You’re Making Your Thanksgiving Grocery List
Are reflecting on apartheid or obsessed with “All Too Well”
Exciting news: What To Read If turns one today! When I sent out my first issue, I had one subscriber — myself. So, it’s wild to me that book lovers worldwide now read this newsletter each week. Thank you all so much!
Know that I appreciate you taking the time to read my posts and share your favorite books. I hope year two is just as fun.
I have two events to mark the anniversary and the holiday season:
What To Gift If: Need help choosing a book to give as a gift this holiday season? Stumped with your Secret Santa pick? Not sure what to give your new mother-in-law? I’m here to help. On Friday, you’ll get a special email inviting you to comment with your gift-giving conundrums. Share a bit of detail about the recipient and I’ll come up with a custom book recommendation or two for your consideration. (Important note: You can also ask for a rec for yourself.)
Book Drive for D.C. Families in Need: My neighborhood bookstore, East City Bookshop, is hosting a book drive for New Endeavors For Women (NEW), a D.C.-based nonprofit that provides housing and support services to local women and their families struggling with homelessness. You can buy a book for NEW’s library here. I’ll match book purchases up to $100 for the drive from now until the end of November (just send me a note or your receipt saying what you purchased). If you’d rather purchase books for a charity in your hometown, that’s great too! This is a chance to get a jump-start on Small Business Saturday AND Giving Tuesday.
Let me know if you have questions about either of these festivities!
And now, what to read if…
You’re Prepping for Your Final Pre-Thanksgiving Grocery Shop
Grocery shopping for Thanksgiving is always a challenge — the competition for turkeys, the lines that wrap around the store and the last-minute return trip for a forgotten item — but this year could bring extra complications. With supply chain backups causing shortages and inflation driving up food prices, the annual shopping trip could be even more of a headache than usual.
In The Secret Life of Groceries: The Dark Miracle of the American Supermarket, Benjamin Lorr takes readers inside the parts of the grocery supply chain that normally remain hidden. He embedded with a long-distance truck driver, took a job at the Whole Foods fish counter and conducted an in-depth investigation of slavery on Thai fishing boats. Lorr is clear-eyed about the challenges our food system has while simultaneously maintaining a sense of wonder about the same system’s ability to provide more food at lower prices than ever before.
I picked up The Secret Life of Groceries a few weeks back because I wanted to better understand the grocery supply chain beyond the vague sense I gathered from news articles. I went in tepid, concerned it would be a dry recitation of logistical challenges, and ended up fascinated. Lorr’s passion for the topic comes through on every page, and he has a real ability to pick up on details that make a scene pop. As a bonus, it’ll give you a lot of factoids to drop at Thanksgiving dinner.
Want to book recommendations straight to your inbox each week? Subscribe for free here.
You’re Reflecting on Apartheid
F.W. de Klerk, South Africa’s last apartheid-era president, died last week. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela and left behind a complicated, controversial legacy. De Klerk released Mandela from prison and lifted the ban on anti-apartheid political groups; he also failed to take responsibility for the apartheid abuses that happened under his presidency.
“The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s memoir of growing up in 1980s and ‘90s South Africa, Born a Crime, is a searing take on life in the segregated country. Noah, the son of a white Swiss father and a Black Xhosa mother, spent his early years hidden in the house because his mother feared the government would take her mixed-race child. The comedian depicts the very real, human consequences of South Africa’s racist policies. Before reading it, I had an academic understanding of apartheid. Noah’s book makes the policy personal.
Born a Crime is many things: a heartfelt and humorous memoir about Noah’s rise to fame, a raw, unflinching look at the horrors of apartheid and a love letter to Noah’s mom, who was laser-focused on ensuring her son’s success. A friend recently told me, “It’s book everyone should read. And re-read if they’ve already read it.”
Born a Crime is a book that shines on audio. Noah, the narrator, seamlessly jumps between accents and dialects in English, Xhosa, and Zulu. There’s also a special young reader edition for kids ages 10-14 if you’re looking for a book the whole family can read and discuss.
You Spent the Weekend Listening to “Red (Taylor’s Version)”
Taylor Swift released a re-recorded version of her 2012 hit album “Red” last week — complete with an extended version of “All Too Well” fans have been dreaming of for years (here’s an explainer of why she’s re-recording old albums). For the uninitiated, “All Too Well,” is a breakup song about the singer’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Although it was never a single, it became a fan and critic favorite. Rolling Stone recently named it one of the best songs of all time. When the superstar hinted that she had an extended version in her “vault,” fans lost their minds. And on Friday, they were able to listen to it for the first time. (If you want a longer take on the “All Too Well” saga, check out this piece from the Washington Post.)
“All Too Well” is a devastating breakup song about a doomed relationship, with Swift’s signature barbs and a meditation on what — and how — we choose to remember. V.E Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue explores similar themes with a fantastical, Faustian lens. In 1714, Addie LaRue makes a desperate deal with the god of the night to avoid a forced marriage. The god, Luc, grants Addie eternal life, with a catch: no one will ever remember her. For 300 years, Addie lives a lonely life, until she meets Henry, a bookseller in modern-day New York, who can inexplicably remember her.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is a spellbinding book that kept me up late reading. Addie is a captivating character, intent on building a life and finding a way to make her mark in a world that doesn’t see her. Like last week’s rec, The Historian, this is a perfect fall read — mysterious, long and a bit magical. (And of course, as Swifties know, "All Too Well" is also a fall song.) Be warned though, much like a Taylor Swift album, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue will leave you with an emotional hangover.
That’s it for me today. Start thinking of how I can help you find the right book for everyone on your gift list on Friday.
One important note: I made a mistake in last week’s Q&A with Rita Frangie. I misheard Rita and thought she talked about working in Photoshop for the Bringing Down the Duke cover. In actuality, they did a photo shoot. The correct quote is “With Evie Dunmore’s Bringing Down the Duke, we started with a photo shoot, which we never ended up using. We then moved on, wanting something fresh that would stand out.” I’m sorry for the error.
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
If you’re reading this on Substack or were forwarded this email, and you’d like to subscribe, click the button below.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase