Even the heaviest library user will tell you that there are some books that are so good, you have to own them. For me, this usually comes after I have checked out a book from the library, sometimes just once—often many times—until I wear my frugality down and buy it.
There’s a comfort in owning a book that’s so packed with information or inspiration that you’ll reach for it again and again. Some books I have purchased many times, lending them to friends and never getting them back. When a book is that good, I’m happy to spread it out in the world and purchase another copy (okay, “happy” might be an overstatement. But I won’t complain about it too loudly or for too long). I’d like to believe the book not-returners are as besotted as I am with it and either can’t let the book go or are passing it on.
Here are 5 books that I must have in my book collection at all times.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Rereading a book does not necessarily mean you are soothed by it. As a white person, reading Between the World and Me was an uncomfortable experience: alternately horrifying, tragic, and illuminating. While it’s a slim book, the 176 page treatise is a crucial commentary on race in America and how it’s been used to enslave, exploit, and marginalize black Americans. Coates is a masterful writer, deftly contextualizing huge issues around systematic racism. You don’t even have to take my word for it, Toni Morrison called Between the World and Me “required reading.” Would Toni Morrison lead you astray?
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
This is the book I was thinking about when I mentioned book-stealers. So many people have nabbed this book from me since it’s release in 2014. The reason I can’t be mad at the aforementioned book-stealers is because I get it. It’s a great book. Roxane Gay is an amazing person and excellent writer. Bad Feminist allows you to live inside Gay’s head for a little bit—from her take on The Hunger Games to rape culture. I return to this book when I want something simultaneously thought-provoking, inspiring, and often very funny. Gay reminds us that no one is a perfect feminist. All we can do is continue to look at the world around us with humor, compassion, and an unwaveringly critical eye.
On Writing by Stephen King
I am extremely picky when it comes to writing manuals or anything that masquerades as such. This snobbery is likely the result of having read On Writing before getting my hands on any other books in the same vein. Simply put, On Writing is one of the best. Half instructional, half memoir, King demonstrates how he became the best-selling writer he is today. As someone who loves some things King has written but can’t stomach the majority of it (because I am a baby and will need to sleep with the lights on if I read something like Misery), I can assure you that this book is for King aficionados and novices alike. As King says, “writing is not life, but I think it can be a way back to life.” For those who agree, this is a must read.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Tiny Beautiful Things is the book version of the perfect big sister/favorite aunt. I’m a sucker for advice columns but this book is so. much. more. than a collection of advice columns. It is a phenomenally compassionate kick in the ass. It is full of universally good advice but more important, it’s a meditation on how we should treat ourselves and other human beings. Strayed offers lessons on growing up, on learning that sometimes bad things happen to good people and figuring out how to accept that challenging reality. It is a book of average size that is very much a big, beautiful thing. It’s also a fantastic going away to college/congratulations on your new career/massive life change gift.
The Chronology of Water by Lidia Yuknavich
I don’t know why I checked this out from the library so many times before realizing I could just buy it and have it forever. Perhaps Yuknavitch’s prose stunned me into a mind-numbing irrationality. It sounds hyperbolic but if you’ve read The Chronology of Water, you’ll know what I mean. Yuknavitch weaves vivid prose throughout her essays in a way that makes them achingly beautiful and painfully raw. I had to buy this book because every time I returned it to the library I felt a pang of loss, like I was giving up something precious before I was ready. Any overdue charges I incurred would be a small price to pay if I could just hang on to the book for a few more days. Now that I own it, it’s never far out of reach.