Amy Julia’s Book Picks

The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah

“This novel, set in France in World War Two, is a gripping story of two sisters who both find ways to participate in the resistance against the Nazi occupation of their country. I learned so much about the history of France during WWII while reading it, and I was compelled by a story told through the eyes of women during war.”
We Were Eight Years in Power
by Ta Nehisi-Coates.

“This book contains one essay Coates wrote for The Atlantic during each year of the Obama presidency, along with his own reflections on the time in which he wrote. Coates’ outlook for race relations in America is bleak. I do not share his hopelessness, but I appreciate his thoughtful writing and his willingness to state the despair he faces as an African American. As a white American, it’s important for me to engage with that despair and try to understand it, and this book is a riveting, if somber, way to begin.”
51em0nzwzgl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Something Must Be Done about Prince Edward County
by Kristen Green

“I just started Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County, a historical memoir about “segregation academies” across the South. Green tells the story of her own childhood in Farmville, Virginia, and how her family participated in the formation of private schools intended to provide white children with education segregated from African Americans. She weaves her own story together with a broader story about United States history.”
5159telpeul-_sx326_bo1204203200_Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
by Neil Postman

“Postman’s insight into contemporary culture continues to amaze me. Even though he wrote this book three decades ago, it helps me understand and critique the world in which we live, and long for a thoughtful approach to news, politics, education, and entertainment.”
51jktcrrhrl-_sx327_bo1204203200_Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business
by Charles Duhigg

“As with his previous book, The Power of Habit, Duhigg provides a book full of intriguing stories that speak to far more than personal change. Although I picked up both of these books because I wanted to change some things in my own life, I kept reading them because I was fascinated by Duhigg’s thinking about culture, companies, and the world we live in.”

41oi9ajumml-_sx322_bo1204203200_Very Married: Field Notes on Love and Fidelity
by Katherine Willis Pershey

“I just pre-ordered 5 copies of Very Married, and I suspect I will buy more when it comes out because I want to give it to so many people. Here’s what I wrote to endorse the book: ‘How many adjectives am I allowed to use to wholeheartedly endorse this marvelous book? Witty, engaging, honest, thoughtful, funny, wise, nuanced, gracious. I could go on. I will read this book more than once. I will give it to many friends. And I will be forever grateful to Katherine Willis Pershey for her honest and hopeful reflection on the complex, conflicted, and glorious institution of marriage’.”

51nX2wGTFXL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_Between the World and Me
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

This book won the National Book Award for a reason. Although many people will disagree with Coates’ bleak perspective, it is an important one for all Americans to read and try to understand. This memoir is all the more troubling for its beautiful prose.

unnamed-12Playing in the Dark
by Toni Morrison

I recently reread this collection of essays, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the way the presence of African Americans affected American literature, and, more importantly, the idea of American identity.

51UjRX0qs5L._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson

I feel like I could almost write my own version of this book now that I’m in charge of the Christmas pageant at our church. Some highlights include Penny, who is playing Mary, asking if she needs to hide the baby Jesus under her gown while she walks down the aisle so she can be pregnant with him, and the kid who was unwilling to participate until I told him he could be the innkeeper and have the line “Go away!” to Mary and Joseph. Great reading for the whole family in a very short, endearing story.

513T8kaf3JL-1._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
by Barbara Brown Taylor

I’m only four chapters in to this book, but I want to go ahead and recommend it because I’m enjoying it so much. I only read one chapter a week because it is a book to savor. Taylor reflects in each chapter on how to know God in the world–in our bodies, in our homes, in our relationships, in our all–with easy and lovely prose. A gem to whet your appetite: “We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which feed our illusion that life is manageable. Meanwhile, none of them meets the first criterion for reverence, which is to remind us that we are not gods.”

UnknownI recently reread To Kill a Mockingbird and then Harper Lee’s newly released (if not actually new) Go Set a Watchman.

I enjoyed the first half of Go Set a Watchman, and it serves as a fascinating guide into Lee’s development as a writer. The ending came as a disappointment in every way — the plot itself runs aground and the dialogue and prose suffers as well. But To Kill a Mockingbird stood up to my memory of it as a book of beauty, insight, and prose that sings.

41ULaIpZwsL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Slouching Towards Bethlehem
by Joan Didion

This selection of essays from the late 1960’s offers a fascinating perspective on American culture in the late 60’s from the inside. Didion was able to name the problems of the 60’s as they happened, and we can see the results fifty years later. I particularly recommend the title essay as well as “On Self Respect” and “Letter from Paradise.”

61AR8s0fedL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_The Warmth of Other Suns
by Isabel Wilkerson

An unbelievably comprehensive and compelling narrative of the great migration of African Americans from the south to the north and the west throughout the 20th century. Wilkerson has created a primer in African American history, a story of three individuals who made the journey out of the south, and a fascinating, relevant, and heartbreaking implicit analysis of why we are where we are as a nation when it comes to race, crime, poverty, and justice.