The best books about finding joy in dark-ass times

Who am I?

As a queer, Black woman who, as a child, was abused, abandoned at age 3, and then raised in poverty, I have had maybe more than my fair share of obstacles to overcome. I don’t know what ingredient kept me from becoming a total dumpster fire of an adult, but if I could figure it out, I would give everybody the recipe to that secret sauce. In the meantime, I read books about other such folks and recommend them to other humans looking for inspiration to keep going in tough times. 

I wrote...

Surely Goodness & Mercy

By Chisa Hutchinson,

Book cover of Surely Goodness & Mercy

What is my book about?

In Surely Goodness & Mercy, an odd-ball middle-schooler and a cantankerous lunch lady at a craptacular public school form an unlikely friendship and become heroes in the process. It’s a story that shows us how rewarding it can be to help others, even when — maybe even especially when — we’re feeling helpless ourselves.

This title is only available here.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

By Trevor Noah,

Book cover of Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

Why this book?

I meeeeean… my dude was born in South Africa to a Black mom and a white dad under apartheid when interracial relationships were illegal. He was living proof of the “criminal behavior” that could’ve gotten his mother thrown in prison, his father ostracized, and his little self dropped into an orphanage. He describes how he actually had to walk separate from his father when they were out in public so as not to cause suspicion— that’s some dark shit! Yet he grew up to become one of the funniest people on the planet, hosting one of the most popular American late-night shows ever. Whatever spiritual alchemy had to happen to make that conversion possible? Yeah. I need me some of that.

A Fine Balance

By Rohinton Mistry,

Book cover of A Fine Balance

Why this book?

Okay, don’t laugh, but once I was watching HGTV—I forget what show— and there was a bit about countertops and why granite is such a popular choice for them. Granite is formed under extreme heat and tremendous pressure, which is what makes it resistant to both of those things. This novel illustrates, in haunting detail, how this notion applies to people. There are characters who get absolutely pummeled by challenges but keep getting right back up. They are hardship-resistant. Meanwhile, the ones who were born into comfort do not fare as well. Made me grateful for every difficulty I encountered early on in life. And the accompanying coping skills.

Three Women

By Lisa Taddeo,

Book cover of Three Women

Why this book?

This book is wildly imaginative for non-fiction. It’s an account of the sex lives of (yup) three women and the very complex desires that fuel them. All were just trying to snatch a little joy for themselves, carnally speaking. And I have to believe that sharing their stories only heightened that joy. I got to know Lisa and hear about her process for collecting the material for this book (which I helped adapt into a TV series for Showtime). I’ve never met anyone so free of judgment, and so ready to understand why people do things that others find unseemly. She is a master of empathy, and I learned how powerful that can be from her and this work.

An American Marriage

By Tayari Jones,

Book cover of An American Marriage

Why this book?

I feel the ethos of this book in my very marrow. It’s basically like, “La la-la, I’m a Black person just living my life, trying to enjoy my marriage, start a family, generally be human, but then BAM! Some seriously unjust and disruptive shit totally blindsides me, derails my entire existence, and I just have to figure out how to get back to feeling human again.” After this pandemic, I think everyone can probably relate to this to some degree. (Huh. Covid: The Great Equalizer.)


By Jez Alborough,

Book cover of Hug

Why this book?

You’re gonna judge me, but I don’t care because this little book landed on me so hard. My playwriting professor, Rinne Groff, brought it into class to demonstrate the importance of giving your protagonist a clear want, and I have never forgotten it. It’s about a lonely little monkey named Bobo who just wants a hug, but all the animals he approaches in the jungle can’t really give him one because they’re too little or they don’t have arms or whatever and I just wanna be like “I will hug you, little monkey! I will hug you as long as you need!” Because if that shit ain’t a metaphor for what we all go through to find the right kind of love, I don’t know what is. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in romantic love, comedians, and Atlanta?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about romantic love, comedians, and Atlanta.

Romantic Love Explore 416 books about romantic love
Comedians Explore 19 books about comedians
Atlanta Explore 29 books about Atlanta

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Pachinko, The Mountains Sing, and The Night Trains if you like this list.