Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (Random House, $16). A wrenching and emotional masterpiece about Iranian women who meet secretly every week in the home of Nafisi, their teacher, to read forbidden Western classics. This 2003 memoir made me reconsider basic premises of life, love, survival, and books. And I fell in love with the women.
Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford (NYRB Classics, $16). Sometimes a book makes me want to create the same giddy happiness for another reader that I had when reading it. Jessica, one of six sisters in an eccentric household (even by English standards), runs off to fight with the loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. Sister Diana marries a head of the British Nazi party; sister Unity is friends with Hitler. And it's funny.
How to Survive in Your Native Land by James Herndon (Heinemann, $30). The best book on educating children. Herndon is a great storyteller, and, as a teacher, he is a great student. I'll never forget the child who made a kite out of two-by-fours, and the kite flew.
Apples and Oranges by Marie Brenner (Picador, $15). I don't understand brothers and was still riveted by this deeply touching memoir about the death of the author's brother. This book is all about how siblings change and don't, connect and can't. People will be who they will be, even in the face of death.
The Color of Water by James McBride (Riverhead, $16). This story alternates between McBride's mother's life and his own. Ruth, white, born into an abusive Orthodox Jewish family in segregated Virginia, marries a black man in 1942 and has eight children who, she tells them, are "the color of water." Rarely has a son illuminated a mother with such sensitivity and honesty.
Among the Porcupines by Carol Matthau (out of print). Matthau, who's said to have been the model for Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's, writes here about her husbands, William Saroyan and Walter Matthau, and her best friends Gloria Vanderbilt, Oona O'Neill Chaplin, and Truman Capote. Her voice is original — wildly funny and shocking.