus a book requires. I said multiple times that it was Zoloft and the Great British Baking Show that got me through such a difficult season, and I stand by that in 2021. 

Despite my reading life being a little weird at times, I managed to read some books I truly love. Here’s a look at my top ten plus some honorable mentions. These are in random order.

Such a fun age book cover

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

I finished Such a Fun Age in January of last year, and even though it was early in the year, I knew this book would be on my favorites list. It tells the story of a young Black woman named Emira who works as a babysitter for a white child named Briar. Briar’s mother is Alix, a blogger and social media influencer. One night, Emira is asked to take Briar out of the house for a bit, so the two head to a high-end grocery store nearby to kill time. It’s there where Emira is accused of kidnapping Briar, an event that sets off a bomb in the lives of the characters. Kiley Reid’s debut novel is a smart, immensely entertaining look at race, white privilege, and how people can be blind to what’s right in front of them. 

The lazy genius way book cover

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

I’ve been a long time listener of Adachi’s Lazy Genius podcast, so I was eager to get my hands on her book. I knew I’d like it, but I didn’t expect just how helpful it would be. I appreciate this book because it isn’t full of specific steps or lists of things you must do to achieve success. Instead, Adachi presents the reader with different principles that can work for any person and situation. I’ve applied a couple of principles to my own life with great success. As soon as I finished this book, I gave my copy to my mom and sent another one to my best friend. It’s that good and useful.  

Here for it book cover

Here for It, or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

I don’t reread books very often, but as soon as I finished Here for It, I wanted to start it again. This book is a collection of essays by the hilarious and thoughtful R. Eric Thomas. He writes about pop culture, religion, sexuality, and growing up as a gay man in the Midwest. Here for It is funny, smart, and more profound than you think it’ll be if you’re judging it by its bright pink cover. I’m grateful to have finally found R. Eric Thomas since there hasn’t been a year in which I needed laughter more than in 2020. (Sign up for his newsletter for weekly laughs. They’re the delights of my Sundays.)

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

When I read fiction, I appreciate and seek out certain settings, including schools (I guess I don’t get enough at work). My Dark Vanessa goes back and forth from a boarding school in 2000 to 2017 where our protagonist is working at a hotel. The title character reflects on the relationship she had with a former teacher when she was 15 and how it still shapes her life at 32. If you’re a sensitive reader who’s troubled by stories of abuse, this is not the book for you. Russell’s story is dark, yet the psychology behind the power dynamics of a student/teacher affair is handled with sensitivity and great insight. 

White rage book cover

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
by Carol Anderson

This book blew my mind. I thought I knew a decent amount about American history, but I was wrong. I thought I had a sense of how deep the roots of racism are in the United States, but I was wrong about that, too. In White Rage, Carol Anderson explores the opposition white people have had to Black success and flourishing. The part of the book that explores segregated schools was particularly eye-opening for me. If someone came to me and asked where to start with their antiracist reading, I’d hand them a copy of White Rage along with a pen so they could take notes. 

Team of five book cover

Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the Age of Trump
by Kate Andersen Brower

As soon as I heard about this book, I knew I’d love it. I’m happy to say I was right. Team of Five explores the lives and relationships of the five other presidents alive during Trump’s time in office: Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush (who passed in 2018), Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. Brower discusses their relationships with each other, how they governed, and their legacies compared to #45.

Transcendent kingdom book cover

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

Gyasi’s first novel, Homegoing, is one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years. I’d make it assigned reading for everyone if I had such power. Because of my love for that book, I couldn’t wait for Gyasi’s next release. Transcendent Kingdom was worth the wait. It’s the story of a twenty-something scientist named Gifty living in California. Her mother, a Ghanian immigrant, visits during the middle of a mental, emotional, and spiritual breakdown due to the loss of her son and Gifty’s brother, Nana. This novel explores family, religion, addiction, and memory in profound ways. It’s an incredible story that has stayed with me. 

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

I read this book on my own, and I’m going through it again right now with the equity committee I serve on at one of my schools. I’ve told my peers that I could read this book over and over again and get something new out of it each time. Kendi is brilliant, and his arguments are challenging and ultimately convicting. This book’s chapters are broken up into different categories, such as biology, space, and class. In each chapter, Kendi discusses how antiracism pertains to the topic and shares stories from his own life.

Good talk book cover

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

2020 was full of surprises, and one was that I discovered joy in reading graphic novels. I’d read a handful over the years but always said the format wasn’t for me. Despite that, I couldn’t resist picking up Good Talk due to the buzz it was getting and its overall look. (I’m a sucker for a pretty book.) I ended up loving this memoir in which Jacob explores race, parenthood, and life as a person of color in the post-Trump United States. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story. I love it so much that I bought my own copy after reading it from the library.

Rodham book cover

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Along with Good Talk, we can add Rodham to the list of books that surprised me in 2020. I don’t have much interest in alternative history stories. If I’m going to read about history, I want to read about actual history. Or so I thought. Rodham is the novel you probably assume from the title, Hillary Rodham’s story if she hadn’t married Bill Clinton. Despite my hesitation, I picked up this novel from the library and devoured it. I loved all of the political content, but what I appreciate the most about Rodham is the way Sittenfeld made this story seem real. It raises the question about how different our lives could be–good or bad–if just one choice were different. 

Honorable Mentions

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
  • Twenty-one Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • Intimations by Zadie Smith
  • Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran
  • Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now by Scott Erickson

Books I Didn’t Get to in 2020
that I Still Want to Read

  • Writers and Lovers by Lily King
  • The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
  • Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
  • Memorial by Bryan Washington
  • The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans
  • A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  • Real Life by Brandon Taylor
  • The Cold Millions by Jess Walter
  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

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.