This month’s book picks from the Girlboss staff don’t fall into any one category. Which means you’re bound to discover something that’s just right for you.
For April, we’ve got a little bit of everything on the brain. There are novels from two contemporary authors on the list (Elif Batuman and Jesmyn Ward). There’s a classic book on the exploration of the universe (c/o the late Stephen Hawking), a study of the chakra system tailored for a Western audience, and a biography of a literary giant that’s told in a comic strip format (a fitting formula, it turns out).
The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
There was lots of buzz last year about Elif Batuman’s The Idiot(not to be confused with the Dostoyevsky novel of the same name that we all pretended to read in high school). I finally got around to picking it up, as I had been waiting for the paperback release, and I’m pleased to report how much I enjoyed it. The novel, Batuman’s first, is a coming-of-age story that takes place around 1995, the time when we all set up our first email addresses. Consider the email format to be a sort of character in and of itself, as 18-year-old Selin begins her first year at Harvard and picks up an email correspondence with Ivan, resident softboy, who takes her to Paris and Hungary. While most people travel to “find themselves,” Selin only unearths deeper alienation from the world.
Not to be all like, “the prose!” but, the prose <3. There’s a stunning deadpan humor that hits hard and unexpectedly. Batuman allows you to seamlessly ease your mind into Selin’s, back to being a young woman full of convictions and questions about the world. Whenever tears welled in Selin’s eyes, they did in mine as well.
—Chelsea Jones, social media strategist
A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking
Stephen Hawking’s best-known work remains a mind-blowing masterpiece that’s a good read for anyone without a science background. Hawking (R.I.P.) does an exemplary job of explaining the laws of the universe by distilling his wealth of knowledge into everyday language.
A Brief History Of Time explores such grand questions like: How does time work? What are black holes? How did the universe come to be? To the layperson like myself, the book is certainly a mind bender and an eye-opener that shows how we can apply the theory of relativity to our own understanding of human existence. Hawking explores theories from various angles and comes to the conclusion that there will be uncertainties that might not ever be answered—and that’s okay. I cried many, many times reading this book and was humbled by how the universe made me feel smart and dumb at the same time.
—Jackie Wung, software engineer
Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System As a Path to the Self, by Anodea Judith
I haven’t read a piece of fiction in a while, since these days I keep being recommended esoteric self-help books (hosting a podcast on self-care will do that). Although Eastern Body, Western Mind might seem cringe-worthy based on the title, the book is actually a respectful and interesting interpretation of the chakra system as seen through the lens of Western psychology. And it discusses personal development in a Jungian, New Age-y, and ultimately level-headed language. It even goes into specific pathologies and behaviors and the meditative practices that aim to alleviate them.
It’s a classic to many and I can kinda see why now.
—Jerico Mandybur, editorial director
Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
I’m among the last to the revelation that is the writing of Jesmyn Ward, two-time winner of the National Book Award and a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur “genius” grant. Ward’s latest novel, Sing, Unburied, Sing, employs myriad plot devices I typically dislike: A story within a story, a ghost narrator, and multiple point-of-view changes. But Sing‘s various shifts and pockets serve a deeper purpose that becomes apparent to the reader as the book unfolds.
Sing is simultaneously a diorama and an epic. It’s the story of a young boy growing up in a complex family in a small town, as well as a historical novel that invites critical reflection on the prison system, transgenerational trauma, and racism in the American south. Sing reminds us of the truth in those oft-cited Faulkner lines: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” (Note: former editor Deena Drewis recommended Sing, Unburied, Singlate last year. We love this book!)
—Melissa Batchelor Warnke, editor
Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story, by Peter Bagge
Many of us know Zora Neale Hurston for her 1937 novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was criticized by her contemporaries and didn’t receive broad acclaim until the 1970s. While much has now been written about Hurston’s literary works, the details of her biography aren’t as well known as those of her male counterparts from the Harlem Renaissance.
In little more than 100 pages, Bagge zooms through Hurston’s remarkable life journey, capturing in every panel the zeal for life which Hurst possessed. Hurston’s travels took her far from her humble beginnings in Florida to New York City, where she was the first black student at Barnard College and later a leading figure in Harlem’s literary scene (the book’s title, Fire!!, comes from a literary magazine Hurston co-founded).
I’ve long been a fan of graphic novels because of the multiple layers of meaning that can be packed into a few panels. Bagge’s style is the perfect medium for showcasing the gutsy, fearless attitude (as well as the often contradictory nature) of Hurston’s life and work.
—Theresa Avila, writer