Didion’s “first collection of nonfiction writing, ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem,’ brings together some of the finest magazine pieces published by anyone in this country in recent years,” wrote our critic, Dan Wakefield.
John Leonard wrote of Didion and this novel, “She writes with a razor, carving her characters out of her perceptions with strokes so swift and economical that each scene ends almost before the reader is aware of it, and yet the characters go on bleeding afterward.”
“Like her narrator, she has been an articulate witness to the most stubborn and intractable truths of our time, a memorable voice, partly eulogistic, partly despairing; always in control.” — Joyce Carol Oates
“All of the essays — even the slightest — manifest not only her intelligence, but an instinct for details that continue to emit pulsations in the reader’s memory and a style that is spare, subtly musical in its phrasing and exact. Add to these her highly vulnerable sense of herself, and the result is a voice like no other in contemporary journalism.” — Robert Towers
“It is difficult to deny that everything she writes grows out of close observation of the social and political landscape of El Salvador. And it is quite impossible to deny the artistic brilliance of her reportage.” — Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
“A new novel by Joan Didion is something of an event. Since her first one, ‘Run River,’ she has gathered a quiet following with her nonfiction pieces that were collected under the title ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ and published to critical enthusiasm in 1968. It was interesting to wonder what sort of fiction Didion’s beautiful writerly skills would now make of her clear-eyed and anguished perception of our time.” — Christopher Lehmann-Haupt
“This new book of Didion’s is full of second thoughts: about the Sacramento Valley of her childhood and, finally, the whole history of California.” It is the work of “someone who is even now, arguably, a great American writer.” — Thomas Mallon
“Her manner is deadpan funny, slicing away banality with an air that is ruthless yet meticulous. She uses few adjectives. The unshowy, nearly flat surface of her writing is rippled by patterns of repetition: an understatement that, like Hemingway’s, attains its own kind of drama. Repetition and observation narrate emotion by demonstrating it, so that restraint itself becomes poetic, even operatic.” — Robert Pinsky
“Didion’s heartbreaking new book, ‘Blue Nights,’ is at once a loving portrait of Quintana and a mother’s conflicted effort to grapple with her grief through words: The medium the author has used throughout her life to try to make sense of the senseless. It is a searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy meditation on mortality and time.” — Michiko Kakutani
“Sometimes I read my iPad in the bathtub, which is probably not a great idea,” says the broadcast journalist Katie Couric, whose new memoir is “Going There.”
What books are on your night stand?
Sally Rooney’s “Beautiful World, Where Are You” and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s “The Plot” are both on my night stand. “The Vanishing Half” is nearby; I still haven’t had a chance to read it, but I’ve heard Brit Bennett is brilliant. I also bought “Oh, William!” I have read every book Elizabeth Strout has written, so I’m excited when I can stop thinking and talking about my own book and start reading others.
What’s the last great book you read?
I recently read “Becoming Duchess Goldblatt” for the second time — it’s a memoir, written by anonymous, about a working woman in the throes of motherhood and divorce who takes on an online persona named “Duchess Goldblatt” and develops a special relationship with … Lyle Lovett. The book is quirky and moving and Duchess has become a wise, comforting voice on Twitter that provides an excellent counterbalance to all the vitriol.
Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?
“Things Fall Apart,” by Chinua Achebe. My daughters both read it in high school and I finally caught up. I loved the lilting lyricism of the prose.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
I love reading newsletters and articles in the morning when I wake up. I spend about an hour reading the news and saving pieces that are too long and would keep me from ever getting out of bed. At night, I dig into them on my iPad. I love The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Time, Medium and so many other great publications. These pieces always restore my faith in journalism and thoughtful, nuanced writing. Sometimes I read my iPad in the bathtub, which is probably not a great idea.
But I still love the feel of holding an actual book in my hands. My favorite place to read is at the beach in the late afternoon. That’s where I read “Fleishman Is in Trouble” (I love Taffy Brodesser-Akner) and reread “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone,” by Lori Gottlieb, because she and I are developing the book into a scripted series.
Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?
Amor Towles, Lisa Taddeo, Isabel Wilkerson, Jia Tolentino, Joan Didion, Colson Whitehead, Bob Woodward, Cheryl Strayed, Michael Lewis, Ibram X. Kendi, Curtis Sittenfeld.
Do you have any comfort reads?
My mom’s copy of “The Best Loved Poems of the American People.” My mom loved poetry and when I read “In Flanders Fields” it always makes me think of her.
Has a book ever brought you closer to another person, or come between you?
