My 15 Most Frequently Recommended Books for Black History Month
February is Black History Month, which means a lot of readers strive to be even more thoughtful about picking up books by black authors. While I think it’s important to diversify our reading all year, I do love seeing so many readers celebrate the work of black writers from around the world. If you’re looking for some fantastic books for Black History Month, these are the 15 books I recommend most frequently, ranging from essential classics to brand new releases. But even if you don’t have a chance to fit these into your reading life in February, I hope you’ll pick one up later this year. I promise you, these won’t disappoint!
30 Books for Every Valentine's or Galentine's Mood
Valentine's Day is great excuse to read a sappy love story. But if you're not in the mood for that, I've got you covered. Here are 30 fantastic books to read for Valentine's (and Galentine's), recommended by mood.
Five Favorites: Book to Movie Adaptations
In honor of this weekend’s Academy Awards, I’m sharing my five favorite book to movie adaptations. I generally think the book is always better, but some of these films prove that adage wrong by doing justice to, or even outshining, their source material.
Books to Keep You Entertained During the Big Game
I enjoy the Super Bowl because I love my friends and, of course, the snacks. But otherwise, I find the game pretty boring. I’m not sure I’ll actually get time to read during the festivities, but it’s nice to have a book on hand just in case. Here are some recommended books to keep you company during the game (organized by desired level of distraction) and the links to their Kindle pages so you can read right on your phone.
Eight Books Bookstagram Made Me Read
As of this week, I have 80,000 people following along with my reading on Instagram. That number is incomprehensible to me, as is the pure fact that people care what I read and like. Today, I’m sharing eight of my favorite books that I never would have picked up without bookstagram. I wish I could share 80 books in honor of this number but time constraints and social obligations mean I had to whittle it down to the best of the best.
My Star Ratings Explained
I’ve shied away from using star ratings in my reviews for a long time. My issue has always been that I don’t quite know how to use them. But I realize that a lot of readers make their decisions about what books to purchase or check out from the library based on the star ratings of their trusted recommendation sources. As much as assigning stars to a book stresses me out, I would hate for a reader to forego a favorite of mine because I didn’t crown it with five stars.
Five Favorites: Metafiction
Recently I read Watchmen (after watching and loving the HBO series) and Interior Chinatown (out 1/28 from Pantheon). I loved and adored both of these books, and they’re both exceptional works of metafiction. I’m always interested in a good piece of metafiction. Slightly different from other books about books, metafiction includes character asides, an author as a character, or other form-bending that requires readers to question what is real and what is story. In doing so, metafiction allows us to reflect on why we tell stories and if stories can get at a higher “Truth” than fact can. I loved Watchmen and Interior Chinatown so much that they should probably appear on this favorites list, but I also wanted to share five older works of metafiction that initially ignited my love for this genre.
Every Book I Read in 2019 - Ranked
When I was thinking about how I wanted to recap my 2019 reading for the blog, I knew I wanted to, in some way, share every single book I read. I thought about just putting together a full list, but then I found myself struck by a burst of ambition. Instead of a list, I decided I would rank all the books I read over the course of the year.
January 2020 Reading Preview
I know myself well enough to know that I will never stick to a monthly to-read list. However, to help me stick to my goal of reading more intentionally and to share more books that you might otherwise miss, I’m going to try out something new. Each month, I’ll share a reading preview of what books are currently catching my eye. These will include the releases I’m most excited about, the books I’m prioritizing for projects or book club, and the books from my own shelves that I’m most eager to read. I’ll undoubtedly share way more books than I’ll be able to read each month (and I know I’ll be missing a lot of the books I’ll actually get to read!). But you’ll still get a good sense of the new releases, buzzy books, and backlist gems that are grabbing my attention now. And hopefully you’ll find a few new books to add to your own TBR.
