Strong Appeal

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Strong Appeal

Books I Put on Recent Recommendation Lists for Both my Mom and Sister

I like to think there are many perks to having a librarian in the family. My arts and crafts skills are impeccable, I can organize like nobody’s business, and, provided I know you well, I can produce book recommendations at the drop of a hat. That is why, for the last few years, I have gotten into the habit of creating recommended reading lists for my immediate family members for birthdays and other holidays. With Mother’s Day having recently passed, and my sister’s birthday coming up soon, I thought I’d share some of the books I recently recommended to both of them.

To set the stage, my mother is in her mid-sixties, a retired Family and Consumer Science (aka Home Economics) teacher, and the most likely source of my love of books. She belongs to a monthly book club, a weekly mah-jongg group, has recently taken up Pickleball, and her new quarantine hobby has been joining a group of local mask makers. She reads pretty widely, mostly fiction, as well as some lighter nonfiction. My sister lives in Boston, and will turn 27 at the end of the month. She’s the social butterfly of the family, and has just finished up all of her actuarial exams, so she finally has more time to read. In the past, she’s requested I send her recommendations for funny and/or interesting memoirs (although, to my knowledge, she has not read a single one of my recs).

Of the 50+ books recommendations I put together for each of them (what can I say, I’m good at my job), more than 20 books appear on both lists. That includes the 10 books below.

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman
Mullally and Offerman are two very funny, interesting people. And when two funny, interesting people offer me a peek into their relationship of nearly 20 years, I find it very hard to say no. From how they met, to how they stuck together through difficult times, this book is both funny and honest. As a plus, I’ve heard it’s even better as an audiobook.

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
Words are important, they help us to connect with others. And while a lot of the love in our relationships can often go unsaid, this book serves as a reminder of how important and rewarding it is to build our relationships with conversation. From “Tell Me More,” to “No,” to the times when there just aren’t words, Corrigan builds her book around 12 important phrases that we often struggle with, but can help us to deepen our relationships with friends, family, and the world around us. For my mother’s recommendation list, I’m including a note about having tissues handy for this one.

Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in 40 Questions by Valeria Luiselli
Luiselli uses the 40 questions she asks as a translator for undocumented children facing deportation to explore their stories, from the circumstances forcing them to leave their homes (often on their own), to racism they experience in the US. Parts of this book involve children living on Long Island, where my sister and I were raised and our parents still live, so I think both my mother and sister will appreciate the local aspect of a national topic of discussion. At only 128 pages, this is a great example of how a book can be short, but extremely affecting.

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman
Google lists Braverman’s occupation as “American Adventurer,” which is exciting, though vague. She is a journalist who writes for Outside, among other publications, a kennel owner, a dogsled racer, and a former competitor on the tv show Naked and Afraid. She’s also my absolute favorite twitter personality. Her memoir recounts her time in Norway and Alaska, from studying abroad as a teen, to building her skills as a musher. This pick is probably a little outside the box for my sister, and especially my mom, but I’m excited to share something I love with them.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
This book collects pieces from Strayed’s 2010-2012 tenure as the anonymous advice columnist for the website The Rumpus. In her responses to readers dealing with loss, heartbreak, betrayal, and all the many challenges life throws at us, Strayed mines her own experiences, making this book read more like a memoir than a standard advice column. It’s become my go-to recommendation for people who aren't sure what they want, or struggle to articulate what they like to read, because it’s the kind of book that almost everyone can find something relevant in. It's also available as an audiobook, and I have to say I find Strayed's voice to be incredibly soothing.

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West
This is West’s second essay collection, following Shrill (audio), which was adapted into a Hulu series starring Aidy Bryant. It focuses heavily on all the ways the last few years have proven that the America we learned about in school is not the America of reality, something that most people I know have been giving a lot of thought to as of late. Despite the nearly 40 year age gap between them, I think that West’s conversational tone will appeal to both my sister and mother. This is another book that I personally enjoyed on audio.

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes
Recently widowed Evvie Drake has a secret she’s keeping from everyone in her small Maine town. Former Yankees pitcher Dean Tenney has the “yips,” the unexplainable, complete loss of his pitching prowess. When a mutual friend arranges for Dean to move into the empty apartment at the back of Evie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball struggles. But as the pair grows closer, those two topics become impossible to avoid. I’m not a fan of “women’s fiction” as a genre label, so I will describe this as a contemporary novel, focused on the inner lives and relationships of people, both men and women.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry
Set in 1989, this book follows the Falcons field hockey team. Living in Danvers, Massachusetts, site of the original Salem Village and the infamous Salem Witch Trials, the Falcons turn to the witchcraft of their ancestors to continue their season-long winning streak and make it to the state finals. I'm midway through reading this book myself, and I love how much fun it is, something that can often be missing from books geared towards an adult audience.

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang
Charles Wang was an immigrant success story, creator of a cosmetics empire. Now he’s just broke. Desperate for a way out of this situation, he decides to go back to China and attempt to reclaim his ancestral family lands. First, however, he needs to safely hide his family away from the financial blow about to hit. So he pulls his aspiring comedian son and his style-obsessed daughter out of the schools he can no longer afford, and the whole family road trips from Bel-Air to the upstate New York home of his oldest daughter, a disgraced former it-girl artist now hiding from society. Needless to say, hijinks ensue, and the Wangs loss of fortune just might bring them closer together.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women by Kate Moore
This book holds the distinction of being the only book I’ve recommended on recent lists for my sister, my mother, and my father, a retiree in his mid-sixties who enjoys mostly sports, music and travel nonfiction. Radium Girls is the story of the young women of the early 1900s who worked painting clock-faces with glow-in-the-dark radium-based paint. Originally seen as shining examples of opportunity, they began to get mysteriously ill, suffering truly gruesome side-effects from the poisonous chemicals they worked with. As their bodies deteriorated, these women found themselves in a landmark battle for workers’ rights that still resonates today.

Other titles I recommended for both my mother and sister include Daisy Jones and the Six, On LivingFunny, You Don’t Look Autistic, and Courage is Contagious: And Other Reasons to Be Grateful for Michelle Obama.