I’m Australian, but I’m familiar with the American tradition of Thanksgiving from popular culture. Qualms about the whitewashing of a genocide aside, I like the idea of an annual tradition to express gratitude. This week’s round-up is one for all my American Keeper Upperers out there, gearing up to celebrate their delicious holiday: a list of books I’m thankful for.
Important note: My ending the title of this post with a preposition – “books I’m thankful for” – was a difficult choice, but I stand by it. I just couldn’t bring myself to write “books for which I am thankful” over and over again, and risk sounding like a pretentious arsehole. I’m exploiting the grammatical grey area in order to preserve my authenticity.
The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks is one of the books I’m thankful for firstly because it put the story of Henrietta Lacks and her family in the spotlight, where it has always belonged. For decades, humanity has profited from the unknowing and unwilling contribution of Henrietta, while her family has suffered as a result of the exploitation. Which brings me to my second reason to be grateful to this book: reading it is a painful and poignant reminder of the human cost of “advancement”, and the innumerable abuses of black bodies that have been hidden in the evolution of medical science. Read my full review of The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks here.
Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
As a person prone to worrying and jumping to the worst-case scenario, it makes sense that Any Ordinary Day is one of the books I’m thankful for. In it, Leigh Sales examines our vulnerability to life-changing events, and how we process the grief and fear that come with them. In so doing, she provides a helpful sanity check on our fears, advice about the “right” thing to say or do in the wake of a tragedy, and proof that ordinary people survive the unthinkable every single day. Read my full review of Any Ordinary Day here.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
If I’d never read The Library Book, I might never have followed Susan Orlean on Twitter. If I hadn’t followed Susan Orlean on Twitter, I wouldn’t have seen her amazing drunk Tweeting spree in July of 2020 – one of the few public events that brought a true feeling of delight and connection during that shitty, shitty year. So, really, that’s enough on its own to make her account of the Los Angeles Public Library fire one of the books I’m thankful for. But above and beyond that, this book is full of history and fun facts about libraries, as if I couldn’t love these vital public institutions any more. Read my full review of The Library Book here.
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
We all have comfort reads: those books we turn to time and again, when we need to read something that feels like a hug for our souls. One of mine is Me Talk Pretty One Day, and that’s why it’s one of the books I’m thankful for. David Sedaris is a unique once-in-a-generation writing talent. His essays never fail to raise a smile for me, even in my darkest moments. Whether I’m thumbing through my well-worn paperback copy or listening to him tell the stories on audiobook, this memoir is always a true pleasure and delight to read. Read my full review of Me Talk Pretty One Day here.
The Five by Hallie Rubenhold
Every true crime reader (it’s me, hi) has an encounter or a phase with Jack The Ripper. His name is synonymous with gruesome, violent death – and his shroud of mystery has captivated generation after generation. But with all this attention paid to the man behind the curtain, his victims found themselves nearly completely forgotten. I’m so thankful for Hallie Rubenhold writing The Five, restoring to these women their names and their dignity. Her tireless research efforts proved that there was much, much more to Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane than the way they died. Plus, personally, she has changed the way I consume true crime media and made me think more critically about perspectives in the genre. Read my full review of The Five here.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos
Sometimes, I feel like the only person in the world who isn’t blinded by the hype around The Great Gatsby. A rich guy borderline stalks a woman for years, until she commits vehicular homicide and he gets shot in a pool? Come on! The emperor has no clothes, people! I am eternally thankful for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, a Jazz Age novel that is actually good. It’s funny, it’s irreverent, it’s evergreen, it’s brilliant – I think the only reason it’s not universally recognised as superior is good ol’ fashioned misogyny, because Anita Loos had the audacity to write about the rich inner lives of attractive women. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I’m not saying that female narrators couldn’t be unreliable, angry, problematic, or unhinged before Gillian Flynn wrote Gone Girl… but she made it cool. In my few, this is one of the stones that started rolling down the hill, creating the momentum for the boulders that followed in books about angry women over following decade. Women in novels, particularly the crime/mystery/thriller variety, could suddenly break out of the confines of their archetypes, and the books wouldn’t just get published – they’d rocket to the top of best-seller lists and get gossiped about at book club. That alone makes this book one to be thankful for, don’t you think? Read my full review of Gone Girl here.
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara
I suppose it’s a bit weird that so many of the books I’m thankful for are true crime (or true crime-adjacent), but that could just be because the real-life stakes for these books are so high and good outcomes so rare. I’m thankful for I’ll Be Gone In The Dark primarily because of the answers and closure it brought to victims and their families, of course, but that’s not the only reason. Michelle McNamara sadly passed away before she could see her work come to fruition, with the identification of the Golden State Killer through familial DNA. It’s a powerful reminder for me that, although we might not get to see the change we effect, we can still make the world of difference. Read my full review of I’ll Be Gone In The Dark here.
Know My Name by Chanel Miller
Chanel Miller has been braver than any one person should ever be expected to be. First, she came forward to report a sexual assault, knowing full well that she may not be believed or understood. She kept up her fight for justice, even when the systems meant to protect her let her down dreadfully. She inspired millions with an impassioned victim impact statement about the effect that a man’s actions had on her life and well-being. And then, finally, she put her name to her story, and shared it with us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – in Know My Name. I’ve never read a book so deeply informative and insightful about our justice system and its treatment of victims of sexual violence. I’m so grateful that Miller had the bravery to share it with us. Read my full review of Know My Name here.
The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
Good news: we can end this list of books I’m thankful for on a happier note. The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared is a delight to read, from start to finish. It had me snort-laughing on every other page. It gave me a new appreciation for the older people I love and the life they have lived. I’m thankful not only for the laughter and joy this book brought me, but also my mother when I passed a copy on to her. She’s not one to get the giggles from a book, so this one is really something special. Read my full review of The One-Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window And Disappeared here.