To All the Books I’ve Read This Year

For over a year, I’ve been on a quest to find the best books to read in quarantine. An unexpected byproduct of lockdown, for me, was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of TV shows and movies available, so instead I morphed into the cliché tableau of a woman hunched over a novel late into the night, mug of tea (or wine) by her side, nubby blanket draped across her legs.

Turns out, many of my colleagues felt the same way, using the strange surplus of home time to read—or reread—books that turned out to be among the best we’ve read in years. Of the few dozen new novels I finished (happy to share book recommendations—DM me!), most stuck with me long after they were over, and I found that reaching out to some of the authors directly on Instagram to tell them how much I enjoyed their work was a satisfying act I might not have ever done if not for gaining a massive appreciation for how sucky it must be to celebrate a huge accomplishment like writing a book during a time when celebrating—or promoting it in person—is out of the question

But not every story I read was brand new and my colleagues, likewise, used this year to uncover the best books to read in quarantine, no matter when they were written. Here’s what they suggest, in their own words. —Perrie Samotin

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

“Near the beginning of quarantine, I watched Everest, the 2015 film based on the 1996 true story of what was then the deadliest day on Mt. Everest and developed a mild obsession. Before the movie had even ended, I’d ordered Jon Krakauer’s memoir chronicling the climbing disaster and once it arrived I couldn’t put it down. Against the backdrop of the pandemic, reading Into Thin Air was everything my life wasn’t—adventure, travel, the thrill of a new challenge each day. But it also felt eerily familiar, each page a reckoning with mortality and the things that make us feel alive.”

The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

Everyone was talking about Brit Bennett’s novel this summer for good reason. The Vanishing Half is a brilliantly told examination of race, identity, and bias. On one level, Bennett provocatively explores the question, What if you could choose your race? But as the characters develop, she dives deeper into the importance of the past and whether or not you can ever escape your origin story. I was hooked from start to finish.” —Macaela MacKenzie, senior health editor

‘Into Thin Air’ by Jon Krakauer

$14.5.00, Amazon

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“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett

$27.00, Amazon

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True Story by Kate Reed Petty

This was one of those books I couldn’t stop thinking about for weeks after I’d finished it, and I maintain it was among the best I’ve read this year. It’s an exhilarating read, one that skillfully employs disparate genres including suspense, horror and literary fiction to tell the story of Alice Lovett, who, after blacking out a party in the ‘90s, is a victim of a sexual assault that follows her well into adulthood. The novel also zooms in on Nick Brothers, a hotshot lacrosse player there that night but whose involvement is murky. The novel creeps up on you in the best way—nobody is to be trusted and the twist at the end all but requires you to go back to page one.

Ohio by Stephen Markley

I read this book when it was released in 2018 and found it so engrossing that I picked it up again during quarantine. Set during the aftermath of the 2008 recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the novel is split into four parts, each following a different adult character returning to their hometown of New Canaan, Ohio—an archetypical Rust Belt wasteland. Bill, a substance-abusing former jock who antagonized his conservative buddies with his left-wing views; Stacey, a grad student and out lesbian who carried on a sexual relationship with the most popular girl in school; Dan, a reserved soldier who lost an eye in Iraq; and Tina, a Walmart employee whose life has been ravaged by the horrific violence she endured in high school. The writing is simmering, the ending is shocking, and the themes—including Trumpian politics, opioid addiction, teenage angst, and sexual assault—have a bleak relevance that’s pretty devastating.

White Ivy by Susie Yang

A truly addictive read that opens with the line, “Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her.” Ivy is a Chinese immigrant living in a low-income neighborhood outside Boston and desperate to fit in with her all-American classmates and to get popular, preppy, political son Gideon Speyer to notice her. ​She’s also prone to shoplifting, as encouraged by her enterprising grandmother. When she’s caught in a lie by her strict mother, Ivy is sent to visit relatives in China, who—it turns out—are rich, cementing Ivy’s lifelong desire for privilege. A decade later Ivy’s a single, unhappy teacher who reconnects with Gideon and is swept into his Waspy world, working hard to change everything about herself. The thing about this novel is that even though you’re not meant to root for Ivy, you do so anyway because she’s such a smart, compelling character.

The Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry

I read dozens of “adult” books this year, but nothing as frequently as this throwback you might remember from your own childhood since my two-year-old son is endlessly delighted by Kenny Bear eating breakfast, Molly the bunny putting on her shoes, some animals raking leaves, and the big supermarket scene, in which we must name every. single. food on the page each time we read this book, which is no less than twice a day.
—Perrie Samotin, digital director

“True Story” by Kate Reed Petty

$26.00, Amazon

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“Ohio” by Stephen Markley

$24.99.00, Amazon

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“White Ivy” by Susie Yang

$15.98.00, Amazon

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“The Best Word Book Ever” by Richard Scarry

$15.3.00, Barnes & Noble

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A few months ago, craving an escape from pandemic-induced gloom, I went to the bookstore closest to my apartment (the Strand on the UWS) in search of a book that would make me forget most of present-day reality. On the store’s staff recommendations wall was The Secret History, which I realized I’d seen on about 100 “best of” book lists, but had never read. So many smarter, funnier, savvier people have recommended this book that I feel crazy adding my voice to the chorus, but: Read this book. It is immersive, sexy, thought-provoking, and addictive. It will make you not even want to look at Twitter or Instagram while you’re reading it. It will keep you up past your bedtime.