My sister Clara (Kiki) is a voracious reader. A few years ago, she told me what an impact “The Warmth of Other Suns” had on her. She said it was the most important book she ever read. I read it and thought it was a masterpiece. It prompted several rich and memorable conversations between us. Then, when my husband and I were planning to visit Auschwitz a few years ago, my mother-in-law, Paula, suggested I read Primo Levi’s “If This Is a Man.” The memoir made the experience even more meaningful and made me appreciate Paula even more.
What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?
Sheera Frenkel’s and Cecilia Kang’s brilliant exposé of Facebook, “An Ugly Truth,” revealed the nefarious actions by company executives months before Frances Haugen blew the lid off the whole enterprise. These two should win a Pulitzer Prize.
Even before the pandemic, I’d been interested in exploring the epidemic of loneliness. “Together,” by Vivek Murthy, underscored how loneliness and social isolation damage our emotional and physical health. It’s the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.
Sanjay Gupta’s book “Keep Sharp” says that occasionally holding your fork with your less dominant hand helps with brain health. Who knew?
Which subjects do you wish more authors would write about?
There have been so many excellent books written lately about the environment and I’d welcome even more. Recently on my podcast I featured Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac, the authors of “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.” My friends Laurie David and Heather Reisman also wrote a book called “Imagine It!” Both books explain in an accessible way our current environmental challenges, but more important, they help us understand what we can do collectively and individually.
Meanwhile, more and more authors are writing honestly about loss and grief, which is something I tried to do in my memoir. “When Breath Becomes Air,” by Paul Kalanithi, “The Light of the World,” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “Notes on Grief,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, helped me metabolize my own experience.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Beautiful, descriptive sentences that play with language in original, unexpected ways. I know I love a book when I read a passage and it stops me in my tracks and makes me read it again. I did this repeatedly when I read Lisa Taddeo’s book “Three Women” as well as her novel, “Animal.”
Have you ever changed your opinion of a book based on information about the author, or anything else?
Katharine Graham was a mythic, almost unknowable figure for me growing up outside Washington, D.C. Her memoir, “Personal History,” was fascinating. It not only helped me understand some of the issues she wrestled with and the challenges she faced running The Washington Post, but it allowed me to connect with her on a deeply personal level, because she was so forthcoming about every aspect of her life.
How do you organize your books?
Easy answer: I don’t. My daughter Ellie color-coded one of our bookshelves and it looks great, but organizing doesn’t exactly fall within my skill set. Besides, there’s something fun about perusing the spines, not knowing what you’ll stumble upon next.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
“Golf Courses of the U.S. Open,” by David Barrett (obviously, my husband’s), and “Ya Wanna Go?,” by Paul Stewart, an N.H.L. referee.
What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?
A dictionary from my father, inscribed, “To my favorite wordsmith.”
Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?
Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice” and Esther in “The Bell Jar.” Antihero: Holden Caulfield, of course.
What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?
When I was little and complained that I was bored, my mom would say, “Go read a book.” I remember sitting in the den, reading our World Books on the lowest shelf of the library. I recently found the paperback copy of “A Patch of Blue” in a box of books from my childhood. I was totally entranced with that book as an adolescent. I loved another book called “Light a Single Candle.” Both were about young blind women. I worked at a camp for blind kids while I was in high school. So that was an interesting theme that ran through my childhood. I also loved anything written by James Thurber. Another favorite was “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” I thought about naming our first daughter Carson, after Carson McCullers. But we decided to name her Elinor instead. I also loved “The Human Comedy,” by William Saroyan and remember being so moved by “Death Be Not Proud,” by John Gunther. Oh, and “In Cold Blood.” That gave me nightmares for weeks.
Have your reading tastes changed over time?
Lately, I’m gravitating to books that help me understand the state of the world. I’m drawn to anything that attempts to explain what’s happening to our country, like “White Working Class,” by Joan Williams, and “Strangers in Their Own Land,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild. I try to use history as my guide as well, which is why I devoured “Eleanor,” by my friend David Michaelis. It’s a stunning character study of someone I deeply admire. It also explains how someone can survive a miserable childhood and go on to do great things.
What book would you recommend for America’s current political moment?
“Peril,” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa — a meticulously reported deconstruction of the insane final days of the Trump administration.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
I have to cheat just a bit, and invite four: Edith Wharton, Mary Shelley, Bryan Stevenson and Herman Wouk. Bryan Stevenson is my personal hero, and I’d like to show Edith Wharton how much the world has changed. Mary Shelley would be fascinating to talk to, as her life story is like something out of a novel (whirlwind romance with Percy Bysshe Shelley and all). And Herman Wouk was the most charming, spirited and fun writer I’ve ever met.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” (my daughter Carrie’s favorite book).
What do you plan to read next?
