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.
How’s this for a birthday present: The publication of Phoebe Robinson’s first title on her Tiny Reparations Books imprint, Please Don’t Sit on My Bed In Your Outside Clothes, is out next week on September 28, the day she turns 37. (Here’s the book’s playlist.)
The Cleveland-raised Brooklynite is the author of Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay and the NYT-bestselling You Can’t Touch My Hair and co-created the 2 Dope Queens podcast-turned-show. She’s on Comedy Central with her series Doing the Most with Phoebe Robinson (the first show from her Tiny Reparations production company) and on HBO Max this fall with her comedy special, New Me, Same Trash Jokes.
She can’t drive, did a tandem swing off a bridge above Victoria Falls in Zambia (even though she’s afraid of heights), wants a tattoo, likes giving advice (hence her Black Frasier podcast), took screenwriting at Pratt, once worked as a receptionist at New Line Cinema and executive assistant at IAC, was in a Madewell campaign and Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” video, and hosted events for Michelle Obama’s Becoming tour and fulfilled her dream of getting on the Obama Christmas card list.
Likes: U2 (20 concerts across continents), late ’90s/early aughts rock music, pussy bows, vintage, Lorraine West jewelry, Oaxaca Taqueria, Peloton, and When Harry Met Sally. We’ll have what she’s reading.
The book that:
…kept me up way too late:
The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris. Such strong writing, riveting, and highly enjoyable. I stayed up until about 3 A.M. reading this one. It’s a page turner, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Zakiya writes next.
…I recommend over and over again:
Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. It’s a great book, quick read, really digs into the nuances of classism as well as microaggressions. Love, love, love it!
…made me rethink a long-held belief:
Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. Perfectionism is a mofo, so having the reasoning behind why perfectionism exists and how it harms rather than helps was great.
…I swear I’ll finish one day:
Barack Obama’s The Promised Land. Listen, y’all, it’s like 730 pages long and in small font. And I know when the book came out, everyone was on social media talking about how they read it, and I was like, “…but did you really?” Some of those folks were lying! Lol. Straight up. They did not read a 700+ page book. My goal is to read it over Christmas when I’m left alone and don’t have to work for a couple of weeks.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong. Did not get up from couch, did not stop for lunch. I plowed through that sucker like my life depended on it. Timely, impactful, and perfect writing. Love this book!
…currently sits on my nightstand:
The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit. I really enjoy her work and her examination of feminist, well, human issues. About halfway through this book, and it has not disappointed. Trying to slow down so I can savor it.
…I’d pass onto a kid:
Hands down would be Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. My niece is seven, and I think this short collection of poems would only add to her bold sense of self.
…I’d gift to a new graduate:
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. A must-read book that helped me understand introverts better, recognize the introverted parts of myself, and is such a thorough examination of how society has been shaped by the allegiance to extroverted personalities in good ways and bad.
…made me laugh out loud:
Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. She’s really smart, very creative, and knows how to tell a joke. She always makes me laugh.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America by Marcia Chatelain. I knew absolutely nothing about the impact of McDonald’s on the Black community both socially and politically. There were so many moments when my jaw dropped while reading this that I think this would make for a fantastic docuseries.
…I last bought:
A Manual For Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. I never feel as though I read enough short story collections, so when this was recommended to me while I was online book shopping, I had to get it. Cannot wait to read it.
…has the best title:
Well, I hate to label things as “best” because I don’t find it all that productive, but I’m a titles person. Anything that’s hooky and grabs attention as a title thrills me. I came across Esmé Weijun Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias. It’s such a perfect title that I bought it without reading what it was about. It’s on my “to be read” pile, which, to be honest, is growing by the day, ha.
…should be on every college syllabus:
Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin. We live in world that likes easy explanations (i.e. this person is good at xyz because they were born that way), and I believe that summing up folks and talent that way does a disservice to people and actually prevents them from living up to their potential or striving for something in the first place. All young people should read this so they truly architect the lives they want.
…features the coolest book jacket:
Black Girl, Call Home by Jasmine Mans. I loooooove the cover. Very simple. The back of a Black girl’s head. She’s wearing cornrows and barrettes. Took me back to when I was a little girl, but even if I didn’t have the personal connection, it’s a stop-you-in-your-tracks-image.
…everyone should read:
A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes. I learned so much about the history of the police in America and how they can be used as a tool to enforce systemic racism and the toll it has taken. This is a book you won’t be able to put down.
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