Holly is the resident nonfiction nerd. Within that genre, she typically reads lesser-known history, anything social science-y, and memoirs. When it comes to fiction, she has a soft spot for elderly protagonists and stories that involve resilience, hope, and honesty. Recommending books is Holly's love language.
I was entirely engulfed by this stunning story. Mercury Pictures Presents takes place mostly in the first half of the 20th century with a focus around World War II. However, don’t let the idea of it being a war book mislead: Marra takes a unique, timely angle with a focus on art (mostly movies) and political refugees. Exploring the power of communication, propaganda, integrity, public opinion, and fortitude, it was truly wonderful and I think you should read it.
Acceptance recounts Emi Nietfeld’s childhood up through graduating from Harvard. Contending with a mother who is both a compulsive hoarder and an expert gaslighter, Emi faces down institutionalization, homelessness, negative foster families, and poverty to claw her way to the academic successes on which she pins her future. But Nietfeld is very clear: she doesn’t want to be seen as an inspirational, bootstraps-pulling story of grit and resilience. Instead, with bracing candor, she lays bare her life as a window into the incredibly irrational and often actively harmful hoops through which any youth facing adversity must jump through.This book comes replete with trigger warnings, but I cannot recommend it enough. It is courageous, honest, and piercing. It belongs in the ranks of other remarkable memoirs like The Glass Castle and Born a Crime.
What a fascinating, engrossing read! Author Sarah Stodola merges robust research and personal experience to craft an excellent account of beach resort culture the world over. I learned so much from this book, peppering everyone around me with new facts and revelations. Stodola strikes a great balance between calling out the ways that resorts upset local cultures while also acknowledging positive economic impacts and the undeniable allure of a lovely beach. She also intertwines reflections on climate change being both impacted by and actively impacting existing beach destinations. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy social anthropology and learning fun facts about cultural mainstays.
A gorgeous, gratifying story, evoking a strong sense of place in the "dregs of Queens" and told from the plural perspective of the eponymous brown girls. Disguised by the book's brevity is the impressive span of rich, lively vignettes that make up a life, cradle to grave. Particularly notable is the way Andreades rejects the idea of caricature while also managing to tell a story from a collective narrator. An excellent choice for those who enjoyed Girl, Woman, Other or Infinite Country. Wonderful as audiobook as well thanks to masterful narration from Tashi Thomas.
"On more than one occasion while reading this book, I just wanted to hold it to my chest in a tight hug. The Book of Form and Emptiness is creative & thoughtful, with kindhearted, messy characters and a sensitive look at mental illness. It explores seemingly incongruous themes from climate change to the purpose of art to the power of found family. Ruth Ozeki is incredibly inventive and this book definitely played with structure and perspective in an original way. The supporting cast of characters were all treated as full people which added immensely to my enjoyment."
"Maeve Higgins is a marvelous human and exceptional writer. Her essays teem with compassionate curiosity. Wide ranging in topic, this collection peeks under the rocks of America from the bemused but charmed view of an immigrant writer. One essay talked about the time Higgins accidentally ate way too many edibles and realized it while on an errand to the Paper Source that got *~trippy~*. Another recounts her experience visiting the Border Patrol expo in Texas. Still another discusses how 90 Day Fiancé is a perfect lens into misguided American exceptionalism. What makes this book particularly good is Higgins’s openness. She doesn’t approach any topic looking for a fight, fists balled and poised to strike. Instead, she optimistically views humanity has generally alright, albeit peculiar and often rather foolish."
"Reading Bewilderment felt like diving without an oxygen tank, knowing that when you break to go to the surface the coral will disappear, so you hold your breath until it hurts and keep your eyes wide because the beauty is overwhelming but the panic is setting in, too. This was my first Powers (I know, I know, I’ll read The Overstory someday) and I was very moved by his writing. I took so many notes and highlighted several passages. In that vein, I felt that Robin’s neurodiversity was portrayed with tenderness and honesty."