“Both/And,” by Huma Abedin. “The Lyrics,” by Paul McCartney. “The Stranger in the Lifeboat,” by Mitch Albom. I’m treating myself to all three, the minute I come up for air!
Editor’s note: #RapplerReads is a project by the BrandRap team. We earn a commission every time you shop through the affiliate links below.
Do you still make New Year’s resolutions or have you decided to shun this practice? Whichever side you’re on, it’s still good to set some goals you want to achieve. You can do it anytime, but doing it as we enter a new year just makes it a little bit symbolic, a fresh start.
If you’re tired of the usual resolutions like losing weight or spending less, why not try something that may seem less grand but could be more impactful in the long run? Maybe simple goals like becoming 1% better every day or learning how to react to negative situations?
For our January #RapplerReads, we are sharing with you some of the books that helped us become better people. Self-help books may not be for everyone but we hope you find something that you can read as you welcome the New Year and a new you.
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations for Clarity, Effectiveness, and Serenity by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman
The Daily Stoic is a daily book that you can read either one page a day for 365 days or all at once if you like. This book about the ideals and attitudes of ancient stoics like Marcus Aurelius completely changed how I view life. The lessons on managing emotions like anger and pleasure, focusing only on things that I can control have been helping me react to things – both good and bad – in a way that’s not self-damaging. Since reading this book, I’ve been able to step back and take the quickest route to solving a problem whenever I’m faced with one, whether that’s at work, at home, or in situations that would really test even the most patient person like dealing with aggressive drivers on the road or poor customer service.
The public has polarizing views about this book and its author – stoicism has even become a butt of online jokes – because that’s what happens when a book goes mainstream. But if we take these lessons with a discerning mind, the results are going to be truly beneficial.
– Marj Handog, BrandRap editor
All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum
I read this book in high school, a time when I was concerned with getting good grades so I could get into the best universities in the country. So I was skeptical: How could I already know everything I would need to know about life? In this book, Fulghum expands on lessons we were taught in kindergarten. Learnings like sharing everything, playing fair, taking a nap every afternoon are recontextualized in many different ways.
My favorite kindergarten advice is one I try to follow daily. “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” When I was younger, I was more concerned with getting ahead of everyone in pursuit of my goals. But this advice reminds me that it will always be better to take a moment to breathe and look at my surroundings, check who I can help, and cross the finish line with other people like my family, friends, or coworkers. This book, above everything, grounds me. I’m not the smartest or the best person in the room, but I don’t need to be. I know everything I need to know, and I learned it all in kindergarten.
– Raven Lingat, Senior BrandRap producer and GoodRap lead
I was never a reader growing up, and the earliest memory I have of owning a book is getting an estranged parent to buy the “Ultimate Pocket World Atlas” for me. It opened up my fascination with geography, world history (mostly contemporary), linguistics (in an amateurish kind of way), and basically, looking at maps. In fourth grade, I tried to memorize capitals and even made an Excel sheet of which territories remained under the possession of colonial powers (France has Réunion beside Madagascar, for example, and they still do!), while other kids pored over fantasy books, video games, and the like.
I thought it was just a childhood fancy, but growing older, I found myself drawn to world news and features on other cultures. (Check my YouTube watch history.) Even if I didn’t have the physical means, I wandered. The vastness of the world amazes me. I can drift away to any other reality when my own dissatisfies me. It’s not the healthiest of coping mechanisms, but it got me through adolescence and now, adulthood. Any other kid or person can also get by knowing that the world is big enough for all of our dreams and ambitions.
– Jaco Joves, Senior BrandRap producer and #CheckThisOut lead
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice by Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a compact philosophical text with practical life advice. Funny enough, I found this recommendation from another book, Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson, who famously integrated zen practices like meditation into his professional coaching. As with many of us remote workers, I have adopted meditation and breathing exercises into my daily routine, but it took years for me to get truly comfortable. For those like me, who need help finding a natural rhythm with their breathing, this book suggests to think of the throat as “a swinging door,” where air merely passes in and out.
Shinryu Suzuki’s book, which dons a modern, secular view on zazen meditation, encourages readers to let go of dualistic thinking — you and I, this and that, good and bad. Thus, when we breathe, we are not necessarily inhaling air into our bodies, then exhaling it out to the world, we are simply letting the air pass through this one world, which our bodies are a part of. Among its other practical benefits, the book reminds us to always maintain good posture. When you keep yourself in order, you keep the world in order.
– Pawi Bitanga, BrandRap Producer and host of Inside the Industry podcast
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
The book received a lot of praise when it first came out but has since then been receiving mixed reactions from readers. Some are praising the book for making an impact in people’s lives, others call it crude and unnecessarily vulgar with not a lot of substance going on. On a personal note, however, it was a good reminder not to give so many f*cks about what other people think.
