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I turn to middle grade books when I need something simpler with a good heart, and this book fits perfectly into that description. Merci is a sixth grader navigating many waves of change: the transition into middle school, the changing social scene at school, and the effects of aging on her beloved grandfather. Not all goes smoothly when wrestling with all this, but Merci and her family handle it with spunk and love in the most heartwarming way. I adored this narrator and these characters, and it reminded me of the variety of ways people of different ages must face life and life’s changes.
This book was my first exposure to Virginia Woolf, and what a satisfying experience it was! I read this in the south of France under sun that made me sleepy, but this book is so sharp and so astute that it jolted me into rumination. If you want to get a sense for Woolf's voice, her intelligence, and her personal experience, this is the book to do it. It's such a canonical text for feminism that it should be on everyone's reading list—but also because it will help you understand the powerful resonance of our country's currently female majority in higher education and how far we've come since Shakespeare's days.
"In 1837, [Washington's] mahogany casket was enclosed in a marble sarcophagus bearing the Great Seal of the United States. During the Civil War, Confederate and Union soldiers carved their initials into the walls of the vault, a fitting addition to the resting place of a man whose fondest hope was for the nation to be unified. Both sides, the South and the North, the slave-owning and the free, viewed him as their inspiration. And both were right."
This biography of George Washington if feminist, funny, and factual. I was so impressed by how Coe handled and balanced Washington's life events with his impacts (positive and profoundly negative) on others.
A beautiful fantasy book for all ages, the Kingdom of Back combines the history of Mozart and his sister (I loved the author’s note at the end that explained this more fully) with a fictionalized depiction of their intense imaginations and longings as they reckon with who they are and who they want to be. I consider books like this a treat—easy to read, engaging, substantive, with a clear message that makes it compelling without weighing too heavy. Lu’s descriptions on a sentence level are also enjoyable, and I wouldn’t have enjoyed this as much were it not for her technical skill. I would definitely recommend for strong readers of a younger age group than young adult (probably 8-12) as the book doesn’t involve any mature content.
"In 2017, Erica Dunbar, a professor of history at Rutgers, made a significant contribution to Washington studies with Never Caught: The Washingtons' Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge. Dunbar brings Judge's courageous story to the forefront and forces us to reconsider Washington's much-lauded reputation as the only Founding Father to emancipate his slaves in his will." -Alexis Coe
If you know of George Washington, you need to know of Ona Judge. Practice that hardest of practices with this book: holding multiple truths together at the same time—reality, mythology, politics, all together at once, to sort out what truly matters.
After loving the books cited as adjacent to this one (namely Conversations with Friends), I was skeptical if this book would live up to the hype. Thankfully, this book surprised me and won me over with its brazen moments of discomfort, its firm holding up of a mirror to our media-obsessed selves, its boldness in presenting life's complexities, and how its main character develops. It sits at a savory intersection of romance, relationship drama, coming of age book (even with a narrator in her thirties), and contemporary commentary. I can see myself recommending this to those who want a humorous, enjoyable, but substantial read. Definitely in the genre of millennial literature—but in the best way possible—and a book I'll be discussing with friends for a while.
Why care about medieval history? Why spend your time reading about it? Because medieval history has so much to teach us about where our culture comes from, so much to illuminate about how we think of our bodies, so much to show us about how differently people can think and can experience life. But really, I just want everyone to know about the traveling uterus theory (for real, you need to know) and to read the theology of female mystics that carved out a powerful role for women in Christianity. This book could be shelved in medieval history, in gender studies, in psychology—and that's precisely why I adore it. I also adore Bynum's introduction in this edition. A treasure trove of trivia, of thought-provoking people and ideas, this book is one of my all time favorites.
For fans of My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier and fans of psychological thrillers, this book delivers a suspenseful atmosphere built through the unraveling of the protagonist's mind. Moshfegh unsettles conventional notions of security, stability, and self through her astute, marvelous depiction of an elderly woman as she reckons with sinister possibilities. This book delivered just the right amount of the subversion and grit that Moshfegh is known for while demonstrating a masterful level of control and insight.
If you ever read anything on masculinity—in this age where we grapple with both toxic masculinity and the future for healthy masculinity—let it be this. Author Thomas Page McBee was the first transgender man to box in Madison Square Garden, and this is how he enters into ruminations on the history of boxing—but more significantly, how he enters into fully understanding his transition into masculine privilege and power. With experiences presenting as a woman and presenting a man, McBee's demonstrates a keen understanding of gender dynamics while also sharing the profound experience of his transition and the losses and joys that go along with that. What I loved most was McBee's evident compassion and love for all people, hearing about his life, and his authentic grappling with this difficult moment of questioning as we redefine masculinity. One of the best books I've read, ever.
