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.

What I Read and Loved in September 2020

I barely remember September. It’s only October 10th as I write this, yet September seems so long ago. I was a different person then, young and naive. So much is happening every day that it’s difficult to keep track of it all. Despite my current headspace, I read seven books in September. It was a great reading month and I’m excited to share it with you.

What I Read

Grand Union book cover

Grand Union by Zadie Smith

In August, I read Zadie Smith’s latest book, a small collection of essays called Intimations. Reading that reminded me how great a writer Smith is, so I was eager to read something else. I have several of her books on my shelf at the moment, but Grand Union was the one that caught my eye. This book is her first collection of short stories. Like most story collections, there are some hits and misses, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed these stories. Zadie Smith is such a brilliant writer; her fiction is unlike anything else I’ve read. 

Musical chairs book cover

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel

A trope I often enjoy in novels is a family coming together on a vacation or second home. That plot is exactly what Musical Chairs provides. The protagonist is Bridget, a New Yorker and musician who has a family home in Connecticut. She plans to spend the summer there with her boyfriend, but he breaks up with her first. Instead of the romantic summer she envisioned, Bridget is suddenly grappling with a broken heart, her grown children coming back home, her elderly father’s sudden engagement, and her fledgling career as part of the Forsyth Trio. This novel is full of interesting characters, including Bridget’s best friend and fellow musician Will. Musical Chairs is a delightful novel that made me eager to read more from Amy Poeppel. 

Let's pretend this never happened book cover

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir
by Jenny Lawson

This book is a memoir in essays about Jenny Lawson’s life growing up with mental illness in a small town with a quirky family. That summary sounds right up my alley, but this book didn’t work for me for some reason. I know Lawson is a beloved writer, but I just never connected with what she was saying. I listened to this book, so maybe I would have enjoyed it more in print.

Transcendent kingdom book cover

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

As soon as I finished Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel, I was eager to get my hands on her second. I had to wait a while, but Transcedent Kingdom is worth the wait. The story is about a young woman named Gifty, who’s studying neuroscience and living in California. She’s focusing on the brain and addiction, an interest that was sparked when her older brother overdosed as a teen. Her complicated family also includes a God-fearing mother who is barely functioning through the fog of depression of grief. When she comes to California, Gifty has to confront her past, her trauma, and her thoughts about religion. This novel is a slow burn, and I loved every minute. 

Good talk book cover

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob

I’ve only read a handful of graphic novels. I enjoyed them, but find that graphic novels just aren’t my thing. I might need to reevaluate that, though. Despite not being drawn to the format very often, there was something about Good Talk that made me pick it up. I’m glad I did because it’s fantastic. I couldn’t put it down. Good Talk is about how Mira Jacob–a first-generation American–addresses race and injustice issues during conversations with her little boy. That sounds heavy, and it certainly is at times, but this book is also funny and sweet. 

Imperfect women book cover

Imperfect Women by Araminta Hall

Nancy, Eleanor, and Mary have been friends since they met at Oxford years ago. Nancy is beautiful, wealthy, and is cheating on her husband, a secret only Eleanor knows. Eleanor is single, throwing herself into relief work. Mary is married and drowning in the responsibilities of raising children and caring for a sick husband. When Nancy is murdered, her friends are left shattered and scared. Imperfect Women is a good thriller. I enjoyed its focus on female friendship. I don’t think it’s a book that will stay with me very long, but it’s certainly worth reading if you need something suspenseful.

Sigh, gone book cover

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fight In by Phuc Tran

Sigh, Gone is a total delight. Phuc Tran takes us through his childhood and teen years through the lens of classic books. He and his family immigrated to the US in the 1970s, leaving Vietnam behind. Tran’s English is better than his Vietnamese. He loves punk rock and Albert Camus. His parents can spoil him in some moments and wound him deeply in others. The stories in this book range from hilarious to heartbreaking and back again. I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir and would recommend the audio version. The author reads it himself, which makes the whole story feel even more authentic.

What I Loved

Ted Lasso poster

TELEVISION: Ted Lasso

There are many things in 2020 that I didn’t see coming. Among them is my love of a show about a soccer coach. Jason Sudeikis is brilliant as Ted Lasso, a kind and big-hearted football coach from Kansas who ends up coaching soccer in England. I laugh out loud during each episode of this show, but the series is unique because of its heart. In a time when there is so much sadness in the world, watching Ted Lasso is a welcome much-needed reprieve from reality that leaves me feeling warm and fuzzy every time I watch.