When I first read the book, I was at a point in my life when I lost sight of my own aspirations and was beginning to follow career trajectories that other people had laid before me. I was also a serial people pleaser who couldn’t say no or had trouble telling people how I truly felt. I felt overworked and miserable, and reading the book reminded me that I had my own path to follow. It was an eyeopener, especially for someone whose mind needed a break from too much seriousness in life. Online critics don’t give Mark Manson a lot of credit, especially since he used to be a dating coach. But his words did teach me that living life according to someone else’s definition of success isn’t a life worth living.
– Julian Cirineo, Senior BrandRap producer and CommuniCart lead
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
James Clear’s Atomic Habits says what other self-development books won’t tell you: goals suck. You hit one; you pine for another. You fail at one; you quit. And while goals have a function, I’m sure it’s not a weapon for being unkind to your future self. It’s not sustainable. What is sustainable is slowly but surely turning yourself into the person you want to become. Forget about reading 50 books a year. Start reading five pages every day. Then, when five pages become easy, move up to ten, fifteen, and so on. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to hit 50 books, but it will turn you into a better reader than you were yesterday.
Applying this to other areas of life yields actually fulfilling results, from becoming smarter with money to building stronger relationships with loved ones. A life-changing read for me.
– Armando dela Cruz, Senior Content Strategist and host of Play of the Week
How about you? Got any self-help books you highly recommend? – Rappler.com
When we’re looking for good books to read, we browse bestseller lists, click around Goodreads and Instagram, and ask friends for their recommendations. But the usual blanket categories and genres can be a bit too broad, and often, we’ve found that we get the best recommendations when we choose books based on our mood or our interests.
If you’re looking for interesting books to read, we’ve compiled a list of 34 super-specific recommendations you won’t be able to put down. This list has you covered, no matter how you’re feeling.
The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth and Power by Deirdre Mask (2020)Recommended by Professor Bill Pritchard, geographer and Head of School, Geosciences
Until reading this book, I never thought to ask the question why addresses exist. But in this book, Deirdre Mask tells the history of how street addresses came into being. Not to plot-spoil the saga too much, but it was part extension of the state (no taxation without a way of sending tax bills), part social climbing (a street address can bring cachet) and part navigation (that place where the bakers are we should call Baker Street). At different points in history, the imposition of street addresses was accompanied by riots, as citizens saw this as their freedoms trampled. But in the final chapters of this book, Mask arcs forward to the present, and asks what it’s like not to have an address. In the slums of Kolkata and the homeless kerbsides of New York, not having an address means not being able to access social services. And in the backwoods of West Virginia, not having an address was seen as a libertarian badge of honour until people found they couldn’t get Amazon deliveries. This is a great geographical journey through the most assumed of commonplace things.
Few sensations beat completing that epic volume that’s been sitting on your shelf for months. And this year – this patchy, patchy year – many of us finally did it. We found ourselves trapped at home, desperate for things to do. And actually, turns out, when it came to it, that book wasn’t so intimidating after all.
But not only did we simply have more time to enjoy stuff like reading, we also went out of our way to do it because we needed an escape. We needed to be transported to new worlds, to open our eyes to new things, to escape the undeniable bleakness of reality. For many us, films, TV shows and books were our lifeline through the roughest of times.
So, as 2021 comes to a close, we asked our editors around the world – literary nerds, one and all – to recommend one book that really resonated with them over the past 12 months. From old classics we really should’ve got round to before to new releases that properly rocked, here are the books that got us through the second (at times nice, but generally godawful) year of the pandemic. We hope you enjoy them, too. RECOMMENDED: The 20 best films of 2021 and the best TV shows we binged this year
Some people relied on TikTok to get through the past year of Covid. Barack Obama relied on books.
On Wednesday, the former U.S. president posted a list of his favorite books of 2021 on Facebook and Twitter, continuing a 2009 tradition he started while in the White House. “Art always sustains and nourishes the soul,” Obama, 60, wrote in his posts. “But for me, music and storytelling felt especially urgent during this pandemic year.”
The 13 books on Obama’s list this year encompass several genres, but are all penned by American authors and revolve around the human experience. In 2015, Obama told the New York Review that he’s long gravitated toward novels that elicit empathy, a trend that continues this year.
