Ask a Book Nerd: How do I ease back into reading after a tough job?
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One of my favorite things about running a book blog is all the people who ask me for book recommendations and for other advice about their reading lives.
I’ve also never met someone who had a truly unique struggle or problem that only they experienced. So I figured I’d share the advice I gave––anonymously, of course––in case it helps other folks.
This inspired the creation of a new series… Ask a Book Nerd! A literary advice column.
Here’s this week’s question…
Hey! I am going on a beach vacation. I used to love reading––especially reading at the beach––but with my work I end up too triggered and have almost entirely stopped reading. I’m going to get the one you just posted about the serial killer (funnily enough, murder is fine, rape, domestic violence or child abuse/neglect are hard for me). Any other book recommendations? Historically I’ve loved mysteries (Robert B Parker, Janet Evannovich), “literature” (JD Salinger, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck), as well as memoirs/autobiographies. I also love adolescent fiction. Any thoughts or recommendations would be wonderful!
Soon-to-Be Beach Reader
Dear Beach Reader,
First of all, I’m SO jealous you’re going to the beach! It’s one of my favorite places to read so I’d love to send you on vacation with some good book recs.
For everyone reading this, the book about the serial killer I posted about on Instagram is My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It’s a YA novel that’s said to be darkly funny and “satire meets slasher.” I just recently got it and haven’t had a chance to read it myself yet, but everyone I know who has read it has loved it.
While I don’t have any hard data on this, I think what you’ve expressed about being okay with murder stories but not wanting to read stories with rape, domestic violence, and child abuse and/or neglect because they’re triggering is fairly common. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say it’s because murder is much less common than the other crimes and it also holds a place of entertainment value in our culture the way the other crimes don’t.
For example, people love murder mysteries but rape mysteries and domestic violence mysteries aren’t really a thing. I think, too, it’s because in murder mysteries (whether books, TV shows, movies, etc.) the murdered person doesn’t have to actually be shown dying. That plot point can be established from the beginning, before the story actually begins, so it’s an accepted fact from the get-go. That allows people to engage with the “whodunit” aspect without actually having to engage with the murder.
All that to say, I hear you! The particulars of your request make total sense to me and I’m happy to recommend books that fit your parameters.
For mystery I recommend Still Lives by Maria Hummel. It’s a twist on the art heist where it’s the artist herself that goes missing rather than the art.
Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer is a delightful Obama/Biden mystery that’s very good but also adorable because they work so well in a buddy cop situation. It’s a well-told mystery, but it’s just fluffy enough to keep you from getting depressed.
For YA, I recommend: When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon, Pride by Ibi Zoboi, Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli, and Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson.
When Dimple Met Rishi is a romance about two Indian teenagers whose parents set them up for an arranged marriage, which Dimple is vehemently opposed to, yet she finds herself actually falling for Rishi. Then she has to figure out whether she’s really doing what the wants or falling into a trap her family has set.
Pride is a modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice in Brooklyn involving a wealthy black family and a Haitian immigrant family across the street.
Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda is a romance that’s also part mystery. It’s about Simon, a gay boy in high school who has an online flirtation with a mysterious person at his school. He’s starting to become interested in dating and is on a mission to find out who the anonymous person he’s been talking to all this time actually is.
Undead Girl Gang is about a Hispanic girl in high school whose best friend has died in what’s being ruled a suicide, but she has her doubts. Especially since her bff’s death comes on the heels of the supposed suicide of two other girls at their school. The main character is a witch, so she conjures her best friend’s spirit from the grave and brings her and the two other girls (whom they don’t like) back to life in hopes of tracking down the murderer.
For memoir, I recommend: Sick by Porochista Khakpour, Tomorrow Will be Different by Sarah McBride, and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty.
Sick is about Porochista Khakpour’s struggle to figure out what’s causing the baffling myriad of symptoms and various health problems she has that come in waves. Then, once she figures out it’s Lyme Disease, which is treatable but incurable, her struggle is to maintain health and convince skeptical doctors that she’s not a hypochondriac.
Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality details Sarah McBride’s coming out, gender transition, falling in love with her husband, her husband’s death from cancer, and the activist work she did all the while in fighting for trans equality in her home state of Delaware and the country at large. It’s a tear-jerker, but it’s more hopeful than depressing, I think.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Tales from the Crematory is about Caitlin Doughty’s decision to become a funerary professional and details the time she spent working in a crematory and going to mortuary school where she learned to embalm. And how learning about embalming and the predatory, capitalistic nature of America’s death industry made her want to forge her own path: opening her own funeral parlor specializing in low cost, natural burials. The book sounds creepy on the surface, but somehow it’s actually hilarious. I finished it in a day because I couldn’t put it down!
And if you really want some good brain candy, I recommend the comics Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples, Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang, and Nimona by Noelle Stevenson.
Saga… how do you even explain such a perfect story? It’s like Romeo and Juliet in space. There’s an intergalactic war and two soldiers from opposing sides fall in love and have a baby and they just want to be a happy family unit somewhere in the wide open universe but they’re both being hunted by their respective sides for sleeping with the enemy. I’ve never met anyone who disliked this comic and I highly doubt Saga haters even exist.
Paper Girls is about four young girls delivering the newspaper in the wee morning hours in Cleveland when suddenly the sky opens up and aliens descend. There’s time travel, 80s nostalgia, and awkward teenage puberty stuff.
Nimona is a shapeshifter with a bad temper, a lot of uncontrollable power, and a desire to be the best villain ever––second to her villain hero Lord Blackheart, who she gets an internship with. It’s like a twisty take on the hero’s journey. Plus dragons!
There you have it! I hope that gives you and all the folks reading this some ideas.
Here’s the list of books I recommended and links to buy them at your local bookstore via Indiebound. These are affiliate links, so if you order through them I’ll earn a tiny commission.
Do you have any recommendations for Beach Reader? Tell us in the comments!