My 2020 Reading Intentions
This year I’m making my reading life all about balance. Often I find my reading life swings like a pendulum. I read through a stack of books for review only to get burnt out and start a phase of reading solely books I’ve purchased myself. Or I read one too many difficult books in a row and find myself exclusively drawn to rereading Harry Potter. I’d love to create a reading life that’s more consistently balanced.
December Reading Wrap-Up
In spite of a significant break from work in December, it ended up being my slowest reading month of the year. That’s okay because I still met my goal of reading 100 books in 2019 and had a few highly enjoyable December reads.
Here’s everything I read in December:
25 Books That Defined My Decade in Reading
The books in this list were all published in the last decade and have in some way defined my reading over the last 10 years. These are the books that have shaped me as an adult reader, a post-college lifelong learner, educator, and a person. They are the books that helped me fall in love with reading again or allowed me to appreciate a genre at which I’d previously turned up my nose. And I didn’t limit myself to 10 either. Get ready to bask in nostalgia and add some books to your TBR, because here are the 25 books that defined my reading this decade.
2019 Reading Goal Recap
To be honest, I couldn’t remember what I set as my 2019 reading goals. I knew I wanted to read 100 books, but other than that I guess my goals didn’t really guide my reading this year. I was pretty nervous to go back this week to check in with my reading goals, because I was certain I had spectacularly failed. When I flipped to my goals page in my book journal, I was shocked to find just two goals there: read 100 books and read 1 nonfiction book each month.
12 Best Fiction Books of 2019
2019 was an amazing year for books. I agonized over whittling down this list but ultimately settled on my twelve favorite 2019 releases. There’s some overlap here with my Best Book Club Books of 2019, but I tried to use my multiple list format to press as many great books as possible into your hands. And while you’ll definitely recognize some of these books from other best of the year lists, I hope you’ll also find some underappreciated gems. Without further ado, I am so excited to share my favorite books of 2019 with you!
10 Best Back List Reads of 2019
2019 was a great year for new releases, but I also managed to find several new favorites among the back list titles I read. Here are the 10 best back list books I read this year.
Best 2018 Books Read in 2019
In putting together my end-of-year lists for favorite 2019 fiction and favorite back list fiction, I realized there were a handful of books I loved this year that were floating in a sort of no-man’s land. 2018 titles aren’t necessarily back list because they’re still their author’s most recent work, and there’s still buzz about them. But they’re also not the brand new books filling up 2019’s best of the year lists. Mostly to be able to mention as many favorite books as possible in my year-end wrap-ups, I decided to make this a category of its own and so here we have: Best 2018 Releases Read in 2019. I also included two 2018 bonus picks in my Best Book Club Books of 2019 post, so be sure to check that out as well!
10 Best Nonfiction Books of 2019
The best of the year lists continue, and today I’m focusing on my favorite nonfiction reads. Usually I don’t read enough nonfiction to warrant an entire top ten list, but this year I got really into my nonfiction reading. For this, I’m crediting a reading goal of tackling at least one nonfiction book a month, as well as a particularly exceptional publishing year for memoir, investigative journalism, and essay collections. These are my ten favorite nonfiction books of 2019.
9 Fantastic Short(ish) Books to Help You Meet Your Reading Goal
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. That is, it’s that time when we all panic about not meeting our reading goals. While I don’t put a lot of stock in numeric reading goals, it’s always nice to feel that sense of accomplishment when you meet a year-long goal. If you’re still a book or two away from your reading goal, here are 9 quick reads whose shorter page count doesn’t mean sacrificing depth or beauty.
Top 10 Book Club Books of 2019
It’s a new experience for me, but for the first time ever I’m currently part of a successful book club. And now that it’s part of my life, I can’t really imagine my reading world without our monthly meet-ups. I love getting the chance to discuss the books I’m reading in real life as well as online. Not only does it help me articulate my own ideas about a book, but I also get to learn from my fellow readers and delve into deep topics of conversation with my friends.
