What Books Do You Love?

When I was in my twenties, I read the same book over and over again…

Okay, not really. But I may as well have.

Back then, I used to gravitate toward stories I could easily find myself in — books where the protagonist was trying to find their (usually her) place in the world. Fiction or non-fiction, I wanted to see my life reflected on the page. Did the main character live in a big city? Did she feel lost? Did she have a terribly confused dating life? Did she perpetually try to make it on her own, a la Mary Tyler Moore? Sold.

It’s not that I saw no interest or merit in all stories. It was that, as a lost-seeming lady, I wanted — no, needed — to hear from my lost-seeming sisters. Above all else, I wanted my book choices to provide a sense of camaraderie. I wanted them to say, “I see you. I get you. I am you. It’s going to be okay.”

While I would sometimes be bothered by the patterns playing out in my bedside pile (a lot of weeping over broken hearts, a lot of good-natured tripping on shopping bags), they felt like friends. And it wasn’t for naught. This approach led me to discover some of my all-time favorite titles, like the short story collections The Girl’s Guide to Hunting and Fishing and Self-Help.

Then slowly, I started spending less time with the lost ladies of yore. I cared not for their weeping nor their shopping bags. Their stories felt predictable, largely because I’d already lived them.

Instead, I read the poetry of Mary Oliver and Nikki Giovanni and revisited the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson that had so moved me as a student. I am not married, but I devoured the accounts of marriage in books like Hourglass and Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give. I am not a mother, but I tore through the memoir And Now We Have Everything. I lost myself in now-favorite novels like Asymmetry and A Little Life and An American Marriage, though the characters’ lives, on the surface, were all quite different than my own.

These days, motivated by a desire for escapism and learning in equal measure, I am mostly drawn to books about people with backgrounds and circumstances and experiences that seem nothing like mine. And yet. There is that same recognition I was always searching for.

Because whatever shape a story may take, that pesky human thread runs through us all. I’d spent years wanting someone to validate my experience by mirroring it back to me. But as we’ve always suspected, the mirror is everywhere. You just have to look.

Do you often gravitate toward the same type of books? Have you read anything good recently? Let’s discuss…

(Photo by Alpha Smoot from this Brooklyn apartment tour.)