10 Books That Celebrate Mundanity and the Everyday
I like a book with an absolutely wild plot as much as the next person. That’s one of the great things about books, right? They let us experience some truly unbelievable things, like falling in love on Jupiter or exploring a network of ancient sea caves with a snarky robot sidekick. But sometimes it’s nice to read about ordinary stuff. Boring stuff. Everyday stuff. Sometimes it’s not only satisfying, but downright illuminating, and even world-expanding, to read books that celebrate mundanity. Sometimes you just want to read about your life reflected back to you. And sometimes, reading books like that, something magical happens: you realize something about your life or the world; you make connections you would not have made reading a book about space unicorns or climbing Mt. Everest.
These 10 books — both fiction and nonfiction (and poetry!) — celebrate the everyday. They’re about ordinary things: working in the garden, cooking dinner with your partner, hanging out with friends after a long day. Most of them are not focused on plot, but instead, on the little details that define our lives. There’s a story collection about everyday life in Botswana and one about everyday life in New York City. There are two nonfiction books about diaries and journaling. There’s a novel about sisters that unfolds in a series of breathtaking — and ordinary — scenes.
If you’re looking for adventure, these aren’t the books for you. But if you’re looking for quiet beauty, glorious detail, and books that tell it like it is, you’d better make some space on your TBR.
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
Ross Gay celebrates the everyday like few other poets I know. In this collection, he writes about gardens and fig trees, compost and cooking, orchards and porch-sitting and music — all the big and little details that make our lives meaningful. It’s a warm and bighearted book, a joyful ode to nature and community. It’s all the more beautiful for Gay’s honesty; he doesn’t ignore the hard, sad truths of the everyday, but weaves these into his poems, too — everyday grief inextricably linked with everyday joy.
Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith
This graphic novel is a collection of interconnected vignettes about four Black best friends and their hair care routines. Each story revolves around a different character, and though the action is centered on/begins with hair care, it doesn’t end there. The stories are about dating, friendship, work, mental health, and more. It’s a joyful, vulnerable, honest book, one of those rare slice-of-life comics that feels perfectly ordinary, but also revelatory. Smith’s artwork is gorgeous — especially the care she takes with the details of all the characters’ different hair, hair care products, and washing routines.
Las Biuty Queens by Iván Monalisa Ojeda
In these linked short stories, Ojeda brings a vibrant community of trans women, mostly sex workers and Latine immigrants, to life. Don’t pick up this book if you’re looking for plot. Do pick it up if you’re looking for a beautiful meditation on everyday moments. Ojeda’s characters go to work, complain, hang out in each other’s apartments, attend the funerals of friends, comfort each other after heartbreak, get in petty arguments, wander around the city. He/she captures everyday moments with exquisite care and detail.
Call and Response by Gothataone Moeng
There’s something about the short story form that welcomes a celebration of mundanity and the everyday. These stories, set in Botswana, follow characters going about their lives: they fall in and out of love, navigate hookups, get into arguments with their spouses, and ponder how to take care of aging family members. The collection as a whole is quiet and deeply steeped in place. Most of the stories aren’t centered on major life-changing events, but instead illuminate the ins and outs of daily life.
Ongoingness by Sarah Manguso
What is more mundane than keeping a daily record of your life, in all its endless, repetitive detail? Anyone who’s ever kept a diary will relate to this fascinating book about journal-writing. After the birth of her son, Manguso’s relationship with her diary suddenly changed. She no longer felt compelled to write down every detail of every day, and began to wonder, instead, if there was any point to recording her life at all. In this short book, she explores her diary and her relationship to it throughout her life. It’s a smart, moving, open-ended essay about what it means to not only celebrate the ordinary, but to record it.
The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr
This book doesn’t exactly celebrate the everyday — it’s really about the terrors of the everyday — but I had to include it because Mayr writes about the ordinary with astonishing precision. Set on a train hurtling across Canada in the 1920s, the story follows Baxter, a sleeping car porter trying to save up enough money to realize his dream of going to dentistry school. The bulk of the book consists of Baxter doing his job: turning down berths, fetching drinks, watching towels. He also encounters everyday racism and endless microaggressions from passengers. The result is a book that’s claustrophobic and haunting; the tension between Baxter’s rich internal life and the monotony of his job is almost unbearable to read at times.
Fair Play by Tove Jansson
If you like books where nothing happens, this novel is for you. Mari and Jonna, a writer and an artist, are a couple who live on opposite sides of an apartment block in Helsinki, their homes connected via a passage through the attic. They do art. They watch movies and talk about them. They have friends over for dinner. They bicker. They clean. They rearrange the paintings on their walls. In the summers, they visit their tiny cabin on a remote island, where they watch the storms and take walks. Don’t be deceived by all this ordinariness — Jansson is a talented writer, and none of it is boring. It’s a beautiful and moving portrait of a decades-long partnership.
Aug 9—Fog by Kathryn Scanlan
I read this slim book in about 15 minutes, and I am still amazed by how deeply it moved me. Scanlan found this five-year diary at an estate sale and felt a certain kinship to it. The diary was written by a women in her eighties, in a small town in Illinois, between 1968-1972. Scanlan spent years rereading and rereading it; this book is a kind of reworking/erasure poem of the original diary. It’s composed of short fragments about the dairy-writer’s life: the weather, the health of her family members, what she was eating, and dozens of other boring and seemingly unimportant details. I really can’t explain why this this book feels so magical, except to say that maybe it speaks to the everyday inside all of us. So much of our lives is made up of boring stuff. There’s something soothing about seeing that validated in print.
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
This novel, about three Nigerian women, a mother and her twin daughters, and their complicated relationships with each other in the wake of trauma, isn’t about the everyday. There’s a lot of plot. But it celebrates the everyday like few novels do. Ekwuyasi writes ordinary scenes so true and vivid and intense that I can still see them in my mind, years after reading this book. The heart of this story is in the quiet scenes — cooking breakfast for a new lover, the bustle of a restaurant kitchen, sitting on a fire escape with friends, a long walk through unfamiliar city streets. It’s these masterfully crafted scenes of everyday life that give the book its emotional heft.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka
This is another book that isn’t exactly about the ordinary — it’s about what happens when a mysterious, unexplained crack appears at the bottom of a community pool. But like Ekwuyasi, Otsuka celebrates the ordinary. The first section, told in the second person collective POV, is an ode to swimming, a creative exploration of all the mundane reasons that people show up, day after day, to swim laps in their neighborhood pools. You don’t have to be a swimmer to appreciate this novel — the way Otsuka writes about swimming translates to just about anything that people love, and do day in and day out, and bond over.
If you enjoy books that celebrate everyday, ordinary life, you might also like these plotless books, or these nonfiction deep dives into the ordinary.