Top 10 Audiobooks of 2019
I love audiobooks. There’s no way I could read nearly as much and as widely as I do without them. I’m very excited because this year I listened to enough audiobooks to justify an entire “best of” list. All but one of these is a 2019 release and each stood out to me both because of the book itself and the narration. I hope you find something you love or something to gift on this list!
November Reading Wrap-Up
November was a fantastic reading month for me. I attained my perfect balance between deep, contemplative books and light, fast-paced reads. Here’s everything I read in November.
10 Books I'm Thankful For
Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Today, in honor of this festival of gratitude, I’m sharing ten books I’m thankful to have read this year. This list differs a bit from “favorite” or “best” books of the year, although there may be some overlap. Some of the books I’m thankful for were difficult for me to read, but terribly important for my own learning. Others are the silly, fluffy reads that gave me a break from the heaviness of literature and life. What every book on this list has in common is that it came to me at just the right moment and offered me exactly what I needed.
How to Make a Reader with Natasha Lioe
This week, I'm thrilled to be featuring writer and reader, Natasha Lioe. Natasha graduated with a BA in narrative studies from University of Southern California. She’s always had an affinity for words and stories and emotions. She founded and runs Capsule Books as well as Capsule Stories, and she's one of the most thoughtful readers and writers I know.
Five Favorites: Retellings of Myths and Legends
Readers, I had the best bookish day yesterday. I attended a conference workshop about adapting mythology with THE Madeline Miller. I fell madly in love with Madeline’s writing when I discovered The Song of Achilles six years ago. When I was lucky enough to get an early copy of her sophomore novel, Circe, it became my favorite book of 2018. This year I’ll be teaching Circe for the first time so I was extra excited to learn that she was presenting at the National Council for Teachers of English convention.
Teaching Review: Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Too often we try to keep difficult subjects away from our students because we don’t believe they’re ready to handle tough topics. While we may have the best intentions in that decision, teens are still going to talk about and, unfortunately, experience many of the hardships we want to protect them from. At its best, the English classroom can be a way to access difficult topics and discuss them in a setting that is safe, brave, and cathartic. Beartown would make an exceptional classroom read for just this reason.
Five Favorites: Retellings of Classic Lit
Recently I conducted an Instagram poll asking my followers if they’d rather see a Five Favorites post focusing on retellings of classic literature or retellings of myths. Classics won by the narrowest of margins, but as I sit here writing this post, I’m still pondering exactly what the distinction between these two genres should be. Is The Odyssey a classic or a myth? What about fairy tales? Are they classics, myths, or their own category entirely? All this is to say that while I absolutely adore retellings, I apparently have more complicated feelings about this method of categorizing than I originally thought.
Five Favorites: Bookish Bricks
I love big books. In recent years, I’ve made less time for reading longer works because I’m in a constant state of mild anxiety about how long my to-be-read list has gotten. Still, when I do make the time to read bigger books, they not only inevitably prove rewarding, but they often end up on my favorites list. If the reading challenge you’re partaking in requires a BIG book or you just feel like getting lost in an epic story, here are my five favorite bricks.
Teaching Review: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Fatima Farheen Mirza's A Place for Us is an impressive debut filled with themes that many students will find relatable: tensions between parents and teens, the desire to forge one’s own path while still earning approval, and the love and rivalry between siblings. I find that my students love books told through multiple perspectives, but they don’t often get that type of narration in the books they read for school.
I thought I’d read next to nothing this month, but as I was compiling my list, I was actually really pleased with my reading in terms of both quality and quantity. Here’s everything I read in October!
How to Make a Reader with Kendra Winchester
Today's featured reader is Kendra Winchester. Kendra is the co-host, producer, and editor of the Reading Women podcast. She's also one of the most passionate readers and feminist advocates I know. Kendra intimidatingly well-read and a phenomenal advocate for women writers and diversity in literature. I am honored that she took the time to chat with me about the books and habits that made her a reader.
