Just in time for Halloween, here’s a scary story: You’ve finished the book you were reading. You decide to walk to your local bookstore, to see what’s new, to see what your favorite bookseller recommends to you this time. You’ve got a big cup of coffee in hand, and you can’t wait to go home and cozy up with your next great read. You round the corner, and—oh no. The lights are off.
Truth is: 20% of independent bookstores won’t make it to next year. But not all hope is lost. You can potentially prevent this! Indie bookstores across the nation are rallying together to encourage the public to shop local with their #BoxedOut campaign. Please—PLEASE!—if you can, support small businesses.
Here we have book recommendations from the lovely booksellers at WORD Bookstores (Brooklyn, NY and Jersey City, NJ), Blue Cypress Books (New Orleans, LA), Books and Mortar (Grand Rapids, MI), Lit. on Fire (Peoria, IL), Third House Books (Gainesville, FL), Paulina Springs Books (Sisters, OR), and Avoid the Day Bookstore & Cafe (Rockaway Park, NY). We are so grateful for booksellers like them, booksellers who care, who will take the time out of their busy days to write these love notes for you.
Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
This book is straight up weird, and it is as good as weird gets. A team of female scientists enter Area X, a zone of ecological change that is illogical, inescapable, and expanding. The protagonist, the Biologist, has to confront creatures and monsters that defy her scientific mind and bring her to the brink of annihilation. There are so few ways to describe this book in words, so I have no idea how VanderMeer actually wrote it in words. It is brilliant, and you will set the book down feeling slightly insane but also aware of something uncanny, something that you knew all along: this world is changing, fast, and we are changing with it.
–Jenny, Books and Mortar
Grady Hendrix, My Best Friend’s Exorcism
Horror with heart is the best way I can describe Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism. I can’t recommend it enough. This exhilarating novel will keep you on your toes. I went from gasping to laughing to gagging to crying and back again. If you’ve ever been a teenager (and I’m sure most of you have), you’ll understand Abby’s frustration (parents just don’t understand!) and determination in her quest to save her friend from the clutches of darkness. The minute I finished the book, I called my best friend. This book will have you wondering which of your friendships could survive a dance with the devil.
–LeeAnna Callon, Blue Cypress Books
Fernanda Melchor, Hurricane Season
Fernanda Melchor’s English debut novel is a real treat: it is nonstop journalistic storytelling combined with magic and mystery. While violent and at times grotesque, Melchor’s prose is stunning. It’s the kind of absorbing read that won’t allow you to put it down, and once you finish, you’ll still wonder what exactly happened. This is a phenomenal work that pulled me out of my first reading slump in this pandemic, and despite its dark dealings, it is a gorgeous read that showcases the incredible literature by the Latinx community. Highly recommend it for Latinx heritage month and beyond!
–Heather, Third House Books
Michelle Magorian, Good Night, Mr. Tom
I adored this book, both as an adult and back when I was a younger reader. It tells the story of William and Mister Tom during World War II, two people brought together by chance under difficult circumstances. Though tentative at first, their growing bond helps each one overcome past hardship and open themselves up to the world again. It is a story of love, sadness, and learning to trust and flourish again.
–Marlee, Books and Mortar
Robert Macfarlane, Underland
(W. W. Norton)
It would be easy to let a subject as diverse, complex, and mysterious as the world that exists underground become a sprawling, unfocused, and ultimately uninspiring piece of narrative nonfiction. And in the hands of a less skilled author, that might have been what happened. But in Underland, Macfarlane has created a masterwork that does justice to the richness of that which for most of us exists out of sight and out of mind, never missing an opportunity to evoke the awesome wonder the worlds beneath our feet. Part nature writing and travelogue and part history and philosophy, Underland is a beautiful and epic meditation on the past, present, and future of our planet, and humanity’s place in it.
–Lane Jacobson, Paulina Springs Books
Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other
This beautiful novel made me stay up too late, ignore my phone, and wake up early before work to finish it. I read a lot, often 2 books a week, sometimes more, and I have to say it’s been years since a book has evoked as much emotion as this one did. As an Anglophile I was brought right back to the London I know so well. I felt I was walking with the characters and wishing I could be more a part of their world and at the same time was so intimately attached to them that it was as if I knew them personally. I would find myself laughing out loud and within a few pages weeping. When a customer asks for a complex narrative about life, sexuality, politics and gender, or for a captivating novel about black women’s stories, this book is the first to come to mind.
