Sometimes you read a new book and love it so much that, over the years, you watch it grow as if it’s your first-born child. You beam proudly whenever it receives praise. You watch with misty eyes the further it travels around the globe. And when it reaches the ten-year mark of being out in the world, you reflect on how far it’s come—and how your relationship to it has changed. That’s how you know you’ve got a classic in the making. And the books in this list—whether newborns or middle-aged—are so special to us that they’re already resting on our classics shelf.
Sharon's Pick: This soon-to-be-classic memoir shares the true story of Stella Levi, a nonagenarian from Juderia, the Jewish neighborhood on the Greek island of Rhodes. Through her conversations with author Michael Frank over six years, she shares her experience of growing up in Juderia, as well as the destruction of her community when Nazis rounded up all the neighborhood’s inhabitants and deported them to Auschwitz. This important book allows readers to bear witness to not just the tragedy suffered by Stella Levi and her fellow Jews during the Holocaust, but to the richness of her life in Juderia and to how she constructed her life again after her community was destroyed.
Recipient of the Jewish Book Council’s Natan Notable Book Award
The remarkable story of ninety-nine-year-old Stella Levi whose conversations with the writer Michael Frank over the course of six years bring to life the vibrant world of Jewish Rhodes, the deportation to Auschwitz that extinguished ninety percent of her community, and the resilience and wisdom of the woman who lived to tell the tale.
With nearly a century of life behind her, Stella Levi had never before spoken in detail about her past. Then she met Michael Frank. He came to her Greenwich Village apartment one Saturday afternoon to ask her a question about the Juderia, the neighborhood in Rhodes where she’d grown up in a Jewish community that had thrived there for half a millennium.
Neither of them could know this was the first of one hundred Saturdays that they would spend in each other’s company as Stella traveled back in time to conjure what it felt like to come of age on this luminous, legendary island in the eastern Aegean, which the Italians began governing as an official possession in 1923 and transformed over the next two decades until the Germans seized control and deported the entire Juderia to Auschwitz.
Probing and courageous, candid and sly, Stella is a magical modern-day Scheherazade whose stories reveal what it was like to grow up in an extraordinary place in an extraordinary time—and to construct a life after that place has vanished. One Hundred Saturdays is a portrait of one of the last survivors drawn at nearly the last possible moment, as well as an account of a tender and transformative friendship that develops between storyteller and listener as they explore the fundamental mystery of what it means to collect, share, and interpret the deepest truths of a life deeply lived.
Heather’s Pick #1: Some books are easy to read and forget, while others, like Tommy Orange’s THERE, THERE, burrow into your heart forever. Even a couple years after reading this novel, I’m still moved when I think about the characters I met within its pages, twelve Native men and women with the same goal: to attend the Oakland Powwow. Their motives for traveling to the annual event are varied, from wanting to make amends to honoring a relative’s memory, but they all sense the pull of their shared heritage . . . and they all struggle with the effects of generations of mistreatment by the government. A poignant tale that puts a spotlight on modern-day, urban Indigenous experiences, THERE THERE should be essential reading for all Americans.
Sabrina’s Pick: I was instantly drawn to THE CLOISTERS when I saw the beautiful cover, and when I heard the story line I thought, “It’s a witchy Da Vinci Code.” I was not wrong and I was not disappointed (I loved THE DA VINCI CODE). Set in the Metropolitan Museum's gothic Cloisters exhibit, this occult thriller begins with Ann Stilwell almost losing her summer job opportunity at the Met, but miraculously securing a last-minute position at the Cloisters. However, her colleagues clearly have some secrets and as Ann develops relationships with each one, truths and outrageous theories begin to emerge. Ann tries to stay rooted, but her work is directing her onto a cryptic path of spiritual and psychological exploration as her research into the history of divination begins to uncover some incredible possibilities. Every chapter in THE CLOISTERS creates a new revelation, leaving you hooked to the very end and making sure you don't miss a single detail.
The Secret History meets Ninth House in this sinister, atmospheric novel following a circle of researchers as they uncover a mysterious deck of tarot cards and shocking secrets in New York’s famed Met Cloisters.
When Ann Stilwell arrives in New York City, she expects to spend her summer working as a curatorial associate at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Instead, she finds herself assigned to The Cloisters, a gothic museum and garden renowned for its medieval art collection and its group of enigmatic researchers studying the history of divination.
Desperate to escape her painful past, Ann is happy to indulge the researchers’ more outlandish theories about the history of fortune telling. But what begins as academic curiosity quickly turns into obsession when Ann discovers a hidden 15th-century deck of tarot cards that might hold the key to predicting the future. When the dangerous game of power, seduction, and ambition at The Cloisters turns deadly, Ann becomes locked in a race for answers as the line between the arcane and the modern blurs.
A haunting and magical blend of genres, The Cloisters is a gripping debut that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Emily’s Pick #1: This book will be a classic fantasy for many reasons. First—its premise: In a world where earthquakes ravage the land for entire seasons that can start at any time, a cautious, isolated society develops, whose people live in fear of the next seismic event or period. This also leads to the ostracizing of Orogenes—those who have powers that could create earthquakes. Here I can see classrooms for years to come using this fantasy realm to comment on the way our own society dehumanizes anything considered “other.” The second reason this book stands out is the skillful use of point of view. It’s a rare novel that can pull off second-person narration without sounding gimmicky. And THE FIFTH SEASON does so for an entire third of the novel, in a way that adds purpose and a haunting tone to the story. It makes you want to reread the book again to analyze just how N. K. Jemisin did it. And lastly, the twist at the end surely is one of the top five twists—it’s ingenious, original, and cements this book with a legacy.
Emily’s Pick #2: I had never watched iCarly, but I dove into Jennette McCurdy’s memoir purely intrigued by the title and buzz the book had been receiving. And so, like the rest of the world it seems, the book caught me completely off-guard (and thoroughly consumed on a seven-hour plane ride during which I would’ve typically been consumed with flight anxiety). McCurdy’s memoir details her childhood that was anything but. Her mom was obsessed with her daughter becoming a child actress, and pressured Jennette into that grueling (and often demeaning) role through guilt and manipulation. Jennette takes us through her thought-process at the time, her experiences with a mother and an industry that were incredibly damaging. And she shows us the lingering effects of such a corrosive childhood, which she’s worked through with years of therapy. This memoir won’t just become classic canon because of the story’s explosive content, but because of the way it’s told by McCurdy, with an honest eye and a writer’s heart.
A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.
Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.
In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.
Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.
Heather’s Pick #2: Casey McQuiston’s RED, WHITE & ROYAL BLUE is already popular among romance readers, and I fully expect this charming rom-com to become a classic of the genre when even more people watch the movie adaptation next year. For reasons neither of them totally understands, Britain’s (fictional) Prince of Wales, Henry, and America’s (also fictional) First Son, Alex, don’t get along very well, a fact that becomes known to the whole world after a fiasco involving a ruined wedding cake is caught on camera. To fix this PR nightmare, their respective teams insist that the two fake a friendship for the sake of their countries. Yet as the two spend more time together and truly get to know each other, Alex starts to realize he’s misread the heat between them all this time. . . .
Photo credit: iStock / Brankospejs