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    12 Accomplished Authors Give Their Book Recommendations

    Each month this year, we asked writers like Meg Wolitzer, Tayari Jones, and Sloane Crosley what they’ve been reading. Here are their picks.

    Lixia Guo / BuzzFeed News; Jude Domski, Bridget Bennett For BuzzFeed News, Caroline Cuse, Nina Subin, Courtesy of Sloane Crosley, Courtesy of Tommy Orange, Steven Duarte, Liliane Calfee, Yoni Levy, Kirby Elliott and Sam Lamott.

    Every month, we ask an author to share what books they've been reading lately as part of BuzzFeed Reader's monthly newsletter. Subscribe here.

    Ada Limón, author of The Carrying

    Jude Domski

    "Like most writers I know, I am usually reading many things at once. I am currently in North Carolina where I just finished teaching a seminar on The Grief Work — Poetry as the Language for Grief. It gave me a chance to reread and spend some much needed time with Kevin Young’s anthology The Art of Losing. Winter seems to be a time for grief, a little letting go of the ego, a time to remember our losses and sit with them in the dark cold days. Each poem in that book explores grief from a different angle and I now count it among my necessary loves. I’ve also been reading the anthology Bullets into Bells where writers respond to gun violence. It’s a real stunner. I find myself near shaking with each poem. Then, Rebecca Solnit's The Mother of All Questions. I’ve just started it, but I have always loved her mind and her voice. I fear I’m addicted to her books. Also, Blud by Rachel McKibbens, which is such a killer poetry book that combines a painful narrative with lyric power. Finally, Witch Wife by Kiki Petrosino. Another wonderful poetry collection that I can’t seem to get enough of. Soon, I’ll turn to a novel I’m sure, but I’ve been living in the world of real things this winter. I suppose it’s some form of facing the hard truths as we move forward into a new year."

    Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

    Bridget Bennett for BuzzFeed News

    "The last book I read was Circe by Madeline Miller. Ever since I was a little kid, I have been fascinated with Greek mythology. Circe herself is the golden goddess who is best known as the concubine who nurtured Odysseus on his way home from Troy. Madeline Miller imagines a much fuller life for Circe — and other lovers, too. I found myself closely identifying with Circe, although I am clearly not a goddess who dwells on an enchanted island — I live in a third-floor walk-up in Brooklyn. Circe is over a thousand years old, but in goddess-years, we are just about the same age. This is a novel about what it means to be a grown woman, stepping into your full power and vulnerability. I read this book in one greedy gulp. I was kind of mad at myself when I reached the end, the way you get mad at yourself when you eat too fast and miss the opportunity to savor.

    "There is always a crime novel on my reading list. Some people like to kick back with romance novels, but give me murder any day. I think it’s because I have been in love before, so I have trouble suspending my disbelief at the meet-cutes in romance novels. But being as I have never murdered anyone and I have never been murdered, I can allow myself to trust the author without pushing back. I like my crimes complicated, but not gory. My favorites are Attica Locke, Tana French, Laura Lippman, Louise Penny, Rachel Howzell Hall, and the late great Sue Grafton. I am halfway through Y is for Yesterday. I can’t bring myself to finish it."

    Uzodinma Iweala, author of Speak No Evil

    Caroline Cuse

    "So the first and easiest book to talk about is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power. I bought it because I think he’s important to read if you want to understand not just the black experience in our time but what it means to be an American. His essays are really powerful and thoughtful about what’s actually going on and help us stay true about what this country actually is.

    “I really want to be able to write essays, I think it’s one of literature’s most beautiful forms and his essays are a joy to read — really beautifully rendered.

    “Another book I’m reading is Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Men and Women Fighting Extremism in Africa. It’s about how people deal with extremist societies. I remember all the travel she did for the book and it’s still really amazing to see a finished thing and to get the arc of ordinary people doing what seems to be extraordinary but is ordinary in their context.

    “You can see the way she worked to develop the people in her book as people so that you really feel like you understand them. It speaks to her empathy and the amount of work it takes to do that kind of longform nonfiction. I always admire people who can do that.

    The last thing I’m reading right now is Letters and Papers From Prison, a collection of assorted essays by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and his book The Cost of Discipleship. His essay on folly and the way humans in general will approach power even when that power is corrupt or disgraceful, this very clear edding out of our inability to truly confront that power, is profoundly descriptive of our current moment. Obviously he’s writing about Nazi Germany, which is different from our time, but you see just in the way that we are organizing or not organizing the way we deal with the issues of our day or are egregious uses of power, unpleasant things in American life, from immigration to guns and racism."

