OOLA's Ultimate 2021 Reading List

Caste (Oprah's Book Club): The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Top Overall Pick
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Far beyond social constructs as “navigable” as race, gender, and religion, there lies an even deeper, more pervasive scaffolding off of which our entire American identity hangs: the caste system. Isabel Wilkerson’s #1 New York Times best-selling novel is pegged to be a new American classic, and it’s easy to see why. Wilkerson powerfully and pointedly removes the motes from our eyes so we can better see the convoluted system of America we now consider “normal.”

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Top Post-Pandemic Pick
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As the title suggests, Katharine May’s Wintering offers the opportunity to find joy even in life’s most sallow moments. (A global pandemic definitely counts.) 2020 has left many people feeling spent, weary, and cynical. May’s secular mysticism lifts you out of the depths and gently suggests an alternate guiding philosophy, one that views hardships as a gateway to revival, rejuvenation, and a new season.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Top Girl Power Pick
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If you’re looking to be emboldened with the girl power of a thousand Spice Girls world tours, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow is the book for you. Set in late 19th-century Salem, Massachusetts, the story follows a group of suffragist sisters who turn to the legacies of the Salem women who came and died before them for inspiration. The Once and Future Witches celebrates the indomitable power and ferocity of women, serving as a “love letter to folklore and the rebellious women of history” (Publishers Weekly).

Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

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2020 left us reeling from endlessly spinning news cycles, but Claudia Rankine has found a way to straighten us out in her new novel and finalist of the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction, Just Us: An American Conversation. In a time when the nation has never seemed so divided, Rankine gently pushes us to honestly evaluate ourselves, our interactions with others, and the nation at large.

Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One With the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa

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Peaceful, calming, and beautifully tender, Yumi Sakugawa’s illustrated novel offers a hand-drawn path to inner peace. Sakugawa personifies the more complicated aspects of our inner emotions, from tea-drinking inner demons to blazoned anxieties. Enter 2021 with clarity, patience, and forgiveness for yourself and others like with this deeply powerful, yet wonderfully simplistic, short read.

Talking to Strangers: What We Don't Know About People We Don't Know by Malcolm Gladwell

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Malcolm Gladwell, the author of #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, returns to blow our minds yet again with his in-depth assessment of just what it means to be a human. Talking to Strangers points out critical flaws in the tools and strategies used to communicate with and understand people we don’t know. As appealing as it is to stay an antisocial recluse after the year that was 2020, Gladwell’s new release helps you reenter the real world with purpose, confidence, and most importantly — empathy.

Trouble the Saints by Alaya Dawn Johnson

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Set against a simultaneously dirty and glamorous New York City backdrop, Trouble the Saints tells the harrowing tale of an assassin forced to consider the steadfastness of fate and the consequences of immorality. Lovers of the British dark comedy-thriller Killing Eve will love Johnson’s juxtaposition of gripping high-level crime and the magic of new love, and the dangerous cocktail made when the two mix.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow

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Making (and maintaining) friendships in adulthood can be difficult and disheartening. The emphasis placed on romantic, rather than platonic, relationships causes many friendships to fall short of their full potential. Aminatou Sow helps put into words the emotions we’ve always felt surrounding our platonic relationships, helping us to evaluate, nurture, and maintain them in all of their beautiful complexities.

The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Phillippa Perry

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For as much emotional baggage as we all tend to carry, it’s shocking how little we understand the contents inside the metaphorical mountain of suitcases and trunks. Psychotherapist Phillippa Perry unzips the baggage for you, revealing the vital do’s and don’ts of all interpersonal relationships. Perry’s honest, warm, and compassionate book is a must-have for parents, those wishing to sort through their own childhood trauma, and those seeking a better understanding of their partner and other loved ones.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Stories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit

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Writer, historian, and long-time activist Rebecca Solnit blows the lid off of the comfortable cynicism many of us have fallen into as the future grows less and less certain. Solnit celebrates the good that has already come and the good that is yet to be, all while demanding modern radicalism never gives up the true fight. This illuminating novel is recommended by young politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who says this book serves as a reminder that “the times of greatest hope are the times of greatest turbulence.”

Notes From an Apocalypse by Mark O'Connell

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Simultaneously lighthearted and harrowing, Mark O’Connell’s Notes From an Apocalypse follows a Dublin-based father of two as he travels the globe looking for answers to...pretty much everything. How do we live in the shadows of a grim future? After 2020, what hope is there to be had? What’s the point of raising children in a world seemingly set on a path of self-destruction? O’Connell turns these heavy-hitting musings into an easily-digestible, heartwarming story of love and hope in a world where neither really make all that much sense.

And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges by Amber Sparks

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Fierce, funny, and irresistibly weird, And I Do Not Forgive You is a captivating collection of short stories that read like fairy tales — which, Sparks explains, are warnings disguised as wishes. The tragedies, comedies, and everyday stories of women past, present, and future come alive on the page in Sparks’ irreverent feminist prose.

World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

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The pandemic locked us indoors as winter was beginning to defrost into a soft, muddy spring, and many of us turned to nature for solace, guidance, or a little bit of both. Aimee Nezhukumatathil has been turning to Mother Nature for that very reason since childhood, and World of Wonders beautifully encapsulates a fraction of what she’s learned. From axolotls to narwhals, World of Wonders helps open the reader’s eyes to the wonders (and lessons) offered by the natural world every day.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

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“F-ck positivity,” Manson writes. “Let’s be honest, shit is f--ked, and we have to live with it.” Amen. It’s no surprise that over six million copies of this generation-defining self-help guide have been sold, and if you haven’t had the immense pleasure of poring over Manson’s pages of witty, biting, and refreshingly human insights, we highly recommend you get a copy now. This book is the tough love you never knew you needed.

The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars by Jo Marchant

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For as long as humans have existed, we’ve been undeniably tethered to the natural world around us—until now. Jo Marchant seeks to solder that broken connection between the human experience and the cosmos in this eye-opening, fascinating work of nonfiction. Award-winning science journalist Marchant takes us back to the basics, reminding us of the revelation that star-gazing is what makes humans, humans.