Even though I know that hot dogs are garbage food, nothing says New York summer to me like a hot dog from Nathan's at Coney Island. I loved this little book about the history of Nathan's (written by one of his grandsons, Lloyd Handwerker), once a humble hot dog stand selling frankfurters for a nickel (while every other restaurant in Coney Island sold them for ten cents).
The ending is a bit sad—Nathan's two sons could never get along long enough to steer the business like Nathan hoped—and today Nathan's might no longer resemble the business that Handwerker started, but the rags to riches tale of an immigrant in America is as irresistible as a Nathan's hot dog and an order of crinkle-cut cheese fries.
The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
After seeing a trailer for the movie adaptation, I reserved this YA novel from the library. I was immediately drawn into the world of Starr, a 16-year-old girl who watches her friend get shot by a police officer during a routine (but not-at-all justified) traffic stop. This is a powerful book that doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics, and Starr’s world—her school, her family, her thoughts and her words—feels so very real.
I think it’s true that you’ll never understand someone fully until you walk a mile in their shoes and reading stories that differ from our own is often the best way we can do that. Starr’s story is an essential one—at times heartbreaking, frustrating and funny like all teenagers’. It’s hard enough being a teenage girl, but Starr’s experience is one that a lot of white America (myself included) will never fully understand unless we really start paying attention.
Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
I’ve never had such a wild turnaround when reading a book before like I did with Saunders’s first full-length novel. The narrative is described as “experimental,” which would have been helpful to know before I started reading (encouraged to do so by a friend who has been spot-on so far in his recommendations). The book comprises sections cobbled together from historical sources to set the scene—the very real story of Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie, who died from typhoid—along with a fictional narrative laid out like a play (with the name of the speaker appearing after his dialogue).
I hated this book so viscerally when I started it that I was physically angry at it—but once I figured out the unconventional structure, I immediately fell in love with Saunders’s haunting words. The story takes place over one night, in the graveyard where Willie is taken after his untimely death. The Bardo—a sort of Buddhist purgatory—is populated with so many characters it was hard to keep them straight but it didn’t matter much in the end. Saunders’s words on life and death will stick with me for a long time and I now understand why this book garnered so much praise.
This book was a no-brainer for me, someone who devours anything I can get my hands on about death and dying. I hate surprises and secrecy, so I think it’s ridiculous and damaging to ignore the fact that every single one of us (and every one we know) is going to die. About half of Advice for Future Corpses details how to care for a dying loved one, and half is about what physically happens to a body as (and after) it dies. As the excellent title implies, this book is literally for everyone and I think it—and similar books Being Mortal and How We Die—should be required reading for anyone currently residing inside of a future corpse.
Gross Anatomy: Dispatches from the Front (and Back), by Mara Altman
Memoirs by millennial women that address taboo topics in humorous ways are my not-so-guilty pleasure. Every topic that Altman discusses—body hair, sweating, digestive issues, odors, genitalia, etc.—are things I worry and wonder about every single day trying to survive in this strange and confusing world of womanhood. It’s immensely helpful to know that you aren’t alone in your struggles with the human body, but it’s also frustrating to know that we’re all worrying about things that are completely normal and unavoidable.
I’m thankful for people like Altman for writing about these things with humor and grace. We could all benefit from being a little kinder to ourselves and to others who are just doing the best we can in dealing with these strange and unpredictable bodies of ours.