MR Book Club: 10 Books the Team Is Learning From Right Now

Reading is one activity for which the phrase “in a phase” is not a signal of impending failure. In this case, it’s an indicator of tangible success. After a particularly fruitful reading phase, you’ll more than likely come away with imaginary friends made, lessons learned, seeds of ideas planted or, at the very least, some much needed time away from blue-ass screens. Perhaps I’m biased toward this approach: I tend to read in spurts, and as much as I roll my eyes at the arbitrary “fresh start” provided by a new year, it does seem a good a time as any to kick off a new book binge. (Also, it’s cold as hell and binge-watching TV makes me feel like a sack of potatoes.)

So, whether you’re in the midst of a reading kick yourself, or are rested and ready to start a new one too, below are ten recommendations to dig into this season care of team Man Repeller (with the added bonus of whimsical Freakebana-inspired imagery created by Emily Zirmis and Edith Young). The books this round run the gamut: We’ve got sci-fi, self-help, a coming-of-age tale, a cookbook and plenty more. Scroll to see them all and then, as always, tell us yours.

Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles

Recommended by: Harling
Genre: Fiction
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: It’s a coming-of-age story intertwined with the tragic unraveling of a love triangle gone horribly wrong, set in depression-era Manhattan.
What made her love it: True to the purpose of Man Repeller’s addicting books open thread, this novel hooked me from the very first chapter — a rare feat. The characters are all sad and satisfying and surprising at the same time, and the dialogue is witty in a way that is deliberate but not annoying. I started reading it during my family vacation in Japan over Christmas and finished it in two days because I kept sneaking away to my room to tear through a few more chapters.
How she heard about it: Man Repeller’s addicting books open thread!

Invisible Influence

by Jonah Berger

Recommended by: Leandra
Genre: Psychology (non-fiction)
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: We think we’re sooooooo individual and make sooooooo many decisions for ourselves based on things that genuinely appeal to us, and maybe that is true, but why do those things appeal to us, pray tell? INVISIBLE INFLUENCE. [Cue The Devil Wears Prada monologue on cerulean blue.]
What made her love it: I’m a sucker for any piece of literature that will tell me why I am the way I am, but this one in particular is written with a tinge of a call to action as opposed to it just being swirly prose, so I found it really rewarding to be able to apply some of the learnings to the way in which I make decisions.
How she heard about it: TBH, I judged a book by its cover when I was at a Hudson Newsstand getting a 32 oz bottle of Essentia water (my 2018 resolution is to be really, really thorough!) in the airport before heading to Palm Beach for Thanksgiving. I bought it because I loved the way the white and red magnet on the cover looked against the blue background. But I knew I was in for something good as I had read Jonah Berger’s previous book, Contagious. That book totally took the notion of luck out of the equation for me when it comes trying to figure out why some products succeed and others don’t.

Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice For Creatives

by Adam J. Kurtz

Recommended by: Emily
 Advice/Self-Help (non-fiction)
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: During a time of peak media saturation, Adam’s book is the visually digestible, non-intimidating treat you didn’t realize you needed.
What made her love it: You can read it section by section or even page by page. The bold color palette contrasts the simple white-lined notepad paper on which he has inscribed life advice and tips in black marker. Section titles range from “Embrace Yourself” to “Nobody Cares,” and it’s highly relatable and will make you laugh, cry and feel less crazy than you think you are. You’re actually fine!
How she heard about it: via Adam’s Instagram! Which I highly recommend following if you don’t already.


by Leo Romero

Recommended by: Kate
Genre: Poetry
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: The collection of pieces follow Celso from child to old man in his rural town. The stories are simple and vivid and witty and sad and magical and stick with you.
What made her love it: The first piece I fell in love with is, “The Dead Have No Eyes With Which To Cry,” but each time I re-read the book another story stands out and I think about it for days. It’s filled with skeleton people and shadow gardens and bags of kittens. Sometimes Celso seems wretched, sometimes I pity him, sometimes I laugh with him, sometimes I see myself.
How she heard about it: My partner and I have been visiting Leo at Books of Interest in Santa Fe for years before finding Celso there; for all the hours we’d spent pouring over rare books and finding treasures on the shelves, I had no idea Leo was a writer. N.B. to anyone near Santa Fe or passing through, I highly recommend a stop at Books of Interest. Tell Leo I say hi!