–Jianna Heuer, Avoid the Day Bookstore & Cafe
Tara Westover, Educated
I couldn’t put this book down. Tara’s story is so honest and multifaceted. If you are looking for a great memoir, I highly recommend this one. Tara grew up in a hyper-rural community with a Mormon father who becomes more and more obsessed with conspiracy theories over time. As a result, her childhood is filled with unusual situations that often veer into violence and sexism. As she grows older and finds out more about who she is and what she wants, she must make difficult decisions about the role of her family in her life. You will feel everything as you read this book—joy, anger, sadness, grief—and you will come out of it with an intimate sense of who Tara is and what family can mean to someone who has decided to walk their own path.
–Tiffany, Books and Mortar
Amber Sparks, And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges
Near perfect moments of strange, fascinating, colossal vignettes, with quiet undertones intersecting the mundane—with crescendos that beg you, or rather dare you, to fly. Then sometimes a diminuendo that’s like a strained, hoarse whisper or gasping or choking, even. This collection will draw tears and blood, it will incite laughter and deep, unsatisfied pangs that will hold you in their moments long after the story has ended. My three favorite short stories are near the end—”The Eyes of Saint Lucy”, “Rabbit by Rabbit,” and “Through the Looking Glass”—though some earlier stories got honorable mentions.
–Jessica Stephenson, Lit. on Fire Books
Brit Bennett, The Vanishing Half
I’ve struggled to write this recommendation because I’m afraid that I won’t do this book justice. A page-turner—yes. Lyrical—yes. A sharp depiction of the brutal effects of racism and colorism on families and communities, an exploration of what it means to choose—or refuse—an identity, and a delicate, nuanced, fierce prose that probes at the bond between twins and the cascade of events that pour through their separate lives after one twin vanishes from the other—yes, yes, and yes. Bennett’s writing is clear and swift, and I could live in it forever.
–Jackie Kenny, Paulina Springs Books
Elena Ferrante, The Lying Life of Adults
While we mostly know Elena Ferrante for her Neapolitan series, or perhaps for not knowing her at all, this departure from Ferrante’s middle aged narrators is a surprising but welcome one. Told from the perspective of teenager Giovanna, this standalone work follows her realizations about truth, lies, family, and growing up. While the themes seem domestic at best, Ferrnate tackles them with the same tenacity as My Brilliant Friend, with spins on family dynamics and adolescence that are both universal and uncanny.
–Heather, Third House Books
Gloria Naylor, The Women of Brewster Place
This novel in stories easily became one of my favorite reads of all time before I was able to get halfway through. Gloria Naylor uses the central setting of Brewster Place, a neglected apartment building in NYC, to highlight the manifold of black women’s lived experiences. I’ve never had the opportunity to embark on such a literary journey that tackled topics of black womanhood, sisterhood, family, belonging, violence, justice, tokenism, misogynoir, generational gaps in understanding and so much more in ways that sat with me months after I turned the last page. Naylor’s debut is not just a tribute to inner-city living, it’s a testament to the pain, love, and impact of black women. It gives layers to the oversimplified tropes constantly bestowed upon black women. It shifts us away from our need to focus on what separates us and instead recognize the interconnectedness we all have but fail to notice. I hope everyone feels compelled to pick this one up, Naylor deserves all the praise and glory.
–Deidre Dumpson, WORD Bookstore
N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
If you are looking for your next science fiction series, look no further than the Broken Earth Trilogy, beginning with The Fifth Season. N. K. Jemisin is undoubtedly one of the best science fiction writers of all time, and this series offers everything you could want in a great sci-fi tale: a new world replete with magic and power struggles, a complex set of heroes and villains, mysterious twists and turns, and prescient lessons for a world at war with itself. This book begins with an apocalypse and reveals how members of a race historically enslaved may actually have the power to change everything. You won’t want to put this one down.
–Jenny, Books and Mortar
Susanna Clarke, Piranesi
What is it like to be inside a mind? To be lonely and full of love, to be wanting and curious, to be flooded with a melange of enchantment? The House in Clarke’s Piranesi has similar flavors of infinity, wonder, and madness as Danielewski’s House of Leaves but without the horror; even with its abysmal power, Clarke’s House is always gorgeous, benevolent, and mysterious through the eyes of the unforgettable Piranesi. Here is a maze of marble statues, albatross chicks, dried seaweed, third-story clouds, and shimmering lily-pad lakes in dark hallways. The plot rushes with anticipation and the ending has one of the most beautiful last paragraphs I’ve ever read; it left a glowing cold taste of sea in my mouth. Oh, this book collapses time. You won’t ever be able to leave The House; its Tides will dog your footsteps, its Arches will shadow your dreams.
–Jackie Kenny, Paulina Springs Books