This isn’t a list about the ten books that defined a decade, the best of the best, or those with critical acclaim, but rather those that made the most impact on me. These ten will stand tall, spines creased and upright, as I march into an uncertain future, very happy to have read them. Although some of these are the first in a series, they can be read as stand-alones that come with the best kind of promise: more books.
THREE WOMEN is the type of book you proselytize about. It’s the sort of once-in-a-lifetime experience you keep chasing as a reader. Journalist Lisa Taddeo spent ten years immersed in the lives of three very different women to bring us an eye-opening look into female sexuality, desires, needs, and wants, and how societal structures disapprove and invalidate them. Told with unrelenting intimacy, this gorgeous book is one you won’t quickly forget.
“Extraordinary…A nonfiction literary masterpiece…I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as profoundly as Three Women.” —Elizabeth Gilbert
“This is one of the most riveting, assured, and scorchingly original debuts I’ve ever read.” —Dave Eggers
“[An] instant feminist classic...Utterly engrossing...Game-changing.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.
It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and it’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written and one of the most anticipated books of the year.
We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. She passes her days cooking and cleaning for a man who refuses to kiss her on the mouth, protesting that “the sensation offends” him. To Lina’s horror, even her marriage counselor says her husband’s position is valid. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks. When she reconnects with an old flame through social media, she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming.
In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her handsome, married English teacher. By Maggie’s account, supportive nightly texts and phone calls evolve into a clandestine physical relationship, with plans to skip school on her eighteenth birthday and make love all day; instead, he breaks up with her on the morning he turns thirty. A few years later, Maggie has no degree, no career, and no dreams to live for. When she learns that this man has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she steps forward with her story—and is met with disbelief by former schoolmates and the jury that hears her case. The trial will turn their quiet community upside down.
Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. He picks out partners for her alone or for a threesome, and she ensures that everyone’s needs are satisfied. For years, Sloane has been asking herself where her husband’s desire ends and hers begins. One day, they invite a new man into their bed—but he brings a secret with him that will finally force Sloane to confront the uneven power dynamics that fuel their lifestyle.
Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.
This first installment in the Neapolitan Novels quartet lays the foundation for a deeply compelling and at times frustrating look into the lifelong power struggle between friends Elena and Lila. This absorbing and transporting series follows their friendship over six decades, starting in southern Italy in the 1950s. My Brilliant Friend is a nuanced and perceptive portrait of a seminal relationship that feels deeply personal but wholly relatable, and it kicks off one of the most engrossing sagas I’ve ever read.
Stuart’s Fictional Dinner Party Guests: Elena and Lila
I’d like to host a dinner with an eye on close friendships. Friendships are fascinating because they are the one relationship in life that you aren’t required to be in because of birth or bound to by law. Those in attendance would ideally have a multiple-decade friendship like Elena and Lila of MY BRILLIANT FRIEND. And even though he’s not fictional, I’d love for my best friend to be sitting at the table, too.
When you recommend a book to loved ones and strangers alike, you know that book is special. This book is a panacea for all those everyday anxieties my mind flings around, because these pages are a mirror that reflects being seen and understood. I will never get over how beautiful, important, and sincere this book is. Laymon’s vulnerability and honest reckoning is a constant reminder of the work needed to bring about a better and more loving future. Heavy reorganized my feelings on trauma on the human body, trauma on the human soul, and all the ways we try to manage carrying that weight. Read Ana's full review of HEAVY.
In The Sixth Extinction, Kolbert presents the ecological damage humans have made during our current Anthropocene era and describes Earth’s sixth mass extinction. This is an incredibly well-researched trot around the globe chronicling species lost in recent years and the subsequent transformations of the natural world. This book reframed and widened my idea of climate change and modernity, and made me more aware of the immediate loss of animals beyond the image of a lonely polar bear drifting on an ice floe. While this might seem to be thematically bleak reading material, it’s not alarmist or disdainful in its tone but rather addresses our culpability to—hopefully—spark change.
Pretty soon I’ll need to two hands to count the number of times I’ve been swallowed up rereading Annihilation. As the first part of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation tells of Area X, a mysterious and pristine but eerie ecosystem encroaching on civilization, and introduces us to the Biologist, the protagonist who ventures into Area X to investigate the mysteries of what it is and why it exists. Incredibly eerie and imaginative, this book continuously dazzles me with its premise and language. Read the full review of ANNIHILATION.
In the midst of deep grief, Helen Macdonald adopts a goshawk as a way to deal with the loss of her father, an experienced falconer. Macdonald sees the taming of Mabel as a way to repair her wild emotions and to feel closer to her father’s spirit. This dazzling book interweaves her distress and frustration in training Mabel with wonderfully vivid nature writing to create a heart-wrenching memoir of losses and gains, failures and triumphs Read the full review of H IS FOR HAWK.
I don’t usually gravitate toward hard science fiction, but the plot of this book sounded intriguing: a Chinese science fiction story about contacting aliens? Sure, why not! Probably one of the most fascinating and ambitious novels I’ve ever read, this book mixes principles of physics with an intergalactic virtual-reality video game, all while posing big philosophical questions about existence and humanity. Set in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s (and way beyond), it shines a light on a time and place I knew very little of to add a layer of social, political, and historical commentary I was interested in reading. This is the first in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, with each book expanding its plot and scope to create a mind-blowing conclusion.
When I was reading this on my phone, I saw that I had 3 percent left and knew I had to stop moving and give the ending the attention it deserved. So on the walk from the train to my house, I sat on a random stoop and finished it. I had to hold my tear-streaked face in my hands for a good five minutes before I could continue on my journey. This book is so moving, so powerful, and certain to split your heart open. It’s a timely and sharp look at toxic masculinity, gun violence, trauma, friendship, and the immutable force of teenage girls.
Reading Circe is like being enrobed in a lyrical blanket spun of the finest, softest wool. This subversive and counter-narrative retelling of the myth of Circe presents one of the most complex heroines I’ve ever read. Miller’s portrayal of the Greek gods and goddesses as petulant, narcissistic characters was a joy to read. The core of her story, to me, is about developing into who you’re supposed to be and experiencing all the growing pains, heartbreak, and redemption that entails. Read the full review of CIRCE.