“Read. Recommend. Repeat.” That’s more than just a motto here at Off the Shelf. Sharing the books we love is a big part of how we move through the world. Bonding over our favorite authors is how we connect with new people and how we get closer to those we love most. In that spirit, here are 9 books we can’t stop talking about.
This book came to me at a particular week in our nation’s history when immigration reform was at the forefront. I wished that I could stand at the door of a congressional meeting and hand a copy of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s newest short story collection to every person as they walked out. Nguyen, a Pulitzer Prize–winning author, weaves together stories of turmoil and triumph as refugees navigate the cultural shock of a new world as well as feelings for the homeland they had to leave behind.
THE BRIGHT HOUR is one of the most amazing books I have read. Nina Riggs, a young wife, mother, and poet, was just 37 years old when she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer. The writing is beautiful and honest. I am so thankful to Nina for sharing her story, her courage, and her strength. I have a view of living, and dying, I had not had before. That’s the best gift a book can give.
As I endured the last brutal snowstorm of the winter in New York, my friend convinced me to book a plane ticket to Napa. I envisioned warm afternoons and sun-dappled rows of vines. The only problem was I knew almost nothing about how to taste wine. Enter CORK DORK, an informative and entertaining memoir by a former tech journalist who chronicles her yearlong efforts to become a sommelier. She helpfully breaks down the different ways to taste and sniff out the components of a good glass of vino while offering hilarious anecdotes (like the specific technique for spitting).
I stumbled upon this memoir of courage, acceptance, and personal rediscovery in the staff picks’ section of a great California independent bookstore. Jessica Fechtor was a 28-year-old, newly married grad student at an academic conference when an aneurysm burst in her brain. In STIR, she chronicles her ordeal with candor, vulnerability, and humor. Because her journey to recovery began in her kitchen, she laces her story with recipes (I highly recommend the whole wheat chocolate chip cookies).
I started seeing SWIMMING LESSONS all over Instagram after Book of the Month Club featured the novel in December. I’m kicking myself for not picking it up sooner because it’s such a charming literary mystery and all-around satisfying read. As Gil, a famous author, is dying from cancer, he finds hidden notes from his wife who disappeared suddenly 12 years before. Everyone assumed that she drowned—everyone except Flora, Gil’s daughter, who returns to care for him and finally uncover what happened to her mother. You won’t be able to put this book down until you, too, figure out what really happened.
I got into comic books as an adult, and THE SUPERGIRLS was the first and best nonfiction book I read on the history and cultural significance of female superheroes—from the famous heroines we’ve seen on the big screen to those long forgotten. Mike Madrid gives them all profound respect and opens our eyes to why we need these women and how they can reflect the best of our society.
I’m not normally a YA reader, but I was immediately taken with Angie Thomas’s new bestselling novel. THE HATE U GIVE follows a black teenager named Starr who was in a car with her best friend when he was shot and killed by a police officer. Now, Starr has to come to terms with how the public’s perception of the event shapes her identity. It’s a raw, intense, and thought-provoking book that I couldn’t put down, and it should be required reading for everyone.
After eight books of short stories and essays, finally, George Saunders has written a novel based on the death of President Lincoln’s son, Willie. “The Bardo” refers to the purgatory-like place that Willie finds himself in along with a gaggle of ghosts. I recommend listening to the audio edition of this compelling and humorous novel for maximum enjoyment. It’s read by a stellar cast of 23, including David Sedaris, Julianne Moore, Ben Stiller, Don Cheadle, and Susan Sarandon.
George Saunders is an acclaimed short story writer of collections THE TENTH OF DECEMBER, PASTORALIA, and more. His first novel, LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, is a mesmerizing blend of historical fact and fiction. It is the story of the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, told almost entirely through the voices of the spirits in the graveyard where Willie is laid to rest and where Lincoln returns to hold his son’s body. —Erin
I’ve been daydreaming of moving to another country, and after hearing so much chatter over the years about the “happiest” people on the planet and the joys of the now ubiquitous hygge, I found my way to this eye-opening read. THE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING smartly demonstrates—minus the stereotypes—how a government can empower its people and why it should want to.