Mating in Captivity

by Esther Perel

Recommended by: Haley (me)
Genre: Sex/Love (non-fiction)
Synopsis that won’t give way the plot: In Mating in Captivity, author/sex therapist/dream human Esther Perel explores the common belief that passion tapers off over the course of sustained, long-term monogamy. But the book’s not really about marriage, it’s about sex, love and all the ways modern culture bring them together. She weaves in tons of patient anecdotes and shows the cracks in our culture’s logic.
What made me love it: As I mentioned in this piece about “keeping the mystery alive,” Perel’s thoughtful and critical commentary on today’s sexual culture made my stomach drop over and over. She is somehow both bitingly honest and gentle all at once, turning over stones I’d never thought to look at. It’s a quick and easy read, but it definitively changed the way I think about sex and love.
How I heard about it: Through Esther Perel’s podcast, “Where Should We Begin.”

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

by adrienne maree brown

Recommended by: Patty
Genre: Social Science
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: In adrienne’s words, “Emergent Strategy is how we intentionally change in ways that grow our capacity to embody the just and liberated worlds we long for.”
What made her love it: It’s teaching me how to learn with enthusiasm, and how to follow questions with more questions. To start small and go deep.
How she heard about it: After listening to adrienne’s interview on The Call with Erica Williams Simon, I began listening to her podcast “How to Survive the End of the World” (HIGHLY recommend) with her sister Autumn, and ordered this book. I feel like I’m following a curriculum of sorts, with adrienne’s kind but powerful guidance.


by Octavia Butler

Recommended by: Patty
Genre: Sci-Fi
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: Dana, a black writer living in Los Angeles with her husband, is repeatedly pulled back in time to save her ancestor Rufus, a white slave-owner in the antebellum South.
What made her love it: I’ve never experienced writing like this or storytelling like this. I couldn’t put it down, and I was completely transported as soon as I began reading.
How she heard about it: Part of the curriculum from adrienne maree brown that I mentioned in my last recommendation!

The Mothers

by Brit Bennett

Recommended by: Ashley
Genre: Fiction
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: The story follows two unlikely friends through the summer after high school, into college, and through their adult lives. It explores their relationships with their mothers, the church mothers who are always around, and their own feelings towards motherhood.
What made her love it: This book is able to capture so much of the emotion and uncertainty that comes with early adulthood. I was most enthralled by the main character’s tether to her hometown combined with her desire to see the world.
How she heard about it: I was at the airport and I judged the book by its cover.

Little Black Book

by Otegha Uwagba

Recommended by: Amelia
Genre: (Creative-leaning) Career Self-Help
Synopsis that won’t give way the plot: The book offers bite-sized bits of career advice, from productivity to salary negotiation to freelancer-specific tips. I would give this book to a college graduate who’s looking to enter the “creative field” or a friend making the switch from full time, on-staff employee to that freelance life.
What made her love it: Chapter 5, which is about getting paid what you deserve, and Chapter 6, what Uwagba calls “Freelancer Finances”: these are the kinds of things I wish I had learned in college before entering the workforce.
How she heard about it: The author, Otegha Uwagba, writes for Man Repeller!

The Doctor’s Kitchen

by Rupy Aujla

Recommended by: Jasmin
Food, Wellness, Science, Life Advice — the whole shebang
Synopsis that won’t give away the plot: 100 healthy recipes that actually taste good!
What made her love it: Well firstly, my brother wrote it, and there’s a marinara sauce recipe named after me so what’s not to love? On a genuine, semi-non-biased level, it’s an incredibly thoughtful account of how to truly view food as medicine and the importance good nutrition plays in our well-being. I’ve seen the effects of it firsthand with both my mum and brother healing themselves from very serious illnesses through a complete overhaul of their diets, routines and overall lifestyles. It’s also packed with very delicious recipes and I know they’re good because I taste-tested a lot of them before they went into the book.

