Rebecca Makkai

Rebecca Makkai

Pulitzer & Nat'l Book Award finalist, winner of ALA Carnegie Medal for THE GREAT BELIEVERS. Artistic Director at @storystudio. She/her. Daughter of a refugee.


20+ Book Recommendations by Rebecca Makkai

  • Great Circle

    Maggie Shipstead

    "Relentlessly exciting . . . My top recommendation for this summer." --Ron Charles, The Washington Post INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER - A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK - The unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost--Great Circle "soars and dips with dizzying flair ... an expansive story that covers more than a century and seems to encapsulate the whole wide world" (Boston Globe). "A masterpiece . . . One of the best books I've ever read." --J. Courtney Sullivan After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There--after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes--Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles. A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian's disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian's own story, as the two women's fates--and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times--collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.

    @lscantron Wow! Have you read Maggie Shipstead's new book?

  • The Plot

    Jean Hanff Korelitz

    **NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER!** "Insanely readable." —Stephen King Hailed as "breathtakingly suspenseful," Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot is a propulsive read about a story too good not to steal, and the writer who steals it. Jacob Finch Bonner was once a promising young novelist with a respectably published first book. Today, he’s teaching in a third-rate MFA program and struggling to maintain what’s left of his self-respect; he hasn’t written—let alone published—anything decent in years. When Evan Parker, his most arrogant student, announces he doesn’t need Jake’s help because the plot of his book in progress is a sure thing, Jake is prepared to dismiss the boast as typical amateur narcissism. But then . . . he hears the plot. Jake returns to the downward trajectory of his own career and braces himself for the supernova publication of Evan Parker’s first novel: but it never comes. When he discovers that his former student has died, presumably without ever completing his book, Jake does what any self-respecting writer would do with a story like that—a story that absolutely needs to be told. In a few short years, all of Evan Parker’s predictions have come true, but Jake is the author enjoying the wave. He is wealthy, famous, praised and read all over the world. But at the height of his glorious new life, an e-mail arrives, the first salvo in a terrifying, anonymous campaign: You are a thief, it says. As Jake struggles to understand his antagonist and hide the truth from his readers and his publishers, he begins to learn more about his late student, and what he discovers both amazes and terrifies him. Who was Evan Parker, and how did he get the idea for his “sure thing” of a novel? What is the real story behind the plot, and who stole it from whom?

    This book is a TOTAL page turner, and @jeanhanffkoreli is the best… Join us tonight!!!

  • Blow Your House Down

    Gina Frangello

    "Gina Frangello is a long-married fortysomething devoted mom when her life is turned upside down by the sudden death of her closest friend. Worn down from years of caregiving both her elderly parents and three kids, Gina starts to interrogate her own mortality and what she once longed for as a younger woman: a kind of sexual, romantic and artistic intensity radically at odds with her comfortable but emotionally stagnant marriage. Falling into a passionate affair with a writer/musician, Gina begins living a shocking double life while continuing to outwardly project the image of having a "perfect family." As her parallel worlds begin to dangerously intersect, she makes the risky choice to leave her marriage and security in order to take a chance at finally becoming fully herself, midlife. However, when only months into her separation, Gina is diagnosed with breast cancer, her father dies, her divorce grows increasingly contentious and menacing, and her lover falls into a deep clinical depression, an inevitable breaking point approaches, revealing the irrevocable stakes of giving up everything for love, as well as what it means to be a woman in the contemporary American landscape. Examining pivotal moments in a complex family system about to implode, Blow Your House Down is about what happens when a woman who has been very good at playing all the roles society expects of her suddenly refuses to continue being the person her family and friends think they know. In a note from the author to her writing group, she wrote: "If we are all supposed to write the book we most need to read, then this is the book I wish I had had in front of me during the years my marriage was falling apart, the years I gave everything in me to my ailing parents and young children and angry husband until there seemed nothing left, the years I began a wildly selfish and euphoric affair that seemed to save me, the years I decided to leave my marriage but leaving ended up looking nothing like escape and instead like the end of the world, and the years that I was sick and in pain and having body parts removed at the speed of light and not knowing whether illness would destroy any new beginning I had fought so hard to find. This is the book I was so hungrily looking for, with all its brutality and grief and guilt and desire but didn't find. I hold in my head a woman who needs this book to save her own life.""--

    This book asks its deepest questions through its mess and its contradictions, rather than through Carrie-Bradshaw-like platitudes; I'm so grateful for that, and for this writer.