"It's rare that when I finish a book I already know that I will re-read it someday, and Fight Night fits squarely into that category. Author Miriam Toews insightfully & tenderly captures the dynamics between precocious eight-year-old, Swiv, and her tenacious, affectionate grandmother whose care she falls into when suspended from school for fighting. Told mostly from Swiv's perspective, Fight NIght probes at the ferocity of maternal relationships largely by way of the loving and somewhat unconventional wisdom passed down to Swiv from her grandmother. Toews manages to explore many heavy themes like mental illness & spiritual abuse with wit and care. The book is full of exceptionally poignant observations that resist the pull towards sanctimony or excessive sentimentality. I loved every last bit of it. (P.S. The audiobook -- narrated by Toews and her daughter -- is excellent. Download from Libro.fm!)"
"This lovely, clever book highlights the importance of stewardship -- of land, of gifts, of knowledge. Two young people learn that their grandmother is a lot more than meets the eye and are invited into her pursuit to conserve and protect that which needs our help. The illustrations are also just playful and beautiful."
Con women are having a moment! Telfer highlights a number of women who have pulled off cons, scams, and swindles through the last few hundred years. Each chapter contains a mini-biography with stories that range from bonkers to tragic, each told with wonderful narrative style. A great pick for anyone enjoying The Dropout or Inventing Anna.
What a sweet book. A group of animals find a doll in the forest and return it to the young girl in a nearby home. Their curiosity and empathy are so heartwarming. Plus the illustrations are bright & engaging!
"A delightful, razor-sharp pasquinade that centers women across history and time. Each story dripped with derisive banality, almost as if the Reductress writers were tasked with writing speculative historical fiction. I tore through it."
"I adored this book. It's hopeful, reverent, and meditative -- somehow riding the line between memoir and science. Kimmerer expertly weaves together traditional academic botany and holistic Indigenous thought, simultaneously emphasizing the fragility of our world and the robust wisdom abundant in communities that have stewarded the land for millennia."
What a phenomenal memoir. Wente writes with power and sincerity about his life as an Indigenous man in Canada, largely through the lens of his work as a film critic. He outlines the ways that the cultural focus on "reconciliation" is both misguided and delusory in the absence of a robust reckoning with the truth of the ongoing violence of colonialism. Unreconciled belongs on shelves alongside Cathy Park Hong's Minor Feelings and Ruby Hamad's White Tears Brown Scars.
Years ago, I had a white chocolate pistachio croissant at my neighborhood maman and I literally had dreams about it. When they released a cookbook, I didn't hesitate. With an abundance of recipes across breakfast, lunch, and dessert, there is not one that hasn't delivered so far (with special fondness for the creative sandwiches & the lavender hot chocolate tart).
Oh my heart! What a charming book with bright, clean art and kindhearted protagonists -- knitting gnomes who take care of all the forest creatures! This book feels like a hug.
This short, creative, unsettling novel follows an unnamed teenager narrator who is stuck on an island off the New Hampshire coast in a separatist community of retirees (self-named The Wrinklies) who begrudgingly let her stay after her grandmother dies and her parents cannot be reached. Season Butler writes with clarity, wit, and rich description. Her imagination is on clear display and produced an immersive, memorable read. The book is quiet and character-driven, exploring generational distrust & misunderstanding, the end of the world, and a person’s worth.
Sitcoms! Talk shows! Soap operas! Activism! McCarthyism! Tabloids! Schmoozing! Sexism! It's all here. This fantastic book focuses on four pioneering women who are responsible for the early TV programming that led directly to many of our modern staples. It is excellently researched and engagingly written.
Valarie Kaur's memoir is a marvel. In See No Stranger, she chronicles her journey of activism (catalyzed by the hate crimes that followed 9/11), all the while being guided by the principles of her Sikh faith. Kaur writes with heart and clarity, offering a vulnerable account that inspires, equips, and awakens. A great pick for readers of When They Call You a Terrorist or Just Mercy.
