Megha Majumdar’s Book Recommendations
Welcome to the lifespan, The books section of ELLE.com, in which the authors share their most memorable readings. Whether you’re looking for a book to console you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers of our series who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite titles will become one of yours as well.
Scroll through Megha Majumdar’s social media, and it’s obvious she loves words. There are books she defends, authors she interviews, voices she amplifies, writing classes she teaches, bookstores she supports, publishing work she shares, and essays and news she reads. (All between the dishes she’s made, like cherry pancakes and leftover spaghetti omelet.)
Her first novel last summer, A burning (fresh out of Vintage’s paperback), about three people chasing dreams as the Right rises in India, have racked up many accolades: New York Times bestseller, shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Fiction, shortlisted for the National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize for Best First Book finalist, out of over a dozen best books of the year, plus a Marguerite Atwood quarantine reading.
Born in Calcutta, India, Majumdar moved to the United States to study at Harvard and went on to earn her Masters in Social Anthropology from Johns Hopkins University, for which she spent a summer at Senegal. Hard to believe she had a hard time getting in Kindergarten. Editor-in-chief of publisher Catapult, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, director and editor, and enjoys green chili peppers, hiking, Burning worlds newsletter, the sidewalks of Berkeley and Grace Rajendran art.
The book that:
… kept me awake far too late:
Sonia Faleiro’s captivating reportage book, Good girls, about the investigation into the deaths of two girls in rural India.
… made me cry uncontrollably:
that of Paul Kalanithi When the breath becomes air, a memoir in which a neurosurgeon diagnosed with lung cancer faces the end of his life, broke my heart. I remember a part where Kalanithi, very ill at this point, wished to have a child, and his wife asked him if saying goodbye to a child wouldn’t make death more painful. He replied, “Wouldn’t it be great if that was the case?
… I recommend again and again:
Three phenomenal books come to mind: Chia-Chia Lin’s The impassive, NoViolet Bulawayo’s We need new names, and that of Angie Cruz Dominican.
… made me rethink a long-held belief:
One great book that made me think differently about citizenship and passports – and as an immigrant, I think about it a lot – is that of Atossa Araxia Abrahamian. The cosmopolitans.
… I read in one go, it was so good:
Saeed jones How we fight for our lives, a magnificent and powerful memory.
… Is currently sitting on my bedside table:
Can I speak of two books on a metaphorical bedside table? I was delighted to read Julietta Singh The breaks, which deals with the creation of queer families, climate change and the future, as well as Nadia Wassef The duration of the conversation, a thesis on the management of a bookstore in Cairo. They are coming out this fall.
… I would pass to a child:
I offered to Peter Godfrey-Smith Other spirits: the octopus, the sea and the deep origins of consciousness to a ten year old child. She devoured him.
… I would give a gift to a new graduate:
Caleb Azumah Nelson The wide. A beautiful novel about two black British artists preserving a space of sweetness in a harsh and racist society, it has so much to say about protecting our inner lives, spirits and loves while living in our current world.
… I would like to transform into a Netflix show:
The short story titled “My Monticello” in the debut of Jocelyn Nicole Johnson collection of the same name which will publish this fall, on a group of neighbors at a time of violent white supremacy.
… I bought for the last time:
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Sweetgrass braiding. I read an excerpt and loved it.
… has the best opening line:
It’s very early in the novel Twisted hallelujah by Kelli Jo Ford, where a mother says to her daughter, “You seem to be old enough, Justine, that your salvation is your own burden.” And if you want to ride a roller coaster on your first act as a spiritual adult, so be it. “
… I reread the most:
When I was little I spent so much time with this huge Reader’s Digest atlas that we had at home. I love to “read” atlases – place names, sea beds, entire continents in its pages, such a magical kind of book.
… I consider literary comfort food:
I know that’s not quite the point, but a book I found heartwarming and exhilarating – a chance to travel far outside Brooklyn and pick up on my concerns during the pandemic – was that of astrophysicist Janna Levin. Black hole survival guide. It’s such a fun and deep book. May I add, I discovered it online at Cooperative seminary bookstore. They stock an incredible array of non-fiction.
… fills me with hope:
The great and lasting love of the Vietnamese family who settled in New Orleans in the novel by Eric Nguyen Things we lost in the water.
… surprised me:
Sanjena Sathian Gold diggers, a novel about immigration, ambition and American history, surprised me so much with its magical elements! I won’t say more. You will have to read it.
… I asked for a birthday when I was a child:
I used to ask for these 3-in-1 editions of Nancy Drew, Three Mysteries in a Big Book. I would go to the bookstore on a special trip, buy one, and read everything in a day or two.
… taught me that Peril!-Worthy little trivia:
I learned from Marie Mutsuki Mockett American harvest that broccoli is not a natural vegetable. I had no idea! It comes from many selective breeding.
If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world it would be: A bookstore I dream of visiting is Point Reyes Books in California. They defend a lot of beautiful books on the subject of nature and the environment. Someday I would love to see the hills and seashores of this part of California – I heard there is a waterfall on the beach nearby – and walk into the bookstore to shop from its always choices. inspiring. It would be an unforgettable day.
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