Reading has become one of my foremost self-care practices in the last few years. I find books so much more fulfilling than anything I can find on television and as a writer, the more I read, the better my writing gets. As I get older, I find myself seeking commentary on social justice issues and stories that open my eyes to human experiences I might never otherwise be exposed to. This year in particular I’ve been interested in stories about motherhood, relationships, race and identity. These are some of the most notable things I’ve read from the most powerful to the most abominable. May this list inspire you to add something new to your summer reading pile…
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This masterpiece, recommended to me by a former colleague and fellow writer, was by far the best thing I’ve read this year. It’s a tender, complicated and compelling love story that manages to teach deep lessons about race and identity without force. I felt my eyes open more and more to the experience of those in this country who are non-white in so many new ways. At times it was painful to recognize familiar interactions that I never realized were steeped in racism. This should be required reading for all Americans. Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Fiction award – and countless others – for this gorgeous book and her other writings have also garnered international attention. I just bought all her other published work for maternity leave!
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
Every one of the 512 pages of this book was worth reading and stayed with me long after I turned the last page. A beautiful, heart-wrenching story that follows several generations of a family through love, loss, suffering and success. I was so attached to each character and invested in their happiness – I have no doubt you will be too.
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
It is safe to say I’ve fallen in love with Celeste Ng’s writing this year – and not just because she does most of it from my beloved Cambridge, MA! She is one of those magical storytellers who keeps you enraptured late into the night when you know your eyes should be closed. Reese Witherspoon says “To say I love this book is an understatement. It’s a deep psychological mystery about the power of motherhood, the intensity of teenage love, and the danger of perfection. It moved me to tears.” I couldn’t agree more.
We Were the Lucky Ones - Georgia Hunter
I have been fascinated with World War Two since I first studied it in the sixth grade. The public schools in the town where I grew up did an incredible job covering WWII from all angles and I read everything I could get my hands on about every aspect of the war from the Holocaust to the Japanese internment camps. It remains a subject of great interest to me and this book is an incredible representation of a multi-generational family journey through the war era, based on true stories. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are lovable and the story is one of triumph and resilience - every night when I closed my eyes after reading I thanked the universe for my freedom. I love a book that inspires deep gratitude and this novel does that and so much more.
Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Another gorgeous book by Celeste Ng – and one that I read in three nights – touching on the most vulnerable moments in the experience of motherhood. Lydia, a teenaged girl who is dead within the first few pages, carries the weight of her mother’s world on her shoulders. For her mother, Lydia represents the opportunity to reach every goal she never did – and the pressure of those dreams is crushing. This was a piercing reminder to let our children show us who they are.
A Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion
This is the first piece of Joan Didion’s writing that I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last. She has long been recognized as one of the most iconic writers of our time and I came to really appreciate her style and voice in this fiercely raw memoir of the two years in which her husband died unexpectedly and her daughter lay in a coma. As someone whose entire world is wrapped up in my husband and daughter, walking with Didion through this journey was an intense and transformative experience that made me so grateful for the time I have left with the ones I love.
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I asked friends and family for reading suggestions recently and a few folks recommended this book because of the motherhood theme running throughout. It’s a beautiful story – though a bit dense at times –worth pushing through all 667 pages to finish. A poignant reminder that motherhood comes in many shapes and sizes and often has nothing to do with blood relation at all.
The Rent Collector by Camron Wright
This was a book that came recommended by a cherished family friend affectionately known as Mrs. Blossom. I have to admit, when I ordered it on Amazon, I was skeptical given the book hasn’t been showered with awards or accolades from major publications. I really can’t understand why, now, having read it. This is the story of a young mother living with her beloved husband and sick infant son in a municipal dump in Cambodia. Her determination to find a cure for her son takes her on a journey with an unlikely friend that lands her exactly where she is meant to be. Every page made me pinch myself for the fortunate life I have and inspired me to be a better person.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Named one of the ten best books of 2017 by the New York Times, this is a captivating story about two young people who fall in love in the middle of a war zone. Brings the experience of war and political conflict in the Middle East close to home. This was beautifully written and evocative.
The Perfect Mother – Aimee Molloy
This psychological thriller was a quick – and at times terrifying – read. Currently being made into a motion picture starring Kerry Washington. This would be perfect for light entertainment at the beach – it plays to every mother’s biggest fear and offers some sharply accurate, sometimes critical, commentary on the experience of motherhood in the digital age.
The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
I read this because it came recommended as another story about motherhood – and because I loved Hannah’s The Nightingale two years ago. I was a bit disappointed, but, other readers I respect seem to have loved it so part of me thinks I may have been too hormonally imbalanced to survive the vivid depictions of abuse without bias. I did love the portrayal of harsh life in Alaska and the way mother and daughter come together to ultimately survive.
Other books I read…
Anything is Possible – Elizabeth Strout
This was just okay. Strout is a Pulitzer Prize winner so I had higher hopes.
A Separation – Katie Kitamura
This was a quick read with a gorgeous setting. I found the author’s perspective very cold and the subject matter really depressing.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
I bought this book at the Anthropologie warehouse store because it was $6, had a pretty cover and a recommendation from Amy Poehler. Total waste of time – unless you like reading about people who have too much money and no morals. Note to self: do not judge a book by its cover.
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
How promising is this title?! Another note to self: do not judge a book by its title. This came recommended by an acquaintance so I pushed through longer than I would have otherwise. This is the only book I have purchased then put down and refused to pick back up – possibly ever? The first chapters contain so much graphic domestic and sexual violence between father and daughter I found myself crying and vomiting before I decided to put it down as an act of self-care. Somehow this has won a number of respectable literary awards. I imagine the only people who get through to the end of this book are those being paid well to review it. Readers, beware.
What are you all reading this summer? I have a handful of unread books on my nightstand but I'll fly through them on maternity leave - please send me your suggestions for reading while baby Ella sleeps on me!