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.
by Amor Towles
Recommended by: Harling
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!
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.
by Adam J. Kurtz
Recommended by: Emily
Genre: 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
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!
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.”
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
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!
by Brit Bennett
Recommended by: Ashley
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.
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!
by Rupy Aujla
Recommended by: Jasmin
Genre: 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.