Reply All logo

PODCAST: Reply All

Reply All has been on my radar for a long time, but I only recently started listening to it. All I knew about the show was that it’s about the internet. That didn’t sound especially interesting, but now I’m officially hooked. The show is about the internet, sure, but it’s so much more than that. The first episode I listened to was #166, A Country of Liars. It’s all about Q-Anon and how that conspiracy theory began. My favorite episode so far–and one of the best podcast episodes I’ve ever heard–is episode #158, The Case of the Missing Hit, in which the hosts help find a phantom song for a listener. I’m late to the party on this podcast, but I’m glad I’m here now. 

Get organized with the home edit photo

TELEVISION: Get Organized with the Home Edit

As you know, 2020 has been. . .not great. I’ve needed some escapism lately, and I found it in a show where I watch women organize pantries and closets. Like any self-respecting organization lover, I’ve followed the Home Edit on Instagram for a long time, so I was eager when I heard they had a Netflix show. I didn’t know that what I needed right now was to see Khloe Kardashian’s garage get a makeover, but apparently, that was just what the doctor ordered.


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

What I Read and Loved in August 2020

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Even though it’s only September 7th, it feels like August was months ago. Time feels stranger than ever in this COVID-19 world. I spent most of August wondering if I’d still have a job since my school district is starting the year doing virtual-only classes. Thankfully, I’m still employed, and after I knew that for sure, I was so excited to get back to work. It’s strange without the students there, but I now have a lot of time to get tasks done that I never had time to do before. Silver linings!

And now for the good stuff. Keep reading to see what I read and loved in August.

What I Read

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 fan of Kendra and her Lazy Genius podcast for a long time, so I was eager to get my hands on this book. I had high expectations, yet Kendra managed to exceed all of them. The Lazy Genius Way is not a typical self-help book or organizational guide. It doesn’t have lists of what you need to be doing or formulas for a perfect home. Instead, Kendra guides you to living your best life through 13 principles that you can customize for your own needs. That customization is what sets this book apart from others like it. After reading this book, I sent a copy to a dear friend and mom of three kids. My copy is currently in my mom’s hands. The three of us are in entirely different stages of our lives, but each of us finds the book helpful and encouraging. Do yourself a favor and pick this up ASAP. I’ve underlined every other sentence, and you probably will too. 

Hamilton: the revolutions book cover

Hamilton: The Revolution
by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

As you know if you read last month’s recap post, I watched and immediately became obsessed with Hamilton. This book helped me during my Hamilton hangover and is a must-read for fans of the acclaimed musical. The book contains beautiful photos and behind the scenes essays, but my favorite part is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s notes for each song. I loved getting to peek inside his head and see what he thought as he wrote the most iconic musical of our time.

Intimations book cover

Intimations by Zadie Smith

It had been a long time since I’d read anything by Zadie Smith, and this slim essay collection seemed like a must-read. Smith wrote each essay during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Reading this reminded me of just how brilliant Smith is and how I need to read more of her work. (Which I did! Thoughts on that next month.)

The bright lands book cover

The Bright Lands by John Fram

I placed a copy of The Bright Lands on hold at the library as soon as I heard about it. The plot–a high school football star in small-town Texas goes missing, and his brother comes back from NYC to investigate–intrigued me. When I picked up the book, I realized that my library had categorized it in the horror section. I started reading and wondered why. Then the last few chapters came, and it all made sense. I enjoyed the first three-quarters of this novel, but the last part was far too violent and scary for my taste. I had to skim the last quarter of the book and wasn’t satisfied with the conclusion.

What Will Soon Take Place by Tania Runyan

Before finishing this book, it had been two years since I’d read a poetry collection. As I mentioned above, August had its fair share of stress, and I find it hard to read sometimes when I feel overwhelmed. I thought a volume of poetry might be just what I needed, and it was. Tania Runyan is one of my favorite contemporary poets. Her work combines religion and meditations on daily life in a way that is profound yet wholly relatable to me. What Will Soon Take Place is a look at the book of Revelation. Several lines throughout Runyan’s poems felt like gut-punches. Not only did I love this collection, but it inspired me to read poetry more often. 

