27(ish) books you might like
Books > doomscrolling.
So, for much of the last two years, I’ve been doing Instagram-story reviews of the books I read. I started when I went on a solo trip to Tulum and, after a few pics of my Kindle and the beach, some people asked me what I was reading. From there, I continued because people told me it was helpful.
I’ve gotten into a pretty good habit of sharing once I finish, but Instagram stories don’t last forever (even in highlights) and having easy-to-click links to buy the books you want is useful.
With that in mind: Welcome to my substack. The name is TBD; I welcome other ideas.
Here’s the plan: Every so often, maybe weekly, maybe every two weeks, I’ll email you with some book recommendations. Probably things I’ve been reading lately, but also maybe a dip into the backlist.
My taste is pretty consistent: Fiction (literary, historical, “beach reads” & psychological thrillers), romance, YA, books for/by/about women, political & pop culture non-fiction, memoirs, and essay collections.
I don’t tend to buy or read science fiction, fantasy, detective/crime novels, or self-help, but that’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
Within those categories, I read a lot. So far into 2020, I’ve read 123 books, and because I don’t finish books I’m not digging, I’ve liked (almost) all of them.
Accordingly, this isn’t an all-inclusive favorite books list, or even half of my favorites, or “the best of the year so far.” What lies below is instead a list of just some great books I read in 2020 (most but not all of which came out in 2020) that I thoroughly enjoyed enough to not look at Twitter for a few hours — or at least, that had me glancing at Twitter every chapter and then going back to the book.
Future emails will have less books, or maybe more books, and maybe some categories or topics, and I might fuck around with the format on this. Let’s play it by ear.
So: If you’re looking for something to read for the long weekend in which you’re not traveling, not partying, not catching COVID, and are instead trying like I am to avoid the internet, here are a few suggestions, in alphabetical order by author’s last…
If you want a story about dystopia, internet culture, futurism, and perhaps you want to be inspired to quit the internet:
Followers - Megan Angelo - Two alternating stories: In one, Orla is a blogger for a gossip site who uses her platform to turn her roommate, Floss, into a famous influencer. In the other, 36 years later, Marlow and her husband live in a Truman-Show-like town where the government, which runs the internet, broadcasts their lives to the world. How do the stories connect? How did the gov’t end up running the internet? How is social media fucking us all up? Read this book. It’s both very funny and very bleak.
If you want a beautiful story about sisterhood, racism, complicated love, and generational trauma:
The Vanishing Half - Brit Bennett - Stella and Desiree Vignes grow up in Louisiana in a town where everyone is a light-skinned Black person. At 16, they run away to New Orleans, and eventually split up and become estranged — Stella goes on to live her life passing as a white woman; Desiree lives as a Black woman. Many many years later, their daughters meet. No spoilers, but this book is beautiful, propulsive, and illuminating about race relations & family. Don’t just trust me — it was an immediate NYT #1 bestseller that caused a massive bidding war in which HBO coughed up seven figures for the film rights.
If you want a story about racism in tech, the bleak way we’re in love in our mid-twenties, and complicated father-daughter relationships:
Days of Distraction - Alexandra Chang - An unnamed Chinese American narrator miserably working as a tech writer in San Francisco leaves the job and the city when she moves to upstate New York to follow her white boyfriend, J, as he goes to grad school. She tries to figure out what to do with her life, how to navigate her interracial relationship, and the ways in which technology has made it both so much harder and so much easier. The style of this book is particularly well done.
If you want a story about rich teens doing fucked up things:
Anna K - Jenny Lee - Anna Karenina but instead of uber-wealthy Russians, it’s uber-wealthy Korean-American teenagers in Manhattan. Fun and soapy and Gossip-Girl-esque.
If you want a story about how for someone to win, someone else has to lose:
A Burning - Megha Majumdar - I loved this book so much! Three different narrators: Jivan, a Muslim teenager in India who gets arrested by the police after posting a lighthearted comment on Facebook immediately following a train bombing; her former gym teacher, PT Sir, who is becoming an operative in the opposition party; and Lovely, a hijra (trans) woman who Jivan was tutoring in English and who dreams of becoming an actress. The writing is so good, the plot moves so quickly, and the voice is so strong. The story itself is heavy but it doesn’t drag you down.
If you want a PG-13 romance that is grounded in real feelings:
If I Never Met You - Mhairi McFarlane - A perfect British rom-com. After Laurie and her longtime boyfriend-slash-coworker break up, she and another coworker, Jamie, decide to stage a relationship to help her make her ex jealous and to help Jamie’s playboy reputation that’s holding back his career. Mhairi is such a charming writer (I love all her books!) that instead of being stupid, this is a great and thoughtful romance with smart critiques about race and gender in the workplace.
If you want a smart story about racism in tech and how we can never really know our friends:
New Waves - Kevin Nguyen - Lucas (an Asian man) and Margo (a Black woman) are some of the only people of color working at a tech start-up, and are best friends. When Margo suddenly dies in a car accident, days after they steal their company’s database, Lucas grieves, learns more about Margo, and figures out what to do with their crime. This book is funny, sad, and pitch-perfect about race in technology, social media, and our online personas.
If you want a PG-13 romance about gymnastics and you’re wishing we still had the Olympics this summer:
Head Over Heels - Hannah Orenstein - Avery is a former gymnast whose life has fallen apart — so she moves home, gets a job at a gym training a rising Olympian, and starts having a lil’ crush on her co-coach. The romance in this book is sweet and realistic, but the real good stuff is the deep dive into gymnastics culture, in what it does to young women, and how it builds us up and breaks us down.
