Resolve. Read. Repeat. A new year calls for new reading goals and a new TBR pile. I’m challenging myself—and you—to read bigger, bolder, and better this year. Here are 18 reading resolutions that I hope will help us all find more books, characters, authors, and genres to fall in love with.
Women writers are amazing, and we need more of them. My whole TBR pile is almost entirely books women authors, so this resolution will be a piece of cake. On top of the pile is Jade Chang’s THE WANGS VS. THE WORLD—an outrageously funny tale about a wealthy Chinese American family who loses everything and takes a healing road trip across the United States. It’s an epic family saga and an entirely fresh look at what it means to belong in America. Also on my TBR pile: THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE by Zoe Whittall, THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT by Amy Tan, and FOREST DARK by Nicole Krauss.
Diverse stories are so important to me, and I want them to be a prominent part of my 2018 literary syllabus. From an author of rare, haunting power, WHAT WE LOSE is a stunning novel about a young African American woman coming-of-age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country. Other recommendations: SING, UNBURIED, SING by Jesmyn Ward, HOME FIRE by Kamila Shamsie, and COLORLESS TSUKURU TAZAKI AND HIS YEARS OF PILGRIMAGE by Haruki Murakami.
A National Book Award Finalist and one of the best books of 2017, PACHINKO is a page-turning saga about four generations of a poor Korean immigrant family fighting to control their destiny in twentieth-century Japan, exiled from a home they never knew. If you happen to have extra time on your hands, you should also read THE LUMINARIES by Eleanor Catton, THE NIX by Nathan Hill, or BARKSKINS by Annie Proulx.
This luminous coming-of-age novel is about a young woman scientist who must recalibrate her life when her academic career goes offtrack. This book is perfect for readers of LAB GIRL by Hope Jahren and EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng. Looking for something else? Try THE MOTHERS by Brit Bennett or HOMEGOING by Yaa Gyasi.
At 79 years old, Joyce Carol Oates is one of the most beloved American novelists of this time. In this striking, enormously affecting novel, Oates tells the story of two very different and yet intimately linked American families. Luther Dunphy is an ardent Evangelical who envisions himself as acting out God’s will when he assassinates an abortion provider in his small Ohio town. I’m in my twenties, but I still wholeheartedly relate to the work of experienced writers like Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Alexander McCall Smith, David McCullough, Richard Russo, and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
When two cars collide at an intersection in a leafy Chicago suburb, Hartley Nolan is not the person police expect to find behind the wheel. After all, he barely drinks; everyone knows it’s his wife who’s the alcoholic. But what brought Sonia Senn, dead at the scene, back to her hometown in such a hurry that night? In 11 tightly linked stories, RED LIGHT RUIN pulls us into the inner lives of Hartley, Sonia, and a host of other characters to untangle the mounting forces that carry them to their fates. This is an absolutely brilliant feat of storytelling. I’ve also heard incredible things about WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY by Lesley Nneka Arimah and HER BODY AND OTHER PARTIES by Carmen Maria Machado.
I don’t read a lot of nonfiction (hence this resolution), but I’ve really enjoyed the nonfiction that I have read. INTO THE GRAY ZONE, for example, is a startling and thought-provoking book in which a world-renowned neuroscientist reveals his controversial, groundbreaking work with patients whose brains were previously thought vegetative or non-responsive but turn out to be vibrantly alive. Readers of Atul Gawande and Oliver Sacks will love this book. Other recommendations include THE BOYS IN THE BOAT by Daniel James Brown, BONK by Mary Roach, DEAD WAKE by Erik Larson, and ASSASSINATION VACATION by Sarah Vowell.
Richly imagined yet meticulously faithful to the actual events of Sylvia Plath’s life, WINTERING is a remarkable portrait of the moments of bravery and exhilaration that Plath found among the isolation and terror of her depression. BURIAL RITES by Hannah Kent, LOVING FRANK by Nancy Horan, and THE INVENTION OF WINGS by Sue Monk Kidd are also fantastic books that check this box.
Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. DON’T CALL US DEAD is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes America―“Dear White America”―where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle. I also asked my friend and incredibly knowledgeable bookseller Travis Smith for recommendations. He shared THE ART OF TOPIARY by Jan Wagner and WHAT THE LYRIC IS by Sara Nicholson.
Other than traveling, books are the best way to experience another culture. Experience the world of a modern Afghan woman in THE HOUSE WITHOUT WINDOWS. A vivid, unforgettable story of an unlikely sisterhood and an emotionally powerful and haunting tale of friendship that illuminates the plight of women in a traditional culture. For further exploration, visit a remote village in nineteenth-century China in Lisa See’s SNOW FLOWER AND THE SECRET FAN or stay with the Chilean Trueba family in Isabel Allende’s THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS. Experience Nigeria with Ayobami Adebayo’s STAY WITH ME and Lebanon’s Civil War with Rabih Alameddine’s AN UNNECESSARY WOMAN.