  • A Most-Anticipated Book of 2021: BuzzFeed * The Millions * Electric Literature * LGTBQ Reads * Paperback Paris One of Advocate's “22 LGBTQ+ Books You Absolutely Need to Read This Year” “An intimate saga that brims with necessary conversations about cultural identity.”​ —O, The Oprah Magazine, “32 LGBTQ Books That Will Change the Literary Landscape in 2021” It is 2015, weeks after the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling, and all Sebastian Mote wants is to settle down. A high school art history teacher, newly single and desperately lonely, he envies his queer students their freedom to live openly the youth he lost to fear and shame. When he runs into his childhood friend Oscar Burnham at a wedding in Washington, D.C., he can’t help but see it as a second chance. Now thirty-five, the men haven’t seen each other in more than a decade. But Oscar has no interest in their shared history, nor in the sense of be­longing Sebastian craves. Instead, he’s outraged by what he sees as the death of gay culture: bars overrun with bachelorette parties, friends cou­pling off and having babies. For Oscar, confor­mity isn’t peace, it’s surrender. While Oscar and Sebastian struggle to find their place in a rapidly changing world, each is drawn into a cross-generational friendship that treads the line between envy and obsession: Se­bastian with one of his students, Oscar with an older icon of the AIDS era. And as they collide again and again, both men must reckon not just with one another but with themselves. Provocative, moving, and rich with sharply drawn characters, Let’s Get Back to the Party in­troduces an exciting and contemporary new talent.

    Just finished reading @ZMSalih1982's debut novel. It's a) brilliant and b) both sad and hilarious and c) has a hell of an ending and d) gets into art history. All my favorite things. Fortunately for me, I'm in convo with him tomorrow night at @UnabridgedBooks...

  • A riveting, lucid memoir of a young woman's struggle to regain her sense of self after trauma, and the efforts by a powerful New England boarding school to silence her--at any cost When the elite St. Paul's School recently came under state investigation after extensive reports of sexual abuse on campus, Lacy Crawford thought she'd put behind her the assault she'd suffered at St. Paul's decades before, when she was fifteen. Still, when detectives asked for victims to come forward, she sent a note. Her criminal case file reopened, she saw for the first time evidence that corroborated her memories. Here were depictions of the naïve, hard-working girl she'd been, a chorister and debater, the daughter of a priest; of the two senior athletes who assaulted her and were allowed to graduate with awards; and of the faculty, doctors, and priests who had known about Crawford's assault and gone to great lengths to bury it. Now a wife, mother, and writer living on the other side of the country, Crawford learned that police had uncovered astonishing proof of an institutional silencing years before, and that unnamed powers were still trying to block her case. The slander, innuendo, and lack of adult concern that Crawford had experienced as a student hadn't been imagined as the effects of trauma, after all: these were the actions of a school that prized its reputation above anything, even a child. This revelation launched Crawford on an extraordinary inquiry into the ways gender, privilege, and power shaped her experience as a girl at the gates of America's elite. Her investigation looks beyond the sprawling playing fields and soaring chapel towers of crucibles of power like St. Paul's, whose reckoning is still to come. And it runs deep into the channels of shame and guilt, witness and silencing, that dictate who can speak and who is heard in American society. An insightful, mature, beautifully written memoir, Notes on a Silencing is an arresting coming-of-age story that wrestles with an essential question for our time: what telling of a survivor's story will finally force a remedy?

    This is one of my more fervent book recommendations. I picked up @lacy_crawford’s memoir for the subject (assault survival at boarding school, systemic silencing) not anticipating that a) it’s written like a most compelling novel and b) she grew up about five minutes from me. 1/

  • A Palestinian American woman wrestles with faith, loss, and identity before coming face-to-face with a school shooter in this searing debut.

    Oh look, it's just MY BRILLIANT FORMER STUDENT on the NYT Notable Books list! That's super normal and chill... I am SO EFFING PROUD of @SaharMustafah and our @StoryStudio community!!!

  • The Westing Game

    Ellen Raskin

    The mysterious death of an eccentric millionaire brings together an unlikely assortment of heirs who must uncover the circumstances of his death before they can claim their inheritance.