What I Loved

The morning show poster featuring Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carrell, and Reese Witherspoon

TELEVISION: The Morning Show

I’d heard mixed reviews for this show, and while I understand some of the criticisms, it provided a much welcome TV binge. Jennifer Aniston and Billy Crudup are great in this show, and the finale left me eager for season two.

TECHNOLOGY: Apple AirPods

My Macbook was starting misbehave, so I looked up some of its issues on Apple’s website. According to them, my beloved 8-year-old computer was “vintage.” Ouch. I needed a new one. Thankfully, Apple was running a great deal for students and school staff that included a new Macbook at a reduced price that came with a free pair of AirPods. I would never pay $150.00 for AirPods, but I was certainly not opposed to a free pair. It turns out that if I ever lose these, I might pay $150.00 for AirPods after all. I love these little things so much. I’ve had other Bluetooth headphones and earbuds before, but none have worked as well or have sounded as good as these do. They sync to my phone automatically and hold a charge for a long time. My AirPods aren’t noise-canceling, but that’s good for when I’m wearing these at work. I like that I can still hear when people are trying to get my attention. As you’ll see below, I’ve been listening to many podcasts, so my AirPods and I have become very close in a short amount of time.

PODCAST: The Bible Binge

The Bible Binge is a podcast from the folks who host the Popcast, a podcast about pop culture that I never miss. The Bible Binge looks at stories from the Bible and the hosts–Knox McCoy and Jamie Golden–recap those stories as if they were movies or TV shows. The show was seasonal but has recently changed to a weekly format with two additional episode types. One is called Favored or Forsaken, in which the hosts discuss religious topics in the news. The most recent episode discusses Jerry Fallwell, Jr. and Christian colleges, and it is [insert fire emoji here]. The other new episode format is hosted by a gem of Instagram and resident Bible Scholar Erin Moon. In Faith Adjacent episodes, Erin looks at pop culture through a biblical lens to see what spiritual truths we can take away from cultural icons. Her first episode was about Hamilton, and I devoured every word. If you’re interested in a smart and funny look at how faith intersects with modern culture, don’t miss this show. 

PODCAST: The Lazy Genius

As I said, I’ve been a fan of this podcast for a while. A couple of episodes were August-specific favorites, though. One episode is called How to Lazy Genius Anything. In this episode, Kendra takes an issue and walks through how to resolve the problem and make it better. The other episode I loved is How to Make the Perfect Playlist. I’d wanted to get back into music more but was overwhelmed with where to begin. I took Kendra’s advice in this episode and started making some new playlists, and they have given me so much joy. My favorite one is linked here. 

That’s it for me! What did you read and love in August?

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?

What I Read and Loved in June 2020

Photo by Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash

It’s officially summer, and I’m on break from my school job until late August. I like my summers to be as plan-free as possible, which works out great for me this year. My birthday is next week, so my biggest dilemma this week is deciding what dessert I want. Even though I feel like the world around me is on fire right now, I have much for which to be grateful. Gratitude makes everything more bearable.

And now for what I read and loved in June! It was a great reading month, so I’m excited to share what books I finished.

What I Read

Queenie book cover

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams

Queenie is a 25-year-old Jamaican Brit living in London. She’s reeling from a recent breakup with the love of her life who said he needed space. His lack of communication is breaking Queenie’s heart, so she looks for love elsewhere with men who don’t treat her as they should. Her work life is as messy as her dating life. Queenie works for a newspaper but is doing subpar work in which she quickly gets distracted. She longs for true love and to be a great journalist who covers essential issues, but she can’t quite get there. I was rooting for her through every step of her journey. This novel has some lighthearted moments, but it also has important things to say about friendship, love, and mental health.

White rage book cover

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

My desire to read diversely has grown stronger over the past few weeks, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been wonderful to see the New York Times bestseller list full of titles by Black authors. One of the books I knew I wanted to read was White Rage. In it, Carol Anderson explores Black history from the Civil War to the present day. There was so much information in this book that was new to me. I learned a great deal about what life was really like for Blacks post-Civil War, and how colossal the battle was against ending segregated schools. White Rage is a slim book but is packed full of insight. It’s a must-read book I know I’ll turn to again and again. 

