Shake Up Your Reading List with These TBR Recommendations

Shake Up Your Reading List

If you struggle to find the tiniest sliver of time to spend with your books, a readathon can be a boon. Readathons give you permission to block off time on your calendar just for reading. They allow you to say to your partner and/or your offspring, “Sorry, guys! I have an event.” They connect you with a community of readers who are psyched to nerd out about the latest multiverse sci-fi thriller they read, or the stack of books waiting on their nightstand.

And if you’ve been in a reading slump, they give you an excuse to shake up your reading list, pushing you to set goals that have you exploring new genres, new tropes, and new authors.

This past June, we received TBR Cards from Bowties & Books in our FBC boxes. Because the Feminist Book Club Readathon is coming in hot, I thought the timing was perfect.

In case you didn’t know, TBR stands for “to-be-read,” and book nerds like myself often reference their TBR piles: the books they can’t wait to read. As for the cards themselves, they’re decks of 54 cards that feature creative reading prompts designed to make your reading more diverse and inclusive. In our June box, each FBC member received a small selection of these cards.

For those who are psyched to devote three days to ALL THE BOOKS, but who don’t yet know what to read, I highly recommend digging out your cards and letting them inspire your reading list. For those of you who are participating in the readathon, but who didn’t receive a Feminist Book Club box in June, allow me to make some recommendations based upon the mix of cards I received in my own box.

A Book You’ve Wanted to Read for Many Years

Shake Up Your Reading List - The Encyclopedia Lumberjanica

I’m not gonna lie. I’m a fan of instant gratification, and books don’t sit on my TBR pile — virtual or otherwise — for very long. But there is an illustrated book I’ve been eyeballing since pre-pandemic 2020 which, at this point, feels like an eternity ago.

The Encyclopedia Lumberjanica by Susan Coiner-Collier, Kaiti Infante, Alexia Khodanian, Julia Madrigal, and Kanesha C. Bryant is for the Lumberjanes fangirl (which I am). I’ve written about this series in the past. As a reminder, it’s an all-ages comic about a group of “hardcore lady types” away at a summer camp in the middle of a forest filled with magical creatures.

At this point, there are 16 19! full volumes in the series, plus several standalone graphic novels. If, like me, you hunger for more (and already own a T-shirt, Kitten Holy plushie, and several enamel pins), you might also be interested in this keepsake book that details the lives of the lady-types the Lumberjanes have taken as their role models.

Not Set in Europe, the USA, or Canada

Shake Up Your Reading List - An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

Considering the number of people who showed up to our book chat with Roxane Gay after reading Difficult Women, I’m assuming you won’t mind me recommending another one of her books for your readathon reading list.

The first book I ever read from Gay was Bad Feminist and, immediately after reading it, I went looking for more. Because that’s what I do. I fall in love with a writer; I want to read all the things.

What I found was An Untamed State, a novel that came out just a few months before Bad Feminist.

An Untamed State is difficult to read, in that the subject matter is upsetting and the scenes are quite graphic (cw: abduction, sexual violence, rape, gang rape). But the commentary on privilege and poverty is well worth it.

The book is about a Haitian-American woman who, on her annual visit to Port-au-Prince to see her family, is kidnapped and held for ransom. Her father, however — despite being a very rich man — refuses to pay the ransom, not wanting to show weakness or set a bad precedent. Much of the book takes place during the protagonist’s captivity.

A Book Adapted to Screen

Shake Up Your Reading List - I'm Special by Ryan O'Connell

I just read a book that’s perfect for this category.

Typically, I always read the book before seeing the movie/TV show. But in this case, I didn’t realize Special was based upon a memoir until after watching the last season.

Special is… special. A limited series that ran on Netflix, it’s about a young gay man with cerebral palsy who decides to break out of his comfort zone by getting his first job and moving out of his mom’s house (someone with whom he has a bit of a codependent relationship). The series is charming as hell and, when the second and final season ended, I had the definite sads. When I realized the series was based on the main star’s memoir, titled I’m Special, I ordered a copy and breezed through it in two days. I would have been done sooner, but I have a 7-year-old.