    Meg Wolitzer, author of The Female Persuasion

    Nina Subin

    "Choosing the right books to take on a book tour feels like a critical decision, since these are going to be the titles I’ll have with me all month, for better or worse. I think I made good decisions here, selecting an eclectic mixture of old, new, and upcoming: The Recovering: Intoxication and Its Aftermath by Leslie Jamison. A first novel called Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao. Another first novel (not out yet) called The Ensemble, by Aja Gabel, which comes highly recommended by a reader I trust. The Needle’s Eye by Margaret Drabble, which I just added to my traveling library because a friend mentioned it yesterday; and while I read it long ago, I suddenly had a piercing desire — it felt like a need — to read it again, right now. For me, book-tour reading time usually takes place late at night, and the sight of a good book waiting at a hotel bedside is extremely welcome.

    If I take a broad interpretation of the word “lately” in the question, “What have you been reading lately?” I can also add that a while back, pre–book tour, I read Carmen Maria Machado’s great collection, Her Body and Other Parties, as well as Lorrie Moore’s anthology of essays and criticism, See What Can Be Done. While these titles are not in my luggage, they are in my mind, lodged there in the way that good books tend to be, and so you can imagine me metaphorically bringing them through airport after airport, along with all the books mentioned above."

    Sloane Crosley, author of Look Alive Out There

    Courtesy of the Author

    "I realize this space is an opportunity for positivity, so I won’t name the novel that I just finished but didn’t like very much. It started out great but then fell off a cliff for me. But I plowed through, hoping it would make good on the promises of the first half. Alas. Perhaps that’s why I’ve turned back to nonfiction, as a kind of palate cleanser, before picking up the next novel or story collection. I am almost done with James Thurber’s slim and completely charming My Life and Hard Times. I’ve also read the first few essays in Hanif Abdurraqib’s They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us and I’m happy to report that it’s not just the title that’s sharp. Just before the aforementioned disappointing novel was the forthcoming and phenomenal The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner. I had about two qualms with it, but they were at the level of walking into the nicest house you’ve ever seen and declaring that a painting in the bathroom is crooked. She’s one of those authors I wish would write faster. I’m about to go on a monthlong book tour for Look Alive Out There. Which means now is the time when I start looking for something immersive I can read on planes. I am very excited for the book tour but it's as disorienting as it is magical to speed-visit a city. I find having one big novel to read is good for both consistency and sanity."

    Tommy Orange, author of There, There

    Courtesy of the Author

    "I'm always reading too many books at once. And I always have a backpack on because I carry so many books with me. I have bad posture and I'm sure it's related to this old habit of mine. I also love to bring a book to a restaurant and eat and read. Also, I think because I grew up thinking the world could end at any time, having options for books felt important for me. All of which is to explain why the list I give you of what I'm reading now sounds like a lot.

    I'm late to finding out what a talented writer Lauren Groff is, and I'm loving Florida right now. I'm reading two poetry collections, one for the second time and one for the first: Layli Long Soldier's Whereas (for the second time) and Tommy Pico's Junk.

    I'm also reading Ingrid Rojas Contreras's Fruit of the Drunken Tree, and Elliot Ackerman's Waiting for Eden, and a book of Heraclitus's writing called There Are Gods Here Too by Michael Kincaid.

    Oh and I'm finishing Elaine Castillo’s America Is Not the Heart, which is incredible. And I’m reading Katherena Vermette’s The Break and Thi Bui’s The Best We Can Do."

    Michael Arcenaux, author of I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I've Put My Faith in Beyoncé

    Steven Duarte

    "I'm reading Samantha Irby's reissued version of her debut book, Meaty. I am obsessed with Irby and that includes her blog, bitches gotta eat, her fantastic second book, We Are Never Meeting In Real Life, and now Meaty (the Random House 2018 remix). It's easy to fall for Irby. She's an immensely talented storyteller and humorist. But beyond just merely enjoying and marveling at her talents as a writer, what I adore most about Sam is that like me, while she knows life can be difficult, awful, awkward, and whatever other way you want to note that shit can be hard, she still manages to find the humor in everything. Black writers are not always given the space to mix humor and pathos the way our white counterparts often do, but it's thanks to writers like Irby that more are able to.

    I'm also revisiting an old book titled Bulletproof Diva by Lisa Jones. Jones was a Village Voice columnist back then, and just as a fan of the essay I love so many of the pieces in this book. Also: I sometimes just like to go back and laugh at the idea that some people didn't see the black in Mariah Carey. Like, I knew that as a child. I'm finally finishing Katy Tur's Unbelievable before I dive into an advance copy of Joan Morgan's She Begat This: 20 Years of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I will definitely not be at the Ms. Lauryn Hill concert in a prayer circle with other ticket holders hoping she actually shows up, but I will let a legend show me the impact she made with one album."