How to Make a Reader with Currently Reading Podcast's Kaytee Cobb and Meredith Schwartz
Today, Kaytee Cobb and Meredith Monday Schwartz of the Currently Reading Podcast join me to talk about reading in high school and the books that shaped their reading lives. Meredith and Kaytee are two of my favorite readers and bookish friends, and I loved learning more about their early reading lives!
Eight Favorites: Spooky Houses for Eerie Reads
I’m not a huge fan of spooky season. I love the fall, but haunted houses and horror films are definitively not for me. What I do love though is a good eerie setting, and I’ve always enjoyed Gothic novels. Give me a heroine exploring abandoned corridors and opening dusty wardrobes and, I’m a satisfied reader. And “what’s making that creepy noise in the attic” is about as scary as I’m willing to go. Today I’m sharing 8 (because I couldn’t just choose 5) of my favorite books that feature that kind of haunted house. I took a few liberties on my definition of Gothic, but each of these books is fantastic eerie read and features a fantastic spooky house.
Teaching Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
Disappearing Earth is a great classroom pick because of the work Julia Phillips does to complicate and push back against the “missing girl” trope. Disappearing Earth gives readers the chance to think critically about why we fetishize these missing girls and the realities experienced by the people who know and love these girls. This exploration would be interesting enough on its own, but this novel goes further by depicting other ways women can go missing from their own lives.
In spite of the adjustment back to the school year, I managed to have a great reading month in September. I didn’t read as much, but I thoroughly enjoyed everything I picked up. Here’s everything I read in September, why you should pick it up, and what’s teachable.
How to Make a Reader with Sarah of Sarah's Book Shelves
When I came up with the idea for How to Make a Reader, Sarah was the first person I had in mind to interview. From being an avid reader of her blog and an obsessive (not an exaggeration!) listener of her podcast, I knew that Sarah didn't particularly love the books she read in high school. Nonetheless, she reads a ton and talks about books in a manner that is smart, nuanced, and incredibly helpful. Sarah is the kind of reader I want my students to grow up to be.
9 Back-List Books That Are Perfect for Fall
There seems to be a fairly clear consensus about just what makes a book the perfect “Summer Read” or “Beach Read.” Fall reading, however, means different things to different readers. Is fall for spooky books or cozy books? Fast-paced novels that you can finish in a single fireside session? Or long expansive novels that slowly unfold. My fall reading tends to fall into particular moods: reflective, introspective, expansive. Bonus points for books that are a little eerie and anything that takes place on a campus. Some of these books hit all of these buttons while others really scratch a particular itch, but each of these texts is the kind of book I want to stumble upon in my fall reading. I hope you’ll find something that will fit into your fall reading nitch!
Five Favorites: Banned Books
Unfortunately, a lot of challenged and banned books are not about questioning the dominant narrative, but about reinforcing it. So many challenged texts are by authors of color and queer authors. Many of these works question the status quo and force readers to confront their privilege. These works are essential because they offer representation to students and teachers who may not regularly see themselves in curricular literature, and they offer students in majority groups the experience of being decentered in the classroom and the opportunity to witness another perspective.
How to Make a Reader with Bezi Yohannes
Bezi is a graduate student at Georgetown University, where she’s finishing her second degree in English Literature. After pursuing her love for fantasy fiction and studying medieval legends at the University of Oxford, she decided to focus on the ways that black female fantasy protagonists intervene in Eurocentric genre tropes. Bezi's bookstagram account @beingabookwyrm is a must-follow at any time, but this is a great week to discover her account for yourself because she's currently featuring Ethiopian and Ethiopian American authors.
Novel Pairings Volume Two
I'm pairing the Wollstonecraft ladies (Mary Shelley and her proto-feministi mother Mary Wollstonecraft) with some contemporary authors who tackle similar themes. I love thinking about the way big ideas have followed us across the centuries and these pairings highlight exactly that.