The book tackles issues of identity and belonging and drug abuse but also manages to have LOLs on every page. I love Ryan O’Connell’s sense of humor and can’t wait to see what he does next.

A Trope You Haven’t Read Before

Shake Up Your Reading List - The Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan

At this point, I’ve tried most tropes at least once, so I was initially stumped when trying to figure out what to recommend here. But thanks to an online recommendation by Emily Nagoski, I recently read a romance novel (a genre I don’t typically read) that ended up being a pleasant surprise.

The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan is apparently the first in a series. Which was a second strike against it for me. Not only do I not read much romance, but I also avoid series. They feel like too much of a commitment.

But a recommendation from Emily Nagoski is a recommendation I can’t ignore and, on Instagram, Nagoski gushed about the way Milan handled first-time sex and female pleasure.

In this first Wedgeford Trials book, Chloe Fong is a woman who lives by her lists and tries not to waste brain space on her childhood sweetheart. But when he saunters back into town, trying his darndest to woo her despite the massive secret he’s carrying, her entire life is poised to be upended.

What would we call this trope? A Secret Noble? King Incognito? Rags to Royalty? Really Royalty Reveal? I don’t know. Either way, you should consider adding it to your reading list. The book is humorous and hot and I might actually read the next one when Milan writes it.

A BIPOC Retelling of a Classic

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

I’m going to recommend a short story collection I love here: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties. Actually, I’ve recommended it before, but I don’t care. I’m recommending it again.

In this collection of speculative fiction, Machado picks apart what it means to be a woman, and who is allowed to claim ownership of women’s bodies. The reason I mention it here is that one of its stories — “The Husband Stitch” — is a retelling of the classic “The Girl with the Green Ribbon.”

In the classic story, which appears in a collection of horror stories, poems, and urban legends retold for children, a girl who wears a green scarf around her neck meets and falls in love with a boy, whom she eventually marries. This girl never removes the scarf and, despite the love she shares with her husband, she refuses to reveal why. Finally, when they are both very old, she allows her husband to untie the scarf, at which point HER HEAD FALLS OFF.

In “The Husband Stitch,” Machado’s narrator also meets and falls in love with a young man, whom she eventually marries. The betrayal she experiences at the hands of her husband, however, is a little bit different.

If you don’t want to pick up the entire book (which, I mean, you should), you can also find the story over at Granta.

An Epistolary Novel

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

The last title I’d like to recommend for your readathon reading list is a classic. Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase was first published in 1964, and it spent 64 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. I filched a copy from my mom when I was young and read it many times over in the years that followed.

I’m not sure what it was about this novel —about an idealistic high school English teacher who struggles to nurture a love of classic literature in her students — that captured my young imagination. Either way, it became a favorite.

An epistolary novel is one written in the form of documents. Authors over the years have experimented with various forms: letters… diary entries… newspaper clippings… In S (a favorite of mine by Doug Dorst and J.J. Abrams, of all people), the documents in question are notes written in the margins of a fictional book between two different readers. How fun is that!?

Anyway. In Kaufman’s novel, she uses memos, letters, directives from the principal, comments by students, notes between teachers, and papers from desk drawers and wastebaskets to show what seems to be the inherent futility in wanting to be a teacher who actually changes the lives of her students.

It’s such a good read. I swear. Over 6 million readers can’t be wrong.

What books would you choose for these categories?

Steph Auteri is a journalist who has written for the Atlantic, Pacific Standard, VICE, and elsewhere. Her more literary work has appeared in Poets & Writers, Creative Nonfiction, Southwest Review, and other publications. Her reported memoir, A DIRTY WORD, came out in 2018. She is the founder of Favorite Genres: horror, comics, horror comics, and narrative journalism.

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