Alice Walker has said, "If literature didn't inspire empathy and compassion, it would be virtually useless. The reason I absolutely do love and treasure literature is that it has taken me out of myself."
And we couldn't agree more. Books are the quickest way to crack ourselves open, shift our perspective and walk in different shoes for a bit. With Ms. Walker's sage words in mind – especially since these present times particularly need empathy and compassion – we've compiled a list of our favorite books that encourage us to learn from another person's experience. These view-shifting, world-expanding narratives unite us through the essential practice of sharing our stories.
In the hand-lettered list above:
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú
Released in February, Cantú's memoir has quickly become an essential read and reveals with a keen eye, the truth of the US-Mexico borderlands - not to mention a prose that is beautiful, searing and utterly unforgettable.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
A beautiful memoir about a young girl who was denied an education and leaves her survivalist family, ultimately earning a PhD from Cambridge University. Westover is indomitable and gives us a glimpse into a world so close and yet so foreign.
Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women by Maya Angelou
This small and stunning volume features four of Maya Angelou's most beloved poems: Our Grandmothers, Phenomenal Woman, Still I Rise and Weekend Glory. This is one to carry around and have ready at the hand, as there is no one better than Maya Angelou for a bit of grounding beautiful truth.
The White Album by Joan Didion
Didion's essays about the 1970s ring remarkably resonant today and she is always worth a reread. Whether she is talking about Charles Manson, the Los Angeles Freeway, water systems or the Reagan's, she IS the observer of our times.
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
One of the best novels I've read this year. Lee shines a beautiful lens on one Korean family through four generations.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This book is required reading. Mohsin Hamid's novel is one of the best I've ever read. I devoured it in one evening, yet it will stay with me for far longer. It is both quiet and electrifying, beautiful and so poignant. A grand book with tight, lyrical and perfect prose, shedding light on the immigrant experience in a wholly unique way.
Hunger by Roxane Gay
An incredibly personal memoir from one the best voices in writing today. Roxane Gay's memoir is deeply personal, yet universal and so timely. A must read.
The Rules do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
Levy writes with her trademark candor and grace, revealing a story that is bittersweet, ultimately life-affirming and utterly beautiful.
Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
One of the best releases of 2017, Vance paints a revealing picture of our country and our times. If you wondered how the election happened the way it did, this is a good place to start.
It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
A prescient classic, this one is always worth a revisit!