How to Make a Reader with Chatti Phal-Brown
Chatti Phal-Brown (@chattithebrave) is an art therapist, a vibrational sound practitioner, and the founder of the natural skincare line Remy & Rose. She's currently in the midst of building a small studio space for her Denver area private practice, Mayura Healing Co. ( website coming soon!). As a child, Chatti immigrated with her family from Cambodia to the U.S. by way of Thailand and the Philippines. She is a voracious reader who's committed to reading broadly and diversely.
Teaching Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
In talking with my students about their own reading lives, many of them mourn the jump from middle grade fiction to young adult fiction because this step up means a move from books about friendships to books about romantic relationships. They don’t think that YA and adult fiction can even be about friendship, let alone about a friendship between four girls of color. So a book like Another Brooklyn seems like an essential piece currently missing from our students’ reading lives.
Five Favorites: Classic Lit
I’m an English major and an English teacher so it’s impossible for me to definitively list my all-time favorite works of classic literature. I love so many! Plus each time I revisit one (which is often!) it carves out more space in my heart. But I can still wanted to share a few of my most beloved classics. These five classics are perennial favorites.
How to Make a Reader with Alli Hoff-Kosik
As readers, the start-of-school air gives us nostalgia for the reading of our youth and our first bookish loves. Enter Alli Hoff-Kosik. Alli is a full-time freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has a few book projects of her own in the works and is the producer and host of the nostalgic, book-focused, feminist-y podcast, The SSR Podcast.
Teaching Review: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
I wish I’d had this book in high school. This Young Adult novel is an absolutely brilliant and unexpected look at coming-of-age, first relationships, and identity. Lockhart breaks the binary mold of teen girl characters who either want nothing more than a loving boyfriend and those who couldn’t be bothered to give boys the time of day (even though all the boys are secretly in love with her, of course). Frankie wants both.
New to the Queue: September 8, 2019
Check out the books that made it onto my to-read list this week. There are a few brand-new releases as well as some books I've been wanting to read forever that have moved up in the rankings into "must-read-immediately" territory.
How to Make a Reader with @bookish_nel
This week I'm sharing how the utterly delightful Shanel (aka @bookish_nel) developed such a passionate love for reading that lead her to a career at the library. I love following Shanel on bookstagram because not only does she gives great book recommendations, but her reading pictures are the coziest, most charming posts out there. Seriously. I want to dive into her feed and live there. I also appreciate Shanel's impeccable taste in Young Adult literature. While I want to stock my classroom library with the best new YA, I just don't read that much of it. Thankfully Shanel is around to point me in the right direction.
Novel Pairings Volume One
Today, I’m introducing a new blog segment I’m calling Novel Pairings by sharing several books I read this summer who would totally be friends in the wild. All of these pairings focus on gender and power - in fact all of them speak to patriarchal culture and gendered expectations - but I’ve focused on pairing books that more closely mirror each other in the specific topics they explore.
Teaching Review: Miracle Creek by Angie Kim
Miracle Creek presents social issues without easy answers and requires readers to practice both empathy and critical thinking. Put simply, this is a text that will show students that fun, fast-paced novels can be just as meaningful as the literary fiction they’re required to read.
Returning to work meant I definitely read fewer books than I had the rest of the summer, but I did read some excellent books this month. Check out every book I read this month and why you should pick it up too. I also weigh in on the teachability of each book.
New to the Queue: August 25, 2019
Take a look at all the books I added to my to-read list this week. I got some seriously awesome recommendations from podcasts, friends, and even a student!
Teaching Review: Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
Stay With Me is one of the best books I've read this year, and I’d love to teach it in the right class setting. For this book, that probably a small class focused on women writers or world literature. There is so much to discuss here from depictions of femininity across cultures to political upheavals in Nigeria. Adébáyọ̀’s writing is subtle and nuanced, and while the story is hyper-specific it also gets at universal longings such as our human desires to be loved, valued, and special.
How to Make a Reader with Lupita Aquino
Lupita Aquino is a voracious bibliophile living in Maryland. She's a prominent presence in the Washington, D.C. book scene where she co-founded Lit on H St at Solid State Books and a bookstagrammer sharing reviews at @lupita.reads. I've been smitten with her honest reviews and passionate recommendations for years now, and I honestly can't imagine my reading life without her. One of the things I love most about Lupita's book takes is that when she loves a book, she throws herself into being its evangelist.
