Zibby Owens is the host of the award-winning podcast "Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books", CEO of Zibby Books, founder of Zibby Mag, author of "Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature", owner of Zibby's Bookshop, an indie bookstore in Santa Monica, California, and a regular contributor to "Good Morning America."
The Ides of March have nothing on these fabulous books! From now through, well, forever, the books currently coming out all look better than the next. How can we all make time to read these fabulous books? It's an embarrassment of literary riches. If only we could all lounge about all day, read, write, and simply live in a book club with friends. (Sigh.)
Instead, try diving into one of these novels, memoirs, or non-fiction books -- when you have a few spare moments -- to kick off this transitional month. Here's to finding more time to read books. Together.
"Pineapple Street: A Novel" by Jenny Jackson
Oh my gosh, I loved this novel. Jenny Jackson has edited some of the most wonderful authors of our time in her editorial role at Knopf, from Chris Bohjalian to Emily St. Mandel. The fact that she has made all the best writers even better will come as no surprise as soon as you dip into her debut novel about a family in Brooklyn. It's a close examination of a family of a certain country club set; they hash out their issues during tennis matches. But it's also about that feeling of never truly pleasing your mother-in-law and feeling like an outsider in the family you married into. It's about having different politics from your family of origin and finding your own identity, even during periods of loss and grief. For anyone who has ever had a hard time packing up their childhood bedroom, Jackson's truly intimate, funny, sharp, clever, and crispy-written book is totally on point. I really think this should be made into a play. Any takers?
"A Likely Story: A Novel" by Leigh McMullan Abramson
Debut novelist Leigh McMullan Abramson is one of the most impressive literary talents around. Her sentences are simply gorgeous. Even the way she describes a grocery list is evocative. I was attached to her characters instantly. The story centers around the family of Ward, a bestselling novelist whose star is fading late in life just as his wife passes away; his aspiring-author daughter Isabelle, who grew up in the limelight but always wanted to shine; Isabelle's devoted best guy friend who, as McMullan Abramson told me during our recent podcast, serves as the lens for the viewer; and even the late mother Claire, who continues to take center stage. With a draft within a novel and a compelling cast of characters, "A Likely Story" is a truly likable story about creativity, idea ownership, friendship, family, and what makes each of us unique. Truly though, I would read a phone book if I knew McMullan Abramson had written it. (Wait, do they even have phone books anymore?) Bravo! (And I'm not just saying that because you dated my brother in middle school.)
"Women Are The Fiercest Creatures: A Novel" by Andrea Dunlop
Is this the best title or what? Debuting the day before International Women's Day, this examination of women, ideas, relationships, motherhood and ambition set in the Seattle tech scene is absolutely riveting. Three women all play a role in the development and success of Strangers, the Facebook-like app that is on the verge of an IPO -- and one man links them together. As we learn how and why as the time to the IPO ticks down and a reporter digs in, we also get intimate glances of family life from a single mom, a divorced mom of two older boys, and a new mom with a baby who, on the first page, goes missing. It's about loyalty, getting credit where credit is due, exes, yoga, identity and what it means to create. Dunlop is the fiercest woman around.
"Colonel Parkinson is in Charge: A Wry Reflection on My Incurable Illness" by Francois Gravel
Translated from French, this slim, beautiful memoir by 65-year-old Francois Gravel details his descent into illness and what it feels like to have his body overtaken by an unwelcome intruder. Poetic and provocative, this worldwide hit will undoubtedly find a similarly robust audience in the U.S.
"Embracing the Calm in the Chaos: How to Find Success in Business and Life Through Perseverance, Connection, and Collaboration" by Stacy Igel
Stacy Igel is the ultimate badass. She founded Boy Meets Girl, a hugely successful fashion brand with licenses for all types of products. But what Igel really shows us in her personal story is exactly how she went from Midwestern kid, sewing her own prom dress, to New York City fashion doyenne. She takes us through moments like asking her boss at Elie Tahari for Fridays off to start her own collection to showcasing her collection on the floor of a booth -- with her mom! -- to the buyers at Bergdorf's. Igel is persistent and single-minded in her focus, but she's also insanely creative, using fabrics in innovative ways. (Denim totes and ribbon sleeves? Why not!) The best part is that launching her first collection the day after 9/11 (which then got postponed) led her to donate a portion of the proceeds from her sales each month to nonprofits, starting with the Red Cross back in 2001. And she's still at it. Igel gives us tips not only for running businesses, but also for living the life of a creative soul, one who needs to take stock, keep calm, and carry on. Just having the title of this book staring out at me on my bedside table is a gentle reminder to take a deep breath when things go crazy.
