My family’s tradition at Thanksgiving—after turkey, before pie—is to go around the table and share what we are thankful for. In that spirit, I asked my fellow Off the Shelfers to share what books they are thankful for. Written by poets and artists and other brilliant minds, these 9 books remind us what is truly important—be it laughter or sorrow or dinosaurs. They make us feel less alone and connected in a way that only books can. And we want you to know that we are also thankful for you, our readers.
—Wendy Sheanin, publisher of Off the Shelf
The world can be a sad and scary place sometimes, and it often seems like our problems don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But this collection of advice from Heather Havrilesky, who ran the “Ask Polly” column at The Cut, reminds us that our emotions and experiences matter and affect the world as a whole, because they affect us as individuals. Much like Cheryl Strayed’s TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, this book contains crucial wit, wisdom, and warmth in difficult times, and reminds us that we’re more alike than we think. —Julianna
Whenever I need a pick-me-up, I know I can turn to Allie Brosh’s collection of illustrated essays. Whether it’s the dysfunctional dynamic between her two dogs or the chaos that ensues when a goose gets into her house, her antics can always be relied upon for comic relief. I’m also thankful for Brosh’s courage and honesty in writing about her struggle with depression—her essays provide solace for others and shed light on a disorder that is often misunderstood. —Sarah Jane
“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.”
One of my best friends is a poet, and he’s also known me since I was an unpoetic and ungraceful 13-year-old. Which means he has an eye for gorgeous wordsmiths and knows when I need literary therapy. So when he pressed this book into my hands, I knew to pay attention. In a season of flashing news cycles, constant inbox refreshing, and packed calendars, this mesmerizing novel about a social outcast and his one-eyed dog forces you to slow down and savor each phrase and poignant observation—a gratifying necessity. —Elizabeth
I was awed and energized listening to poet Elizabeth Alexander recite her glorious poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration. I was similarly moved reading THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD, her gorgeous, heartbreaking memoir of losing her husband suddenly and finding herself raising two young boys alone. I am grateful for her unfancy lyricism, for her vulnerability and honesty, and for her ability to put it all on paper and share her sorrow and love with others so they might find comfort and community in her words. —Wendy
The poet Elizabeth Alexander (she read her original poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Obama’s 2009 inauguration) was married to the Eritrean painter Ficre Ghebreyesus when he died suddenly, leaving her a widow with two adolescent boys. Deeply moving but not sentimental, THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD is their transcendent love story. If you’re a fan of Joan Didion’s THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING, pick this one up. And a box of Kleenex, too.
At one point in my reading career, it took a lot for me to be completely interested in a book. After I unearthed Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK in my brother’s bedroom, I was hooked (and well on my way to becoming the aspiring paleontologist of my wholly uninspired sixth-grade class). Turns out it only took a thrilling sci-fi plot, a dry-humored mathematician, and a genetically engineered pack of velociraptors to truly grab my overly active imagination, but thank God it did. I haven’t stopped reading since. —Chris G.
If you’ve never read the novel that spawned the film franchise, here’s the place to start; it differs in many ways from the film, so reading this is like experiencing an entirely new Jurassic Park adventure.
I didn’t care for audiobooks until, on a five-hour drive to a writing retreat, I listened to Alexander McCall Smith’s THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY. I traversed the miles in a charmed haze, and although I was very much looking forward to my retreat, I didn’t want to get out of the car when I arrived at my destination. The sweet, engaging story of Precious Ramotswe’s life and adventures as Botswana’s preeminent lady detective relaxed and delighted me. I binge-listened to the series over the next few months. I’ve been devouring audio books of every ilk since. Thanks, Precious, for my newfound love of being read to! —Allison
This extraordinary poetry collection was the support beam I desperately needed when my world felt shaky after the 2016 election. With grace and intimate understanding, Rupi Kaur writes about how essential survival is in the face of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. As a young woman, these conversations are more important now than ever, and I’m so grateful this book serves as a reminder of female strength. —Taylor
MILK AND HONEY is a collection of poetry and prose grounded in the everyday experiences of women and bears witness to both the beautiful and the brutal sides womanhood. Every word feels genuine and evokes such strong feeling. I sobbed on the subway reading this collection for the first time.
When I was in high school, my friend’s sister drove us to the movies late one Friday to see Stardust. We all loved it so much we gushed about it the whole way home, and haven’t stopped for 10 years. I even included a quote from the movie in my maid-of-honor speech at that friend’s wedding. It wasn’t until a year or so after seeing the film that I learned it had been a book first, and I instantly grabbed a copy and read it in a day. I’m thankful for that book for so many reasons: for introducing me to Neil Gaiman’s work, for lending its hilarious and adventurous story to a great movie, and most important for bringing a healthy dose of magic into my life whenever I read it. —Amy
If you’re a member of a CSA, this might be just the cookbook for you. These simple recipes are arranged by ingredient, so when you get kale for the fourth week in a row, you won’t say, “Not again!" —Aimee
Forever my favorite, I reread it every year to remind myself that there’s still beauty, purity, and goodness in a world of “phonies”—or at least, other people out there searching for those very things. —Nikki
Since 1951, the story of Holden Caulfield's coming-of-age has rightfully mesmerized generations of readers - 65 million copies have been sold around the world.