I adore books that can live alongside me, that I can savor in small pieces across long periods of time, that calm and restore me and make me think about who I truly want to be. From the press founded by renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, this treasure of a collection collects the thoughts and writings from a powerful grouping of Buddhist practitioners and peace activists does exactly that. Each essay focuses on the idea of Engaged Buddhism—how we actively practice Buddhism to promote healing and peace in the world—and its many applications: in how we savor our individuality, in how we think about war, in how we treat each other. Even if you don't consider yourself a Buddhist, you'll be inspired by the intentions and compassion coursing through each of these writers and their pieces.
This book rings with the gritty confusion of childhood, loss, the subtle and sharp pains we inflict on one another. But it also rings with a strange hope in the minute and soaring descriptions of landscapes and farm animals, the idolization of possibilities imagined and realized by the narrator, fourteen year-old Cindy. While the inciting incident of the book is the disappearance of a local teenage girl, Jude's disappearance also peels away the veneer on the lives of Cindy, her two brothers, Jude's parents, and other locals, revealing the conflicts and disturbances that were simmering all along. I was moved by the stunning fullness of each line and how Smith communicated the profundity of a young woman as she learns how connect and cope and who she wants to be.
This is an essential read for anyone interested in justice reform. Just with the introduction, I was rethinking my notions of our justice system, of policing and of political economy—and this is precisely the strength of this book and of Wang's arguments: she shows how what we consider separate categories of race, economy, politics, policing, and the justice system all feed on each other to produce a dangerous and often unlivable state for many Americans. Nuanced and complex, this book was hard to get through but worth every page.
When I think of these poems, I think of camping in the wilderness alone—of sitting under a pine tree after waiting out a thunderstorm, sweat on your forehead and brids reminding you of why you're here. These poems feel raw, true, bone deep in the way bird song and woods and drifting clouds feel. "My Iron Catastrophe" helped initiate me into a new, more hopeful phase in my life, and I know and hope that these poems might provide you with that solace of hope after trials.
If you're looking for a feel-good book or a book with a wholly likable protagonist, this isn't the book for you; if, however, you're looking for a book to make you question how you treat others, how you treat yourself, and why we behave the ways we do, this is definitely the book for you. Samantha is a middle-aged professor of poetry who faces a cancer diagnosis with panic, play, recklessness, and reminiscing, analyzing and challenging herself and her life. Her behaviors lead to tumultuous times for her marriage, family, and professional life, but Sam is smart, sharp, earnest, and trying in ways that make you appreciate her in all her complicated humanity and practice patience with her less savory behavior. This book will make you think, particularly about gender and how it affects our behavior, and it will make your heart hurt with life-affirming melancholy.
"We are fragile creatures, and it is from this weakness, not despite it, that we discover the possibility of true joy." -Desmond Tutu // This book presents a week of conversations between two of the world's foremost spiritual leaders, weaving together the threads of human experience to question how we might pull joy out of all of it. I love how Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama draw from their personal experiences, from scientific studies, and from ancient traditions to get at the eternal question of how to cultivate joy. This book encourages practices and ways of thought that cultivate this joy not in spite of weakness or sorrow or suffering, but in the midst of it and sometimes because of it. I read this book for the first time in high school and return to it every year, and I love how different parts and practices jump out to me at different points in my life.
This might be an obvious statement, but you read a lot when you work in a bookstore. I try to keep up with books people are raving about right now, try to read across genres, and try to read books that might inspire my own writing. With all this intentionality and with outside forces picking my next read for me, I often feel that I'm not surprised by the books that come my way or enthralled with what I'm encountering. I discovered this book in a bookstore in Chicago, and it retaught me that you as the reader have to approach a book with your heart wide open and your attention fully given. This book dug right into my heart, opening it up even wider as it shared the life of a teenage girl, Nao, experiencing bullying, cultural transition, her father's suicide attempts, and her great grandmother's teachings as a monk. Nao's diary is discovered by a couple living on a remote island across the ocean, and the profound intersection of nature, heartbreak, and time and space between the characters reminded me of the ways we connect and the ways we open ourselves over and over to better receive what the world has to offer.
This is a graphic novel, but it's also a memoir, a coming of age story, a history of a revolution, and a story of how family lives on through severe loss. I've seen the movie, read it in English, read it in French, written papers and part of my thesis on it--and I still come back to this book and its narrative. With simple and stark black and white images of her own drawing, Marjane Satrapi tells the story of her childhood growing up during the Iranian Revolution and her struggles as a teenager and young adult when she moves to Europe and back. From talking to people about this book, I've realized how little many people in the United States know about Iran and its culture. While historical accounts of the revolution and Iran can provide context, this book nuances that history with texture and complexity; and it demonstrates how humans survive conflict and grapple with identity in the process.