Summer Reading: Women in Literature
One of the most fun parts of my job is choosing summer reading. It’s also a little bit stressful because I care deeply about selecting books that students will love and connect to, but that are also easy for students to read and process on their own. Women in Literature is my favorite class to teach and, since it’s a senior elective, I have a little more freedom to pick my books in that class. I liked to change up my Women in Lit summer reading list nearly every year, and this year I really loved every single book on my list and the variety of voices, themes, and genres included.
Teaching Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
I always find that students really enjoy the opportunity to read and discuss texts that feature teenage characters. Ng writes very realistic, relatable, and nuanced teenage characters. From a teacher’s perspective, I love the way she describes social and academic anxiety, the conflicting desires teenagers feel to both please their parents and assert their independence, and all the deep feelings rolling around under the surface of the faces we see in class every day.
How to Make a Reader with Allison Punch
Allison Punch is the Events Manager at Old Town Books in Alexandria, VA, the reader behind @allisonreadsdc, and the possessor of insanely good reading taste. In today's post, discover how a distaste for assigned reading propelled Allison to discover her passion for memoirs, literary fiction, and social justice non-fiction.
Teaching Review: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
I always enjoy giving students another experience of what “classic literature” could be. Bel Canto is a modern (and readable) classic by a prolific (and still publishing) writer. This is a novel about art, language, and communication, and how each has the power to enrich and transform individuals and communities. I love teaching books that innately answer the question, “Why are we reading this?”
New to the Queue: August 10, 2019
One of the most stressful parts of being a bookworm is the knowledge that I’ll never be able to read all the books I want to in my lifetime. In spite of this, it’s always a joy to add new books to my reading list. These are the books I added to my ever-expanding reading list this week.
How to Make a Reader with Leigh Kramer
To celebrate National Book Lovers' Day, I'm introducing a new segment on the blog I'm calling How To Make A Reader. In every How To Make A Reader, I'll talk to one avid reader to provide a little insight on what ignites the reading life. My first guest is author and voracious reader, Leigh Kramer.
Teaching Review: There There by Tommy Orange
There There is an instant classic and, in my mind, ought to be required reading in American Literature. This won’t be a book that is easy for students to read. It will, however, be well-worth the effort and by the time the novel’s stories intersect and the pace picks up, students will be hooked.
July Reading Wrap-Up
Take a peak at everything I read in July, along with why to pick up each book and which texts are teachable. July was an outstanding reading month so you're not going to want to miss these titles!
Teaching Review Explainer
I'm sharing the inspiration for my Teacher Reviews and explaining how teachers and non-teachers alike can use them to improve their reading lives.
Best Books of 2019 (So Far)
I'm gushing about the twelve best books I read between January and June. My favorites include some long-overdue classics, a few 2019 releases, and several books I'm eager to put straight into my students' hands.
Teaching Review: The River by Peter Heller
The friendship presented in The River is what draws me to the possibility of teaching it. Jack and Wynn are sensitive and caring. Their relationship is rooted in an appreciation of literature and a great respect and passion for nature, and they’re not ashamed of expressing their emotions and communicating their care for one another.
Teaching Review: Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
Washington Black has everything I want in a teachable novel. It requires all of the good reading skills encouraged by English teachers, and there are plenty of passages worthy of close reading and literary analysis. This is also a book that will challenge students as readers, thinkers, and humans, while promoting empathy and allowing for difficult but essential conversations in the classroom.
Welcome to the FictionMatters Blog!
Welcome to the FictionMatters blog! A place for English teachers and pleasure readers to find mutual inspiration, along with a new book or two. This blog is founded on the belief that fiction, well, matters. Fiction fosters empathy, shapes minds, spurs creativity, builds bridges, and ignites wonder.