Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, through which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a advice from the writers in our series, who, such as you (because you’re here), love books. Perhaps certainly one of their favorite titles will turn into certainly one of yours, too.
N.K. Jemisin understands that to construct worlds, you should understand this one. The one person to win three Best Novel Hugo Awards in a row (for every title within the post-apocalypse Broken Earth trilogy), the NYT-bestselling science fiction and fantasy creator has just published The World We Make (Orbit), the second in her Great Cities duology (first was The City We Became), amongst her many books. She also won a Best Short Novelette Hugo for Emergency Skin and Best Graphic Story Hugo for Far Sector, a Green Lantern spinoff for DC Comics and wrote the script for the film adaptation of the Broken Earth series, to be produced by Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society.
The Iowa-born Jemisin grew up between Mobile, Alabama and Brooklyn, where she now lives. A psychology major at Tulane who got a master’s in education on the University of Maryland, she was a school profession counselor and academic advisor, wrote the Otherworldly SFF column for the Recent York Times Books Review, and received a MacArthur Fellowship.
She’s a gamer and gardener, has a ginger cat named King Ozzymandias (Ozzy for brief) and tuxedo cat named The Marvelous Master Magpie (Maggie for brief), teaches a MasterClass on world-building, has a Patreon, was on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list (write-up by Stacey Abrams), once toasted Spam sushi over a heat vent on a Hawaiian volcanic crater, is into anime, manga, and sentai, is cousins with W. Kamau Bell, and likes candy corn.
Good at: Writing fan fiction under pseudonyms. Not so good at: Double dutch, texting fast. Her book recs below YW.
The book that…
…kept me up way too late:
Tailchaser’s Song by Tad Williams, which starts like a children’s story after which becomes something Very Dark.
…shaped my worldview:
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler.
…I read in a single sitting, it was that good:
Mechanique by Genevieve Valentine.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones.
…I’d pass on to a child:
Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi.
…I first bought:
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. I actually have it on good authority that once I was about 4, I purchased this with gift money.
…ought to be on every college syllabus:
Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together within the Cafeteria? by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD.
…I never returned to the library (mea culpa):
I scrupulously returned books to the library and must defend myself on this point!
…sealed a friendship:
A primary edition of The Lord of the Rings, which I lent to a friend who recently contacted me about them, sparking the friendship again after a decade!
…features essentially the most beautiful book jacket:
A replica of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám with a damask cover of grapevines in ruby and black.
…everyone should read:
Considered one of the numerous books by queer and POC authors which can be under challenge by conservatives, via your local library. In the event that they’re not available at your library since the conservatives got there first, join your local Library Board and fight to reinstate them. Reading–and the liberty to talk truth to power–is a component of a framework of equity and justice that’s under attack in a way not seen for a generation. Fight for all books. Or else.
…that holds the recipe to a favourite dish:
Salt Acid Fat Heat by Samin Nosrat. After a lifetime of food defined by what it didn’t have, this book is a revelation–it’s less about a selected recipe from the book than it was about changing my relationship to ingredients and preparation.
Read Jemisin’s Picks:
The 1619 Project
Now 43% Off
Why Are All of the Black Kids Sitting Together within the Cafeteria?
Now 50% Off
The Lord of the Rings
Now 11% Off
Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám
Riza Cruz is an editor and author based in Recent York.