Here are his favorite books of 2021:
“Matrix” by Lauren Groff
“How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” by Clint Smith
“The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” by Dawnie Walton
“The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles
“Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City” by Andrea Elliott
“Harlem Shuffle” by Colson Whitehead
“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr
“These Precious Days” by Ann Patchett
“Crying in H Mart” by Michelle Zauner
“Aftershocks” by Nadia Owusu
“Crossroads” by Jonathan Franzen
“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers
“Beautiful Country” by Qian Julie Wang
Some of the writers are particularly well acclaimed: Colson Whitehead, for example, has won two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award. Others, like musician Michelle Zauner, are relative debutants as authors.
And many are fiction writers. Dawnie Walton’s “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev,” for example, takes readers through the early 1970s rock scene in New York City through the lens of Opal, an aspiring musician from Detroit.
Decades later, in 2016, Opal’s life is distinctly different — part of a story about music, race and family secrets that NPR called both authentic and emotionally powerful.
The non-fiction on Obama’s list appears to be just as emotionally gripping. Take Andrea Elliott’s “Invisible Child,” which tells the story of Dasani Coates, a child living in a Brooklyn, New York, homeless shelter who appeared on the front page of the New York Times for five consecutive days in 2013.
The book follows Coates through the next eight years of her life, showing how growing up homeless contributed to her continued struggles today.
Obama’s posts also included a list of books he previously recommended earlier in 2021:
“At Night All Blood Is Black” by David Diop
“Land of Big Numbers” by Te-Ping Chen
“Empire of Pain” by Patrick Radden Keefe
“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir
“When We Cease to Understand the World” by Benjamín Labatut
“Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future” by Elizabeth Kolbert
Gates declined to offer much detail on “Project Hail Mary,” noting that he didn’t want to give away any of the book’s myriad plot twists. “Klara and the Sun,” he wrote, made him “think about what life with super intelligent robots might look like — and whether we’ll treat these kinds of machines as pieces of technology or as something more.”
Shortly before the stroke that killed her, the author of the Vampire Chronicles and many other books — including the forthcoming “Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris, ” written with her son, Christopher — answered questions from the Book Review.
What books are on your night stand?
Currently it’s Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare, and “The World Before Us: How Science Is Revealing a New Story of Our Human Origins, ” by Tom Higham.
What’s the last great book you read?
“Abe: Abraham Lincoln in His Times, ” by David S. Reynolds. It’s an absolute feast for us history buffs and I recommend it wholeheartedly. I was first made aware of Reynolds thanks to his wonderful biography of Walt Whitman.
Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).
When I’m not at my computer I’m reading almost constantly in my recliner with a gooseneck lamp angled over my shoulder. I’m a diligent underliner and I take notes in the margins nearly constantly. This is as true with the books I read for research as it is for the fiction I savor and enjoy again and again. My son, Captain christopher (who is also my co-author on “Ramses the Damned: The Reign of Osiris”), has tried repeatedly to get me to join the digital reading revolution, but I’m a holdout. I’m too enamored with making handwritten notes all over the page. Recently I asked people not to laugh at me on Twitter when I suggested using potato chip bag clips to hold open large hardcover novels on your lap. But it works beautifully. Try it if you don’t believe me.
What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?
“Kings Row, ” by Henry Bellamann. It’s so terribly sad to me that will Bellamann’s novels have been all but forgotten today. I regard this as a lost American classic. It was a great success upon its release and made into a film that featured a young Ronald Reagan. I discovered it after stumbling across the film, and then I rushed out to obtain a copy from the novel. It’s such a rich exploration of how we survive in a world full of ugliness, loneliness and suffering. As soon as I finished it, I went right to Amazon and posted a five-star review.
What do you read when you’re working on a book? And what kind of reading through do you avoid while writing?
I have to say, I don’t consume nearly as much contemporary fiction as I do scholarship and nonfiction on the topics that obsess me and fill my work. Some exceptions have been my delightful discovery associated with novels by Kristin Hannah and Louise Penny in the past few years. But when I’m focusing on a novel, I feel as if the research never ends, plus I’m blessed to be able to keep an extensive library here in the home.
What moves you most in a work of literature?
Nothing rivals the deep seriousness and compassion with which Tolstoy depicts his characters. And I feel strongly he wrote about women in a way that was deeper and more sophisticated than many writers today. I have always possessed a profound and abiding love for my characters, and I am moved when another writer exhibits the same passion. Cynicism in fiction repels me as does an author’s simmering contempt for all of their subjects.
Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?
We voraciously consume nonfiction, specifically history and biographies of great artists and historical figures. When I do consume fiction, which is rare, it’s mostly works of grand ambition from generations past. Stories of immense scope such as those by Dickens and Tolstoy. What is considered today to be the modern literary novel, with its focus on pedestrian realism, has never deeply moved me personally. I saw myself as deeply at odds with it when I first begin publishing in the 1970s.
