The books we are grateful for

Al Woodworth on November 24, 2020
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The books we are grateful for

As everyone knows intimately, 2020 has been a year. But it's been a banner year for books. I'm lucky to have read so many books that made me laugh, made me cry, filled me with hope, multiplied my empathy, and expanded my understanding of the human experience.

So it is in the spirit of Thanksgiving that the editors are reflecting on the books that provide us comfort, steady our wavering confidence and optimism, and feel like old friends. From books that we've returned to over and over again to books that published this year and changed our lives, these are the books we are grateful for.

Thank you to all the writers whose books we voraciously consume. Thank you for the entertainment, the comfort, the knowledge, and the pain and hope you've shared. Thank you.


The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book: Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop by Emily and Melissa Elsen

They say baking is a science, but I've never been good at science. However, any pie that I've baked from this book has earned me raves and compliments. Organizing pies by season is genius: the richness of Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie makes it the perfect winter pie, though fall's Salty Honey Pie is melt-in-your-mouth magic all year round. Even better, they break out recipes for crusts so you can mix and match (note: I can make the Chocolate All-Butter Crust work with just about any pie). I can't get to the Elsen sisters' Brooklyn pie shop right now, but thanks to this wonderful book I don't need to. —Vannessa Cronin


The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

When I think of gratitude, I think of warm fuzzy feelings (or Feelings) that keep burning like an ember inside even during dark times. Those are the feelings I got from TJ Klune’s The House in the Cerulean Sea, which I read in the first months of this very challenging year. When Linus, a caseworker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth, is sent on a secret investigation to an isolated orphanage that houses the most dangerous of all magical youth, Linus doesn’t know what to expect. Not the son of Satan, for example. Or the headmaster who sparks feelings Linus has trouble identifying, they are so disused. A heartwarming story of finding and making one’s family in the most unlikeliest of places, The House in the Cerulean Sea is like a much-needed hug, at the end of which you’ll utter a happy sigh. —Adrian Liang


Think Like a Monk: Train Your Mind for Peace and Purpose Every Day by Jay Shetty

People throw around the term “it changed my life” with wild abandon these days. Oh, that slice of cake changed my life. These elastic waist pants are changing my life. So I worry when I say that Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk changed my life, it will come across as hyperbole. It’s not. I love wellness books—especially books that focus not just on physical health but mental health. But Think Like a Monk was different. It truly changed the way I thought. A few weeks ago, I fell and severely sprained my ankle. Instead of wallowing in self-pity at my lack of mobility, I channeled Shetty and tried to look for the good in the situation. I was forced to take time to slow down. And one of my kids was exposed to COVID (thankfully he has remained healthy), and my inability to drive kept me from exposing him to others until we knew to quarantine. That’s a small example, but that’s what Shetty’s book inspired me to recognize. I now find more joy in the sound and smell of grinding the beans for my coffee every morning. I have a particular candle I keep lit next to my desk when I’m working—I light it in the morning and blow it out at the end of the work day. It’s a sensory signal that I am focusing on work, and then by blowing it out I transition to my other role as mother and wife. When I’m nervous, I do one of his breathing exercises. All of these small changes have made me a happier, more centered person in an otherwise stressful period of life. And for that, I am thankful. —Sarah Gelman


Classic Krakauer by Jon Krakauer

I am grateful for Jon Krakauer’s collection of short stories, because it takes me all over the place—from mountains, to oceans, to tundra, to caves. That’s particularly important to me these days because my own travels consist mostly of going from bedroom, to home office, to grocery store, to kitchen. There’s a special intensity to Krakauer’s writing that reminds me of less pandemic times—times when people went outdoors and risked their lives by action instead of by proximity to other people. Mostly, I’ve been picking up this book at night to get out of my own head, which is mostly focused on work, family, the house, and occasionally the yard. That’s the great thing about books, and it’s as important now as it ever was. —Chris Schluep


The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Because we are people who read books for a living and are fortunate enough to get to do what we love, it might seem strange to others that we cringe when we hear the question: What’s your favorite? I mean, how to pick when there are so many? But Jeanette’s Winterson’s The Passion is perennially in the mix for me, and it’s also one of the rare books I re-read on occasion. The Passion is essentially about unrequited love, but I’m no masochist. The writing is just so exquisite, and it’s one of those books I find myself turning to like an old friend in times of need. Thank you, Ms. Winterson. —Erin Kodicek


The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

Nearly a decade ago, I was going through a tough time, and one of my colleagues and friends here gave me this book. It unpacked my internal baggage the way Marie Kondo’s book unpacked my closet, and changed the way I saw myself in a way that has stuck with me ever since. I now also own this book on audio, read by the author—whose voice I love—and when I’ve gone through other rough patches in life, or the self-doubt creeps in, I return to this book to ground me again and keep the BS at bay. Been listening to this audio a lot this year, and I’m truly thankful for it every single time. —Seira Wilson


A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett

This year, I'm grateful for Brittany K. Barnett's memoir, A Knock at Midnight, an intimate story of both her family's and her clients' experiences within the criminal justice system and just how racist it is for Black men and women in this country. From tears of joy to those of rage, I was changed by this book. I'm so thankful for Barnett's bravery and vulnerability in deciding to share this story with the world and I'm also so grateful for her work as a lawyer and giving her clients a shot at the life that was taken from them. Thank you, Brittany K. Barnett, for making the world a better place. —Al Woodworth


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