Right now, in the world, there are supposedly over 130,000,000 books. Let’s say the average book is about 300 pages. That is 390,000,000,000 dog-eared, underlined, spilled-on pages of beautiful (for the most part) written word. This statistic makes it physically impossible for any person to read all the books. Just when you thought your TBR couldn’t be longer, authors somehow KEEP publishing books?! The fact that my TBR is physically incapable of staying stagnant gives me an anxiety headache at least once a day. You finish one book that changed your life, only to add three more to the back end. So, tasked with the opportunity to write up a list of my favorite books of all time seemed PARALYZING.
This list changes constantly, and will change until the day that I die, but if I had to round up a list of books that I truly believe have made me into the person I am today and needs to be on your TBR yesterday, it would be this list right here, baby.
No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder
“We call it domestic violence. We call it private violence. Sometimes we call it intimate terrorism. But whatever we call it, we generally do not believe it has anything at all to do with us, despite the World Health Organization deeming it a “global epidemic.” In America, domestic violence accounts for 15 percent of all violent crime, and yet it remains locked in silence, even as its tendrils reach unseen into so many of our most pressing national issues, from our economy to our education system, from mass shootings to mass incarceration to #MeToo. We still have not taken the true measure of this problem.”
I used to volunteer at my local domestic violence shelter which pushed me to pick up this book and it resulted in being one of the most profound books I have ever had the privilege of reading. This is the kind of work that saves lives. She uses personal anecdotes and detailed analytics on real-life domestic violence stories and puts a plan into motion on how to prevent it. This is a subject that needs to be addressed with urgency, sincerity, empathy, and with science. Rachel Louise Snyder gives us just that.
Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann
This book is a tantalizing tightrope of tragedies. It is an incredibly moving novel about life and death, love and grief, and above all—hope. I read this book for the first pick of a new book club I joined a couple years ago and it was not my first choice. I actually dreaded picking it up and found it to be a bit pretentious and over-written at first, but I was sucked in and by the end, it completely transfixed me. A large reason I find book clubs so inspiring is it encourages you to read out of your comfort zone and introduces you to books that were never on your radar.
Why did I love the book? Beautiful descriptions. Magnificent and masterful layering of words. Details of happenings and people and places that make you feel like you are existing in the moment—you can feel the breeze on your skin, you can smell the dew in the air. After visiting New York City, this book became all the more real to me, as that is where it takes place. It follows two central events. The first surrounds fictional storytelling about the very real-life feat of Phillippe Petit’s 1974 Twin Towers tightrope walk 110 stories up. This basically lays the groundwork for the rest of the book, as we delve into the perspective and narrative of multiple characters and how their lives came to exist up until that drastic moment of exemplary happenings. The metaphor of the Twin Towers keys in on the human ability to find meaning in everything, even in the greatest of heartfuckingbreaking tragedies (trust me, your heart will be broken). The second central event, which is revealed halfway through, is the fictional courtroom trial of a NYC prostitute (want the juicy deets? read the book). It's funny, because this plot serves as the point of balance for the whole story. HA! Get it? POINT OF BALANCE? Tightrope jokes! Tell me to shut up!
I didn't want this book to end. It made you understand that sometimes things just happen. Bad things. But there is profound meaning in every instance of every moment. We are constantly planting seeds in everything we do. And our vines sprout up and wrap around each other and intertwine and our stories have no beginning and no end, they are infinite and all connected. Pick up this beautiful book if you haven't! I'm excited to read more work by McCann, and I rarely ever say that about old white men. *laughs nervously*
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
“That first night the seven men came for me, after the first phone call where I told my father and husband lies about my safety and used me for hours and hours, I prayed because I had faith, because I needed faith as much as I needed to fight. I prayed because I was always taught that through prayer I would find salvation. I prayed for mercy, and I prayed for more, for a breath of cool, dry air, for someone to come through the doors, to pull the men off me, to undo what had already been done. I prayed to forget. No one came for me. I prayed and no one came. I remembered everything. There was no salvation. But here, I could save myself.”
