Do you remember where you were when Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows came out? I read it in my childhood home in Minnesota the summer after I graduated from high school, which felt very fitting because I "grew up" with those guys (fun fact: Daniel Radcliffe is exactly 11 days younger than I am, and I seriously looked into auditioning for the movies when I was ten-years-old... before realizing I wasn't British). I tore through it in two days while sitting on the little green couch in my bedroom and cried my eyes out when Harry "dies." I had an impressive bookshelf as a kid, but lost a little steam in my 20s, reading maybe 5 to 10 books per year. Last summer, I rediscovered my love for reading in a major way. I started reviewing the books I was reading on Instagram while on vacation in Mexico, and found that I pretty much didn’t want to do anything else after returning to normal life. I have a pretty hefty goal of reading 50 books this year, but I’m on track with 18/50 thus far (although, I may need to adjust upwards because I've been reading up a storm during quarantine!). Here's a look at how I’ll find the remaining 32:
The NY Times Bestseller list: The New York Times Bestseller list always feels like a good place to start. I like to go straight to the “Hardcover Fiction” section and peruse the one-sentence descriptions to see if anything piques my interest. I only visit maybe once a month, but I like it because I feel like an endorsement from the NY Times is a really solid way to avoid bad books if you don’t have a lot of time to read. These are still on my “Need to Read” list, but I’ve been convinced to read Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and The Dutch House by Ann Patchett because of the list.
Bookstagram: Yep, Bookstagram is a thing. There are a shocking number of Instagram “book influencers” who devote so much time to reading and curating gorgeous feeds that I have no idea how they find time to do anything else. I can read around three to six books in a month, which I think is a lot(?), but some of these people can literally crush ten to fifteen books in the span of 30 days. It’s important to find Bookstagrammers who match your literary vibe to get the right recommendations, but some of my favorites right now are @jordys.book.club, @whatsofieread, @reviewsshewrote, @mentallybooked, and @strandedinbooks. To find your people, just search the hashtag #bookstagram or #bookreview and you'll find plenty of bibliophiles to follow. Currently on my “Read These Soon Or Else” list from Bookstagram are Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore, The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, Wanderers by Chuck Wendig, and The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa.
Book of The Month: If you follow me on Instagram, you know I live for Book of The Month club. I was late to the game, but BOTM is a truly excellent way to find new releases. You get to choose from five pre-selected new hardcover books every month using a short description of the plot, advance reviews from BOTM community members (no spoilers!), and a short excerpt from the book itself. Even better, you can also shop the archives and find recent ghosts of Book of The Month club’s past; in March I bought Recursion by Blake Crouch and Circe by Madeline Miller in HARDCOVER for $10 each. EVEN BETTER, get a credit for a free add-on book each time you get a friend to start reading, so use my link you guys (wink, wink) and get your first BOTM for $5. I tore through The Holdout by Graham Moore in a single day—which Emily recommended on BOTM as a Guest Judge!—and sobbed through the last 50 pages of my March pick, A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler. For April, I snagged The Guest List by Lucy Foley and added The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne based on Leslie's recommendation from last month's post.
Goodreads: I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this far without mentioning Goodreads, but here we are. Goodreads is my go-to source for keeping track of all the books I want to read, and it (usually) helps me avoid dumpster fires through its five-star rating system. Currently I won’t read anything that has a Goodreads rating below 3.7 unless it comes highly endorsed by a very trustworthy source. I also follow people on Goodreads who sometimes inspire me to buy a book, but I’m usually just using Goodreads to keep track of my “Want to Read” bookshelf (currently 119 books). Follow me on Goodreads here, if that's your thing.
Reese Witherspoon's Book Club and Oprah’s Book Club: Yes, ladies!! Thank you for helping make reading a part of pop-culture. Reese’s book club has currently read 35 books since 2017; so far I have read two, Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid and The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, and I just added Untamed by Glennon Doyle (April's pick) to my To Be Read list. Oprah has been doing her thing since freaking 1996, and I have read a handful of her picks, including An American Marriage by Tayari Jones and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. If I had more time, I would probably read every single book from these two clubs–at least five of the books on my “Read These in 2020” list are also Reese or Oprah picks.
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Book Award, and Booker Prize for Fiction (formerly known as the Man Booker Prize): These lists are small, but you know they're going to be good. I've read quite a few books on these lists already (both winners and nominees) and I truly have nothing but excellent things to say. Although it didn't win, last year's Pulitzer prize nominee The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai is one of the best books I've ever read, and the winner, The Overstory by Richard Powers, is apparently about trees(?) and high on my list. Right now I'm reading 2007's Pulitzer winner, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and so far I'm impressed. We all read The Testaments by Margaret Atwood last year (2019 winner of the Booker Prize) and cried about how much we loved it. I also have Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo on my list.
My L.A. Book Club: It’s baaaack! My book club took a two-year hiatus but finally came back last fall. We all come up with the recommendations collectively, so I’m often discovering new books through the other literary ladies in my club. My all-time book club favorites include The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, Educated by Tara Westover, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Whether you go for an intense discussion or just to drink wine and eat brie, join an IRL book club (or a virtual one, for the time being). There is really nothing I like more than discussing a book with friends and a charcuterie platter in a setting where I’m allowed to wear yoga pants.
My sister: Voracious reading must run in my family, because girlfriend reads a LOT. My sister and I have a "clothes for books" trade going on that has spanned many, many years. Most trips to Minnesota result in me leaving with one less article of clothing, plus a new book I haven’t read yet (last time it was a cardigan and The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch).
My mom (and by proxy, the Hugo Award and Nebula Award winners): Yep, I’m pretty sure it must be genetic. My mom reads almost exclusively science fiction, so when I’m ready for one, I just flash the bat signal and she swoops in with recommendations—she’s responsible for two of my favorite books of all time, Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, and Hyperion / Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons. I feel like there is no person alive who has read more sci-fi than my mom; she has read 95% of the Hugo and Nebula award winners (awards specifically for science fiction and fantasy books), and has two tall bookshelves just to house her sci-fi collection. I’d love to start a petition to get her on Goodreads already!
My friends / YOU GUYS: One of the best parts about reading a really good book is discussing it with someone else who has read it too. I have jokingly called it a “Book Club, Party of Two” before, but sometimes you just find yourself with a friend who loves to read all the same books as you do (looking at you, Jess). There’s nothing more satisfying than really just digging into it with them over some hummus and crackers or various baked goods (how did you guys feel about the end of Normal People?!). Major plus if you both prefer reading non-digital books; you can borrow and lend to your heart’s desire.
Leslie also regularly passes books over to my desk (literally, we sit across from each other). Most recently, she gave me an advanced copy of Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman and Severance by Ling Ma, which I accidentally forgot I had (sorry, Leslie!). I’ve also found some great recommendations from people who follow me on Instagram or leave comments in blog posts, so come at me, you guys!! (Thank you again to whoever recommended Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel to me; if you’re reading, leave some more recs below!)
And my 2020 reading list, so far (if you were curious...)
4. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (7/10)
5. Topics of Conversation by Miranda Popkey (4/10)
6. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (6/10)
7. You Are Not Alone by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen (7/10)
8. Stop Being Reasonable: How We Really Change Our Minds by Eleanor Gordon-Smith (7/10)
9. The Holdout by Graham Moore (7/10)
10. Normal People by Sally Rooney (8/10)
11. Recursion by Blake Crouch (8/10)
12. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (6/10)
13. The Power by Naomi Alderman (3/10)
14. Circe by Madeline Miller (8/10)
15. The Grace Year by Kim Liggett (8/10)