What I Read and Loved in January 2021

Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash

I know nothing miraculous happens when the calendar changes from one year to another, but going from 2020 to 2021 felt especially exciting and vital. Of course, the hard stuff is still hard, and the good stuff is still good, but any forward motion right now fills me with optimism.

Despite being in a weird headspace (who isn’t right now?), I surprised myself by reading five books. I enjoyed all of them, too! Keep reading to learn why.

What I Read

Luster book cover

Luster by Raven Leilani

This book got a lot of buzz in 2020, and after reading it, I can see why. The prose is gorgeous and effectively puts readers in the head of the book’s protagonist, a 23-year-old Black woman living in New York City. She’s a struggling artist whose work life and dating life are both disappointing. When Eric, an older man in an open marriage, comes along, she begins an affair with him. What was once secretive and alluring becomes something else altogether when Eric’s wife and daughter become tangled in the affair.

I appreciate a lot about this book, but there’s a major plot point that didn’t make sense to me. Still, Luster is worth reading. If nothing else, it made me thankful my 20s are behind me.

The look of the book book cover

The Look of the Book: Jackets, Covers, and Art at the Edges of Literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth

If you’re like me and you judge books by their covers, this book will be a dream come true. Full of gorgeous images, Mendelsund and Alworth take you behind the scenes of publishing, graphic design, and how the two merge. I read this on my iPad, but would love to purchase a copy so I can flip through it when I’m craving some eye candy. The Look of the Book is a must-read for the nerdiest of book nerds.

Chefs fridges book cover

Chefs’ Fridges: More Than 35 World-Renowned Cooks Reveal What They Eat at Home by Carrie Solomon

One of my life mottos is to mind my own business. I’m not going to ask to see inside your refrigerator, but I’ll happily take a look if you want me to. The chefs in this book wanted me to, and I was thrilled to oblige.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed a passion for food and cooking, and passion is on every page of Chefs’ Fridges. This book is full of incredible chefs and great, bright photos. Do I have the palate of an 8-year-old child? Yes, I do. But while I might not want to eat it, I can appreciate a well-told story about frozen rabbit and why someone believes it’s delicious.

The survivors book cover

The Survivors by Jane Harper

Jane Harper is one of my must-read authors. I’ve enjoyed each of her books, and The Survivors is no exception. The story is once again set in Australia and follows a man named Kiernan when he ventures back to his hometown with his family. Soon into his arrival, someone is found dead on the beach, and the death raises questions and forces Kiernan to face his role in terrible accident years earlier.

While I didn’t like The Survivors as much as Harper’s other novels, I still enjoyed the story a lot, though the beginning was a bit slow. Nevertheless, fans of Harper’s mysteries will be more than satisfied with this gripping story about a man forced to face his past.

The residence book cover

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
by Kate Andersen Brower

You might have noticed that the US got a new president on January 20th. Because I love presidential history, I told someone that Inauguration Day is my Super Bowl, and I meant it. Since I had politics on my mind, I decided to read one of the books I got for Christmas, The Residence. In its pages are stories from White House staff who work behind the scenes. Readers hear from butlers, maids, chefs, florists, and many others. The pride they take in their jobs is inspiring, and the devotion to the families they serve is admirable. If you too are into history and want a quick, fun read, make sure to pick up The Residence.

What I Loved

POEM: “The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman

I can’t imagine anyone witnessing Gorman’s reading and not being moved by it. Her words and performance were powerful reminders that art matters.

INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT: Sharon Says So

Sometimes I feel as if I’m wasting my time when I scroll through Instagram. Other times I’m learning about the Constitution and impeachment trials. That’s all thanks to my favorite new Instagram follow, Sharon Says So a.k.a. Sharon McMahon. She’s a former government teacher who’s bringing her wisdom to the masses. One of the features I love most on her account is when she asks for opinions on hot topics. She gives people on the right, left, and middle a chance to speak their minds on controversial issues and shares some of their answers. It’s helpful to see how other people think and why they believe what they do. And in a world full of people screaming at each other about politics, it’s incredibly refreshing to witness civil and helpful discourse.


What did you read and love in January? Leave a comment and let me know!

My Favorite Books of 2020

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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.

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?

10 Books for (Mostly) Everyone

Photo by Brigitte Tohm on Unsplash

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

“I don’t know.”

“I like everything.”

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

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

All the light we cannot see book cover

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

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

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

Bluebird, bluebird book cover

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

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

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

Born a crime book cover

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

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

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

Calypso book cover

Calypso by David Sedaris

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

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

Educated book cover

Educated by Tara Westover

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

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

In the woods book cover

In the Woods by Tana French

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

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

Middlesex book cover

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

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

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

Never let me go book cover

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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

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

The secret history book cover

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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

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

Small fry book cover

Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

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

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