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park

Minor Feelings is the kind of book that people call “timely.” It came out a year ago, as the pandemic gripped New York and people all over the country became awakened to the terrible discrimination that Asian Americans were facing. I had read it a few months before so feel justified in saying that really the book is timeless. It’s an intimate, personal exploration of what it means to be Asian American from the brilliant poet Cathy Park Hong that doesn’t pull a single punch. It’s tough, honest, mesmerizing, and ambitious. When I saw that the book was coming out in paperback this month, I thought to myself: I could stand to read that again. —Mattie Kahn, culture director

‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt

$14.5.00, Amazon

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‘Minor Feelings’ by Cathy Park Hong

$24.3.00, Amazon

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Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector

Lispector’s stories are as mysterious and full of intrigue as the writer herself. The Brazilian novelist was born to a Jewish family that migrated from Ukraine to Recife after WWI. A law school graduate, she worked as a fashion journalist who would spend much of her time abroad after meeting her soon-to-be husband, a foreign diplomat. Known for her short stories that often focus on the singular narrative of women at specific stages of their life—a teen searching for purpose and a writing job , a great grandmother who openly detests the sight of her family at her 89th birthday party—her writing weaves a sort of magic into both pivotal moments of life as well as the mundane.

Jazz by Toni Morrison

This novel about the unraveling of a marriage after an affair and its repair after each character takes a hard look at the role they played is also a love letter to the city of New York. Like most of Morrison’s fiction, her stories are rich in the little details—a smell, a color—while also touching on important life lessons around the matters of the heart, generational trauma, survival, and importantly love, within the Black community. Trying to rush through Jazz would be futile– I spread my reading of it over weeks, as you’re meant to sit with it as it sits with you.—Michella Ore, beauty assistant

‘Complete Stories’ by Clarice Lispector

$21.95.00, Barnes & Noble

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‘Jazz’ by Toni Morrison

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Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

Melissa Broder must be one of the most obscene writers alive, and one of the most captivating. Milk Fed is delicious and depraved and unlike anything you’ve read before, except maybe The Pisces, Broder’s equally fabulous first novel. Here, a woman who deprives herself of every pleasure in life in order to stay thin falls in love with the gorgeous fat woman who works at her local frozen yogurt shop. It’s a ruthless, laugh-out-loud examination of life under the tyranny of diet culture—moms who make their daughters restrict, older women who want you to suffer the way they did, men who don’t get it and don’t care to, the question of how to get free from it all. You will eat this up and realize with a sigh that every one of your friends needs this book in her life.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Lockwood’s novel follows a woman who is dealing with the slow suffocation of being “Very Online” until a traumatic family event takes her offline, which is likewise fraught with beauty and pain. I laughed hard and I cried hard. Lockwood is a poet, and her narrative storytelling is imbued with the same sense of sacredness of certain poems and songs. Her talent for drawing life with words defies description; in fact, attempts at description feel embarrassing and redundant—just immerse yourself in the book and then, when you’re ready to talk, call me and have a glass of wine in hand. —Jenny Singer, staff writer

“Milk Fed” by Melissa Broder, February 2

$23.4.00, Amazon

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‘No One Is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood

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The Chiffon Trenches by André Leon Talley

Fashion memoirs are never dull and never disappoint. If you want a book full of stories that feel made up, but 9 out of 10 likely happened the exact way described, I’d definitely recommend reading the former Vogue editor-at-large’s memoir. There are so many good quotes from his book and from the press tour he went on before it came out that I still quote them. If you want a page-turner full of gossip and grand life lessons, I highly recommend it. —Khaliha Hawkins, producer

“The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir” by André Leon Talley

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Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Between the first page and the last, I flip-flopped between loving and hating both of the main characters—Alix Chamberlain, a white mother of two young daughters, and Emira Tucker, their 25-year-old Black babysitter—depending on whose point of view the story was being told from. From both perspectives, Such a Fun Age takes a nuanced look at class, privilege, and racism—both explicit and casual—and serves as a reminder that your past is generally best left there.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory

Romance novels have been my favorite mental escape for the past six months, but the romance can’t be cringey. (No to bodice-ripping and the word “loins.”) So when the main character in The Proposal says no to a Jumbotron marriage proposal at a baseball game I knew it was my kind of love story. It’s a charming, can’t-put-it-down book that also manages to be smart and modern with perfectly imperfect characters—exactly the kind of happily ever after I need right now.
—Kim Fusaro, Director of Brand Marketing & Branded Content

“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid

$26.00, Amazon

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‘The Proposal’ by Jasmine Guillory

$13.8.00, Bookshop

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