Happy belated Valentine’s Day!
Whether you roll your eyes at the holiday or get excited about the explosion of red and pink capitalistic nods to your loved ones, I’m sending you virtual heart-shaped, sugar-soaked candies as a token of my appreciation for being here. The world may be hellbent on making us irritable and closed off from one another, but my hopes are for this Second Breakfast space to feel as sweet, fun, and celebratory as the holidays you do love—whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not.
As someone who struggles with the constant desire to do and see as much as possible—especially when the weather is nice—I deeply appreciate winter and its cues to slow down, hibernate, nest, and just be dormant for a bit. There’s the urge to sleep more, eat more, relax more, and prioritize solitude. Many plants and animals follow these cues, except for, it seems, humans (specifically Americans), who can’t—or won’t—take a break from the productivity hamster wheel we’re all running on to do more, more, more. It’s hard to take a break when society tells us we can’t, or if we can, then we shouldn’t be. Ugh.
That’s why reading, especially reading during winter, feels like such a treat. I am temporarily stepping out of this world and into another one—regardless of what genre I’m reading. I’m learning about characters, places, cultures, experiences, and feelings that maybe I do or don’t experience myself, which gives me a better understanding of, and compassion for different worlds and the people in them.
In winter, I feel like I have more time to daydream, reflect, and process what I’m reading because the weather is often crappy anyway, and because there’s something especially calming about throwing on a fresh pair of sweatpants and burrowing under the blanket with a great book and a favorite snack and no one bothering you. It’s truly one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Whenever people find out I’m a big reader, they inevitably ask what my favorite books are. I find this question so hard, in part because your experience with a book is often unique to the chapter of life you’re in, the emotions you’ve been navigating, and the kinds of characters you resonate with (or not). What resonates with me might not resonate with you, and vice versa.
At the same time, I have an awful memory, so I have a hard time remembering what I’ve read, worsened by the fact that I have not hopped on the Goodreads or other book-tracking software bandwagon (though I should). Additionally, there are some books that capture my attention only in the time it takes me to read them and then the moment I close the back cover, I forget about the story. It doesn’t mean the book wasn’t great—often the books that burn hot and fast are—but maybe it just wasn’t life changing. Or maybe it would’ve been if I had read it at a different time. Not that every book needs to be life-changing!
Despite this, there are a few books that always come to mind when I hear the phrase “favorite books.”
These are the books that affected me at my core—in all kinds of ways. They are beautiful, raw, heart-breaking, uplifting, grounding, imaginative, complex, historical, mythical, and more.
They are the kind of books that you shove in your friends’ hands and say, “Just trust me.”
They are the books you buy hard copies of so you can have them on your shelf and come back to them, even if just to read the summary and remind yourself of the special characters and stories inside.
They are the books where you remember your experience reading them—maybe they gave you a good cry, maybe they caused one (or many) late-night reading binges where you can’t go to bed because you must know what happens, or maybe they just feel like a comforting hug.
They are the books that you then buy for others in hopes that the story impacts them as much as it did you.
Whatever the reason, these books are the ones you always think of.
While I could give you a long list of books I’ve adored and think everyone should read, I’m sharing my short list of “just trust me” books. I’m not going to provide summaries of them (there are many online) or my reasons for loving them, because it’s too daunting to try to capture all the details and nuances that make these books so special. But here are a few of my nearest and dearest:
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Disoriental by Négar Djavadi
Peter and The Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Given that this is a children’s series of five chapter books, this recommendation probably seems a bit out of left field, but I cannot recommend this series enough if you need a super-fast-paced, adventure-filled, imaginative, and enjoyable read. If you need to get out of a reading rut or maybe you just want something less serious, read this. I was probably 10 when I read the first book, but I make a point to read the whole series every few years because it is just that fun.
So I’d love to hear from you: what are your “just trust me” books? What are the titles that immediately come to mind when people talk about incredible books? The one(s) you absolutely loved and are quick to recommend to people?
Reply to this email (or comment) with your favorite(s) and I’m going to create an epic spreadsheet of the Second Breakfast community’s most treasured reads.
I want your honest answers: these books can be any genre, any length, any mood; they can be for children, young adults, or adults; and they don’t have to have won any awards or prestige or be on any best book lists. Maybe you read it ten years ago or last month; it doesn’t matter. They just have to be YOUR favorite book—for whatever reason, no elaboration needed. And never any judgment.
Something tells me that this community is going to share some incredible recommendations.
I can’t believe I’ve been writing this newsletter for a month now! I never would’ve imagined that hundreds of you would sign up to hear me ramble on about whatever it is that’s on my mind each week. Life is full of surprises, that’s for sure. And this has been such a pleasant one.
Until next week,
P.S. Have you taken yourself on your date yet? If so, I’d love to hear about it!
1. The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (no explanation necessary - anyone living in this crazy world can/will benefit from this book.)
2. Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket (so fun! I loved his unfortunate events series as a child - can confirm his writing is still extremely enjoyable as an adult. This got me back into reading after a long dry spell.)
3. I Who Have Never Known Men by Jacqueline Harpman (this book has no chapters and I tore through it in one afternoon. Kind of bleak and almost impossible to explain… it’s hauntingly good.)
4. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (as a fellow native Hoosier I’m partial to Vonnegut but this book genuinely changed how I think about space/time. My all time favorite!)
A Fine Balance......Heartbreaking, beautiful writing; So much about friend relationships; So powerful and I had to put it down often as I sobbed.. Might be one of the best books I have ever read.
Correlli's Mandolin: set in Greece during World War 2; Powerful and beautiful: Haunting
The Book Thief: epic, moving, unsettling
Fugitive Pieces: I have read it twice as has my daughter: poetic