I’ve read a lot of great books this past year. “When the hell do you have time to read?” you may ask, so please note that I am an abnormally fast reader. You know, like how some of you have abnormally fast metabolisms, or the ability to run even when you are not in fear for your life.
But books are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Sometimes, you’re in the mood to be challenged. And sometimes, you would rather let your brain melt in sticky sweetness, like a popsicle in July. Either way, I got you, with an entire list of female-penned writers for every mood.
A book that makes a voracious reader feel less alone in the world: Pamela Paul’s “My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” is a small miracle. Paul, the editor of The New York Times Book Review, writes a memoir through the lens of the books she has read at various points in her life. It is a treasure of a book that makes you yearn for her friendship–perhaps the Book Review will have to suffice.
A book that takes you to another era and place: “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee is a familial saga of Koreans in and around Japan over three generations and most of the 20th century. It is beautifully written and emotionally resonant, with themes of betrayal and exile that are universal.
A book that lets you sweat someone else’s problems instead of your own: “The Awkward Age” by Francesca Segal is a tale of a would-be blended family gone wildly wrong when the teenage kids involved fall for each other. Segal is an arch observer of society and interpersonal dynamics, and I felt so sad when this book was over.
A book that teaches you how to be a better person: “Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy” by Sheryl Sandberg should be required reading for everyone on this planet. Facebook chief Sandberg’s husband died suddenly, leaving her alone with her two young children. In this book, co-authored with Wharton professor Adam Grant, Sandberg tackles the often unspoken issues of how to deal with unforeseen circumstances – and how to help friends and family as well.
A sleeper hit of a memoir: Amy Dickinson’s “Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Coming Home” is the story behind the advice columnist “Ask Amy.” She finds love in middle age after a sudden divorce, and finds herself in a whirlwind of country living, step-parenting and caring for her aging mother. This book lays bare the human heart and is a true gem.
A combination of “Gone Girl” and “The Rosie Project”: Scottish author Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel” is one of those books where the less you know about it, the better. It’s a page-turner in part despite and in part because of its mysterious inaccessible protagonist. It is rare, however, to find a page-turner with humor. You found it right here.
A book about the Israeli-Palestinian “situation” without being about the “situation”: “All the Rivers” by Dorit Rabinyan has already been banned in Israeli schools for its story of forbidden love between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who meet each other in, where else, New York. This book is extremely real, never resorting to played-out tropes, and deals with uncomfortable truths head-on.
A beachy novel about self-transformation, LA and PR: “The F Word” by Liza Palmer is an unexpectedly smart light read about a publicist in LA who harbors a dark secret: she was once fat. This book is about appearances versus reality, and shiny surfaces versus darker, arguably more intriguing, interiors. As someone who thought it would be about profanity, I was delighted by how insightful and entertaining this light read was, very much in the spirit of “Lizzie Pepper.”
A book of essays by a proud, awesome, female voice: “One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter: Essays” by Scaachi Koul is a collection written by the journalist daughter of Indian immigrants in Canada. She’s insightful, funny and a pleasure to read.
A spin-off of another beloved book: “Anything Is Possible” by Elizabeth Strout takes some of the characters from her previous novel, “My Name Is Lucy Barton,” into a new direction as she explores the lives of those Lucy left behind when she made it big. It’s a deeply moving read.
A “how to make my life better” book: Try “Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less” by Tiffany Dufu. This book totally had me at the ‘hello’ of the title, but it is a quick and real read that will stay with you long after you finish it. This is another one that should be given out free to any human.
Some Jewish historical fiction: “Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan” by Ruth Gilligan tells the story of the Irish Jewish community through the words of three characters. It’s a beautiful book about the mostly-forgotten Jews of Ireland, and definitely worth a read.
“I wonder if my life would be different if I took LSD.” As if you’ve never thought that! (hmm) Ayelet Waldman’s “A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life” is a nonfiction account that reads easily and will definitely liven up your book club.
A life-altering book: “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi was a game-changer for me. This multi-generational debut novel about Africans and African Americans and the effect of slavery on their lives is soul-bending. It is just phenomenal, full stop.
A book that will inspire you to pick up a pen yourself: The inimitable Amy Krouse Rosenthal, whom you might know from her Modern Love essay in the New York Times advertising the merits of her soon-to-be-widowed husband, wrote “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.” It is nothing short of a masterpiece. Dive in and enjoy every last bit.
Previously on Kveller: Ten books to read on Spring Break and beyond.