How she heard about it: Some guy with the same surname as me mentioned it once.

Photos by Edith Young. Freakebana by Emily Zirimis. 

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  • Julia

    Love your book recommendations, always a treat!

    On another note, this reminds me of the series you did at the start of 2017, following women and their resolutions. Can we get a final follow-up article on them pretty please?

  • Adrianna

    Rules of Civility was the perfect vacation read across several airports, planes, and hotels.

    I loved The Mothers. Happy to see it featured on MR.

    Life Advice For Creatives: Highly recommend The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

  • Nice, thank you! 🙂

    Been reading 1491 these days – it was on my amazon wishlist and I may or may not have mentioned to my husband he could chose any book from the list when wandering what to get me for b-day, xmas & Co. Great reading and loads of useful theories about the Americas just before Uncle Columbus arrived….

  • Autumn

    First book I read this year was ‘Girl Logic’ by comedian Iliza Shlesinger. She explains and expounds upon how women use “girl logic” to make decisions every day by thinking of every possible outcome. It’s a quick, easy read and actually makes a lot of sense. Plus I just really like Iliza – she’s all about empowering women

  • Emily M

    Jasmin hyping up her brother’s cookbook is the cutest thing!!! I want to buy it and cook everything.

    • Jasmin Aujla

      I can’t recommend the marinara sauce enough 🙂

  • Kay Nguyen

    Interesting picks! I will have to check them out, thanks for sharing <3

  • Beatriz Medeiros

    I’m sorry, but I can’t help to say: Jasmin’s brother is SO HANDSOME! Great family!

    • Jasmin Aujla

      haha I’ll let him know 🙂

    • Betsy

      I immediately noticed the handsome guy before I noticed the title. But with a husband and two kids that I’m always trying to find new ways to feed healthy food – I’m getting that book!

    • Alexia

      Was about to say the same!

    • Rosemary

      omg yes! and he shares the love of one of my favorite subjects: food science!

    • Hil

      We were all thinking it

  • Juliana Salazar

    visuals!! gr8 freakebana

  • Aleda Johnson

    I feel like a failure as an adult because I don’t read these very thought-provoking, self-reflective books. I’m all science fiction, fantasy and romance.

    “Kindred” is definitely going on my list though.

    • Patty Carnevale


    • Cristina

      Oh, this is literally me every time MR does book recs and out of them all I just added Kindred to my list hahahaa! I’m over here like, finishing Fitness Junkie and Eleanor Oliphant lol!

    • Rosemary

      Lol I feel this, I’m actually going through and rereading all my childhood favorites right now! Roald Dahl, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Artemis Fowls…so many “children’s” books are really ageless.

      • Natalie Schulte

        Rosemary — I absolutely love children’s literature! I go back and forth between psychology/self-help books and young adult/children’s fiction. My favorites are Wonder: a book about compassion from the point of view of a young boy entering school for the first time living with a facial deformity, Peter and the Starcatchers: how Peter Pan became Peter Pan (I really love the first book but am not in love with the sequels, the So You Want to Be a Wizard series: a fun, alternative take on young wizards, and The Golden Compass series (movie was TERRIBLE)!

        • Aydan

          I re-read my tamora pierce’s when I go to my parents house! They asked me recently if they should donate them to which I said HARD NO!

        • Rosemary

          Oh my goodness I loved Peter and the Starcatchers!!!

  • Alexia

    Harling—if you ever get the chance to see Amor Towles for a book signing/talk, go! I went to see him at the National Book Fest and it was such a treat. He’s very funny in person.

  • hawap

    Rules of Civility kicked off my summer reading and god it was such a treat. Its on my nightstand again, it makes a great snow day read in the bath too

  • coffeebee

    I haven’t read the text yet – I’m too distracted by the beautiful and quirky photo styling. LOVE! Nice job, Edith. I’d buy a print of the main photo up top.

