raison d'être

Recommending books is an art that too few people have mastered, because it’s easy to ignore all of the moving pieces involved. Who are you recommending the book to? What are they going through, if anything, in their life right now? Is this book for a vacation, a palette cleanser, an interstitial, a salve, a subtweet, the gym, or a book club? Is it better as an e-book or a book book? And, the most underrated and overlooked item: how should the book be read? Is there a kind of caveat emptor with the book, like maybe “don’t read this book late at night” (Night Film) or “what happens on page 100 is traumatizing enough that you won’t want to pick this book back up for years but KEEP GOING” (hi, me with Kite Runner) or “you have to read it in three-hour increments otherwise you’re totally lost”?

The unspoken truth of reading is this: you may know how to read, but that doesn’t mean you know how to read the book in front of you. Because every book deserves to and should be read differently. In an effort to help each of us learn this skill, I went through some of the books I’ve read in the past year or so and detailed how best to read them.1

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

This is a book that is best read quickly. Not to say you should skim it, but the information relayed in the pages will gel a lot better if you take more of it in at a time. And Aziz is so funny and earnest throughout that it’s quite hard to put down anyways. Also, if you haven’t already watched Aziz Ansari Live at Madison Square Garden on Netflix, do that. There are lots of tie-ins and echoes with the book that highlight how smart and thoughtful he was about his research, with the added bonus of it being hilarious.

E-book or book book? Either, to be honest, but if you are a single millennial you’re gonna want a hard copy to keep as a desk reference/Bible.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Another one that should be read quickly, but only because it’s literally impossible to put down. Also, if you had a time machine and could travel back to six months ago before this book blew up and was everywhere and all anyone could talk about, that would help. Read it with the knowledge that Emily Blunt is in talks to play the lead role, so shape your mental image of the protagonist accordingly.

E-book or book book? E-book.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

I read this book at the gym on my iPad and it made for some very intellectually stimulating steady-state cardio. I don’t know if I would necessarily recommend this strategy, but only because I know not everyone can or does read at the gym. This is one to have as your book on the side, like the book you cheat on other, more involved books with. Essay collections are easy like that: you can come and go as you please, no strings attached, no plot threads to follow. It also helps to have Google nearby, because Roxane loves herself a good pop culture reference.

E-book or book book? Either, but I’d lean more towards book book since this is really something you want on your shelf for people to see and think: oh, this person is on top of their feminist pop culture.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Read this book very deliberately and diligently. Take your time with it, but not too much time that you lose interest/start to confuse all the characters/get bogged down in the existential hubris of it. I found it best to read this book in large chunks of time; this helped me sync up with the book’s rhythms and also fully immerse myself in its world. Also, the last 200 or so pages are so unbelievably bloated that you shouldn’t feel bad about using them as an excuse to perfect your speed-reading skills. I know I did.

E-book or book book? Book book, because this is something you want to read out in public at a café so everyone can see you reading it and be impressed with your erudite, worldly taste.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This is a fine wine kind of book. You read it slowly, you savor the shit out of it, you hang off of every word Mandel writes like it’s the last breath of clean air you’re ever going to take. And then you go and read everything else she’s ever written, because she’s just that good.

E-book or book book? I suppose it doesn’t matter.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Read it quickly, because the movie featuring Matt Damon as the eponymous Martian comes out on October 2nd and also because it’s pretty unputdownable. That being said, there’s a ridiculous amount of unintelligible SCIENCE! exposition that is impenetrable to the layreader so be aware: there are entire paragraphs your eyes can slide right over and not miss anything plot-related.

E-book or book book? E.

#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso

Best read as a female (or someone who identifies as such) and with a pen in hand. This book was surprisingly acute and very funny; don’t be afraid to let your marginalia freak flag fly. Read it as a main book or a side book, but, as with most motivational/business books, it’s easy to overdose on the self-help, so moderate accordingly.

E-book or book book? I’d say book book just because, as I said, this is one you are probably going to want to annotate.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

If you’re interested in being ahead of the curve in terms of the next big YA novel, then acquire and osmose this book as soon as possible. This is best read on lazy days with no plans or desire to have plans because I guarantee you those plans won’t happen if you pick this book up. However, be prepared: it’s the first book of a trilogy (because of course it is), so commitment and patience are required. Additionally, any knowledge of classical mythology is a bonus and will color in the book’s universe considerably. And once you’re done, feel free to dive right into the sequel, Golden Son. On second thought, maybe just buy both of them at the same time.

E-book or book book? E-book, not least of which because I know how some of you feel about reading YA books in public.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Another one where a time machine would be helpful, except have it take you back all the way to May of last year. This book just won the Pulitzer a couple of months ago, so it’s not so much how you read it but just that you read it. Ignore the fact that it’s another WWII novel, because lord knows how many of those we’ve all read. Read it slowly and then all at once. Proceed to tell everyone you know about it.

E-book or book book? Either.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Speaking of WWII novels, this is a nonfiction book that sneaks up on you. You see that cover and you think: eh, looks kinda milquetoast-y. Don’t let its genericness fool you though: this is not an easy book to read. It is graphic and brutal and there is bestiality and torture and starvation. This is one of those books where you want so badly to keep reading because it’s so good but you actually physically have to stop because your body and brain cannot handle it anymore. Take breaks when you read this, especially breaks that involve copious amounts of food, hydration, and cozy shelter. And maybe don’t see the movie, because some things you just don’t need to see on a big screen.

E-book or book book? E.


There is a very real difference between knowing how to read in general versus knowing how to read the book you’re reading. Because books are like people, you know? The way every human has the same biological make-up of cells and bone and blood, all books have the same basic elements—words and punctuation and plot and pages and covers. But just like how we are all individual, beautiful little snowflakes, so too are books. We should try to read them as such.