Here at Off the Shelf, we’re voracious readers and recommenders. But every so often, we encounter a book we cannot stop thinking about, a book we just have to talk about to whomever will listen. Here’s a list of the books we’re currently obsessing over.
The minute I finished CIRCE (weeping, in a crowded Starbucks) I needed to talk to someone about it and have not stopped since. This is a gorgeously written, deeply feminist retelling of the myth of Circe, who you may remember as the witch who turned men into pigs in THE ODYSSEY (for good reason, as you’ll find out). It’s too rare to read a book where every single female character has such incredible depth and nuance and is just beautifully, painfully real, but this book does that and more. In Circe’s words, “Would I be skimmed milk or a harpy? A foolish gull or a villainous monster? Those could not still be the only choices.” In this book, they’re not, and Miller’s complex, empowering story is exactly what I need to be reading in 2019.
I’ve been excited about reading this thriller since finishing the Netflix show featuring Penn Badgley based on the novel (I watched it in less than 24 hours). I couldn’t wait to see where the book would go with Joe’s obsession with Beck, and how closely it aligned with the show. Caroline Kepnes does a great job with keeping readers at the edge of their seat.
Joe doesn’t like artisanal soda, trust fund kids, Dan Brown, Brooklyn hipsters, or Vice magazine. He does, however, like you, ever since you walked into his East Village bookshop looking like Natalie Portman. Shame that Joe is a cold-blooded killer and adept stalker. In the all-too-rare second-person narrative, YOU takes place inside the obsessed brain of Joe Goldberg, who’ll stop at nothing to make boho-wannabe Guinevere Beck (the “you” of Kepnes’s page-turning novel) his. Crazy like:
Crazy like:The lovesick and the just-plain-sick.
Best crazy moment: The DA VINCI CODE reading marathon.
I haven’t figured out the perfect word to describe a book filled with train wreck after train wreck that is just too good to look away from; a book that toys with your emotions and causes you to laugh at things you would never laugh at; a book that frustrates you to no end and then dazzles you with wonderful writing and softens you with the occasional moment of sisterly love. This word would be a literary equivalent to umami—a range of bitter, salty, and sweet emotions that’s altogether satisfying. It would also perfectly capture what reading MY SISTER THE SERIAL KILLER was like for me. Terse but not lacking any tension, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel is my current obsession in African lit and dark humor. I only wish I could read it for the first time again.
Raimund Gregorius, a Swiss professor who has centered much of his life around his students and his predictable routines, turns out to be bolder than many of us (definitely me). After a curious run-in with a young woman, he abandons his class and finds himself in a bookstore, staring at a fascinating Portuguese text. Suddenly he’s on a train to Portugal, translating chapters of this new book in a state of a wild spontaneity that persists as he decides to hunt down information on the author. It was Isabel Allende’s quote on the cover, “A treat for the mind. One of the best books I have read in a long time,” that sealed this impulse-buy from my neighborhood bookstore, one of the best decisions I’ve made this week.
Biet Simkin has completely shattered everything I thought I knew about meditation (in a good way). For the longest time I thought meditation “wasn’t for me,” but DON’T JUST SIT THERE showed me that you don’t need to be sitting on the top of a mountain disconnected from the world to meditate. It is something you can bring with you throughout your day and is applicable to anyone, in any context.
I don’t know the last time I’ve been so engaged with poetry. It is humor, wit, and scathing social commentary all at once. It is short, but I keep flipping back to reread Tommy’s sharp observations and witty lines written from what one can only assume are his own experiences as a queer American Indian (or NDN).
How did I not hear about this book sooner? Perfectly described by author Naomi Novik as a “beautiful deep-winter story, full of magic and monsters and the sharp edges of growing up,” THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE is an enthralling dark fairy tale inspired by Russian folklore, and I am hooked. Luckily, it is the first in a trilogy, so I’ll be spending more quality time with Vasya, Morozko & co. very soon.
When you first hear about the plot to A HEART IN A BODY IN THE WORLD by Deb Caletti, you might think it’s a little too real—a girl decides to run cross-country from Seattle to D.C. following a tragic gun-related event. At first, she does so just to get out of her own head, as The Event has been so horrific and traumatizing that all she can do is run. But as she unpacks the whole story—the new guy who took her friendliness as flirtatiousness, the people who told her to be nice and just smile, the friends who thought he was weird but not dangerous, per se—you realize that this is not only an essential book for our time, but a timeless book of what happens when you go through something horrible. It’s healing and heart-wrenching in so many ways, and it is a rare gem that more people need to discover.