What to Read? Cheryl Strayed Recommends

Dear Reader,

The 2012 Discover Awards were presented last week at a private event in NYC; we’ve asked our finalists and winners to riff on the books they frequently recommend, and we’re running their responses on the Discover blog.

Cheryl Strayed’s unwavering honesty and compassionate, wry voice continue to resonate with readers everywhere. It’s no wonder that the 2012 Nonfiction judges gave first place to Wild, a compelling meditation on grief and an irresistible coming-of-age memoir. Cheryl was on the road talking with readers, so  Wendy McClure presented the 2012 Discover Award (nonfiction) to Cheryl’s editor, and this is in part what Wendy said: “Cheryl Strayed takes us through wrenching grief to the brink of her own life—and then into the wilderness. The journey that follows is so visceral and funny and exquisitely rendered that it reads like a love letter to the world (though of course the relationship is complicated). The gift of Wild is not just in the experiences we feel as deeply as our own, but in the discovery of an extraordinary writer.”

We asked Cheryl to tell us about the books she’s recommending now, and here’s her take on two memoirs — one that “provides much needed dimension and insight into the national conversation about immigration,” and another from a writer she describes as “daring, blunt, distinctive” — and two collections of oral histories that make her feel “altered for the better every time [she] read[s] them.”

The Distance Between Us
Reyna Grande

Reyna Grande’s poignant and deeply intelligent memoir The Distance Between Us, about growing up in Mexico with her grandparents while her parents worked in the United States is not only a great read, it also provides much-needed dimension and insight into the national conversation about immigration.

My Dark Places
James Ellroy

James Ellroy’s memoir about the unsolved murder of his mother and his complicated love for her is way up there on the list of my all-time favorite memoirs. He’s a brilliant writer—daring, blunt, and distinctive. Ellroy went all the way there in My Dark Places. It’s a devastatingly powerful read.

Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs
John Bowe, Marisa Bowe, and Sabin Streeter, editors


Us: Americans Talk About Love
John Bowe, editor

Both of these books are collections of oral histories that have been so masterfully recorded and edited that they read like great American literature. In Gig 126 people talk about the work they do and Us features 44 first-hand stories about love, but each book is really about what it means to be human. The sorrow, humor, beauty, humility, desperation, grace, wisdom and light is so enormous in each of these books that every time I read them I feel altered for the better.

Cheers, Miwa

Miwa Messer

Miwa Messer is the Director of the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers program, which was established in 1990 to highlight works of exceptional literary quality that might otherwise be overlooked in a crowded book marketplace. Titles chosen for the program are handpicked by a select group of our booksellers four times a year. Click here for submission guidelines.

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