I know it’s quite hard to believe that people who read books, recommend books, and buy books for a living would still want to receive them but… here we are, sharing our bookish wish list with you. What else, you say, would a book lover who has everything really want? The Off the Shelf staff managed to come up with a list. (No pressure, though.)
I’m a terrible cook. The most I can do without an hour of time and step-by-step directions is scramble an egg or make pasta. That’s it. This leads to eating out too much and buying food that inevitably goes bad before it’s eaten. That’s why the book I most want to get this year is SALT, FAT, ACID, HEAT by Samin Nosrat. You may recognize the title from the Netflix series, but this book is more than just a cookbook. It will teach you the thought process behind your favorite recipes so, no matter what you have in your kitchen, you’ll be able to make an amazing meal sans recipe. Cooking is a life skill I desperately need to develop, and I know this book will make me a home cook in no time.
I like novels that take you into a place. Whether it’s Victorian London or Scotland or New England or the Wild West, I often want to be swept away to a place or time a little different from where I am. So when someone recommended THE GREAT ALONE, which is about a family that moves to the Alaskan wilderness in the 1970s, I was on totally on board—there’s nothing like a little sojourn to historical, untouched wilderness to escape the madness of New York. However, there is a 22-week wait for this book at my library, and I have already been waiting for it for at least eight. And since we’re coming up on the holidays, it feels wrong to buy it for myself. So, Santa, please add this one to my wish list this year!
I’ve always been fascinated by Five Points—the notorious lower Manhattan neighborhood that was home to squalid slums inhabited by immigrants from many nations. It was ruled by the infamous gangs of New York—immortalized in the Scorsese film—and was also an important area of influence for the Tammany Hall political machine. Tyler Anbinder’s portrait of the neighborhood draws from letters, diaries, newspapers, bank records, police reports, and archaeological digs to show how Five Points was a microcosm of the American immigrant experience.
The Five Points in lower Manhattan was for years the most notorious slum in the world. The subject of Jacob Riis' famous photos, Five Points could not be matched in the western world for sheer population density, disease, infant and child mortality, unemployment, prostitution, and violent crime. However, it could also be considered the original American melting pot where many of America’s poorest African Americans, and waves of Irish, Jewish, German, and Italian immigrants lived side by side and their cultures blended and influenced each other. Its meeting halls and political clubs helped Catholics gain a hold in politics and aided the creation of the machine politicians who would come to dominate not just the city but an entire era in American politics.
Not only is Elaine Welteroth the reason for one of my favorite podcasts, Jesus and Jollof, but at only 32 years old, Welteroth holds the history-making title as the second ever African American editor-in-chief of a Condé Nast magazine (Teen Vogue). As a lover of fashion and ceiling-breaking success stories, I find memoirs like Welteroth’s fascinating and inspiring. Between Michelle Obama’s BECOMING and Issa Rae’s THE MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL, I keep books like these in constant rotation to keep me grounded and inspire my next power move.
Speaking of powerful Black women, Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s newest illustrated book, SHE CAME TO SLAY, is about the life and times of the legendary and enigmatic figure Harriet Tubman. I had the honor of hearing Dunbar speak at the Well-Read Black Girl festival, where she gave us some insight into the Harriet Tubman we don’t often hear about—Harriet the child, Harriet the wife, Harriet the woman scorned, Harriet the land-owner, and so on. With a fun and pop-leaning title, the display of fearlessness and fierceness in the pages of SHE CAME TO SLAY would surely inspire me to invoke the same qualities in 2020.
In high school many moons ago I read BELOVED, and earlier this year I read SULA for the first time and was swept away by Toni Morrison’s language and her powerful, fragile, and complicated characters. I would love to continue exploring Morrison’s works as an adult and experience her literary gifts with her classic and essential novel THE BLUEST EYE.
Pecola Breedlove is a young black girl who prays every day for the blonde hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to fit in with her peers. This novel is a powerful examination of beauty, conformity, race, class, and gender from the legendary Toni Morrison.
Jacob Tobia gives voice to my favorite new character on Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princess of Power: a nonbinary shape shifter named Double Trouble. So when I realized they had a memoir out, I immediately added it to my wish list. Seamlessly mixing deeply personal, painful moments with hilarity in a way that has been compared to David Sedaris and Nora Ephron, Tobia recounts their journey from growing up in North Carolina and being labeled a “sissy” for acting too feminine through the present day and embracing their identity beyond the gender binary.