Why is it that some books settle deep in our bones and refuse to leave us? Kafka says that a book might be the axe that cracks the frozen sea within us. Michael Ondaatje draws upon Nietzsche in the prologue of his fifth novel Divisadero: “We have art,” Nietzsche wrote, “so that we will not be destroyed by the truth.”
There’s nothing I love more than getting reacquainted with an old friend on the beach. Last summer, while I was vacationing with foodies on Fire Island, I devoured Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking; the year before, I sped through Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years on a weekend trip to Maine. Yesterday, I tossed The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing into my beach bag.
I am often delighted when I crack open a new book and find that it defies categorization. Is Kathi Appelt’s novel The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp a book for children? Adults? Is it Southern Gothic? A rallying cry for modern environmentalism? This genre-defying treasure is a book for everyone, and what it is, is simply brilliant.
Get Book Recommendations
I have read very few books in my life that compelled me to laugh so loudly in public that it made the people around me visibly uncomfortable. Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half is one of them. Inspired by her award-winning blog of the same name, the subtitle—Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened—sums up what this hysterical graphic memoir is about. Consisting of illustrated personal essays, the book recounts a wide range of anecdotes, from an unfortunate childhood misunderstanding involving hot sauce to an incident where a goose found its way into the author’s house and savagely attacked her unsuspecting boyfriend. All are illustrated with her signature quirky and expressive stick figures.
In the bustling city of New York, eight million people whirl through their lives every day. It is easy for our tunnel vision to blind us to the humanity of the people we pass in the street, on the subway, in line at the grocery store. Yet each of these people has a story, perhaps far and away from our own, and it is an extraordinary thing that our lives have brought us to the same place for even a moment. It is even more extraordinary to consider that our paths have already crossed, or will continue to intersect—to imagine that we are connected to these strangers in ways yet unknown.
In Let the Great World Spin, McCann explores this phenomenon through the catalyst of a hot summer day in 1974, when Philippe Petit walked across a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers.
There are two books I’ve recommended to almost every friend, acquaintance, or colleague of mine. The first, for the moments when you’re hoping to make solid adult-like decisions (such as investing), is a personal finance book; the second, if you’re looking to answer the plagued question of what you want to do with your life, “find” yourself, create meaningful things, push boundaries, or just explore the larger world beyond your doorstep, I recommend Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding.
As a first generation Nigerian-American, I’ve witnessed friends and family waltz into the allure of American culture, following trends and customs without question and embracing the American dream of money and status. The ease with which they shape-shift from one persona to the other—accent on, accent off—is bewitching. I’ve also seen friends reject American culture altogether, question the validity of race and challenge racism, and endeavor to rise above the “heaviness” of blackness.
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s celebrated novel Americanah, shades of all these truths are present.
I have danced the Charleston before.
I know the feeling of the floorboards squeaking beneath my feet, the sound of the band playing so loud, you can barely hear the person next to you. In that moment, all you can do is dance. I let my legs and arms swing to the beat of the music as sweat trickles down my forehead. When doing the Charleston, I feel full of energy and ready for any obstacle. I had this same feeling again when I read Genevieve Valentine’s enchanting historical novel The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.
I tend to form obsessions with things. If I love a book or short story, I don’t just read it and then move on to the next. Instead, I read the book, give it about two weeks, read it again, recommend it to a friend, dissect it, draft a nice speech in its honor, maybe write two or three short stories inspired by it, and determine to become the proud owner of everything its author has ever written. Tenth of December by George Saunders has become such a book.
I love a book steeped in summery goodness and brimming with sisterly drama. Add a touch of humor and an unforgettable voice, and I’m sold. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is one of those rare books.