We wouldn’t be doing our jobs as Off the Shelf recommenders if we didn’t share the books we obsess over long after we’ve turned the last page. For your perusing pleasure, here are a few books we highly recommend you add to your shelf.
At less than 200 pages, GIOVANNI’S ROOM is a slim dagger straight to your core. This poignant novel throws us into David’s—an American expat living in in Paris in the 1950s—moral, sexual, and personal crisis as he falls in love with bartender Giovanni on the heels of David’s proposal to his girlfriend Hella. Baldwin’s acute insight into the complexities of the human heart, psyche, and instinct is unparalleled, creating hauntingly beautiful prose layered with exceptionally honest emotional resonance.
Read a Classic by an Author of Color
Set in the 1950s Paris of American expatriates, liaisons, and violence, a young man finds himself caught between desire and conventional morality. With a sharp, probing imagination, James Baldwin’s now-classic narrative delves into the mystery of loving and creates a moving, highly controversial story of death and passion that reveals the unspoken complexities of the human heart.
If Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone had a baby (who was a book) it would be FOE. A couple who lives far from the bright lights of the city one day gets an unexpected visitor dressed in a suit and tie. He informs them that the husband has been selected for a trip to go further away from home than ever imaginable. This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the abnormalities ahead of them and their relationship. Be sure to have your book buddy on speed dial when you’re done with this one. You’re going to need to talk about it!
I devoured these short stories on my commutes to and from work in March and haven’t stopped thinking about them since. The collection centers on themes of black identity as the characters navigate predominately white spaces like Comic Con, the ASMR community on YouTube, and elite private schools and college campuses. While the content is often dark, there’s a layer of humor running through almost all of the stories that left me buzzing to discuss them with both my former English teachers and my friends.
Longlisted for the National Book Award for Fiction and Kirkus Prize Finalist
Calling to mind the best works of Paul Beatty and Junot Díaz, this collection of moving, timely, and darkly funny stories examines the concept of black identity in this so-called post-racial era.
A stunning new talent in literary fiction, Nafissa Thompson-Spires grapples with black identity and the contemporary middle class in these compelling, boundary-pushing vignettes.
Each captivating story plunges headfirst into the lives of new, utterly original characters. Some are darkly humorous—from two mothers exchanging snide remarks through notes in their kids’ backpacks, to the young girl contemplating how best to notify her Facebook friends of her impending suicide—while others are devastatingly poignant—a new mother and funeral singer who is driven to madness with grief for the young black boys who have fallen victim to gun violence, or the teen who struggles between her upper middle class upbringing and her desire to fully connect with black culture.
Thompson-Spires fearlessly shines a light on the simmering tensions and precariousness of black citizenship. Her stories are exquisitely rendered, satirical, and captivating in turn, engaging in the ongoing conversations about race and identity politics, as well as the vulnerability of the black body. Boldly resisting categorization and easy answers, Nafissa Thompson-Spires is an original and necessary voice in contemporary fiction.
My Reading Goal This Year Is to Read 45 Books by People of Color. Here Are 6 Amazing Titles on My List.
I recently reread the YA novel THERE’S SOMEONE INSIDE YOUR HOUSE by Stephanie Perkins for my romance book club (yes, really) and it holds up! An homage to 1990s teen slasher films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, the book somehow manages to balance all those gruesome kills with some genuinely sweet and romantic thrills. And once you meet Makani Young, the new-girl-in-town heroine, you won’t want to stop reading until you find out if she can outsmart a murderer and make it out of the school year alive.
A CLOUD IN THE SHAPE OF A GIRL sat in my TBR pile for a few months before I finally picked it up, and I am so happy I did. This book was a beautifully written exploration of three generations of women, and their struggle to break out of the shadows of the men they love. The characters were so painfully relatable, and I spent the book feeling like we were all quietly screaming—up until the shocking ending, where I screamed for real.
Korede has a problem: her beautiful, charming sister Ayoola has a bad habit of murdering her boyfriends. Ever the dutiful older sister, Korede has helped Ayoola clean up and hide three murders. But when the man Korede secretly loves asks her for Ayoola’s number, she has a choice to make. I could not put this novel down—it is as dark as it is surprisingly funny, sharp as nails and totally witty, and delves into the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood and the unspeakable things we are willing to do to protect family.
I’m always in awe of books that make you fear the mundane, the ordinary; in the case of THE DREAMERS, it’s sleep and dreams, an epidemic unfolding in a small California town where people fall asleep and refuse to wake up. In STATION ELEVEN style, we’re exposed to numerous snapshots of the tragedy told from multiple characters’ points of view, leaving a trail of unanswered questions, overlapping accounts, and jarring observations.
When a series of mysterious and destructive fires raged throughout a rural county in Virginia, no one had any idea that the arsonists had a very shocking reason for setting them: love. AMERICAN FIRE is a stunning, emotional, and unforgettable true crime tale unlike any other—it is also a complicated and dark love story and an evocative portrait of the slow death of rural America. From the gripping first chapter to the moving conclusion, you won’t be able to put down this book.