This November, we’re reading Margaret Atwood’s novel Alias Grace (soon to be a TV show, following in the footsteps of The Handmaid’s Tale), a history of New York City in graphic-novel form by Julia Wertz, and a petite book of poetry dedicated to black women and girls by Eve L. Ewing. Check out all the books we’ve recommended so far here.
Why would a teenager forced to marry an LRA child soldier choose to stay with him? How do young women living in Somalia use basketball to escape the violence surrounding them? New Yorker writer Alexis Okeowo’s moving book examines these questions and many more as she uses the stories of every day Africans to highlight the small but meaningful ways people across the continent are fighting extremism. — Jessica Roy, news editor
Philip Pullman fans have been waiting 18 years for his follow-up to the epic fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, and it does not disappoint. La Belle Sauvage is the first volume in a new trilogy titled The Book of Dust, which takes place before, during, and after the original trilogy (the man is nothing if not ambitious!); it follows a young boy in Oxford who becomes the unlikely protector of baby Lyra, the future protagonist of His Dark Materials. As ever, the mythology is rich and compelling, the villains are terrifying, and the dæmons — the animal-shaped manifestations of an individual’s inner self that everyone in Lyra’s world has — are as delightful and adorable as ever. If you haven’t ever read Pullman (and I will go to my grave saying it’s a better fantasy series than than Harry Potter), now is the perfect time to start. I promise you’ll have dæmon-envy by the end. — Anna Silman, senior culture writer
Though this somewhat massive tome isn’t exactly practical subway reading, I read it on the subway anyway. It’s a gorgeous history-meets–graphic novel about New York City, exploring the stories behind different blocks, buildings, and structures, and it made me friends nearly everywhere I went. The bartender at the bar on my corner wanted to flip through it during a lull, the man standing next to me on the train wanted to see the cover so he could look it up later. With the holidays right around the corner, this is a great gift for the history, design, and illustration obsessives in your life. Or a great gift for yourself if you just want something different on your coffee table. There’s also an actual marriage proposal inside, which I find so charming I could cry. — Aude White, communications manager
If (like me) you are a devotee of the gossip blog Lainey Gossip, then you’re already a fan of Elaine Lui’s insight and wit — which can also be found in her memoir, Listen to the Squawking Chicken. The book is about Lui’s close relationship with her Chinese mother, and it’s funny, sweet, heartfelt, and unapologetically honest as it traces the life lessons and unconditional love passed from mother to daughter. The book makes me appreciate my own mother’s quirks and wisdom even more. — Lisa Ryan, staff writer
In this collection of quick short stories, Williams explores the loneliness and attraction of life in your 20s. In “Both Boys,” a young woman finds herself being pursued by two dates: a typical bad boy, and a very sweet caring boy. She goes for the bad one, and in return loses the good one. In “Penguins,” a couple deals with the fact that one of them is turned on by a sexual fantasy involving the idea of male penguins incubating eggs. And in “One of Those Life Things,” a woman struggles with comforting her best friend post-abortion. (Do you bring ice cream? Is there anything you can say?) The stories are quick enough that you could either read them on a quick subway commute, or eat through them all in one night, and they definitely bring you on a roller coaster of emotions. — Emily Sundberg, Instagram editor
As a newcomer to New York, I’ve been seeking out books that use the city as a backdrop. This New York City–based novel offers an intimate, somewhat dark, portrait of those living on the shadowy margins of society. In gripping prose, Lish tells the story of an Iraqi war vet and an undocumented Chinese immigrant. The two fall in love in Queens, united by the odds against them. The New York Times Book Review called it the “most unsentimental love story of the decade.” I’d have to agree. — Amanda Svachula, editorial assistant
Like The Handmaid’s Tale, Alias Grace is a thrilling Margaret Atwood novel that’s slated for adaptation by a premium streaming network. Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, it will leave you full of information about Victorian Canada. The titular Grace was a real-life Irish immigrant accused of murdering her boss and his housekeeper in 1843. Was she a cold-blooded killer? Was she mentally ill? Or was she an innocent servant girl consigned to life in prison by a system that had no good place for unmarried working-class women? — Izzy Grinspan, senior editor
This is a beautifully simple piece of nonfiction that I was initially drawn to because of the cute sheep on the cover. But reading The Shepherd’s Life turned out to be a welcome brain vacation from the current bombardment of bad news from all angles. Much like physically experiencing a vast natural landscape, the book forced me to see my problems as what they really are,: wholly insignificant in the grand scheme of the world. Yes, I was ghosted by someone I thought I liked, but at least my entire supply of hay wasn’t destroyed by late summer rains, making it impossible to feed my sheep in the winter. If anything, this book will open your eyes to a completely different way of life and, if you’re like me, help heal your city-mangled soul. (Rebanks also runs a Twitter account — complete with more cute sheep photos — where you can keep up with his extremely idyllic life.) — Zoe Chodosh, web developer
There’s not enough room for me to give all the praise that Electric Arches — a petite book of poetry dedicated to black women and girls — deserves. Each bit of prose feels familiar, and the poems often make me laugh, which is a sensation I appreciate more than ever these days. Take for example: “Ode to Luster’s Pink Oil,” where Ewing writes: “you do not call yourself any kind of butter/paraben- sulfate- hassle- free/no friend. you cost.” If you’ve ever used the pink hair goop, you’ll get the joke. There’s also the poem “why you cannot touch my hair,” which includes Ewing’s wry verse: “my hair is a speakeasy. it’s not that no one can get in — it’s just that you don’t know the password.” My only regret is that I didn’t pace my reading better; I gobbled up the entire 90-page book over the course of a weekend. — Ashley Weatherford, senior beauty editor
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