I don’t usually read dystopian fiction. But when friends highly recommend must-read dystopian novels, I’m always up for giving them a try. And I often love then. Books like STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel and GOLD FAME CITRUS by Claire Vaye Watkins. So next on my list is GATHER THE DAUGHTERS—a haunting debut about a cult on an isolated island where nothing is as it seems. It’s like NEVER LET ME GO meets THE GIVER. It’s really fun to try a new genre—be it suspense, historical fiction, memoir, poetry, science fiction, etc.
I’m from North Carolina, which I’m proud to say hosts an impressive crop of esteemed writers such as Lee Smith and Anne Tyler. One of my favorite North Carolinian novelists is Sarah Addison Allen. I loved GARDEN SPELLS and THE GIRL WHO CHASED THE MOON. Now I’ve got my eye on THE PEACH KEEPER. Resonant with insight into the deep and lasting power of friendship, love, and tradition, THE PEACH KEEPER is a portrait of the unshakable bonds that—in good times and bad, from one generation to the next—endure forever.
An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, BRAIN ON FIRE is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity. In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Susannah Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen. You could also go the fiction route and read TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN by John Green, IMAGINE ME GONE by Adam Haslett, or MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf.
Susannah Cahalan awakes in a hospital room, strapped to the bed. Crazy? Psychotic? Mental breakdown? BRAIN ON FIRE is her story of a devastating autoimmune disease misdiagnosed over and over—all while it appears she is losing her mind.
John Grisham is my go-to for guilty pleasure reading. It’s so easy to get swept up in his thrilling plots and swiftly paced story lines. A bookish mystery, CAMINO ISLAND is especially entertaining. It’s about Bruce Cable, a popular bookseller and rare-book dealer who dabbles in the black market of stolen books and manuscripts, and the young novelist paid a hefty fortune by a mysterious company to keep an eye on him. I’ll also happily admit to guilty pleasure reading THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham, THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE by Amy Reichert, and ME BEFORE YOU by Jojo Moyes.
When Catherine, a sheltered college student, and James, an adventurous, charismatic young artist, meet in 1990s Dublin, they become fast friends. But their initiation into young adulthood become heartbreaking; as Catherine develops a deep and obsessive love for James, he is secretly struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality. You might also want to check out A LITTLE LIFE by Hanya Yanagihara, LILY AND THE OCTOPUS by Steven Rowley, AFTER THE PARADE by Lori Ostlund, THE HOURS by Michael Cunningham, or THE PAYING GUESTS by Sarah Waters.
When Catherine, a sheltered college student, and James, an adventurous, charismatic young artist, meet in 1990s Dublin, they become fast friends. But their initiation into young adulthood become heartbreaking: as Catherine develops a deep and obsessive love for James, he is secretly struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality.
I love learning new things and I love animals. Huzzah, here we have a book that combines the two! From a world-renowned biologist and primatologist, ARE WE SMART ENOUGH TO KNOW HOW SMART ANIMALS ARE? is a groundbreaking work on animal intelligence that explores what separates your mind from an animal's mind. I also want to read WHY WE SLEEP by Matthew Walker to learn—you guessed it—why we sleep, ORIGINIALS by Adam Grant, and LEONARDO DA VINCI by Walter Isaacson.
People assume that there’s a cognitive ladder, and that humans are at the top. But what if we’re wrong? Biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal flips our assumptions in this groundbreaking work on animal intelligence that reveals the ways we have underestimated the beings with whom we share our planet.
In his moving memoir, Eric Greitens offers something new to the canon of military memoirs: a warrior who wants to be strong to be good only to discover that he has to be good to be strong. Throughout his Navy SEAL training and deployments in Kenya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the lessons Greitens learns from his humanitarian work apply to us all: the heart and the fist are more powerful together than either are alone. THE BRIGHT HOUR by Nina Riggs, THE CHOICE by Edith Eger, and THE RULES DO NOT APPLY by Ariel Levy are also incredibly uplifting reads.
Danzy Senna’s CAUCASIA has been on my shelf for far too long. And I think it’s time to remedy that. Set in Boston during the turbulent mid-1970s, CAUCASIA is the coming-of-age story of Birdie and Cole, multiracial sisters whose lives are disrupted by the collapse of their parents’ marriage. There are hundreds of books on my TBR pile, but THE SYMPATHIZER by Viet Thanh Nguyen and NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles are right behind CAUCASIA.