Rodham book cover

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I love history but have little interest in alternative history. I’d heard a lot of buzz about Rodham, though, so I decided to check it out to see if the buzz was valid. I started the book expecting to dislike it, but instead, I could hardly put it down. As you might have guessed from the title, Rodham tells the story of what might have happened to Hillary Clinton if she hadn’t married Bill. This book contains so many things I love: a strong protagonist, juicy politics, fascinating real-life history, and sweet female friendship. If you’re on the fence about this book like I was, give it a shot and let it surprise you. 

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier

Pizza Girl had been on my TBR since January, so I was thrilled when it was finally released last month. It’s about an 18-year-old girl who has just finished high school. She’s pregnant and is living with her mom and boyfriend. Both of them love and support her, but she’s not quite sure what to do with their affection. Her father has died, and though his alcoholism made their relationship weak, she’s still feeling the effects of his death. One day a woman named Jenny calls the pizza place where our heroine works and requests a pie with pepperoni and pickles, the only thing her son will eat. Pizza girl heads to the woman’s house with her order and becomes immediately captivated by Jenny. I appreciate what Pizza Girl is trying to do, but I wish it had more depth. The relationship between Jenny and the pizza girl is fascinating, yet it left me with a lot of questions, too. I like this book and think it’s worth reading but wanted more from it. If you like offbeat stories and appreciate writers like Ottessa Moshfegh and Halle Butler, you’ll probably enjoy this debut.

How to be an antiracist book cover

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Antiracism is a new concept for me. I’ve learned there’s a difference between being someone who isn’t racist and someone who is actively antiracist. The latter is what matters and is what Ibram X. Kendi explores throughout his book. I appreciate the style in which Kendi writes. He links chapters together and shares his own story alongside thoughts from Black scholars. How to Be an Antiracist contains chapters focused on a single idea, such as biology, success, color, and survival. Kendi is a professor, and it’s evident from his writing that he’s an outstanding teacher. I learned a lot and would recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn more about what it means to live as an antiracist. 

What I Loved

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Page 1 recently offered a sale on their monthly book subscription service. I love books, sales, and getting mail, so I quickly subscribed. (I’d subscribed before and only quit because I was out of room for more books. That’s still true, but now the world is falling apart, and I no longer care about that small detail.) What I love about this subscription is that it’s a surprise. You tell Page 1 some of your literary likes and dislikes, and they choose books based on your preferences. I got my first box last month but had already read the book they sent. Thanks to their 100% satisfaction guarantee, I told them I’d already read the book, and they sent another, allowing me to keep the first book. This subscription is fun, and it supports an indie bookstore with fantastic customer service. Check it out.

Flippy Tablet Pillow

I just bought myself a new iPad as an early birthday gift. (I can’t be the only person who buys themselves presents, right?) I wanted my time with my new toy to be as enjoyable as possible, which meant I needed to get a Flippy. And so I did! I heard of this from the oh-so-wonderful Instagram account Things I Bought and Liked. The Flippy makes using my iPad more convenient and comfortable. It’s excellent for sitting down and reading, and also good for using in the kitchen when I have a recipe on my iPad. I also like using the Flippy with my Kindle. Is this thing a tad extra? It sure is, but I have no regrets.

A picture of Taylor Swift

This Is Taylor Swift Spotify Playlist

I’ve tried to listen to new music this year, but when I’m stressed, I want to listen to something I already know and enjoy. Enter this Taylor Swift playlist. I’ve had this on constant repeat for the past few weeks. It’s been with me at work, in my car, and at home. I just love Taylor so much, you guys. Pretentious teen Andrea never would have admitted such a thing, but here we are.


What did you read and love in June? I’d love to hear!

What I Read and Loved in March 2020

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

March was certainly a chaotic month, and April promises more of the same. I always strive to be a grateful person, but more than ever, I’m thankful for things I usually take for granted, like having enough food to eat, a home where I’m safe, and a job that continues to support me as I work from home.

I’m also grateful for books and the escape they provide in times of stress. Keep on reading to see what books I devoured last month (and for a lengthy list of other things that have helped keep me sane).