This novel follows Mireille, our American-Haitian narrator, who is kidnapped, brutally gang raped, ripped away from her new child, greedily sacrificed by her father, and victimized and misunderstood by her white, Nebraskan husband. This book puts on full display the power of storytelling and is not for the lighthearted. This is the first book I read while taking a Women’s Contemporary Literature class in college taught by a Black woman and it shifted the way I read diversely with intention. I experienced a chain reaction of reading every piece of Roxane Gay’s work after finishing this—she delves into the complexities of sexual assault, rape culture, poverty, socioeconomic differences, and the connection and shared life experiences of women. Ultimately, it gives tribute to the price women pay for the wants of men.
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“You must struggle to truly remember this past in all its nuance, error, and humanity. You must resist the common urge toward the comforting narrative of divine law, toward fairy tales that imply some irrepressible justice. The enslaved were not bricks in your road; and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American machine. Enslavement was not destined to end, and it is wrong to claim our present circumstance – no matter how improved – as the redemption for the lives of people who never asked for the posthumous, untouchable glory of dying for their children. Our triumphs can never compensate for this. Perhaps struggle is all we have because the god of history is an atheist, and nothing about the world is meant to be. I am not a cynic. I love you, and I love the world, and I love it more with every new inch I discover. But you are a black boy and you must be responsible for your body in a way that other boys cannot know.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this book in the format of a letter to his fifteen-year-old son, as to say “my work is to give you what I know of my particular path while allowing you to walk your own.” He describes his experiences of what it means to survive in a Black body and how to reckon with the fraught history of people with Black bodies have been burdened with over the course of the world. It is poetic. It is eloquent. It is breathtaking the way his pain hits you. His revelatory words will pierce your heart. Books like this make you face your privilege head-on and it forces us to confront our present by illuminating us with the hard, disgusting facts of our past so we can foster a transcendent vision for a way forward where everyone can feel safe.
Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski Ph.D.
“I wrote this book because I am done living in a world where women are lied to about their bodies; where women are objects of sexual desire but not subjects of sexual pleasure; where sex is used as a weapon against women; and where women believe their bodies are broken, simply because those bodies are not male. And I am done living in a world where women are trained from birth to treat their bodies as the enemy. I wrote this book to teach women to live with confidence and joy.”
I think back to my sex education course given to me in 4th grade where we kind of learned about our periods and nothing else. Women grow up and understand little about their own bodies. And men understand even less about our bodies—which is astonishing considering how much sex we all have. Sex that sometimes excites us, but oftentimes leaves us feeling confused, hurt, traumatized, ignored, or underwhelmed. Women’s sexuality has been so understudied that it is revolutionary having a book focused on MY pleasure. I was raised to call my private parts by a nickname—why do we do that? We should be having serious talks with our children. They should know their own anatomy. They should be taught that their sexuality is normal. That their bodies should be celebrated. Because otherwise we grow up thinking violent porn is the norm. That male orgasm is the default. That our smell is weird and should be covered up with products filled with chemicals. That we should hide our bodies with shame. That because we had an orgasm our rape wasn’t legitimate. It is dangerous. And depressing. The science in this book is obviously the backbone. Nagoski starts with the basics of anatomy: the vagina, vulva, ovaries, labia (majora and minora), and urethra and how these organs are formed in comparison to the formulation of men’s sexual organs. She offers the truth of our hymen and the absolute MYTHS society have force fed us regarding its compliance with our virginity. And did you know men in medieval ages called women’s genitals “pudendum” which literally means “to make ashamed,” proving that men have always been trash cans. The very translation of our bodies is to induce shame.
I also was very impressed with Nagoski’s focus and emphasis on sexual trauma and how this impacts our sexuality. A conservative estimate is that one in five women is sexually assaulted in her lifetime, and it could be more like one in three—it’s impossible to talk about women’s sexual health without spending time discussing trauma. This is the most PROFOUND description of sex after sexual violence that I have ever read and it made me feel so seen and acknowledged and understood. Pages 124-129 absolutely changed my life.
Here you have it, bookish folks—5 of the 130,000,000 books that you MUST read. I hope you pick them up and are just as transformed as I was.
You can now follow my reviews and articles here on The Book Slut and on my book & beer Instagram @babewithabookandabeer.