This atmospheric and suspenseful novel centers on Franny Stone as she follows the last migration of Arctic terns south from Greenland in a near-future world where we are deeper into the climate crisis and only a handful of wild animal species remain. To do so, she talks her way onto one of the few remaining commercial fishing vessels and convinces them to track the terns as a last-ditch effort to find whatever fish are left in the sea. McConaghy has crafted an eerie and emotionally charged novel wrapped around an uneasy narrator. Franny’s past unspools slowly in flashbacks throughout the book, delivered like a slowly dispersing fog. Her unfettered, willful nature ties the years together as we learn about her unconventional marriage to Niall Lynch, a disarming professor passionate about conservation.
Part of the power of this novel is the way McConaghy’s writing evokes the visceral nature of Franny’s pull to wander and the depth of her self-condemnation. Her split desires and war with her own body are memorably crafted. There were quite a few excerpts I wrote down because the writing was both beautiful & sharp. Also, the setting is remarkably unsettling, conjuring an ambience of entirely-realistic destruction.
A delightfully weird romp through the world of miscreant marsupials, treacherous trees, and perilous pachyderms. Roach's writing feels like a transcription of the tape-recorder notes of a spunky, eccentric, naïve early 20th-century adventure correspondent. I learned a lot and chuckled at least once per chapter.
Becky Cooper heard a bit of Harvard folklore one day when she was an undergrad: an anthropology PhD student had been murdered in her off-campus apartment in the ‘60s by a professor with whom she’d had an affair. The case was never solved. Something about the tale struck a chord with Cooper, and she ended up sucked into an attempt to find answers about the murder of Jane Britton for the next ten years of her life. In this book, she investigates the myths and suspicions and gossip. Throughout, Cooper is interrogating her own biases as well as our cultural obsession with compelling narratives. The reflective nature of the book is remarkable and, in my opinion, an important step away from academic “objectivity” (hi, not a thing) to acknowledging our positionality in relation to our research. We Keep the Dead Close, while engrossing, is not a page turner. It’s deliberate and encompassing, inviting the reader along Cooper’s circuitous, haunted search for some semblance of truth. It’s both a true crime drama and a deeply personal account of our entanglement with truth, justice, storytelling, and culture-making.
In this riveting memoir, Cheryl (a.k.a. Crystal a.k.a. Harbhajan) recounts her childhood growing up on the run, crisscrossing the globe with her family in order to evade Interpol. Diamond’s childhood set the stage for an extremely dysfunctional adolescence thanks to her charming yet intensely controlling father. Not only was the family on the run, they were living by his set of rules and principles that set them even further apart from regular society. Nowhere Girl t hit exactly the way I think the best memoirs do: a place that is stranger-than-fiction and incredibly heartfelt. On top of that, Diamond is an excellent writer, evoking a strong sense of place in each setting as well as offering insightful commentary on her emotional state along the journey.
Sparse and affecting, this novel follows one Colombian family who, through fateful yet ordinary decisions, is fractured between their native Bogotá and the U.S. The story is rich with ambient language and poignant observations. In just under two hundred pages, Engel encapsulates the human toll of a bordered world and the tensions inherent in loving across distance. I was struck by the way Engel crafted the story to be both coherent and disparate, descriptive yet lean. It was as though the book’s style reflected the family’s situation. Masterfully, the novel balances heartbreaking circumstance with remarkable resilience in a way that does not reduce any character to an inspirational story. They are fiercely loyal to one another and so they press on, simply because they must.
Nearly unbelievable and quite engrossing, this book covers the covert operations of WWII’s impressive American spy Virginia Hall as she works to equip and liberate France from Nazi control through subversion and sabotage. Overcoming discrimination not only as a woman but also an amputee, Ms. Hall proved to be one of the most vital operatives of the SOE and OSS, arming rebel groups and gathering intel in Lyon and southern France. Multiple times while reading this was I utterly floored that her story is not widely known, as at times it reads like a straight-up 007 adventure. At the halfway point, enough had already happened to fill two action-packed feature films. Virginia Hall’s story is absolutely worth reading & admiring.