If you’re a writer and you write anywhere close to the way I write, the writing process doesn’t feel very zen—or those zen moments of pure inspiration where the pen seems to move itself are few and far between. So often, many words feel clunky, I keep a timer going to clock my writing time, and I feel a sense of relief when I stop and get to go make some coffee. On the more difficult days, this book of essays by the author of Fahrenheit 451 brings me back to why I’m writing in the first place. All of the essays are short enough to read in a small period of time, and they all feel like a conversation with a friend about this whole writing thing and all the joys and frustrations that come with it.
Read this after or with Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists! This collection features the voices of women often out of mainstream feminism, including the superb author Brit Bennett. The introduction by activist June Eric-Udorie blew me away; she skillfully presents the challenges (internal and external) that feminism faces today, and she's only twenty! Required reading for anyone who considers themselves a feminist or is interested in what feminism really means today.
Edna St. Vincent Millay writes a killer sonnet, but don't be deterred by her lyrical poetry style! Even though she wrote in the twentieth century, her poems feel refreshingly modern and every day. I appreciate the emotional control in these poems; she doesn't go for high dramatics, but lets the emotions simmer in smaller ways. Check out "Grown-Up" in this collection in particular.
As an adult, I spend a good amount of time reminding myself to be more present and to live in the moment. This book encourages kids to do the same by loving and appreciating what's in front of them. Simple, but joyful and powerful!
My mom gave me this collection of poems some time around my thirteenth birthday, I suspect as a means to share some of the trials and joys of womanhood with me in a different way than she could in conversation at that time. The book covers a wide range of the female experience–falling in love, motherhood, aging, sex–through the work of celebrated poets. This really makes a lovely gift for those somewhat new to poetry (like I was at the time).
The title says it all! I haven't seen or listened to Hamilton, but I follow Lin-Manuel Miranda on Twitter and always loved his morning and evening inspirational tweets. This little book takes those passing tweets and makes them into quiet moments of reflection and encouragement. I keep this book on my nightstand and open it at random when I need a boost in the morning or need to recenter after a busy day.
More eloquent people than me have already lauded the technical virtues of Alice Munro, and there's no denying her skill at her craft. What made me love these stories, though, is how they reopened my eyes to all the depth present in the breadth of daily experiences that we all have. Buying a dress, eating a meal, visiting a nursing home, going to a coffee shop—all become profound actions under Munro's keen eye. These stories changed how I view the world, and I hope they do the same for you.
This book is a must-read for Jane Austen fans! It's not just an informative book; Kelly is a scholar of literature and classics at Oxford, and she's making a compelling and scholarly argument regarding the nature of Austen's writing. Through Austen's letters, close readings of her novels, and historical context, Kelly argues that the political aspects of Austen's works are essential to their themes. This book shows that Austen's work is about more than romance and balls. Rather, Austen is a political author commenting and working within the issues of her time.
As the title says, this is a book without shame and a book about countering shame. Bolz-Weber has a very active social media presence as a Lutheran pastor, preaching a gospel of inclusion and embrace of all and ministering to those that might be left unheard or untended to. This book takes that same approach, weaving her own anecdotes and experiences with theology and passages from the Bible to consider how Christianity might promote healthy sexuality and engage in it. I give kudos to anyone that's willing to talk about the hard or uncomfortable topics; and even when I didn't entirely agree with her, I wish more people would talk about religion in such genuine, raw, pragmatic, and honest terms.
I wish every middle-schooler and high-schooler could get this book before they get their first smartphone, because it addresses so many of my concerns with how technology affects wellbeing and notions of self. Haig is not anti-technology by any means; he's more pro-incorporating technology into life as a tool, acknowledging its power as something that demands our attention and affects our health. How do live harmoniously with texts and tweets and emails and blogs and Photoshopped pictures? Haig presents wisdom in the form of lists, anecdotes, practical action items, and thoughtful essays informed by his personal experiences and struggles with mental health. This book invites you to pause, to take a step back, to think more critically, and to truly value being.
After losing a very dear family member, I searched for a book that was the right balance of comforting, serious honest, and life-affirming—and I found it in this book. The protagonist Addie has just lost her twin brother in a drowning accident on the lake in their community, but she also has the opportunity to do summer research on that lake and pursue her passiong of science. Addie grapples with her own grief, her environment and the presence of the lake, her family's expectations and emotions, her brother's legacy and trusting her own voice. What emerges from this is a narrative of someone learning to cope with change. These reckonings make it a great book for kids as they adapt to the world, but also for adults more familiar and still coping with change.