Often at the end of the year, we ask literary experts to suggest books for you to read. But, as many of us are readers ourselves, we decided to make the suggestions more personal. The following books have changed the way members of our team think. They’ve influenced the way we consider issues big and small, given us a deeper appreciation for a culture we’re not a part of ourselves and encouraged us to consider a topic we hadn’t really thought about before.
What books have changed how you think? Share them with us in the comments or online with the hashtag #WAMUBooks.
This is the kind of book where you find yourself reading and re-reading passages because the prose is so breathtakingly beautiful and at the same time strikingly resonant and true. It follows main characters Rabih and Kristen from their first meeting to courtship, marriage and parenthood using both perspectives which are at times bitterly opposed and at others, romantically aligned. Interspersed through the fictional story are philosophical passages on the common experiences and emotions we all have throughout a relationship that made me rethink the reasons why we do what we do when becoming romantically involved. – Avery Kleinman
This beautifully written novel about a woman who disguises herself as a Union soldier in the Civil War looks and reads like a diary. The heroine, Ash, leaves her husband to fight, but her brutal adventures though the Civil War landscape leave readers with more questions than answers. Why would a 19th century housewife take on such danger? What’s motivating her? This intimate yet sparse novel, inspired by a true story, redefined for me how great Civil War tales can be told. – Elizabeth Weinstein
This book is both beautifully written (it won the Pulitzer) and incredibly powerful as a profile of an extraordinary doctor who transformed not only the approach to treating disease in Haiti but the entire field of global health. Tracy Kidder’s writing is subtle enough to make the story inspiring without being insufferable. Also, the book slips some critical history in there. You’ll never see the poverty and devastation in Haiti the same way once you understand how the U.S. is implicated in the country’s troubles. – Ingalisa Schrobsdorff
The celebrity chef memoir may be totally overdone, but Baohaus’ Eddie Huang is not your typical fame-hungry celebrity, and even he wouldn’t characterize himself as a chef. Riddled with slang inspired by a love for hip hop, Huang’s memoir is just pitch-perfect storytelling of his coming of age as a Chinese-Taiwanese American. If you think you understand the “first generation immigrant experience,” forget it, and read this book. – Ruth Tam
This story of a mother, daughter and the cultural chasm between them explores class, trauma and the very nature of success. Strout provides perspective on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, poverty and the distance that can divide people under the same roof so adeptly in this slim volume. It’s a story whose characters will stay with you for a long time. – Tayla Burney
Some of the scenes in this book still haunt me. The reporting provides an honest and unflinching view of the human consequences of global economic forces. As reporters and writers go, Katherine Boo is a superhero – she’s incredible. – Michael Martinez
I don’t like long, family sagas with too many characters to keep track of, I don’t care for novels in a series and I prefer spare prose and concise, beautiful writing. Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels are all the things I should dislike, and I couldn’t stop reading them. This story of the friendship of two Neapolitan girls from poverty-stricken childhood through old age is captivating and impossible to resist. – Ingalisa Schrobsdorff
This book made me understand the horror of the seemingly unending conflict in Syria in a much more personal, complex way. The author, a war correspondent, shares stories from the front lines of the war, and we meet young soldiers and families ripped apart by the conflict. Plus, the author was interviewed on WAMU by Diane Rehm
. – Avery Kleinman
This non-fiction novel continues to be one of my all-time favorites because it’s a masterful example of what great journalism and gripping storytelling can be. Who knew you could create a page turner out of archival research on Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair and the bloody doings of a twisted sociopath? Caught up in Larson’s jaw-dropping tale are celebrities including Buffalo Bill Cody, Frederick Law Olmsted and Susan B. Anthony. – Elizabeth Weinstein
This collection of essays on race and gender in America is striking as it’s simultaneously funny and profound. Phoebe Robinson deftly navigates readers through everything from her thoughts on why Lisa Bonet is queen of all things to what it’s like to be the only black person in a room when slavery comes up. Robinson is both hilarious and fearless. – Tayla Burney
Who writes to the president and why? Washington Post writer –and master of the longform nonfiction narrative– Eli Saslow goes into a deep dive of 10 Americans and the circumstances that compelled them to write to President Obama. Saslow’s book not only gave me real-life insight into the biggest issues that surfaced during the 2016 presidential election, but it also challenged my thinking on the difficulties leaders face in connecting with their constituents. – Ruth Tam
When I finished reading this book in 3rd grade, I felt like I had just climbed Mount Everest. I had just gone on a giant adventure, and I wanted more. My love of books and everything I’ve ever gotten from it started with Roald Dahl, and it started with this book in particular. – Michael Martinez