Letter_to_My_DaughterMemoir: Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

Spanning a short 192 pages, Angelou tells snippets of her life in a series of 28 essays and poems. Angelou was 81 years-old when when Letter to My Daughter was published. Her life experiences shine in this collection dedicated to “the thousands of daughters” that she has all around the world. “Dear Daughter,” she writes in the opening essay, “this letter has taken an extraordinary time getting itself together. I have all along known that I wanted to tell you directly of some of the lessons I have learned… My life has been long, and believing that life loves the liver of it, I have dared to try many things, sometimes trembling, but daring still.” What follows is a series of inspiring stories and reflections full of rich insight and perspective. She writes with candor and pointed honesty. There is no beating around the bush with Angelou. She is clearly not writing to impress her audience, but rather, to simply pass along wisdom and lessons learned. She writes with lyrical grace, leaving readers with seemingly countless quotable lines. She calls women to uphold a spirit of resilience, self-respect, kindness, humility, and optimism. Read this if you want to feel empowered, inspired, and thankful.

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scientologyNonfiction: Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

This book delves deep into the inscrutable, mysterious world of Scientology—its original conception, beliefs, scandals, intrigue, power struggles, celebrity drama, and more. Nominated for last year’s National Book Award for Nonfiction, Going Clear investigates Scientology with comprehensive detail, sparing readers no juicy stories, facts, and rumors. Wright’s prose is even, direct, and accessible. If you’re craving a well-written, interesting, and informative nonfiction book that examines a controversial-yet-fascinating topic, then Going Clear is a good choice.

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stags leapPoetry: Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is arguably one of America’s most talented living poets, and Stag’s Leap is arguably
one of her best works. Olds recounts the weight of loss, the fragility of love and sex, and the splintering pain of divorce in this Pulitzer Prize-winning work. Grouped under the broader mantle of the four seasons, this collection boasts forty-nine poems. They hum with rich narrative lines and bold, staunch imagery—a combination that lends depth but not at the expense of being so inscrutable that untrained poetry readers such as myself find them inaccessible. In “Last Look,” she writes:

“And I said, Good-bye, and he said, Goodbye, / and I closed my eyes, and rose up out of the / passenger seat in a spiral like someone / coming up out of a car gone off a / bridge into deep water.”

It’s an intimate look at what is left in the wake of thirty years of marriage coming undone. Olds somehow manages to be both vulnerable and venerable. It is haunting.

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the dinnerPsychological Thriller: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The plot of this chilling novel by Dutch author Herman Koch is brimming with deliciously disorienting twists and turns. The entire story unfolds within the context of a single dinner: the narrator, Paul Lohman, his wife Claire, his brother Serge, and his sister-in-law Babette share a meal together at a fancy restaurant in Amsterdam in order to address some unsettling actions taken by their two teenage sons. As the meal progresses, the couples’ conversation slowly reveals the complicated truths about this sordid scandal that involves a grainy video of the two boys (still not yet identified) — engaged in a sinister act — streaming on various news outlets. Paul, a retired school teacher, and Serge, a successful politician, do not get along but are forced to figure out next steps regarding their sons’ terrible crime. A steady stream of weighty secrets slowly surface with each course of the dinner, making this novel a true page-turner. As NPR’s Rosecrans Baldwin puts it, “half the pleasure of reading The Dinner is feeling the author’s steady hand on the story as secrets are revealed. What he puts forward is not only possible, but frighteningly probable.”

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defining1Self-Help: The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter – And How to Make the Most of Them by Dr. Meg Jay

I don’t know about y’all, but my twenties have definitely not been all fun and games. Though TV shows and movies and my Facebook friends’ posts about how amazing their life is might try to tell me that life as a twentysomething is just a series of awesome parties, career promotions, and luxurious trips to Europe, this book reassured me that I am not the only twenty-six year-old facing anxieties and fears about work, love, and the brain and body. It’s a super quick read, and full of helpful insight into effectively navigating a murky phase of life that is often misrepresented and misunderstood. Jay serves as a clinical psychologist in Charlottesville, Virginia, and wrote this book after years of working with twentysomethings. Even if you’re not in your twenties, this book is still helpful; one of my friend’s parents both read it in order to better understand their three daughters’ current life stage and said it was incredibly enlightening. Jay points out that the twenties truly is a formative time: personalities change more in our 20s than any other time, fertility peaks, our brains fully mature, and “80% of life’s most defining moments happen by age 35.” I’m not usually a huge fan of self-help books, but this one is full of interesting stories and anecdotes that I found to be both highly relevant and relatable. Oh, and be sure to check out her TED Talk too.

See Part I of Sara Kay’s summer reading recommendations for more outstanding choices from a real-life librarian!