    • Teresa

      that’s what i thought when i saw it!!

  • mags

    My Way of Life by Joan Crawford!!
    Genre: autobiography/self help?/neuroticism
    Synopsis: How to do *everything* The Correct Way according to Joan Crawford. How to clean, how to dress, how to eat and, yes, how to properly hang your clothes.
    What made me love it: There is something incredibly freeing about reading a book full of advice that you know you will absolutely never take….partly because you can’t afford to hire someone to help fluff pillows before a party, but mostly because said advice borders on psychopathy. Her level of productivity is oddly motivating, but mostly it’s just interesting to see her very strict rules for living a life not entirely grounded in reality.

    • doladex

      I love this review and just read it out loud to my boyfriend.

  • Holland Kennedy

    yay for book recs!

  • Cristina

    Patty- Kindred, thank you! I want to branch out into other genre’s this year and that sounds RIVETING. Checking the library for that this evening!

  • Georgia Booth

    I bought The Secret History after seeing it on the MR Most Addicting Books list, finished it 4 days and honestly don’t know if I will ever be the same.

  • Kalei Buczek

    10,000 bonus points for mention of #freakebana

  • Loved this post, and there are some interesting books i’m Going to checkout!!

  • Sarah

    Addictive, easy crime reads: Jane Harper’s two books The Dry and Force of Nature. They are very Australian and contain the best descriptions of Australia’s environment.
    Beautiful writing: All the light we cannot see – Anthony Doerr. I’m half way through and it’s amazing!
    Science / psychology: Don’t even think about it – George Marshall. Another current read that I’m finding really informative and eye-opening.

  • Alicia Celeste

    yea if Dr. Rupy Aujla does not go viral then I don’t know what this world is anymore.

  • Dale Chong

    Just added all of these to my goodreads account.

  • LaurenG

    I have always been jealous of the book covers in the US/UK. In France, book covers are all the same and annoyingly boring. Buying a book solely based on the cover is nearly impossible. I wish French editors would realize that if the libraries were not packed with books looking all the same more people might come in there and actually buy more books!

    And also books with nice covers can easily be used as a good decoration objects, so often I’ve been wanting to throw away my whole book collection cause they look so boring in my room, but then again I love them too much, could never do that to them!

  • More book recommendations like this! As someone who adds books to Goodreads on a weekly basis (also picked Emergent Strategy and couple of others from this list) I love hearing what people read.

    I think that with books, timing is everything. When you find a book that perfectly matches your ‘current persona’ (or something like that), it feels so so amazing. I had such a moment with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens a couple of years ago. My current 20th century history phase goes perfectly hand in hand with a book I’m just reading called In Europe by Geert Mak. He spent the year 1999 criss-crossing Europe, tracing the history of the century. I’m only on page 230 (out of 830) but so far it’s super fascinating!

  • Annie O

    You guys have the most reliable book recommendations. Thank you. Can you just start putting out monthly playlists too so you can fully curate my life?

  • Sooooo interested in reading Kurtz’s book! I read one of his previous books, One Page at a Time, and absolutely loved it. It’s SO hard to not feel suffocated and overwhelmed by everything coming at us all the time, but focusing on our own creativity is key!

  • I read the Mothers!!! LOVE LOVE LOVED it. Great recommendation.

    I did a post on the 50 books I read last year, if anyone is looking for good reads.

  • Chloe

    Adding so many of these to my list! All of them sound so interesting.

    Right now, I’m reading “The Book of Joy” with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. WOW. I figured it would be a fun read, but it is so so so exciting, soul-opening, and affirming. I’m taking a deep dive into Archbishop Tutu’s works after this because he is even more spectacular than I thought. The way he discusses forgiveness is really wonderful and something we all need to hear.

  • Genevieve

    A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is MUCH MUCH better than The Rules of Civility! His use of storytelling language has improved so much and it doesn’t meander at all as much as his first novel. It could be because I super love Russian history, especially revolution-era Russia, but it’s so great!