Books (That I Think) Everyone Should Read

booksI’m not sure how many copies of The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke (Basic Books, $19.99) I’ve bought over the last ten years. It’s a book I keep lending to people, and sometimes it comes back to me and sometimes it doesn’t, so if I buy two copies at a time I always have one to pass on to someone else. I’m happy to do so, and I hope the copies I give people get passed along to someone else, because I think every woman in America should read this book. Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi explain what changed in America economically between the 1970s and the 2000s, what it’s doing to family economics, and why the rules that our parents taught us simply don’t apply any more. Bankruptcy laws have changed since 2003, but the basic trends that Warren and Tyagi identify are even more firmly established than they were when the book was written.

The same goes for The Gift of Fear (Dell, $16), Gavin de Becker’s how-to-deal guide that has “This book can save your life” splashed across the front of it. I generally detest books that are targeted to women on the assumption that everyone in the world is out to get us, just as I refuse to read the parenting magazine articles that insist my child is in danger of developing a rare disease because I’ve fed him too many goldfish crackers. But I can’t give everyone I know the life experiences I’ve had dealing with too-friendly strangers, a high school teacher who praised me way too much (and for the wrong things) in an after-school elective, the gang that tried to rob the cash box at a sorority fundraiser dance, and a long list of creepy dates. Somewhere along the line between taking the city bus in third grade and college freshman orientation in south central Los Angeles during the height of Bloods vs. Crips violence, I learned that the way I walk, the way I respond to people, and refusing to engage in weird situations are things that (generally) keep me safe. Assertiveness and a willingness to swear loudly in public help, too. I passed this book on to a friend a few weeks ago when someone started stalking her, I gave it to my sister when one of her friends had an abusive boyfriend, and I recommend it to anyone who has felt unsafe. Ever.

My oldest daughter just turned eight, so (after the husband and I did a thorough perusal and found it good) I handed her The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls (American Girl, $12.99). It has everything I want her to know as she heads toward puberty but I know she’ll be too embarrassed to ask me: how to deal with zits, cliques, eating, leg hair, boobs (or the lack thereof), emotions, her period, exercise, body shape, and the fact that what she’s going through is totally normal. Basically, it’s the most supportive, positive, informational, non-body-shaming guide to being a tween girl that I’ve ever seen. I just wish it had been around when I was her age. I haven’t yet gone through The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls (American Girl, $12.99), but I’ll bet it’s just as good.

While we’re on the subject of kids, I should mention that mine are biologically and environmentally destined for nerddom, which is why I bought Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World (Berkley Trade, $14) by Washington Times columnist Marybeth Hicks. It turns out that she isn’t talking about raising kids with geeky tendencies; she’s proposing that we all intentionally raise our kids to be geeky. Her reason: kids who have the most access to popular media are the ones most likely to engage in risky behaviors of all sorts. The research is solid, which is also true of another parenting book I keep recommending to friends despite its bizarre title: NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children (Twelve, $16). Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman have compiled some fascinating studies that explain why the first class in high school should start late in the morning, why it’s a bad idea to think kids should grow up race-blind, that siblings fight because they want to be better friends, and that we shouldn’t tell our kids they’re smart. A lot of this is counter-intuitive for me, but after reading the book I’m convinced.

I’m slanting mommy-centric, and I admit it: this list should probably be titled “Books Every (American) Woman (Who Has Children) Should Read.” One last parenting recommendation, from fellow blogger Spunky: Kids Are Worth It! Giving Your Child the Gift of Inner Discipline (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99). Spunky explains,

Written by Barbara Coloroso, a former nun turned wife/mom/academic, her book reads like a PowerPoint lecture with a lot of supporting quotes, so the style annoyed me slightly. But. The concepts in the book flipped me around and have helped me really have fun being a mother, and be a better mother. It is not directed at adoptive parents, which I also appreciate (adoptive parents are often treated like inhumane dimwits and often have content that is well-intended, but destructive). Her academic background is teaching teachers, which I also liked because the focus is not on “mothers” or “women with children.” (a title and concept that I am still not comfortable with). She abhors sticker charts and is all about developing a child’s sense of ethics without giving the child constant rewards.

The child inside of you–and the child you know who is already bored with summer vacation–really needs to read R. J. Palacio’s award-winning Wonder (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $15.99). We all suck at treating everyone around us the same way, and Auggie Pullman knows it better than most. By the way, so does Aibilene Clark, one of the heroines of Kathryn Stockett’s smug, politically-correct-but-historically-unlikely novel about a group of Southern women combating racism in the 1960s. I obviously have some issues with the book, but if you haven’t yet read The Help (Berkley Trade, $16), dive in now.

This is a pretty short list. What books do YOU think everyone should read, and why?