    @egtedrowe EMILY!!! It’s the best book ever written!!!!!

  • A psychology professor discusses his recent research into modern marriages and offers practical advice and long-term strategies to pursue self-discovery and personal growth and improve self-esteem along with your spouse so that happiness can thrive in your relationship.

    My friend @EliJFinkel wrote a very smart book about marriage; it's research-based and not cheesy, and it's inexplicably cheap right now, so you should buy it.

  • Belabored

    Lyz Lenz

    An impassioned and irreverent argument for dismantling our cultural narratives around pregnancy. The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, a rate that is increasing, even as infant mortality rates decrease. Meanwhile, the right-wing assault on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy has also escalated. We can already glimpse a reality where embryos and fetuses have more rights than the people gestating them, and even women who aren't pregnant are seen first and foremost as potential incubators. In Belabored, journalist Lyz Lenz lays bare the misogynistic logic of U.S. cultural narratives about pregnancy, tracing them back to our murky, potent cultural soup of myths, from the religious to the historical. In the present she details, with her trademark blend of wit, snark, and raw intimacy, how sexist assumptions inform our expectations for pregnant people, whether we're policing them, asking them to make sacrifices with dubious or disproven benefits, or putting them up on a pedestal in an "Earth mother" role. Throughout, she reflects on her own experiences of being seen as alternately a vessel or a goddess--but hardly ever as herself--while carrying each of her two children. Belabored is an urgent call for us to embrace new narratives around pregnancy and the choice whether or not to have children, emphasizing wholeness and agency, and to reflect those values in our laws, medicine, and interactions with each other.

    ⏰🔥📢⬇️😍🎉🍾🗓️📚🎂⚠️🌶️ YOU GUYS. IT'S HERE. (the book and the revolution, both)

  • The Great Believers

    Rebecca Makkai

    Lucy Hull, a young children’s librarian in Hannibal, Missouri, finds herself both kidnapper and kidnapped when her favourite patron, ten-year-old Ian Drake, runs away from home. The precocious Ian is addicted to reading, but needs Lucy’s help to smuggle books past his overbearing mother, who has enrolled Ian in weekly anti-gay classes. When Lucy finds Ian camped out in the library after hours with a backpack of provisions and an escape plan, she allows herself to be hijacked by him and the pair embark on a spontaneous road trip. But is it just Ian who is running away? And should Lucy really be trying to save a boy from his own parents?

    The Great Believers is a K*ndle Deal of the Day. I'd feel weirder sharing if there weren't a phenomenon of these deals boosting ongoing physical sales of a book, including from indie bookstores. So: send this to your mom, & use your savings to shop indie!

  • The Keep

    Jennifer Egan

    Two decades after taking part in a childhood prank with devastating consequences, two cousins are reunited at a remote medieval castle in Eastern Europe, where they are cut off from the outside world and doomed to reenact the horrific event from their past.

    @rachsyme The Keep, by Jennifer Egan. It's not the same, but it's amazing and has a dark vibe and honestly it's better and also it's Egan's best book.

  • While he was in prison, Lamson wrote a book about his time on death row, called (of course) We Who Are About to Die. It was a bestseller in 1935. It's not about his own case, but about his fellow inmates, the guards, the prison system, etc. 62/

  • Margaret Wise Brown

    Leonard S. Marcus

    Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon and dozens of other children's classics, all but invented the picture book as we know it today. Combining poetic instinct with a profound empathy for small children, she knew of a child's need for security, love, and a sense of being at home in the world and she brought that unique tenderness to the page. Yet these were comforts that eluded her. Brown's youthful presence and professional success as an editor, bestselling author, and self-styled impresario masked an insecurity that left her restless and vulnerable. In this moving biography, Marcus portrays Brown's complex character and her tragic, seesaw life. Her literary achievement and groundbreaking discoveries about small children's emotional needs were offset by tormented romances including a passionate relationship with Michael Strange, the celebrity socialite once married to John Barrymore.

    @finejuli @ambernoelle I've been looking forward to this book for so long!

  • Ellen Tebbits

    Beverly Cleary

    My controversial take on Beverly Cleary, btw, is that her best book is the woefully underrated EllenTebbits.

  • The Furnace Girl

    Kraig W. Moreland

    An addendum, with more resources! This is a fictionalized account by a wonderful local guy, Kraig Moreland. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I know he did gallons of research, and the Trib photo gallery is largely thanks to him.

