The best books with ways to fit in in America

Who am I?

Other than the fact that I grew up in the United States, the son of a Jewish-American mother, an Iranian-born father, a thirteen-letter unpronounceable letter last name, the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis, and parents who were both members of the Socialist Workers Party, which advocated for a working-class revolution along the lines of the Russian Revolution—I am a typical American. I like hamburgers, Martha Stewart, and the New York Yankees. Trace elements of my upbringing can still be found in my memoir, When Skateboards Will Be Free, my two short story collections, and my worldview, which I’m still working on in therapy. 


I wrote...

Book cover of American Estrangement: Stories

What is my book about?

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh's new collection of stories―some of which have appeared in The New Yorker, the Paris Review, and the Best American Short Stories―is set in a contemporary America full of the kind of emotionally bruised characters familiar to readers of Denis Johnson and George Saunders. These are people contending with internal struggles―a son’s fractured relationship with his father, the death of a mother, the loss of a job, drug addiction―even as they are battered by larger, often invisible, economic, political, and racial forces of American society.

Searing, intimate, often slyly funny, and always marked by a deep imaginative sympathy, American Estrangement is a testament to our addled times. It will cement Sayrafiezadeh’s reputation as one of the essential twenty-first-century American writers.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Lot Six: A Memoir

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Why did I love this book?

Before David Adjmi became an acclaimed playwright, he was contending with his complicated upbringing in Brooklyn, New York, the child of Syrian Jewish parents, being schooled in a Yeshiva, and trying to come to terms with being gay. Adjmi writes with incredible candor about feeling like a perpetual outsider, including—or especially—within his own family. The title borrows its name from a pejorative term for gays that his family would often use to their great amusement and Adjmi’s mortification. Bonus viewing: Marie Antoinette, The Evildoers, Stunning, Stereophonic, or any number of his plays, where you will be able see how and where nonfiction is transmuted into theatre.

By David Adjmi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Lot Six as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“David Adjmi has written one of the great American memoirs, a heartbreaking, hilarious story of what it means to make things up, including yourself. A wild tale of lack and lies, galling humiliations and majestic reinventions, this touching, coruscating joy of a book is an answer to that perennial question: how should a person be?”

   — Olivia Laing, author of Crudo and The Lonely City


In a world where everyone is inventing a self, curating a feed and performing a fantasy of life, what does it mean to be a person? In his grandly entertaining debut memoir, playwright David Adjmi…


Book cover of Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Why did I love this book?

As with all things Michael Jackson, everything is complicated. Mira Jacob, who is the American-born daughter of East Indian parents, and who is now married to a Jewish man, begins her graphic memoir with her dilemma over her six-year-old son’s obsession with the pop star. So launches a mother’s struggle to understand and explain, both to self and son and reader, the role that skin color has played in her American life—in fact the nuances between the varying degrees of pigmentation—as well as ethnicity, gender, race, religion. In a world where physical appearance has been paramount for our author, it’s fitting that this story is told through pictures. 

By Mira Jacob,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Good Talk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, TIME, BUZZFEED, ESQUIRE, LIBRARY JOURNAL AND KIRKUS REVIEWS LONGLISTED FOR THE PEN/OPEN BOOK AWARD 'Hilarious and heart-rending' Celeste Ng 'Heartbreaking, but also infused with levity and humour. What stands out most is the fierce compassion with which she parses the complexities of family and love' Time How brown is too brown? Can Indians be racist? What does real love between really different people look like? Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob's half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything - and as tensions from the…


Book cover of Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in an Age of Endless, Invisible War

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Why did I love this book?

Nothing is more American than making war in other countries, and Phil Klay’s collection of essays investigates that line between those Americans who fight in our current wars and those who get to stay home and eventually forget that there’s even a war taking place somewhere. Klay knows about what he writes. He’s a former marine who was stationed in Iraq, and while not seeing combat himself, he did see firsthand the complex relationship between occupied and occupier. Upon his return home, he was plunged into an even more surreal place: a country that had long since stopped paying attention. Bonus reading: Klay’s National Book Award-winning short story collection, Redeployment, where you can see how fiction becomes transmuted into nonfiction and vice versa.

By Phil Klay,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Uncertain Ground as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment and Missionaries, an astonishing fever graph of the effects of twenty years of war in a brutally divided America.

When Phil Klay left the Marines a decade ago after serving as an officer in Iraq, he found himself a part of the community of veterans who have no choice but to grapple with the meaning of their wartime experiences—for themselves and for the country. American identity has always been bound up in war—from the revolutionary war of our founding, to the civil war that ended slavery, to the two world wars that…


Book cover of Brown Album: Essays on Exile and Identity

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Why did I love this book?

Early on in this collection is an essay that encapsulated for me the often unseen internal struggle of attempting to assimilate into the United States. A young Porochista makes an excursion to the Los Angeles Zoo with her parents, and to her great horror she is taken on a camel ride that she fears will publicly expose her for who she is: an Iranian who has been masquerading as an American. Constructing the mask is only one part of the challenge, but keeping it on might be even harder, and this collection can be read as a primer on the impact on the individual of two nations that have been at odds for the last forty years. 

By Porochista Khakpour,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brown Album as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the much-acclaimed novelist and essayist, a beautifully rendered, poignant collection of personal essays, chronicling immigrant and Iranian-American life in our contemporary moment.

Novelist Porochista Khakpour's family moved to Los Angeles after fleeing the Iranian Revolution, giving up their successes only to be greeted by an alienating culture. Growing up as an immigrant in America means that one has to make one's way through a confusing tangle of conflicting cultures and expectations. And Porochista is pulled between the glitzy culture of Tehrangeles, an enclave of wealthy Iranians and Persians in LA, her own family's modest life and culture, and becoming…


Book cover of From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Why did I love this book?

If you’ve never thought it possible to write about imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay with humor. Alex Gilvarry upends this misconception. This is billed as a “memoir,” but it’s really a madcap novel about a high-fashioned Filipino-born young man who happens to be living in New York City at the wrong moment in history, and who finds out the hard way that the American dream can turn into a nightmare at any moment. “How did I end up in No Man’s Land?” our hero wonders, joining a long list who have asked that question. 

By Alex Gilvarry,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The critically acclaimed debut from Alex Gilvarry, a darkly comic love letter to New York, told through the eyes of Boy Hernandez: Filipino immigrant, glamour junkie, Guantánamo detainee.

Alex Gilvarry's widely acclaimed first novel is the story of designer Boy Hernandez: Filipino immigrant, New York glamour junkie, Guantánamo detainee. Locked away indefinitely and accused of being linked to a terrorist plot, Boy prepares for the tribunal of his life with this intimate confession, a dazzling swirl of soirees, runways, and hipster romance that charts one small man's undying love for New York City and his pursuit of the big American…


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Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

Book cover of Off Season

Randy Kraft Author Of Off Season

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Introspective Observant Bookish Friendly

Randy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, and they get on well. She will be on sabbatical fine-tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off-season?

Soothed by sea breezes, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late artist partner, Red is befriended by a flirty neighbor and her surfer husband, and Sharon shares her literary passions with a sexy retiree. When the winds of the pandemic blow, they have to confront their past within a daunting future.

Is off-season an opportunity for renewal or a glimpse of what might have been?

Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

What is this book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, she will be on sabbatical fine tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off season? On the other hand, what else might he have in mind and what will she face if she lets her guard down? Soothed by sea breezes and ocean views, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late partner, a Fauvist painter. Then, Red is…


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