  1. Even though I’m not a mother, I love this list, and am putting it in my back pocket, for when I have time to read again.

    One book that has had a lot of influence on the way I think about my life, is The God Who Weeps by Fiona and Terryl Givens. Not only does it lessen the distance between me and deity, it makes me appreciate how mindfully living this life is the best preparation for the next.

    • Hmmmm … the quote didn’t come out as I’d hoped. Here it is, ” … all talk of heaven that operates in terms of earning rather than becoming is misguided … Heaven is not a club we enter. Heaven is a state we attain, in accordance with our “capacity to receive” a blessed and sanctified nature … we acquire Heaven in accordance with a growing capacity to receive it … Heaven is a condition and a sanctified nature toward which all godly striving tends; it is not a place to be found by walking through the right door with a heavenly hall pass.” P. 87-89

  2. I think everyone should read C. S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. Every time I read it I get insight into myself and I feel resolved to try to be a better human being.

    • Em, I’m wondering how it’s possible that I’ve read as much C. S. Lewis as I have without ever opening The Screwtape Letters. We own it; I could probably find it blindfolded on our upstairs shelves. Going on the list.

  3. The Chosen
    My Name is Asher Lev
    The Wonder of Boys
    Ender’s Game
    East of Eden
    World War Z (that’s my latest – it was awesome!)

    • Thanks, Angie! The Wonder of Boys has been a huge help for me with my son, and he’s only two. And I agree with you about Chaim Potok, despite the fact that I read The Chosen right before I had eye surgery at age 12. He has a lot of powerful things to say about identity and community, and making the choices that are best for you. Ender’s Game is another favorite–definitely a must-read for gifted kids and the adults around them.

      I haven’t read East of Eden or World War Z, but I’m putting them on my summer reading list!

      • Okay I need to read East of Eden. One of our high council speakers (the only one who is a joy to listen to and is actually funny and fun) always talks about Prunedale, the town where he grew up. I recently went to Salinas and he asked me about Steinbeck and I sheepishly admitted I had never read a single one. So we planned a book club meeting with him, his wife, me and my Mom to read East of Eden. I have had it out from the library for over a month but have instead been reading pulpy trash.

  4. East of Eden is a work of art. Plus, it has a character who is pure sociopathic evil. Chapter 8 is all about her childhood, background, etc. And the last chapter/page/paragraph/sentence are so powerful – it brought me to tears and changed me, just by a single word.

  5. I love a great books thread, especially since I’m in dire need of something new that I love.

    While I, too, am conflicted by The Help, I love it.

    I think everyone should read Half the Sky, and on a totally unrelated topic, I love The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable Diet of America. It sounds like a diet book, but it’s more about the way corporations design processed foods to make us feel hungry more quickly. I found it fascinating.

    And, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is my favorite novel. I love the magical realism and the description of the mythical town the family lives in. (Note: make sure your copy has a genealogy chart; I use mine frequently while reading.)

    • I adore One Hundred Years of Solitude. I read it in college and found myself wishing I knew Spanish so I could read it in the original. After serving a mission in Argentina and reading a number of other books in Spanish, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to understand a word of it — he chooses such unexpected words that I wouldn’t be able to get anything from context.

      Half the Sky and The End of Overeating are both going on my list.

  6. Thanks for these great suggestions, Libby. I especially want to read The Two Income Trap so I’ll know what to say next time I hear someone say the reason things are so expensive now is because women are in the work force.

    I absolutely loved Quiet by Susan Cain. If you’re an introvert or know any, this book is for you.
    I’ve liked Thomas Hager’s books on the history of science & medicine: The Alchemy of Air and Demon Under the Microscope.

    The God Who Weeps is #1 on my list to read next. Right now I’m reading A Short Stay in Hell by Steven Peck, which is really engaging but I’m also finding it profoundly depressing. In a good way. 🙂

    For fiction, some of my faves are:

    Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
    Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
    The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers
    Middlemarch by George Eliot/Marian Evans

    • I’m going to be interested to hear what you think after you read The Two Income Trap, Emily U, because that’s a valid (if obtuse) way to interpret Warren’s analysis. And I’ve never heard of Thomas Hager, but history of science fascinates me. Have you ever picked up The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson?

  7. Libby, thanks for the recommendations! I second your recommendation of Nurture Shock. It was a great read that taught me lots with evidence based research. I read it a few years ago, but it still comes up in my conversations w/ other parents/friends.

    • I absolutely love the suggestions in that book about how to praise children with “That took a lot of effort” instead of “You’re so smart.” And I absolutely think high school should start at 9:00.

  8. Quiet : the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking

    Our Lives as Torah (This book changed my life)

    Beauty (One of my comfort go to books)

    Half the Sky

    Feminism is For Everyone

    Unbending Gender

    Die for Love (anther go to book if you need a laugh.)

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