  • A Little Life

    Hanya Yanagihara

    "A little life, follows four college classmates --broke, adrift, and bouyed only by their friendship and ambition--as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune. A hymn to brotherly bonds and a masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century, Hanya Yanagihara's stunning novel is about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves." --Back cover

    @annmariek_h Hold up, okay, EVERYONE for EVERY BOOK has this moment where they hear about a book that sounds just like theirs. Except it's never true. For me, it was A Little Life. I was sure this woman had written the exact same book as me. (Um, she hadn't.)

  • Presents the stories of six Japanese mail-order brides whose new lives in early twentieth-century San Francisco are marked by backbreaking migrant work, cultural struggles, children who reject their heritage, and the prospect of wartime internment.

    @Riemerville Hmmm, I always recommend The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka!

  • Into the Beautiful North

    Luis Alberto Urrea

    Feels like a great day to support @LeftBankBooks, one of my favoritest of indies. You can order books via their website, or you could download an audiobook from them via @librofm. I recommend Into the Beautiful North by @Urrealism, or Lost Children Archive by @ValeriaLuiselli.

  • Lost Children Archive

    Valeria Luiselli

    "A novel about a family of four, on the cusp of fracture, who take a trip across America--a story told through varying points of view, and including archival documents and photographs"--

    Feels like a great day to support @LeftBankBooks, one of my favoritest of indies. You can order books via their website, or you could download an audiobook from them via @librofm. I recommend Into the Beautiful North by @Urrealism, or Lost Children Archive by @ValeriaLuiselli.

  • Deaf Republic

    Ilya Kaminsky

    Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry Ilya Kaminsky’s astonishing parable in poems asks us, What is silence? Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear—they all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signing by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea, Ilya Kaminsky’s long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.

    @PENamerica The finalists are: @ilya_poet for Deaf Republic Anne Boyer for The Undying Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End @ReeAmilcarScott for The World Does Not Require You Chris Ware for Rusty Brown

  • The Undying

    Anne Boyer

    Award-winning poet and essayist Anne Boyer delivers a one-of-a-kind meditation on pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, space, exhaustion, and economics—sharing her true story of coping with cancer, both the illness and the industry, in The Undying. A week after her forty-first birthday, the acclaimed poet Anne Boyer was diagnosed with highly aggressive triple-negative breast cancer. For a single mother living paycheck to paycheck who had always been the caregiver rather than the one needing care, the catastrophic illness was both a crisis and an initiation into new ideas about mortality and the gendered politics of illness. A twenty-first-century Illness as Metaphor, as well as a harrowing memoir of survival, The Undying explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain ”dolorists,” the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of ”pink ribbon culture” while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others. A genre-bending memoir in the tradition of The Argonauts, The Undying will break your heart, make you angry enough to spit, and show you contemporary America as a thing both desperately ill and occasionally, perversely glorious. Includes black-and-white illustrations

    @PENamerica The finalists are: @ilya_poet for Deaf Republic Anne Boyer for The Undying Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End @ReeAmilcarScott for The World Does Not Require You Chris Ware for Rusty Brown

  • "'I had but one delusion, which I held onto with all my willpower: we once gave Nikolai a life of flesh and blood; and I'm doing it over again, this time by words.' In a world created outside of time, Li and the son who died talk about their lives. Deeply intimate and moving, this story cycle of grief captures the love and humor in a relationship which goes on now in a mother's heart, between a mother and child, even as it captures the pain of Li's sadness and loss. Written in the months following her son's death, this powerful book takes readers intimately and unforgettably into Li's grief, even as she transforms the pain into imaginary conversations of great beauty, humor, sadness and love"--

    @PENamerica The finalists are: @ilya_poet for Deaf Republic Anne Boyer for The Undying Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End @ReeAmilcarScott for The World Does Not Require You Chris Ware for Rusty Brown

  • Established by the leaders of the country's only successful slave revolt in the mid-nineteenth century, Cross River still evokes the fierce rhythms of its founding. In lyrical prose and singular dialect, a saga beats forward that echoes the fables carried down for generations--like the screecher birds who swoop down for their periodic sacrifice, and the water women who lure men to wet deaths.Among its residents--wildly spanning decades, perspectives, and species--are David Sherman, a struggling musician who just happens to be God's last son; Tyrone, a ruthless PhD candidate, whose dissertation about a childhood game ignites mayhem in the neighboring, once-segregated town of Port Yooga; and Jim, an all-too-obedient robot who serves his Master. As the book builds to its finish with Special Topics in Loneliness Studies, a fully-realized novella, two unhinged professors grapple with hugely different ambitions, and the reader comes to appreciate the intricacy of the world Scott has created--one where fantasy and reality are eternally at war.Contemporary and essential, The World Doesn't Require You is a "leap into a blazing new level of brilliance" (Lauren Groff) that affirms Rion Amilcar Scott as a writer whose storytelling gifts the world very much requires.