"Now You See Us: A Novel" by Balli Kaur Jaswal
Set in Singapore, "Now You See Us" is a novel that transports the reader in more ways than one. Yes, we've headed off to Singapore. But we've also entered a world of domestic workers at different life stages caring for the elderly, the young, and the wealthy. When a Filipino domestic worker is accused of murdering her employer, three women, Corazon, Donita, and Angel, try to put together the pieces given their unfettered access to Singapore's elite. An insightful, well-written, thoughtful, and thought-provoking story, "Now You See Us" is a novel with scenes you simply can't unsee.
"Good Different" by Meg Eden Kuyatt
This is like the next "Wonder." Written by a young woman with autism, "Good Different" is a prose poem about what it means to own your neurodiversity. It examines how these undercurrents affect life, school, friendships and family, and how to turn pain into prose. Kuyatt is gifted and her parents' lifelong insistence that her neurodivergent features were her superpowers has propelled her to keep writing and sharing, advocating and illuminating, and building a community of thinkers. This story will make any neurodivergent person feel less alone but will also be a balm for all families who contend with this on a daily basis. Short and sweet, eye-opening and original, "Good Different" should be required reading, especially at schools.
"Little Earthquakes: A Memoir" by Sarah Mandel
Clinical psychologist Sarah Mandel found out she had stage 4 cancer when she was pregnant with her second child, only to undergo treatment and, within three months, discover that the cancer had completely disappeared. Afterward, reeling from the emotional rollercoaster of creating life and fearing for her own, she embarks on a psychological treatment plan that she'd previously only recommended to patients. Open, honest, painful, inspiring and thought-provoking, this memoir is precious.
"Dust Child" by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Two sisters leave home to go work in Saigon; they want to help their parents pay off their debts. But when the war starts and American GIs suddenly frequent the bars the sisters work in, one sister falls madly in love with a dashing pilot. When the soldier comes back after the war to find threads of his lost years, it starts a quest into family and identity. Meanwhile, another character, the son of a Black American soldier and a woman from Vietnam, is desperate to both find his roots and escape them. Inherited trauma, intense secrets, and inside looks characterize this lyrical novel by a bold talent.
"Wandering Souls" by Cecile Pin
Set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, three siblings leave Vietnam for Hong Kong where, tragically, they soon learn they are orphaned. The three of them then head to the U.K. and start what should be "normal" childhoods but absolutely aren't, as they take different paths, all plagued by the guilt of leaving their family behind to perish. Told in a variety of formats and frameworks, "Wandering Souls" is immersive, creative and deeply emotional.
"Stash: My Life in Hiding" by Laura Cathcart Robbins
There's a scene in "Stash" that I'll never forget. Robbins, the wife of a Hollywood baller, is curled up in her bed in Malibu, alone on the Fourth of July, in the throes of intense drug addiction, too out of it to worry about her kids next door or anything else going on. As she details hitting bottom among the school board in upper crust L.A., Robbins shares the most authentic depiction of a mom sinking, out of her depths, trying to be perfect but failing herself as she dives into the liquor cabinet, hides pills in her expensive shoes, and befriends delivery men bearing refills. When she enters an inpatient facility, she detoxes and rethinks her entire life, making one new relationship that changes everything. This is a fabulous memoir that I couldn't put down.
"Hang the Moon: A Novel" by Jeannette Walls
I couldn't open this book up fast enough. I loved Walls' memoir "The Glass Castle" so much! Walls' novel is immersive from the very first page, a Prohibition-era story about the long-term effects of childhood accidents and what it means to grow up not feeling loved -- which readers of Walls' memoir may link to her own story. When Sallie Kincaid pushes her half-brother on a sled and he falls off, getting injured, Sallie is shipped off to live with a relative and only comes back years later, walking into what was her childhood home to a room of people staring at her, gasping, and making her feel like a complete outsider. Violence quickly ensues at the Big House as Sallie tries to immerse herself back "home" when not everyone is thrilled by her arrival. This book is about feeling homeless. Loneliness. And ultimately, charting your own course, with or without family support.
"American Mermaid: A Novel" by Julia Langbein
I love Penelope Schleeman's voice. Everything she thinks and feels, as Langbein's first-person protagonist, is funny, smart, and irresistible. When teacher Penelope's novel becomes an unexpected bestseller, she heads to Los Angeles to turn it into a film -- which suddenly becomes a case of life imitating art. Ultimately, this is about striving for success, bearing the costs that come with it and finding your voice again -- even when you're the one writing the story. I laughed out loud.