If you want hot hot hot romance in which social distancing is by definition part of the society:
The Bridgerton series - Julia Quinn - During one bleak early pandemic weekend, I did absolutely nothing but devour all 8 Bridgerton novels. Regency romance, very dirty, very hot, perfect characters with compelling stories — start with the first and work your way through the series. I usually only like contemporary romance; Julia Quinn made me a believer in historicals.
If you want a story about the problematic nature of white feminism:
Such a Fun Age - Kiley Reid - Alix is a white progressive woman who hires Emira, a Black teenage girl to baby it her daughter, Briar. When strangers accuse Emira of kidnapping Briar at a grocery store, shit escalates. This book was a huge hit earlier in the year and now it’s even more resonant, with sharp critiques of white feminism and well-meaning woke women.
If you dream of one day electing the first woman president:
Rodham - Curtis Sittenfeld - I have complicated feelings about this book, which is the story of Hillary Rodham, had she never married Bill Clinton. It’s stressful, funny, engrossing, romantic, and even inspiring — and I don’t know how I would have felt about it if I hadn’t worked on the campaign or wasn’t constantly able to reference what real-life people the author was tying her fictional characters to. Objectively, the book is very well done, and you probably won’t have as complicated a reaction to it.
If you’re a fan of the Bachelor, have never felt comfortable in your skin, and/or are looking for love:
One to Watch - Kate Stayman-London - Kate’s book rules!! Bea is a plus-size fashion blogger with a broken heart — after a tweetstorm about a Bachelorette-style show goes viral, she gets asked to be the next star, and she agrees, under the condition she won’t actually have to fall in love. Little does she know, love finds you everywhere. Kate is an amazing writer, and her book is funny, real-to-life about how it feels to be plus-size today, and so romantic. It comes out on Tuesday 7/7, pre-order it.
If you keep secrets from your family members:
The Daughters of Erietown - Connie Schultz - Multi-generational family saga about working class women in Erietown, Ohio, with funny vignettes, perfectly observed details, and a strong perspective of how trauma carries on from parent to child. Connie is a treasure.
If you’ve ever worked out of the Wing or followed a #girlboss on Instagram:
Self Care - Leigh Stein - Truly pitch-perfect satire about a women’s wellness tech start-up, the nightmare-ish founders behind it, the way they treat their employees, the scam that is influencer culture & capitalism-inflected self care, and the girl-boss myth. The plot is good but mostly just trust me on this. It’s so funny I laughed out loud.
If you are fascinated by the rise of millennials in politics:
The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For - Charlotte Alter - Millennials in politics is literally my shit, but this book would be great even if it wasn’t (and even if Sadie the dog wasn’t in it.) Charlotte is a fantastic storyteller & writer, and she perfectly explains how the big moments of our coming-of-age time (9/11, Occupy, the 2008 election, etc) define our political perspectives, and does deep profiles of people like AOC, Pete Buttigieg, Hayley Stevens, and more. I think this book is really important to understanding how generational divides intersect with political viewpoints.
If you don’t know how to forgive your parents:
Missed Translations - Sopan Deb - Sopan reconnects with his estranged mom (who’s living in New Jersey) and his even more estranged dad (who’s living in India.) That’s a simple summation of a book that is funny, specific in its description of being a child-of-Indian-immigrants but universal in its understanding of family, and forgiveness. I also really enjoyed the writing style; he never takes himself too seriously.
If you’ve ever been depressed, or been baffled by how great & wild being in love is, or have accidentally shit your pants:
Wow No Thank You - Samantha Irby - Her third set of essays and maybe my favorite set — Samantha is now 40, in love, living with her wife in a small town, and figuring out how to be. There is a lot of poop, depression, romance, and joy in these essays. You don’t have to have read her other books, but you should, because they’re also great.
If you’re figuring out how to be a better person:
How to Be An Antiracist - Ibram X. Kendi - Yes, this is the trendy book to read right now. But that’s justified: It’s a very readable and very actionable guide to racism and more importantly to being antiracist. I particularly thought his chapter on activism was thought-provoking. (I also liked this way more than I liked White Fragility — not that they’re in any way the same, but if you are looking for non-fiction anti-racist books, pick this one.)
If you believe the universe is inclined toward chaos:
Why Fish Don’t Exist - Lulu Miller - This one really is one of my favorite books of 2020. I read it a few months ago and still think about it constantly: It’s ostensibly a biography of David Starr Jordan, a taxonomist in the late 1800s/early 1900s who discovered nearly a fifth of all fish known to humans in his day. His life got torn upside down many times over, between earthquakes and fires; he ultimately landed as the first president of Stanford University. Lulu researched him for a decade, and this book is partially that research and partially a memoir about doing the research, as her own life is changing rapidly and she tries to find hope and resiliency from DSJ’s own story — which then gets complicated by the legacy of his work. A description doesn’t do this book justice; it’s just phenomenal.
Some other quick hits that I won’t go into detail on but are perfect summer-afternoon-on-the-couch reads:
The Herd - Andrea Bartz - a thriller murder mystery centered around a women’s coworking space
Recipe for Persuasion - Sonali Dev - a re-telling of Persuasion by Jane Austen but with famous chefs & soccer players
The Happy Ever After Playlist - Abby Jimenez - an artist and a musician fall in love and also there’s a dog involved
Why We’re Polarized - Ezra Klein - probably the best explanation of how fucked our political system is, if this is your idea of relaxing
The Cactus League - Emily Nemens - quick character studies around spring training in Arizona.
Real Life - Brandon Taylor - a gay Black man figuring out if he fits in academia; just so tender
Queen Move - Kennedy Ryan - very hot romance about a Black woman political consultant trying to find love
Big Summer - Jennifer Weiner - a plus-sized influencer gets pulled back into a toxic friendship for a summer wedding, things go awry
Do you like this? Do you hate it? Do you want categories or photos? Shorter reviews? Longer ones? Feedback welcome.
Until next time!