As we live through a global pandemic, fight to end racial injustice and embark on a high-stakes presidential election, the news can sometimes be overwhelming. Need a break? There's something you can do to counteract the element of doom you might be feeling for our country, the world and yourself.
Books can be a great escape — especially when they encourage you to see things differently. Below, three book experts share their recommendations for what to read if you're looking for some hope and inspiration for the future.
Lupita Aquino, book reviewer and columnist
Known for her popular Instagram account @lupita.reads, Lupita Aquino is also the creator of the #LatinxBookstagramTour, a columnist for the Washington Independent Review of Books, a contributor for the Reading Women podcast and the co-founder and moderator/curator for LIT on H St Book Club.
“Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America” by Laila Lalami
In this collection of essays, which explores what it means to be American, Lalami recounts her journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen. “It unveils the privileges of citizenship while also pointing at all the instabilities of it for someone who doesn’t ‘look’ American,” Aquino said. She added that it gives her hope and she recommends it “because it feels like a call to action for a necessary and radical shift in what society views and deems acceptable for who fits into the definition of American.”
“Just Us: An American Conversation” by Claudia Rankine
Featuring essays, poetry and images, this collection urges all Americans to work together to confront racism. “Knowing this book exists fills me with hope because I am hopeful white and non-Black Americans will pick it up and continue or start truly reckoning with racism and dismantling white supremacy,” Aquino said.
“Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations” by Mira Jacob
This graphic memoir focuses on conversations the author has had with her son, strangers, family and friends about politics, race, love and more, Aquino described. She added that it’s her go-to book recommendation and she often re-reads it when she needs a laugh or inspiration. “I will continue to recommend this book especially leading up to the election and post-election because I know Jacob’s words will help someone through it,” she said.
Jeannine A. Cook, owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia
Jeannine A. Cook is the owner of Harriett’s Bookshop in Philadelphia, an independent bookstore that opened in early 2020. She is also an educator and writer, and her pieces about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism and the arts have been featured in several publications.
“Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson
In this book, Pulitzer-prize winning author Isabel Wilkerson examines the unspoken caste system in America and shows how our lives are shaped by a hierarchy of human rankings. Cook said it gives her hope that Wilkerson is naming and calling out the sly threat of America’s caste system. “And it gives us the next step, which I think is, ‘Now, OK, what do we do about it?” she said.
“The Vanishing Half” by Brit Bennett
This bestselling novel follows once inseparable twin sisters who live in vastly different worlds in adulthood — one raising her black daughter in the same southern town they grew up in, and the other who secretly passes for white. While Bennett is a personal inspiration to Cook in terms of what it means to be a black writer in this moment, the content of the book also sends a hopeful message about the future. “It helps us navigate the conversation of identity and what that means to our society,” Cook explained.
“Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero” by Kate Clifford Larson
“There’s no stronger historic heroine in my opinion,” said Cook. In fact, Cook even named her bookstore after the legendary Civil Rights activist, most well-known for leading fellow slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad. In this biography, “Larson allows us to know Harriet Tubman in a deep and memorable way,” Cook said, adding that especially in today’s time, she’s always attracted to Tubman’s honorable and noble character.
Stacey Armand, book reviewer
Well-known in the book community for her Instagram account @prose_and_palate, Stacey Armand has collaborated with authors and publicists to develop marketing material for upcoming titles. She has also written for Book of the Month, Oprah’s Book Club in collaboration with Apple Books, and is a passionate advocate for children with dyslexia.
“Becoming” by Michelle Obama
“Anytime I am asked about who inspires me and gives me hope, my answer is always without hesitation Michelle Obama,” Armand said. “Her memoir is one of the most powerful and compelling books on motherhood, leadership and humanity that I have ever read.” She added that the book is not only the story of Obama’s life, but also an important, authentic work that drives home the message that what you do matters and that your story is worthy and deserves to be heard.
“Deacon King Kong” by James McBride
This witty and insightful novel from National Book Award-winning author James McBride follows a colorful cast of characters walking the line between darkness and light, explains Armand. “This book is one of my favorite reads of 2020 because it is ultimately a celebration of the human experience in all its complexities,” she said. “What ensues within this unforgettable community is a stunning story that embraces joy, grief, friendship and grace, and it has been my go-to recommendation all year long.”
“We Ride Upon Sticks” by Quan Berry
This novel set in the '80s follows a high school field hockey team that will do anything to make it to the state finals — and that includes enlisting darker powers through an old spell book, a blue tube sock and their sacred Emilio Estevez notebook, explains Armand. “Aside from being an homage to all things '80s, this is also an incredibly nuanced and heartfelt coming-of-age story,” she said. “I was inspired by each character’s journey as they learned the importance and necessity of unapologetically claiming space for themselves and what they stood for as they pushed back against a world that was not quite ready for people to openly live their truths.”
“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” by Charlie Mackesy
Featuring charming illustrations and quotes about kindness, friendship and self-esteem, this book is recommended by Armand for all ages. She said she keeps it in her house to share with her son to help him process all the changes that are happening during these unprecedented times. “I have found myself recommending this book over and over because it is the ideal read if you need a few words of encouragement or are looking for something that will warm your heart,” she said.