Welcome to Shelf Life, the books section of ELLE.com, where the authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re looking for a book to console you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the authors of our series, who, like you (since you’ve been here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite tracks will become one of yours as well.
If you’ve read anything about Imbolo Mbue, you probably already know that she was inspired to start writing after picking up Toni Morrison Song of Solomon from an Oprah Book Club chooses a bookshelf in a Virginia public library. (She thought it would be a Bible story.)
As a child in Cameroon, she fell in love with books reading Shakespeare, Dickens, and Achebe, and public libraries were a safe haven when she moved to America at age 17. She arrived in Chicago (“too cold, too windy”), then attended Rutgers University in New Jersey and Teachers College at Columbia University in New York, where she earned a master’s degree in education and psychology. .
There were jobs to make ends meet (door-to-door vacuum salesman, doing paperwork in a mental health clinic) and fading aspirations (going to law school, becoming a university professor) . After losing a marketing job during the recession, she devoted herself to writing 2016 Here are the dreamers, which became a New York Times optional bestseller for the film, a PEN / Faulkner Award winner, and yes, a choice from Oprah’s Book Club.
His latest is How beautiful we were (Random House), a 17-year-old novel about an African village struggling with an American oil company polluting the environment. Dislikes: the debt therefore has no credit card; likes: classical music and tennis. Here she serves some of her favorite titles.
The book that:
… I recommend again and again:
Anne Fadiman The spirit grabs you and you fall. I am fascinated by cultures, and this classic about a Hmong refugee family and their experience with the California health system is a celebration of a beautiful and sadly misunderstood culture.
… Made me rethink a long-held belief:
Sigrid Nunez Friend. I grew up with a fear of dogs (it’s not uncommon in my town of Limbé, Cameroon), but this exquisite novel, which has a dog at its center, almost made me want to adopt a dog. .
… I swear that I will finish one day:
Nadine gordimer Life time, which is a selection from his news. I read one of the stories before bed one night, and it knocked me out of my sleep game, which warned me that I better relax with the rest of the stories.
… Currently on my bedside table:
I recently read by Kamel Daoud The Mersault survey, a story by Albert Camus The foreigner. So much anger measured in this book, it was inspiring.
… I would pass on to my children:
My collection of Ngũgĩ wa Thing’o novels, which includes Devil on the cross, in the hope that they will also enjoy the kind of literature that has helped shape my mind.
… I would give a new graduate:
Denis johnson The Largesse of the Maiden of the Sea. I had dinner with my editor who died one evening in the midst of a rough patch in my writing. She pulled out a copy of this book and handed it to me, telling me that she was convinced it would help me. It made. So I hope it would do the same to a graduate who finds his way.
… Made me laugh out loud:
Yasmina Reza Happy are the happy. I haven’t really laughed out loud since reading it in public, but it gave me a case of laughs. Unhappy weddings aren’t meant to be that funny, but Yasmina Reza is too beautiful.
… I would like to become a Netflix show:
Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood in the water. Someone, please turn this masterpiece into a spectacle so that more Americans will understand what happened in Attica Prison in 1971.
… fills me with hope:
Svetlana Alexievich Chernobyl voice. As brutal as it was, it was a reminder that people will tell their stories and the truth will come out.
… With the best title:
Among my many favorites, Neel Patel’s short story collection, If you see me don’t say hello. Alright, I won’t. But if you read the collection, you’ll want to say hello and thank the author.
… To the best opening line:
I’m a fan of Pajtim Statovci, so I’ll go with the first line of his brilliant novel, Crossing: “When I think of my own death, the moment it happens is always the same.” Tell me more, tell me more.
… Should be included in all college programs:
Jeff hobbs The short and tragic life of Robert Peace. After both reading it, a friend and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the what and why of this heartbreaking story. I can imagine similar conversations taking place in college classrooms.
During the very first beach vacation of my life, I read by André Agassi Open, which helped me launch into a life as a tennis super-fandom.
… surprised me:
Evan fallenberg The departure gift. I was quite uncomfortable with what I considered to be a vicious act of one of the characters. I sent the author an email letting him know how much I loved the book and my bewilderment at the character choice, and he returned a charming response.
… I would like to sign by the author for my library:
Adam hochschild Ghost of King Leopold. The only time I was struck by the stars was when I met this great historian at a literary festival.
… Shaped my vision of the world:
The Bible. As if one copy wasn’t enough, I now have three copies – in English, French and Spanish, because sometimes I have to remember in three different languages not to judge, just to love.
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