Do you distinguish between “commercial” and “literary” fictional? Where’s that line, for you?
I don’t, and I believe the great novelists of our time have taken battering rams to the distinction simply by attempting works of immense grandeur and scope.
How do you organize your books?
I’m blessed to maintain a large library here in our home in the Coachella Valley, and I have a devoted plus loving staff who help me to ceaselessly organize as well as rearrange sections of it when the need arises. It’s nothing like what it used to be when I lived in New Orleans and maintained cavernous rooms of books at my homes within the Garden District or the St . Elizabeth’s building. To get my library to its current size I’ve had to give many books away. Sometimes I sell them through Powell’s in Portland, Ore. The fact that so many have the notes handwritten in the margins appeals to some of their buyers.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
I’m not sure there’s a particular book, but I think some might be amazed by the sheer volume of science writing I own. When you invent alternate worlds plus supernatural cosmologies it can be incredibly inspiring to read about how little we still know about the underlying fabric of the universe.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Tolstoy and Dickens, without a doubt. And perhaps our late husband, Stan, who was a brilliant poet and painter. I miss him terribly. We were married for over 40 years before he died of a brain tumor in 2002.
What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?
I’m always playing catch-up with publications by my talented loved ones. My brilliant son, Christopher Rice, has so many wonderful thrillers and is bringing out several gay romances next year. And my hilarious best friend, Eric Shaw Quinn, has the “Write Murder” mystery series. He’s our family’s beloved raconteur. Christopher and Eric also produce wonderful podcasts together at TheDinnerPartyShow. com .
When you come from a family associated with writers and artists, it can be a challenge to stay abreast of their work and also to not intrude onto their process with your feedback and responses. I am known to be passionate in my responses to things.
Gripping books. Page-turners. Unputdownable reads. We’ve all encountered those gripping books to read that just immediately hook us and don’t let go until the last page. Whether it’s a character that we relate to, a whodunit where we just have to know who did it, or a plot with so many swerves it feels like a Formula 1 track — there’s not much better than finding another book that just scratches the itch for what we’re wanting to read at that moment.
I don’t know about you, but 2020 and most of 2021 have been full of reading slumps. Books that have immediately captured my attention from the very first page have been few and far between. But when those lightning in a bottle moments have happened? Good LORD they’ve been fantastic.
While our specific definitions of “gripping” might differ from person to person, this list is a collection of recent gripping books to read from across different genres, YA to adult, and with diverse casts of characters. These are the kind of books you want to just devour in one sitting, even if that means pulling an all-nighter (you don’t have to, obviously, but the desire is there).
Realism mixed with fantasy makes for an absolutely captivating social commentary that felt more real than ever these past few years. When Laina learns that her brother has been shot and killed by the Boston PD, everything feels all too familiar — another case of police brutality. But something deeper is happening. Monsters are real, and they’re ready to show themselves to the world. What’s even scarier is that they’re not afraid to take down as many humans as possible.
Rakel has always been the studious type — more comfortable with numbers than in groups. Her quick but quiet mind attracts the attention of Jakob, an older teacher at her Oslo university. Despite Jakob’s marriage, they become romantically involved. As time goes on, Rakel’s health declines and she’s forced to take a good look at their relationship and what it truly was. When you can make fractal mathematics sound like the most lyrical song — that’s talent.
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Get your tissues ready. Julie and her boyfriend, Sam, had their future perfectly mapped out. But their plans are derailed when Sam dies and Julie’s world is turned upside down. Julie calls Sam’s phone in an attempt to hear his voice again through his voicemail. Then someone picks up. That someone is Sam. And he continues to pick up when she calls. As Julie witnesses the pain and grief Sam’s family is going through, she feels guilty about keeping the calls to herself. Will she spill her secret?
Set in Britain, Adam and Amelia are a typical married couple — but they’ve been having some difficulties for a while. Adam lives with face blindness and is unable to recognize the people closest to him, including Amelia. When the couple suddenly wins a getaway to the Scottish Highlands, they decide to use it as an attempt to rekindle their marriage and celebrate their tenth anniversary. But there’s something wrong, very wrong. The trip is a setup. And if it’s up to one of them, the other won’t make it back from the trip.
When Kalki is born, he shocks everyone with his vivid blue skin. Believing that Kalki must be an incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu, his family begins making a living off of the people who travel great distances just to see him. As Kalki grows up, he goes through tests to prove divinity and although he technically passes, Kalki has his doubts. This leads him on a quest of self-discovery, and where else to find oneself than NYC?