What I Read

Here for it book cover

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

I was unfamiliar with R. Eric Thomas before I read this book, and now I want to be his best friend. He writes a humor column for Elle, which, according to the site, “skewers politics, pop culture, celebrity shade, and schadenfreude.” Here for It is so funny that it made me laugh out loud several times, but Thomas also knows how to be serious, like in the essay where he talks about a friend’s death. If you enjoy writers like David Sedaris and Sloane Crosley, don’t miss this gem of a debut.

The girls in the garden book cover

The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

Everything I love about Lisa Jewell’s books is present in The Girls in the Garden: a lush English setting, characters whose lives intersect in surprising ways, and the perfect amount of suspense. The setting for this book is an urban London neighborhood where the houses share a communal park that serves as their backyard. One night after a neighborhood party has ended, a teen girl is found battered and half-naked in the grass. As the book progresses, readers learn more about who she is and who might have left her for dead. If you’re looking for a great page-turner, this is it.

My dark Vanessa book cover

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

If you’re sensitive to stories of abuse, it’s probably best to skip this one.

When we meet Vanessa Wye, she’s a grown woman working at the concierge desk of a hotel. She used to attend boarding school, and one day a former peer reaches out to her about a teacher there she says abused both of them. Vanessa doesn’t see it that way, though. The man, a then-42-year-old named Jacob Strane, loved her, and she loved him. What her peer sees as abuse, Vanessa sees as her life’s great love story. The novel goes back and forth between timelines, giving readers Vanessa’s point of view as a teen and an adult. First-time novelist Kate Elizabeth Russell beautifully captures the way Vanessa must reinterpret her past and come to terms with her life. My Dark Vanessa is one of the best books I’ve read so far in 2020. It’s one I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Eight perfect murders book cover

Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson

Malcolm co-owns and manages a bookstore that sells mysteries. Soon he’s thrust into the middle of his own when an FBI agent comes into his store and starts asking him questions about a list he posted online. Years earlier, Malcolm published a blog post on the bookstore’s website that listed eight perfect murders from various books. The FBI agent suspects someone is using Malcolm’s list to kill and wants his help. Peter Swanson has delivered another great mystery with this book, which is perfect for fans of thrillers and suspense stories. This novel is such a fun, twisted, and exciting book, and an ideal choice if you need a good distraction right about now.

Then she was gone book cover

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

One day, fifteen-year-old Ellie was walking to the library, but never came home. Ten years later, her family is still trying to pick up the pieces, desperate for answers about what happened to her. In an effort to move on, her mom, Laurel, starts a new relationship with Floyd, a charming man who quickly sweeps her off her feet. But the more Laurel gets to know Floyd and his young daughter, the more questions she has about what really happened to Ellie. Then She Was Gone is a fine book, but it’s my least favorite Lisa Jewell novel so far. I saw the ending coming and wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the story wrapped up.

Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig

I’ve been a fan of Matt Haig since I read his memoir Reasons to Stay Alive. I love that book and think it should be required reading for anyone struggling with anxiety and depression. In this follow-up, Haig talks about what it’s like to live in a world that’s continually provoking anxiety. People are more connected than ever, yet loneliness is still a huge problem. We have more options today than we’ve ever had before, but that much freedom can provoke plenty of worries. Haig’s short chapters and helpful lists give readers a lot to think about, and his vulnerability in sharing his own mental health struggles is refreshing and appreciated.

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee
by Casey Cep

Furious Hours is divided into three parts: the story of the alleged serial murderer and fraudster Reverend Willie Maxwell, the trial against Maxwell’s eventual killer, and Harper Lee’s attempt to chronicle these stories in the long-awaited follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird. Each part is interesting, but I think the book could have been a bit shorter. Casey Cep is a great writer who provides a lot of detail, and I didn’t think all of those details were necessary to the overall story she’s trying to tell. Still, Furious Hours is a fascinating book that’s perfect for true-crime lovers who are also interested in American literature.

What I Loved

All I can say in this time of great distress is thank God for streaming services that fill me with endless entertainment and stories of people who are crazier than I thought anyone could ever be.

The McMillions docuseries on HBO is an excellent fraud story, and I’m convinced that Doug, the FBI agent, needs his own show.

Like nearly everyone else in the world, I watched and was amazed by Netflix’s Tiger King. I listened to the podcast version of this story, but seeing these characters come to life onscreen was certainly an experience I won’t soon forget. Some of those images are seared into my mind forever.