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"I. Loved. This. Book. Gilda, the protagonist, is a wildly anxious lesbian atheist who haphazardly finds hers in a job as a secretary at a Catholic church. Gilda’s worries and thoughts make up the majority of the novel — and it’s so very good. What I loved most about it was how real the depictions of anxiety and depression are. Austin wrote Gilda’s inner monologues with deftness and humor and humanity all baked in. Kindhearted yet debilitated by both fear & apathy, Gilda makes for a maladroit heroine that must attempt to navigate the world alongside her emotional chaos."
"The best way I can describe this novel is fable-like. Miller's writing is captivating and atmospheric. As a reader, you feel wrapped up in the town's stories and the outcome of a single impulsive action. One of my favorite fiction reads to date!"
"In this remarkably powerful book written with clarity and honesty, Lacy Crawford recounts her sexual assault while at a prestigious New England boarding school and the dramatic ensuing efforts by the administration to silence her. This memoir is gripping and important. I was floored by her candor and perspicuity."
"Fascinating history and a well-argued premise, this book is a winner, especially in the current climate. Gallagher presents a thorough and readable account of the post office, starting even before the Declaration of Independence. And curve-ball: there are daredevil characters reaching out of moving trains and flying the earliest airplanes!"
This book will leave you with your heart in your throat, tears in your eyes, and hope in spite of it all. It’s poignant, affecting, devastating, extraordinary, masterful. I struggle to outright recommend it because it’s such a unique and powerful book, but it will likely not be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, it remains one of the most moving and memorable books I have ever read.""
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"A fascinating look at the 2008 crash / housing crisis as delivered by Ryan Dezember who was both reporting on real estate for the Press-Register and experiencing the rollercoaster first-hand as a homeowner on the Gulf Coast. Interspersing a well-researched report with personal anecdotes, Dezember paints a thorough picture of both the speculation frenzy and the devastation of the crash on Average Joe homeowners. This book was well-written and well-research, terrifying, and wild."
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"This book is remarkable. Author Susan Abulhawa weaves an engaging story complete with complex characters and gorgeous language. The story follows Nahr, a fiery and determined Palestinian refugee, as she navigates a world that regularly devalues and displaces her kin. Her relationships are intricately woven and believable. The descriptions of Kuwait, Jordan, and Palestine are detailed and immersive. The prose is written with a deep resonance that leaves you feeling both filled and emptied all at once. It's just so good. I urge you to read it!"
"This well-written, thoroughly-researched book presents the argument that popular prison “reforms” are simply expansions of the prison industrial complex and do not ultimately make us any safer. In fact, for the most part, these alternatives reinforce existing narratives of criminality, personal responsibility, racism, and disdain for the impoverished. They convincingly show that often these solutions cause more harm than rehabilitation, layering on penalties for poverty and systemic obstacles. Ultimately, the adoption of these alternatives expands the net of incarceration, with a narrow, unimaginative focus on control and confinement over true justice and holistic healing. The book is rife with compelling examples. People are left with limited choices, no support, basic needs unmet, and significant stigma, then expected to rebuild their lives or maintain a functioning position in society. This paradigm is broken and unfair. In the final chapter, Schenwar and Law offer a broader vision for moving beyond alternatives, championing community-based interventions and a societal shift from being punishment-oriented to being liberation- and healing-oriented. This book is worth your time. Michelle Alexander wrote the foreword and Angela Davis endorsed it, so if you don’t take it from me, take it from them."
"This affecting novel follows Gifty, an Alabaman daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in neuroscience. Her passion stems in part from her brother's death as a teenager due to an overdose. The story is slow-moving, reflective, and tenderly poignant. Gifty spends much of her time attempting to find a bearable balance between her faith and her profession. She struggles with the questions that plague her — first as a girl in youth group, implacable by platitudes but desperately eager to be good, then as a scientist, guarded yet drawn to the beautiful, comforting mystery of belief. Gyasi found a way to engrossingly bring us along on the introspective journey of an earnest, thoughtful, brilliant woman sorting through her pain and grasping at hope."
