An Epic Winter Reading List for Almost Every Mood
Thirty books that have entertained me, moved me to tears, made me swoon, and piqued my curiosity.
When I was first trying to decide the theme of this newsletter, I toyed with the idea of positioning myself as a Book Concierge, where readers could write in with their requests, and I would summon recommendations out of the air like a bookish little fairy. After all, I do that to my husband, slapping a novel onto his nightstand, even if he hasn’t requested it, and even if he’s still working through the last book I asked him to read. (Babe, can we please talk about Hamnet now?) But I ultimately determined there are wonderful librarians and bookfluencers doing that work already. Even so, I’ve never quite shelved my passion for book recommendations, especially when I know and love the person asking.
There’s something so intimate—sacred, even—about a book recommendation. It not only says something about who you are as a reader, but it says a lot about your relationship with the person. And the book rec requests have gotten hilariously specific. “What’s a book that will make me hate the world a little less, but doesn’t feel like it was written by Pollyanna?” or “What’s a book that’s kind of smutty, but has a decent plot?” Last night, after finishing a ridiculously fun fantasy romance, I found myself thinking, “I could really go for a funny memoir that reminds me of a Nancy Meyers movie.” (Any leads?)
What I’ve noticed lately is that the people in my life—myself included—choose their books based on mood. For the most part, we’re not all reading in one genre or religiously following a particular author. We like the diversity of books, and we like when they match up to our cravings. Because, for many readers, we crave books the way some crave dessert, or a perfectly seared steak; our literary desires shift every day. And when those desires are met—there’s nothing more satisfying.
Below, a few moods that might resonate with you at the moment, and thirty books to accompany them. I’ve read all of these and personally recommend them. I also tried to keep the picks fairly contemporary, though there are a few older ones in the mix. Lastly: I’m not well-read in a few genres, like sci-fi, horror, or mystery, so please supplement my knowledge in the comments, if you want!
This (long) list might get cut off in your email, so feel free to read online.
What are you reading? Any moods or requests I can incorporate in a future reading list for you?
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When You Want to be Transported
The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell
In 1550s Italy, Lucrezia de Medici takes her dead sister’s place and marries her fiance, the powerful and enigmatic duke of Ferrara. Lucrezia, a talented artist and observant young woman, must navigate her new court and the baffling people who occupy it—not least of which is her new husband, whose charm often gives way to a sinister side. Based on a tragic, true story of the duchess's untimely death, this book is incredibly written, with O’Farrell’s propulsive, rich prose and a deep sense of interiority.
The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh
It all starts with a psychic, as many life-changing stories do. In Hawaii, a cursed Mai Nguyen seeks out the help of the famous Auntie Hua, who tells her that within one year, there will be a death, marriage, and birth in the family. This prophecy is at play in Mai’s machinations with her three daughters and her own sisters, who flounder in their love lives in Little Saigon, Vietnam, and beyond. This novel could just as squarely go in the “making you laugh” category, with its hilarious portrayals of Vietnamese American aunties with huge, meddlesome hearts—and tempers to match.
Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
In a small seaside town in Haiti, Claire Limyè Lanmè (Claire of the Sea Light) disappears, just as she’s about to be adopted by an affluent widow. The town searches frantically for her, while Claire’s father reexamines his heartbroken past. The story also moves into the future, decades after Claire’s disappearance, to trace the impact of that event on this tight-knit community. This story is beautifully told, with a keen sense of place and historical context.
Matrix by Lauren Groff
In the late 12th century, an unwilling Marie de France is sent from the court of her beloved Eleanor of Aquitaine to help at a run-down abbey in the middle of nowhere. Though Marie is at first inconsolable, and deeply at odds with her surroundings and the nuns around her, she finds a sense of strident purpose, transforming the abbey into a force to be reckoned with. Spanning almost an entire lifetime, Groff’s novel is lyrical yet visceral, with language that pays homage to the sublime and ordinary lives of women.
Banyan Moon by me
This is a cheat, since my book isn’t technically out until June 13, but I can’t help including it here. In my story, Ann learns of her beloved grandmother’s death at nearly the exact time when she learns of her pregnancy—and her partner’s painful infidelity. She returns home to the crumbling manor in Florida where she was raised to claim her inheritance. There, she must find a way to live with her estranged mother and sort through her grandmother’s tangled past, as a young woman living in wartime Vietnam, making discoveries that will change the course of their lives forever.