Schitt’s Creek is one of my favorite discoveries so far this year. I love love love this show and have already watched several episodes multiple times. I will never get tired of Moira and David on my television screen.

I was not expecting how tense I’d feel while watching a baking show, but when a custard doesn’t set or a tiered cake comes crashing down, part of me withers and dies inside. In spite of that, The Great British Baking Show is exactly the kind of entertainment I need right now.


What did you read and love in March? What should I read and watch next? Let me know in the comments! Stay safe and healthy.

10 Lighthearted Reads for Times of Chaos

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

This is my question for 2020:

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Like many people around the world right now, I’m spending a lot of time at home, trying my best to avoid endless scrolling on my phone, where I see nonstop articles about impending doom. I think books are fantastic all the time, but they’re especially enjoyable when I need a distraction. I think most of us could use a distraction right about now, so today I want to share a list of lighthearted reads that will entertain you and, hopefully, make you smile.

Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin

I’ve been a Steve Martin fan since I was a little kid who was obsessed with Father of the Bride. As I’ve seen more of his work, there’s something about Martin’s quirky comedy that always surprises me and makes me laugh. Born Standing Up is an excellent memoir about Martin’s rise to fame and why he decided to walk away at the height of it.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

I don’t think it’s possible for me to love Tina Fey more than I already do. I recently rewatched 30 Rock and was reminded just how brilliant she is as a writer and performer. Bossypants is as funny as you hope it’ll be, especially the audiobook, which Fey reads herself. If you’re interested in comedy as an art form, don’t miss this gem of a book.

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
by Ruth Reichl

Even though I have the palate of an eight-year-old child, I love food and cooking. I kept seeing Ruth Reichl’s name pop up as a can’t-miss food writer, so I decided to pick up Garlic and Sapphires. I read it in a couple of days because it’s such a fun book chronicling Reichl’s time as a food critic. Even if your favorite meal is chicken nuggets, Reichl’s passion for food will inspire you to get in the kitchen and distract yourself with something delicious.

Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America by R. Eric Thomas

You might already know R. Eric Thomas from his Elle column or his hilarious Twitter feed. If you don’t know him, change that immediately and start with his new book. Here For It is a funny, thoughtful, and of-the-moment collection of essays about making it as a writer, racism, going viral, politics, religion, sexuality, and so much more. These essays made me laugh out loud, but also included stories that touched me deeply. I love this book and know I’ll be recommending it often.

I’ll Be There for You: The One about Friends by Kelsey Miller

When I’m stressed, one of my favorite things to do is put on my comfiest pajamas, curl up in front of the TV, and watch a show I’ve seen countless times. For many people, that show is Friends. If you’re a fan, I’ll Be There for You will be a fun look behind the scenes of the show that took America by storm.

Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley

Sloane Crosley is one of my favorite essayists. She’s consistently funny, which makes her books perfect companions for times of stress. Her latest collection is Look Alive Out There, which is worth reading just for the story of her guest role on Gossip Girl. Crosley’s growth as a writer shines in these essays.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

It’s 1988, and Frank owns a music store full of records. Because he refuses to sell CDs, he’s struggling to keep the store open. One day a customer walks in and wants to know more about music. She’s a mysterious woman who ends up opening some old wounds, but Frank can’t get her out of his head. The Music Shop is a sweet, hope-filled story about second chances, forgiveness, and belonging that inspires without being saccharine. Plus, that cover is major eye candy.

One Day in December by Josie Silver

Looking out from a bus window, Laurie locks eyes with Jack. Something comes over her and convinces her this stranger is the one. And then the bus drives away. Laurie spends a year hoping to find this mystery man, and then he shows up at her flat to attend a party. The only problem is that he’s dating her best friend. One Day in December is the charming story of two people whose paths keep crossing, but never at the right time. You’ll be rooting for Laurie and Jack until the final sentence.

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak

If your favorite TV show to rewatch is The Office, don’t miss this collection of stories by B. J. Novak, a.k.a. Ryan the Temp. Some stories are just quick blurbs, and others are several pages. No matter the length, Novak’s writing is always witty and matches the tone of the show where he got his start.

