Allison: I think lots of writers have a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and have taken something important away from it. From the descriptions of how the voices of your friends and family rise to the top while you’re writing to the assurance that shitty first drafts are the way to go, Lamott has a way of demystifying the life of a writer. Bird by Bird is good for writers at all stages of their career. Even though I read for the first time years ago, I still pick it up and read favorite chapters over again when I need a boost. Come to think of it, it’s probably time for another re-read.
Abby: I picked Behind the Beautiful Forevers, by Katherine Boo, up to read over a Christmas break because I fell in love with the haunting front cover of a small child sitting hunched in a pile of garbage. Boo tells the story of a few residents of a Mumbai slum. It is a sad yet beautifully told story about a broken political system and how it is manipulated to work for the people in charge.
Maria: I’m going to cheat a bit here and make 2 recommendations. As I mentioned in my contributor interview, I have been reading quite a bit of non-fiction lately. These books are similar in structure (broken up into very short sections) and I believe they’re both really valuable reads (for different reasons).
Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay. This wide-ranging collection of essays touches on pop culture, literature, film, politics, personal experience, and feminist theory. I love Gay’s conversational writing style in these essays- she seamlessly blends seemingly disparate topics, such as Chris Brown, The Fifty Shades series, Scrabble tournaments, Girls, feminist theory, and Twitter. There were so many times her writing (in my mind) perfectly articulated complex ideas in a way that I didn’t know was possible. For example, in her introduction Gay writes,
How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices.
Bottom line: This book made me feel all the feels.
Mistakes I Made at Work, Edited by Jessica Bacal. Bacal’s book is the product of a frustration with empty platitudes about “learning from your mistakes” and a desire to hear honest stories from successful women about professional setbacks and/or mistakes. The book consists of interviews with 25 women from a variety of fields- medicine, art, law, education, business, etc. I appreciated the breadth of ages and experiences represented in the book and I think that everyone can find one or two stories that really resonate with them. Bacal argues that “there’s power in talking about our mistakes and failures,” and I agree. I felt an immense sense of relief at seeing in print some of the doubts and concerns I’ve struggled with over the years. I also enjoyed learning about the amazing and interesting work that these women are doing (many of whom I had never heard of).