    @PENamerica The finalists are: @ilya_poet for Deaf Republic Anne Boyer for The Undying Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End @ReeAmilcarScott for The World Does Not Require You Chris Ware for Rusty Brown

  • "Rusty Brown is a normal, nerdy, bullied, disenfranchised Tweenage kid in Omaha, Nebraska who is just trying to survive a regular junior high school day with his best friend Chalky White. But in this deeply Ware-ian world, it won't be easy"--

    @PENamerica The finalists are: @ilya_poet for Deaf Republic Anne Boyer for The Undying Yiyun Li for Where Reasons End @ReeAmilcarScott for The World Does Not Require You Chris Ware for Rusty Brown

  • Dear Committee Members

    Julie Schumacher

    Enduring budget cuts and the favoritism of other departments at a small liberal arts college, literature professor Jason Fitger despairs of his writing ambitions and imposed role in a star pupil's would-be opus while writing wryly comic, passive-aggressive letters to students and colleagues.

    @rachsyme Dear Committee Members!!

  • The Great Believers

    Rebecca Makkai

    WINNER OF THE CARNEGIE MEDAL FINALIST FOR THE PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARDS WINNER OF THE STONEWALL BOOK AWARD - BARBARA GITTINGS LITERATURE AWARD FINALIST FOR THE LA TIMES FICTION AWARD 'Stirring, spellbinding and full of life' Téa Obreht, New York Times bestselling author of The Tiger's Wife In 1985, Yale Tishman, the development director for an art gallery in Chicago, is about to pull off an amazing coup: bringing an extraordinary collection of 1920s paintings as a gift to the gallery. Yet as his career begins to flourish, the carnage of the AIDs epidemic grows around him. One by one, his friends are dying and after his friend Nico's funeral, he finds his partner is infected, and that he might even have the virus himself. The only person he has left is Fiona, Nico's little sister. Thirty years later, Fiona is in Paris tracking down her estranged daughter who disappeared into a cult. While staying with an old friend, a famous photographer who documented the Chicago epidemic, she finds herself finally grappling with the devastating ways the AIDS crisis affected her life and her relationship with her daughter. Yale and Fiona's stories unfold in incredibly moving and sometimes surprising ways, as both struggle to find goodness in the face of disaster.

    HEY, @bookpage thinks your book club should read The Great Believers. I think so too, and I'm trying to figure out a package to put together for book clubs, sthg other than a reading guide that I can send them in thanks. (But that's, like, free.) Ideas?

  • I've never been afraid of the dark...but that doesn't mean I wanted to live in it. And maybe everyone wants what they can't have, but I should've thought it over before I accepted the key and unlocked the door to their forbidden world. Number One is mostly silent. He watches me with them very carefully. His gaze never wanders. His interest never wanes. Number Two is mostly gentle. But it's the other side of him I like best. The wild side. Number Three is mostly reserved. He refuses to cross the line. Even when I beg. It was carnal, it was sensual, and it was erotic. That's it. That's all it was supposed to be. A trip into the dark. A peek into the forbidden. I just didn't expect to like them.

    @LoreneK025 @heelsonthefield @ComicNurse That was supposed to say “Taking Turns.”

  • Peyton Place

    Grace Metalious

    Switch off those TVs, kill your mobiles and settle down with the most controversial book ever written. Once denounced as 'wicked', 'sordid', 'cheap' 'moral filth', PEYTON PLACE was the top read of its time and sold millions of copies worldwide. Way before TWIN PEAKS, SURVIVOR or BIG BROTHER, the curtains were twitching in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, and this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, abortion, adultery, repression and lust. Take a peek ...

    @CharlesFinch You've read "Petyon's Place," right? I could read that essay infinite times.