I have a really special relationships with books. When I was little, I cracked open a book in the grocery store while my mom shopped and I read and walked. I read so much that I taught myself how to (wrongly) pronounce certain things as I shoved books into my soul constantly. I still sometimes accidentally pronounce facade as “fay-cay-de.”
I’m the girl that “can’t use a Kindle” because I love how books feel in my hands. How their bulky spines pinch my thumb fat and when I’m further along, closing the book feels meaty and sexy. I love bookstores. I love the smell of fresh pages. I love sitting belly-up to a bar reading a good book slowly. I love finding a sentence that hits me so right, I feel as if I uncovered a hidden treasure. I own the sentence somehow.
I love bookstores. I love the smell of fresh pages. I love sitting belly-up to a bar reading a good book slowly.
That’s why I wanted to put together a list of five books that have changed my life. And, since it’s summertime, pair them with flowers! Because I don’t want a world without both of those things. Without further ado, here they are in all their full, floral glory. See you at the bookstore.
Reading this book struck me like a firework. Does that make any sense at all? I think I’m dehydrated. And sleep deprived. Either way, Maya Angelou lit me on fire like I didn’t know that kind of delightful sensation of the written word was possible. I’m embarrassed to admit it took me thirty-one years of my life to discover I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and I can’t let that happen to you!
Angelou writes with gritty conviction and softness. She is wise and patient and observes her life with beautiful grace. I underline my favorite quotes in books to revisit them later, and I could have underlined the entirety of this lyrical written treasure.
Where to read: Read this glorious piece of work under a giant oak tree. Angelou writes like a breeze picks up heavy leaves. So, pairing this book with nature is only appropriate. Thank me later.
A quote to lust over: “To be left alone on the tightrope of youthful unknowing is to experience the excruciating beauty of full freedom and the threat of eternal indecision. Few, if any, survive their teens. Most surrender to the vague but murderous pressure of adult conformity. It becomes easier to die and avoid conflicts than to maintain a constant battle with the superior forces of maturity.”
These beautiful written art is a collection of prose essays by my written hero, Durga Chew-Bose. She’s a cultural critic gone beautiful art museum. A comforting transport into the experience of life. The first essay in the book, called “Heart Museum” is about the random pink emoji with the heart on its building. The essay made me breathless for keen observations. When I finished the book, I felt like begging for more time. Or, a fresh slat to read it all over again for the first time. The best books are like that.
Where to read: In a plane. On a bus. Chew-Bose writes like she’s watching the world go by in a slow-moving something. Her essays dance across many details and yet, somehow, I understand every one of them. And her thoughts somehow feel like uncovering my very own.
A quote to lust over: “There’s a strength in observing one’s miniaturization. That you are insignificant and prone to, and God knows, dumb about a lot. Because doesn’t the smallest prime us to eventually take up space? For instance, the momentum gained from reading a great book. After, after, sitting, sleeping, living in its consequence. A book that makes you feel, figuratively, latched on.”
Do you ever read a book and when you’re not reading it, crave the setting and the story and the scene so badly you can feel it bubbling up this fierce longing in your chest? That is The Vacationers. Straub tells the tale tale of family vacation so beautifully, the world inside the pages are epically real.
Where to read: Poolside. The book is breezy and quick-witted, stock full of emotional dollops that go real well with a cool dip.
A quote to lust over: “Families were nothing more than hope cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best. Even the poor souls who had children in an attempt to rescue a dying marriage were doing so out of misguided hopefulness.”
I’m going to make a bold statement! I feel like South and West is the lost Bible of Joan Didion. This is one of the last books of hers I’ve read and it’s a true favorite. The essays are tiny prodigies of her notebooks she kept with her while she traveled the south and west coast in the 1970s. At the time, she volunteered to travel the gothic deep south and write a piece about her experience, but nothing ever came out of the trip. Later, she published South and West, the notebook of observations from her trip in the south and where she lived in California. The observations are lived in, careful sparks of gold. The way she describes New Orleans and Malibu is to die for.
Where to read: Lakeside at the cabin. Or at an old northern dive bar. I won’t judge you for drinking a North Dakota Martini (light beer with olives or a pickle) for one minute.
A quote to lust over: “In New Orleans in June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever of the unknown etiology. The place is physically dark, dark like the negative of a photograph, dark like an X-ray: the atmosphere absorbs its own light, never reflects light sucks it in until random objects glow with a morbid luminescence.”
If I had to recommend a book about food, it would be this one. Stradal does a gorgeous job telling the story behind the soul and sadness and guts and safeness of midwestern cooking. He also writes about food like food is a lover, a real person, a breathing something full of hot air. Kitchens of the Great Midwest made me feel things I hadn’t felt since watching my parents dance around the kitchen cooking steaks and rhubarb pie when I was little.
Where to read: On the deck, near a grill. Preferably as vegetables doused in olive oil and himalayan salt simmer some spice smoke your way. Because we should be taking breaks to read books during busy days (don’t baulk on this!) book can also be enjoyed while sipping lemonade on a front porch step.
A quote to lust over: “Unlike her, they were beautiful in a way that God intended. The tallest chocolate habanero plant came to her waste, and its firm green stalks held families of glistening, gorgeous brown chilis at the end of its growing cycle. Holding them, tracing her finger around their smooth circumference, she could feel their warmth, their life, and their willingness to give.”
Awww. I wish I could read these all over again for the first time. Now, grab some tea or coffee and get to your nearest local bookstore!
Brittany Chaffee is an avid storyteller, professional empath, and author. On the daily, she gets paid to strategize and create content for brands. Off work hours, it’s all about a well-lit place, warm bread, and good company. She lives in St.Paul with her baby brother cats, Rami and Monkey. Follow her on Instagram, read more about her latest book, Borderline, and (most importantly) go hug your mother.
BY Brittany Chaffee - May 29, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.