    Ling Ma, author of Severance

    Liliane Calfee

    "I recently finished Anelise Chen's So Many Olympic Exertions, in which a PhD candidate in American studies attempts to complete her thesis while reflecting on the lives and plights of various athletes. One anecdote features Olympic marathoner Shizo Kanakuri, who veered off course during the 1912 Stockholm Olympics to ask for water at a garden party. An hour later, he realizes that he has enjoyed himself for too long, and, on the understanding that he'll never finish in a timely manner, leaves mid-race and returns to Japan. By pairing these tales with the existential crisis of a Chinese American academic, So Many Olympic Exertions made me think about forms of immigrant striving, and our American dream narratives of achievement.

    I also recently finished Karl Ove Knausgaard's Spring, which is a good revisit before volume six of My Struggle comes out in the fall. I read the first five volumes concurrently while writing Severance, and it gave me a bit of courage — the realization that you can write about anything, as long as the reader can feel the presence of a person there. I've often thought of My Struggle as attempting to write past the speed of self-consciousness. Spring, which spotlights his wife's depression, might be most interesting to consider with volume two, in which he first meets and falls in love with Linda Boström. It will be bittersweet to read the final volume.

    Last but not least, I'm loving Hajara Quinn's poetry collection Coolth. Her work is funny, deep, lettuce-crispy, and temporarily rerouted my brain in thinking about language differently. I could roll around in a hearty, cruciferous field of her poems all day, emerging with the most buoyant high."

    Wayétu Moore, author of She Would Be King

    Yoni Levy

    "I've been reading Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. It's a feast, especially for a magical realism/fantasy/sci-fi enthusiast like me. I can't get over how young she is. She's a fierce talent, an intentional storyteller, and her Instagram account is everything. I can't wait to read the second book."

    Glory Edim, author of Well-Read Black Girl: An Anthology

    Kirby Elliott

    “I’m reading The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory — we share the same book birthday! I read The Wedding Date and just loved it. It’s so funny and light and has a great way of telling a romance story that doesn’t feel cheesy or overdone. She’s clever and witty with her writing.

    I’ve been revisiting old books as well. I started rereading Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward because I felt I needed something that felt familiar and comforting. I like the way she writes.

    Our October book was Training School for Negro Girls; it’s a short story collection by Camille Acker. The title comes from a school founded by the activist Nannie Burroughs, who was akin to W.E.B. Du Bois — she was very influential. That book really struck me because it’s about DC and I’m from DC. Her writing style reminds of Z.Z. Packer or Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love. It discusses gentrification and mental illness.”

    Anne Lamott, author of Almost Everything: Notes on Hope

    Sam Lamott

    "I’m just finishing Julian Barnes’ The Only Story. It is a brilliant novel about love and the pain of loss, and how very real life can be. It is at times very funny. Barnes makes me so jealous with both the richness and precision of his writing, and his great wit. I am always simultaneously bitter, and grateful, when I am reading him."

    Nichole Perkins, author of Lilith, but Dark

    Sylvie Rosokoff

    “I’m currently on vacation and I wanted to be smart about how many physical books I packed, so I kept the number to two (plus everything on my iPad). Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient kept me glued to the beach, much to my sunburned shoulders’ regret. I could not put this book down. In this juicy contemporary romance, 30-year-old Stella Lane decides she wants to learn how to have a relationship despite the challenges of Asperger’s syndrome. She hires Michael Phan, an escort with a “no repeat customers” rule, but something about Stella makes him agree to take her on as his only client for the next few months. Stella finds comfort in her math- and data-driven career. Michael’s devotion to his family keeps him from forming any real intimate connections, but when these two get together, things get sweet and spicy quickly.

    I’m an avid romance reader and I found myself sitting straight up, my hand clutching my imaginary pearls, as I read some of the love scenes that had the perfect combination of tenderness, humor, and downright filth. I can’t stop thinking about how wonderfully the author Helen Hoang shared Stella’s struggles (and triumphs) with Asperger’s without making her pitiful or a victim. The Kiss Quotient is charming as hell and I’m so glad I brought it along with me to the beach.

    I just cracked open Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller, a mystery that reminds me a bit of Atonement. From her deathbed, Frances Jellico looks back at the summer she spent spying on and then connecting with a couple, Cara and Peter. I’m still settling into the book but so far, I’m loving the bit of menace Fuller threads into her storytelling. I’m sure I’ll finish it in a day as well.”


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