Sasha and Farit meet by chance while she is on vacation. Despite the fact that Farit gives off an air of something that she can’t quite nail down, Sasha can’t help but feel drawn to him — going as far as performing a task for him with potentially scandalous consequences. In just a few days, Sasha comes to consider Farit a leader and a mentor, and he convinces her to move to a remote village to attend a boarding school. Even though she barely knows him, there’s something about her connection with Farit that Sasha can’t explain.
One of two nonfiction titles on this list, this book struck a particular chord in me — also being Korean American — but it can be appreciated no matter your background. In her memoir, Michelle talks about her upbringing, from being one of the few Asian kids in school to her parents’ high expectations to her identity as an Asian American.
Chances are that you have at least heard of the Varsity Blues scandal, an event that exposed A+ celebrities such as Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, and the story spun by a college counselor, Rick Singer. Singer specifically targeted desperate, wealthy families obsessed with keeping perfect images and willing to do anything to get their kids into the best colleges in the country.
If you’re also absolutely enthralled by true crime, this book reads like one. A college professor and renowned psychologist, who strongly believes that psychopaths are misunderstood in today’s society, creates a clinical study to test the theory. Seven university students who fit the textbook definition of a psychopath are chosen to participate. But things go horribly wrong when one of the students is found dead and the remaining participants look SOL. The only trick is they have no idea who else is involved in the study.
If you’re here for twists on twists on twists, this is the book for you. Mina is a flight attendant who has recently been chosen to participate in the first-ever nonstop flight from London to Sydney. That’s 20 hours in the air; 20 hours with absolutely nowhere else to go. They’ve prepared for this day — they have a plan if something goes wrong. Well, obviously, something goes wrong. When Mina is slipped a note threatening to kill her family, she makes the decision to help hijackers take over the plane.
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Although it’s wonderful to get lost in the depths of a really good novel, I’ve found myself reaching for more nonfiction books lately. A ton of brilliant writers, as well as athletes, actresses, and activists, have taken to the original form of storytelling by publishing their own books and sharing their lives and the lessons learned. Some of which offer mind-changing revelations, interesting perspectives, and some very funny anecdotes that’ll make you look at life differently. IDK about you, but I think we could all use a little bit of that. Nevertheless, it’s a perfect time of year to get a reality refresh—step out of your shoes and walk in someone else’s by simply picking up a good book.
From a memoir about a clueless aspiring dog-walking startup to an eye-opening unveiling of some of the darkest secrets behind one of America’s richest families (talk about juicy!), here are 21 of the best nonfiction books of 2021.
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1‘Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know’
This book is all about the power of re-thinking and unlearning what you think you know. There’s something to be said about questioning and challenging your own thoughts and opinions. Because, as the author and organizational psychologist Adam Grant suggests, being open to what others have in mind is part of the path to wisdom and success.
2The House of Gucci [Movie Tie-in]: A True Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed
Now 23% off
Even if you loved Lady Gaga’s performance as Patrizia Reggiani in House of Gucci as much as I did, I promise you’ll love the book even more. In its movie tie-in updated version, Sara Gay Forden shares the ultimate rise and near-fall of one of fashion’s most loved families.
3‘London’s Number One Dog-Walking Agency: A Memoir’
William Morrow & Company
Now 26% off
Kate Macdougall found herself in a post-college rut working at Sotheby’s in London. After almost accidentally destroying a precious piece of art, she decided to quit and start her own dog-walking company instead. The problem was that she didn’t know much about dogs, nor did she know anything about starting a business. But Macdougall got through it all by navigating her new life, her relationships, and jolly old London one dog walk at a time.
4‘Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty’
It’s sad to say, but sometimes it’s nice to read up on someone else’s family drama. While the Sackler’s family issues may seem a bit un-relatable to the everyday family, take a look into one of America’s most wealthiest families in Patrick Radden Keefe’s new book. Follow three generations of Sackler’s as they create wealth for themselves and inevitably America’s opioid problem.
5‘The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet’
Now 26% off
In this collection of essays, bestselling author of The Fault in Our Stars John Green reviews the Anthropocene—the current geologic age—and how humans have reshaped the planet. An extension of his podcast, he rates different phenomena on a five-star scale, including QWERTY keyboards and the Madagascar film franchise.
6‘Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone’
Bold Type Books
Now 10% off
If there was one good thing that came out of 2020, it was the idea of questioning America’s work ethic. In this very real and honest book, Sarah Jaffe explores the ideas of “a labor of love” and shares the stories of those in different professions (from the unpaid intern to the professional athlete) and shares no ways to value yourself and your work.
