Discover more from What To Read If
You Want to Commemorate bell hook’s Life
Are ready to start writing your book or love a tale of family secrets
Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2022 is better than 2021 — and 2020.
For Christmas, my brother gave me these official “What To Read If Approved” stickers to put on books that I recommend. I love them so much that I want to share them. I’m raffling off a copy of two previous picks, Emma Eisenberg’s Third Rainbow Girl and Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson, complete with the sticker. To enter, comment with a book you’re looking forward to reading this year. (It doesn’t have to be a 2022 release, just anything you want to read.)
As for me, I’m looking forward to thrillers, like Reckless Girls by Rachel Hawkins and The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb; the YA gothic tale Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz; the dental (!) romance A Brush With Love Mazey Eddings ; and Sarah Weinman’s Scoundrel, a history of how a convicted murderer struck up a friendship with William F. Buckley and conned the conservative icon into helping to set him free. I’m also excited for sequels to a bunch of my favorite series, including Finlay Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead and Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose.
And now, what to read if …
You Want to Celebrate bell hooks’ Life
bell hooks, a trailblazing Black feminist scholar and writer, died in mid-December. She was a prolific author — publishing poetry, essays, memoirs and academic scholarship. If you haven’t read anything by hooks, who styled her name with lower case letters, I recommend starting with All About Love. The book, which is part memoir, part academic exercise, examines aspects of love in modern society. In it, she notes, “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.”
hook’s love for love extended to an appreciation of romance novels. In 1999, she told The Washington Post, she had a “two-a-day” romance novel habit and that the books offer women an escape, not because a hero will save them, but “you will triumph over it and it will all come right in the end.” Her words and ethos remind me of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s A Cowboy To Remember, a contemporary romance with old-school flair.
A Cowboy to Remember follows celebrity chef Eve Buchanan who loses her memory after an accident at an industry party. In hopes of sparking her memory — and hiding her amnesia from her fans — Eve heads to a California ranch owned by her lifelong friends, the Pleasant brothers. Further complicating matters, when Eve left California years earlier, she vowed never to see or speak to Zach Pleasant again. With all that working against them, can these two crazy kids work it out? (I bet you can guess the answer.)
A Cowboy to Remember is joyful and funny. I’m the first to admit that an amnesia plot isn’t for every reader, but if you love a nutty twist, give this one a go. I especially like — and think hooks would appreciate — the emphasis Weatherspoon puts on Eve’s career and friendships. Her happy ending won’t come from finding her prince but from building a whole life.
2022 Is The Year You’re Finally Going to Write Your Book
If your goal for the year is to finish the book project you’ve been considering for years, Robert Caro’s Working may just be the inspiration you need. In the book, Caro, the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power Broker and The Years of Lyndon Johnson, walks readers through his process for crafting in-depth histories.
Equal parts memoir and how-to guide, Working is broken into three sections: researching, interviewing and writing. Caro describes how he became obsessed with the “raw, naked realities of power,” and how that fascination led him to focus his research on Robert Moses, a New York State official who transformed the state’s geography, and LBJ. His description of interviewing Moses and years spent living in the Texas Hill Country to research Johnson’s childhood are worth the price of admission alone.
Writers of both fiction and non-fiction will find a lot to like about Working. When conducting my own research projects, I find myself remembering his advice to “turn every page” of available records (even when there are thousands of pages) and to ask interviewees, “What did you see? What did you hear?” when they describe scenes. If nothing else, it’s inspiring to consider everything Caro has accomplished in his life. Lovers of history too will enjoy the behind-the-scenes exploration of how historical narratives come to be. Coming in at just over 200 pages, Working is a quick, informative and insightful take from a masterful reporter.
Your Aunt Spilled a Family Secret at Christmas Dinner
Is there anything juicier than a long-kept family secret? Especially one that’s not about your family? Chibundu Onuzo’s Sankofa depicts what happens when a secret kept for decades comes to the surface.
In the book’s opening chapters, Anna, a mixed-race Londoner grieving her mother’s death and her separation from her husband, finds a journal kept by the father, Francis Aggrey, she never knew. After reading about Francis’ work with London radicals in the 1970s, Anna learns two shocking facts. First, her father is still alive and, second, for 30 years, he was the president, some would say dictator, of a small nation in West Africa. Anna sets out to meet Francis, the man her mother loved and the man history books decry as a “crocodile,” responsible for five student activists' deaths.
On its surface, Sankofa is a family drama about a father and daughter attempting to build a relationship later in life, but it’s also a brilliant exploration of corruption, colorism, power and the legacy of colonialism. Like Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age or Self Care by Leigh Stein, Sankofa draws you in with a propulsive story and then almost tricks you into confronting deep, complex issues. Onuzo is a talented storyteller who kept me captivated until the last sentence.
I’m happy to have a guest recommendation from Janet of The Austen Connection, a newsletter devoted to all things Jane Austen:
"Jo Baker’s Pride and Prejudice retelling Longbourn is remarkable in at least two ways: It’s both a favorite retelling among the Janeites, and it’s also achieved acclaim as a work of literary fiction. But Baker’s story does a third, even more remarkable thing: It makes these seven family members of the Bennet household into minor characters, and grants Main Character status to the Longbourn household staff. Like the best in world literature, Longbourn is perspective-altering. But it’s also an intimate, soulful, and deeply romantic love story - worthy of Austen, and perfect for winter fireside reading."
That’s it for me this week. Don’t forget to comment below on a book you’re excited to read to enter the raffle.
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