Mary Laura Philpott is the best-selling author of I Miss You When I Blink. Her new memoir in essays, Bomb Shelter, prompted when her teenage son unexpectedly collapsed one morning, is about living joyously in the face of uncertainty.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)
Best novel ever? Maybe. Saddest? Definitely. I will forever be awestruck by how Ishiguro cuts right to the heart of the most haunting question: Why, oh why, can't love be enough to save someone? I also appreciate the hopeful truth he salvages from the tragic emotional wreckage. Even when all seems to be lost, it is never a futile act to care for one another. Buy it here.
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh (2013)
Experiencing this hilarious illustrated essay collection is like getting into a bumper car with a child behind the wheel: wild, unpredictable, and utterly thrilling. You'll end up laughing so hard you can't breathe. I envy anyone discovering it for the first time. Buy it here.
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (2020)
Normally, if you asked me, "Would you like to read a historical novel about Shakespeare's family and the plague?" I'd politely pass. But if it's by Maggie O'Farrell? That's an automatic yes. In her hands, this story about love and motherhood feels urgently relevant. It's a stunner. Buy it here.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
Didion's memoir dwells almost meditatively within an encapsulated experience — 12 months of grieving after her husband, John Gregory Dunne, died unexpectedly at the dinner table. It's impossible to forget bearing witness to her wishful disorientation, deep mourning, and joyful remembrance. Buy it here.
Notes on a Silencing by Lacy Crawford (2020)
Crawford's outstanding memoir, anchored in the traumatic experience of an assault when she was in boarding school, is a master class in how a true story can be delivered with all the literary artistry of the best novels. I couldn't put it down, and I think about it often. Buy it here.
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron (2006)
Ephron's essays are of a different time — it's funny how our language around aging and womanhood has evolved in less than two-decades — but her writing offers timeless lessons in observation, structure, and voice. Every time I revisit this one, it's still a hoot. Buy it here.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.