"Giridharadas covers the philanthropy of the wealthy elite and how in many ways it maintains rather than challenges the status quo. The charity world often turns the rich into heroes without addressing root issues. Giridharadas is a fantastic writer, and I recommend this book all the time."
"This book covers the under-celebrated women who are responsible for one of the most world-changing technologies in our lifetime: the internet. Covering both the physical hardware & the development of internet culture, Claire Evans does a remarkable job shining a light on the women who solved problems, organized information, and envisioned new uses for the nascent technology. I was entranced & fascinated!"
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"As a big fan of memoirs, this is one of my top 10 I've ever read. Both incredibly informative and remarkably reflective, Camas Davis offers a compelling account of her induction into ethical butchery and its coincident timing with some major transitions in her personal life. Also, a good chunk of this book takes part in rural France, and it's totally atmospheric and made me want to fly to the farm and lounge with the whole motley crew."
Winner, James Beard Award for Best Book in Vegetable-Focused Cooking
Named a Best Cookbook of the Year by the Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Bon Appétit, Food Network Magazine, Every Day with Rachael Ray, USA Today, Seattle Times, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Library Journal, Eater, and more
"Addario writes with clarity about a job that is both meaningful & all-consuming, offering an unglamorous but heartfelt portrait about her life as a conflict photographer. Throughout, she muses on the lessons she learned about the world and herself along the way. This is a memoir that has everything you want: adventure, cultural reckoning, honesty, and reflection."
"An incredibly thoughtful and practical guide to structuring your time and resources to make an impact in whatever areas matter to you. Authors Tammy and Christen do not rely on platitudes or vague statements, but rather, drawing on their own experiences as nonprofit leaders, help readers develop a clear plan for how to make a difference. I'd recommend it to anyone who has the desire to shape the world in some way but is overwhelmed about how to do so most effectively. It'd make an excellent grad gift, too, as we approach that season!"
"I just loved this book. Girl, Woman, Other follows the stories of twelve loosely connected, wildly diverse Black women throughout the UK as they navigate life's ups and downs. The experience of reading it felt like being at a huge dinner party where everyone knows and loves each other and is telling overlapping stories with lots of laughter. The writing style is like nothing I've ever read before with train-of-thought run-on sentences that really accentuates the storytelling vibe. I was sad when it was over!"
"I thought this book was utterly delightful. It's slow and soft, charming in a way that is unique to stories that feature inter-generational relationships. It'd be a great pick for folks who enjoyed A Man Called Ove or Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. I laughed and I cried and I was sad when it was over."
"A remarkable, essential book that will certainly become one of my top anti-racist education recommendations. Hamad writes with extraordinary clarity and thoughtfulness, exposing the persistent systemic oppression of women of color and the intentionally cultivated cultural disdain for anything that even remotely threatens white supremacy. Would pair very well with Ijeoma Oluo's Mediocre."
This memoir-infused essay collection offers a candid, incisive reflection on a variety of topics related to art, Asian American identity, performance, and relationship. It is obvious when reading this book that Hong’s primary medium is poetry. Along with sentences steeped intention, rich vocabulary permeates each chapter and gives the personal, thoughtful reflections an urgency and intensity that makes this book particularly remarkable. A relatively short book by page count, Hong wastes not a word throughout the collection. Excellent choice for readers of The Undocumented Americans.
This cookbook is a total gem! Andrea Bemis challenged herself to cook using only ingredients sourced within 200 miles of her home. Through that experience, she developed some hyperlocal recipes that celebrate her immediate geography. She offers adaptations for wherever you are located, noting what ingredients to swap and what can be improvised. The squash Gorgonzola butter recipe is insanely delicious.