"My approach to books is the same as my approach to food: I’ll try anything once, and if I don’t like it, I’ll try it again until I do. I read widely across genres, but am particularly fond of literary fiction, narrative non-fiction, and cookbooks, which I read cover-to-cover, like novels. I read in pursuit of the elusive “book tingle”—the sense of illumination and recognition when you realize you’re reading exactly the right book at exactly the right time."
What Narcissism Means to Me Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555973865
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Published: Graywolf Press - November 1st, 2003

This is not just my favorite poetry book, but one of my favorite books of any genre. I always keep two copies on hand--one for myself, and one to give to anyone who hasn't read it yet. Hoagland's imagery is so illuminating and relatable, I find myself referencing his words a decade after reading them. Start with "A Color of the Sky," "Spring Lemonade," or "Man Carrying Sofa" and see what poetry can do.

Hotel Theory Cover Image
ISBN: 9781933368696
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Published: Soft Skull Press - June 1st, 2007

Two books in one, this is both a rumination on the meaning of hotels, and a dime novel featuring Liberace and Lana Turner. No one is spared from Koestenbaum's meditation on hotels in philosophy, consciousness, film, literature, and music. He references everyone from Chopin to Joan Didion, from Heidegger to Julia Stiles, from Kracauer to Gertrude Stein. "The hotel room harbors the has-been as well as the star," he writes. But who are the has-beens? Who are the stars? You'll never see hotels the same way again.

Good Morning, Midnight Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393303940
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - December 17th, 1999

Tragic, despairing, jaded, honest. Jean Rhys offers one of the most vulnerable and least romanticized portraits of a woman in Paris that I've seen in literature (though there is something dismally romantic about a woman drinking Pernod alone in the cafes of Paris, isn't there?). This is about the daily minutiae, the grim emotionality, and the occasional moments of light for a single, disillusioned woman drinking her way through Paris in the 1930s. This book's aesthetic? Luxury and grit. Its cheap hotels, dim brasseries, and lonely Parisian wanderings still haunt me.

Rocket Boys: A Memoir Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385333214
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Published: Delta - January 10th, 2000

The memoir that inspired the movie "October Sky" (an anagram of "Rocket Boys") starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper. Hickam grew up in a small coal-mining town in West Virginia in the 1950s, where the only viable plan for a young man was to play football or mine coal. After witnessing the Soviet satellite Sputnik streak across the sky of his hometown, Hickam and his ragtag group of friends set out to design and launch their own rocket, despite meager resources and stern resistance from an overbearing father. This book stands out for its vivid portrait of a struggling town, and its emotional ride from frustration to hope and back again as the boys tinker their way to success. "Rocket Boys" has everything: beautiful storytelling, a sense of place, a historical and cultural lesson about rural America during the Cold War, and an underlying message of hope in the face of limitations.

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385523912
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Published: Spiegel & Grau - September 21st, 2010

Some of the best non-fiction I've read, "Nothing to Envy" is gripping, illuminating, haunting, and effective. It details the daily lives of six North Korean citizens during a politically turbulent period, in which they navigate their struggle for survival, their earnest faith in- and disillusionment with- the regime, and their strikingly relatable journeys as they fall in love, raise families, and come to terms with their own consciences. This book is not only about survival, but about living, about love, family, and the moments of beauty and lightness that exist in even the most dire and oppressive of circumstances.

Them: Adventures with Extremists Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743233217
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Published: Simon & Schuster - January 7th, 2003

I love and recommend all of Jon Ronson's work, but almost 20 years after its publication, "Them" looks more and more like a roadmap to where we are today. In this collection of articles, Ronson profiles various extremist groups--from Islamic fundamentalists to neo-Nazis, and a number of figures who would ultimately wind up in the current White House. Despite their contrasting beliefs, these groups share the common paranoia that a tight-knit, shadowy elite is ruling the world. In his approachable and self-effacing way, Ronson indicates the absurdity and irony of the extremists' views without shaming them. As disconcerting as it is, I find it impossible to read this book without giggling aloud... and shuddering, too.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316154680
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Published: Back Bay Books - June 2nd, 2009

I've never met a David Sedaris book I did not like, but this is the first one I read and it remains special to me for that reason. What makes it more memorable: I read this disturbing, hilarious collection of essays on a transatlantic flight, and my delight at Sedaris's writing made it the quickest flight I've ever been on (and the longest flight for the poor souls around me who were subjected to 12+ hours of my stifled and not-so-stifled laughter). Sedaris is dark, witty, and all-too-accurate. I can read and reread his works, and laugh just as hard every time.

The Man Who Ate Everything Cover Image
ISBN: 9780375702020
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Published: Vintage Books USA - October 27th, 1998

Though I love food writing, I sometimes shy away from it for fear that it will be lofty, pretentious, or too envy-inducing to be enjoyable. That is not the case here. Jeffrey Steingarten, a food critic for Vogue, sets out on culinary adventures and misadventures so offbeat and engrossing, it's impossible not to laugh and learn and salivate along the way. His approach is humble and investigative, relatable, and so funny. It's everything I love: informative writing, good food, and a lot of laughs.

The Catcher in the Rye Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316769174
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Published: Back Bay Books - January 30th, 2001

I'm not sure if it has become "uncool" to love one of the books most symbolic of teen angst, but this remains one of my favorite novels, and is by far the one I reread the most. Since middle school, I've had a tradition of periodically rereading The Catcher In The Rye. No other book feels as different and as wholly surprising with each new encounter. The story never changes, but what resonates with me changes so dramatically, it's as if I'm reading it for the first time every time. If anything, this novel has become a mirror, a soundboard, a mile marker for where I am, who I am, and how far I've come.

Someone Knows My Name Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393333091
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Published: W. W. Norton & Company - November 1st, 2008

I am fascinated by books that deal with slavery, and have read widely in the genre, but this is one of the most far-reaching, thorough, and beautiful books I have read to date. Ambitious in scope, this novel successfully brings to life oft-overlooked facets of the slave trade, Black Loyalists, and their various migrations across continents and cultures. It also features some of the most deftly drawn female characters I've seen. Its gripping prose makes for an emotional but wholly rewarding read.