7‘Let Me Tell You What I Mean’
Now 38% off
In this very insightful collection of essays, you can truly take a deep dive into the iconic writer Joan Didion’s mind. With 12 never before seen essays written from 1968 to 2000, Didion shares some of her best work that’ll give you a glimpse of her creative process as one of this century’s best writers.
8‘Crying in H Mart: A Memoir’
Now 41% off
In this emotionally honest memoir, Japanese Breakfast singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner tells the story of her life—growing up Korean American in Oregon, having a complicated relationship with her parents, and pursuing a career in music. The memoir is centered around her mom’s death and how food became a means of grieving and therapy.
9‘These Precious Days: Essays’
Now 28% off
You’ll want to call your dearest friend after reading this book. Ann Patchett opens up on her experiences with friendship—particularly Tom Hank’s then-assistant Sooki—and the amazing bond they created, as well as the reflection of connecting art and life as she comes to terms as to what matters most in her life.
10‘Unfinished: A Memoir’
Now 39% off
It’s safe to say that Priyanka Chopra Jonas is probably one of the most inspiring yet fascinating women out there. In this bold and sassy memoir, Priyanka takes us on her life journey growing up in India as a child as well as in the United States as a teen. We follow her progression to see how she became the woman she is today in this very open, honest, and raw story of her life.
11‘What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing’
Now 50% off
This book by Oprah Winfrey and brain and trauma specialist Dr. Bruce Perry provides scientific as well as emotional insights on healing and overcoming trauma. Through Winfrey’s personal stories and Perry’s expertise, they want to help readers reframe their way of thinking—such as asking, “What’s happened to me?” instead of, “What’s wrong with me?”
12‘A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life’
Now 32% off
If you want to get in touch with your creative side, this book might just be the trick. As the title suggests, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a literary master class that takes readers into the mind of Booker Prize-winning author George Saunders. He discusses what makes great stories, how they work, and what they say about ourselves and today’s world.
13‘The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War’
Now 35% off
The Afghanistan Papers is a thorough investigation by Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock about one of 2021’s most important political topics. It looks into how the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations mishandled America’s longest war and deceived the public.
14‘Somebody’s Daughter: A Memoir’
Flatiron Books: An Oprah Book
Now 56% off
Ashley C. Ford talks about growing up as a Black girl in Indiana, dealing with poverty, the complexities of adolescence, and a fraught relationship with her mother. She often wished that she could confide in her father, but he was incarcerated for reasons she didn’t know. Until one day—after going through a traumatic experience with a boy, which she kept from her family—her grandmother told her. And what she learned turned her entire world upside down.
15‘You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism’
Grand Central Publishing
Now 48% off
New York-based comedian Amber Ruffin, along with her sister Lacey Lamar, share their everyday experiences with casual racism. It gets especially bad for Lacey, who still lives in their home state of Nebraska and is a magnet for these ridiculous but all-too-real encounters.
16‘The 2000s Made Me Gay’
St. Martin’s Griffin
Now 12% off
In this collection of essays, The Onion and Reductress contributor Grace Perry takes readers on a trip through pop culture and media during the early aughts. And as she does so, she shares hilarious stories from her own personal experiences and comments on the decade that made her gay.
17‘All In: An Autobiography’
Now 57% off
Sports legend Billie Jean King writes an intimate self-portrait that talks about the highs and lows of her amazing tennis career, her work in activism, and the ongoing fight for social justice and equality.
18‘How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America’
Little, Brown and Company
Now 51% off
How the Word Is Passed walks readers through a tour of monuments and landmarks in the United States that tell the story of how slavery has been central in shaping the nation’s history and people. And while a lot of the book delves into the past and stories of those who have passed, Clint Smith also brings it to life with the help of stories of people still alive today.
19‘Dog Flowers: A Memoir’
Now 34% off
Danielle Geller returns to Florida after her mother dies, and finds a suitcase filled with diaries, photos, letters, undeveloped disposable cameras, dried sage, jewelry, and a bandana. She uses these items as a gateway to her journey in understanding her mother’s relationship to her heritage and confronting her family history. This leads her back to the Navajo reservation her mother once called home.
20‘An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s Battle for Domination’
Now 50% off
What some view as a tech company’s fall from grace is actually a far more complicated story. This exposé written by New York Times reporters Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang gives readers a look into the truth of what really happened to Facebook (or, ahem, what is now called Meta) and how it went from a success story to a social media platform constantly under fire.
21‘Seeing Ghosts: A Memoir’
Grand Central Publishing
Now 50% off
After Kat Chow’s mother dies unexpectedly, she and her family suddenly plummet into grief. To cope, Chow then decides to reclaim her family’s story by tracing her extended family’s roots—from China to Hong Kong, to Cuba, and finally to America.
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