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

Any David Sedaris book is a good choice when you want something fun to read, but Theft by Finding is the one that’ll keep you entertained the longest thanks to its page count. It’s a lengthy collection of diary entries that prove Sedaris is still hilarious even when he’s not trying.


What are your go-to books in chaotic times? What authors can you always trust to distract you?

7 Elements I Look for in Books (And 35 Titles That Deliver)

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February was an awful reading month for me. I only finished one book, though I started several. There were books I was excited to read, but once I started, I quickly realized they weren’t for me. This situation got me thinking: what do I look for in a book? What elements pique my interest enough for me to want to read something? I thought about those questions, and today I’m sharing my answers.

Element #1: Good Writing

My #1 criteria for a book is good writing. I want beautiful prose and sentences that give me pause. I want writing that moves and surprises me.

When I read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, it was easy to tell from the language that Vuong is also a poet. Normal People by Sally Rooney has excellent dialogue, which makes it feel like she eavesdropped on two people trying to navigate their relationship and wrote a book about it. When I read Leslie Jamison’s newest essay collection, Let It Scream, Let It Burn, I was reminded of how lovely her writing is and why I keep picking up her work. No other essayist makes me laugh like David Sedaris does. He combines hilarity and heartbreak like no one else, especially in his latest, Calypso. The profound and heartfelt letters from a preacher to his young son in Gilead by Marilynne Robinson have stayed with me for years.

Good writing makes for books that get inside my head and stay there.

Element #2: Well-Developed Characters

When I read fiction, I consider characters before plot. I’ve read several books that have a great plot yet zero character development. No matter how entertaining those books might have been, they were ultimately unsatisfying.

After reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh, I felt like I knew the unnamed narrator because Moshfegh described her emotional crisis so intimately. I enjoyed Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid because the ever-so-complicated Alix Chamberlain seems like a real blogger, someone whose Instagram I might follow because her life looks perfect on the outside. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is a novel that’s precious to me because of Yale and Fiona, Makkai’s two protagonists whose lives intertwine over the years. I remember sitting in my car listening to This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel and feeling such concern for Rosie and Penn as they figure out the best way to support their child. When I heard that Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was being turned in a TV show, I was thrilled because Elena and Mia captivate me because of their different worldviews, and I want to know them even better.

I’m fascinated by people (even fictional ones) and want nothing more than to learn what makes someone who they are. Good character development gives me that and is one of the many reasons I adore books.

Element #3: A Vivid Setting

When I read, I like to feel immersed in a text. I want to see the world inside the pages clearly in my mind.

That experience is precisely what I got when I read In the Woods by Tana French. I felt the eeriness of the dark, creepy woods and the chilly Irish air. I felt the stifling Australian heat when I read Jane Harper’s The Dry. I imagined I was in the middle of a busy and loud NYC restaurant as I made my way through Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. Ruth Ware’s The Woman in Cabin 10 is mostly set on a luxury cruise, and the confined spaces make the tension even higher. Though I don’t like snow in real life, I enjoyed it in The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley because it stranded a group of friends at a remote lodge, provoking excellent drama found in the best thrillers.

I love plenty of books that don’t have a vivid setting, but I always appreciate it when I find a book that takes me someplace new and uses setting to add to the story.

Element #4: Knowledge

When I was a child, my mom tells me I’d come up to her and ask, “Mommy, will you learn me?” I’ve always loved learning, and when I want to know about something, my first instinct is to read.

I wanted to know more about America’s opioid epidemic, and Beth Macy’s Dopesick certainly delivered. I finished that book with a mix of sadness and anger because of what I’d learned. Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick shines a light on what it’s like in North Korea, a place unlike any other in the world. One of my favorite things to learn about is presidential history, and The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject. Their stories about the relationships between presidents were riveting and inspiring. I think Missoula by Jon Krakauer should be required reading for anyone about to go off to college because his reporting on rape and justice on a college campus is an essential addition to the conversation about sexual assault. I work with teenagers every day, so I picked up American Girls by Nancy Jo Sales, hoping to learn more about their social media habits. What I found out shocked me.

Thanks to the internet and the spread of media, learning is easier now than it’s ever been. For me, though, nothing beats a book when I want to know more about a topic.

Element #5: Entertainment

Though I’m passionate about learning, sometimes I want a book that will just entertain me.

