Courtesy of the author / ILLUSTRATION BY YOUSRA ATTIA
Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Maggie Shipstead’s first two novels began as short stories; now she’s come out with a collection of them in You Have a Friend in 10A (Knopf). Her third novel, Great Circle, shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and Women’s Prize for Fiction, was just released in paperback. A series adaptation is in development with Shipstead as an executive producer.
The Coto de Casa, CA-raised, LA-based NYT-bestselling author has a white shepherd named Gus (he started out as a foster during the pandemic), thought of studying anthropology, was on Harvard’s equestrian team and participated in competitive show jumpingconsidered (not very seriously) becoming a lawyer after a stint at a law firm, was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford, and met her agent at Iowa Writers’ Workshop because she had a car and could pick her up from the airport.
As a travel writer, she’s spearfished with Jose Andrés In the Bahamas, tracked snow leopards in the Himalayas, gone on a first date in Antarctica, swum with humpback whales in Tonga, and celebrated a birthday at a My-Brilliant-Friend-inspired trip to Ischia.
The book that…
…helped me through a breakup:
Eat, Pray, Love gave me some solace after a college breakup. People love to have attitude about this book—like, oh, it must be REALLY NICE to run away to Italy—but it can take a lot of courage and effort to change your circumstances, and part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s point is that women should be able to choose any kind of life they want.
… keep me up way too late:
Both Conversations With Friends and Normal People by Sally Rooney. I admire writers who can get into the fine-grained nitty gritty of characters’ thinking and really imagine and render in a detailed way the ways people understand and misunderstand each other and the fluidity and dynamism of human relationships.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
I don’t know about uncontrollably, but I finished The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai in bed one morning and then found myself crying in the shower. I’m not a big crier (this is not that kind of BookTok account). But I was so moved by her characters and the way she manifests the AIDS epidemic against the sweep of time and life.
…I recommend over and over again:
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (this is an Elizabeth Gilbert fan account). This is a fat, juicy, soulful, gorgeous historical novel with a flawed and vibrant heroine, a journey to Tahiti, and lots of moss (yes, moss!).
…shaped my worldview:
The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche. This is the book that made me start to consider how utterly ungovernable the ocean is and how much strange, shady, and dangerous stuff goes on out there, which has turned into a long-term preoccupation of mine.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
I was sitting on a series of airplanes, but The Third Pole by Mark Synnott: a fascinating historical-mystery-meets-modern-adventure book about Mt. Everest.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. Just kidding! No, maybe Bad Blood by John Carreyrou. It’s a gripping read (and recent grads deserve a little fun), but Carreyrou’s account of Elizabeth Holmes’s fraud and the whistleblowers who exposed it also holds about ethics and ambition and carefully calibrating one’s bs detector while building a career.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
…I last bought:
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton.
…has the best title:
Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, though I’d like to add an Oxford comma.
…has a sex scene that will make you blush:
Sabath’s Theater by Phillip Roth is wildly dirty throughout. I read it for a class in college, and, I’ll tell you, it was a challenge to discuss.
…I’ve re-read the most:
Not sure which one holds the title, but frequent re-reads include: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Possession by A.S. Byatt, One Day by David Nicholls, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
…I consider literary comfort food:
My re-reads are re-reads for a reason!
…I could only have discovered at…:
I bought the orange-and-white Penguin edition of The Secret History by Donna Tartt at a used bookshop in Bali pretty much at random (I liked the title). This was more than 10 years ago, and I’d somehow never heard of it. Then I spent the next few days binging it, feeling like the perfect book for the right moment had been magically tossed in my path.
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