Gillan Flynn’s Gone Girl was the book that hooked me on mysteries and thrillers because I couldn’t put it down. I raced through Lisa Jewell’s Watching You, wholly wrapped up in the lives of the people whose lives intersected in the upscale English neighborhood she created. Though it’s long, I devoured Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty in one sitting. I did the same with Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. Few things entertain me the way humor does, and Scaachi Koul’s One Day We’ll All Be Dead, and None of This Will Matter is a hilarious and thoughtful essay collection.

My perfect reading life consists of a balance between books that teach and entertain me. The best books do both.

Element #6: Creativity

I’ve read a lot over the years, so it’s a particular delight when I find a book that offers originality.

Providence by Caroline Kepnes was a mixture of horror, mystery, thriller, and romance, all coming together to create a novel that I love and have recommended. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen is a combination of essay and poetry, which perfectly captures the racial tension in modern America. Twenty-One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks is a novel written in the form of lists. I was skeptical, yet ended up charmed and surprised by the book’s depth. Something I love almost as much as a good book is a good podcast, so when I heard that Sadie by Courtney Summers is partially written as a podcast, I was sold. Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (which I’ve referenced about 4782 times on this blog) includes photos, articles, and screenshots, making an already creepy novel about ten times spookier.

No matter what form creativity takes, I always appreciate and remember it.

Element #7: Honesty

Like most people, I just want Brené Brown to be proud of me. I value vulnerability, which is only possible with honesty.

In The Wondering Years, Knox McCoy talks about his evolving faith and the role pop culture plays in it in a way that makes sense to me, someone who grew up in an evangelical world just like he did. Journalists Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey helped bring about the #MeToo movement because of their courageous reporting and the frankness of the women who shared their stories with them. Their book She Said is a must-read. Jami Attenberg’s All Grown Up encapsulates the messiness and confusion adulthood can bring, something we don’t talk about nearly enough. Kristi Coulter’s Nothing Good Can Come from This is a funny and smart story of giving up alcohol in a world that seems to be obsessed with it. When I read Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs, a blunt memoir about growing up with Steve Jobs as a father, I realized how many assumptions I made about what it would be like to grow up around so much wealth and prestige.

All of these books taught me something thanks to the honesty of their authors who faced the chaos of life head-on and then wrote it down.


What about you? What elements do you look for in books? What is it that makes you love your favorite book? I’ve love to hear 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.

20 of My Favorite Contemporary Writers

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

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

Megan Abbott

What she writes: Crime fiction and suspense

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

Where to start: You Will Know Me

Jami Attenberg

What she writes: Domestic fiction full of dysfunctional characters

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

Where to start: All Grown Up

Sarah Bessey

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

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

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

Brené Brown

What she writes: Candid nonfiction about shame and vulnerability

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

Where to start: The Gifts of Imperfection

Gillian Flynn

What she writes: Dark, twisted suspense

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

Where to start: Gone Girl

Tana French

What she writes: Crime and mystery fiction

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

Where to start: In the Woods

Roxane Gay

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

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

Where to start: Bad Feminist

Jane Harper

What she writes: Atmospheric mysteries set in Australia

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

Where to start: The Dry

Leslie Jamison

What she writes: Memoir, essays, criticism, fiction

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

Where to start: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath

Lisa Jewell

What she writes: Fast-paced mysteries and thrillers

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

Where to start: Watching You

Anne Lamott

What she writes: Spiritual essays, memoir, fiction

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

Where to start: Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Liane Moriarty

What she writes: Character-driven suspense and domestic fiction

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

Where to start: Big Little Lies

Haruki Murakami

What he writes: Surrealist fiction

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

Where to start: Norwegian Wood

Celeste Ng

What she writes: Complex literary fiction that grapples with identity

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

Where to start: Everything I Never Told You

Marisha Pessl

What she writes: Twisty mysteries and suspense

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

Where to start: Night Film

Riley Sager

What he writes: Creepy suspense

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

Where to start: Final Girls

David Sedaris

What he writes: Humorous essays

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

Where to start: Me Talk Pretty One Day

Donna Tartt

What she writes: Psychological and atmospheric literary fiction

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

Where to start: The Secret History

Barbara Brown Taylor

What she writes: Spiritual memoir and religion

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

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

Jesmyn Ward

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

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

Where to start: Sing, Unburied, Sing


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