The best books where being a hot mess is presented as an empowering lifestyle

Who am I?

I spent my early childhood in a rural, isolated, multi-generational household. During summers we rarely saw anyone unrelated to us. My twin sister and I spent our days reading, hiding, and naming our menagerie of barn cats (final count: 36). In my career as a lifestyle journalist, I’ve gotten to interview famous eccentrics ranging from Loretta Lynn to David Sedaris. I live in the North Carolina mountains with my husband, our teenage son, and my aforementioned twin sister. This past summer, a black bear walked the 22 steps up to our front porch and stared in the window, raising his huge paws high in exasperation. 


I wrote...

The Ballad of Cherrystoke

By Melanie McGee Bianchi,

Book cover of The Ballad of Cherrystoke

What is my book about?

These contemporary stories are a sympathetic but unsentimental depiction of life in the touristy part of Southern Appalachia. It’s a lush, enchanting area where the Blue Ridge meets the Great Smokies—and where culture clashes and unchecked gentrification cause social upheaval in a 1.2-billion-year-old mountain range. Yet the stories—having individually appeared in literary magazines from Mississippi to Ireland—are relationship-centered and universal. Characters include a young felon in thrall to his much-older lover, a gig worker with a shady past trying to become a professional baby namer, and a fed-up teacher’s aide who casts her lot with her fourth-grade students. The region’s rich musical history, including old-time murder ballads, is one of Cherrystoke’s unifying motifs.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Golden Apples

Melanie McGee Bianchi Why did I love this book?

Unlike Welty’s works featuring honorable or broadly comic characters, this dense story cycle was never excerpted in anthologies. It’s a trickier cast: consider Jinny Love Stark and Virgie Rainey, who cut through the languor of Depression-era Mississippi with stone-cold intention. Jinny Love plays croquet with her lover to enrage her volatile husband; she encourages her daughter to wear lizards as earrings to offend the propriety of her own controlling mother. Impoverished piano prodigy Virgie flouts her gift merely to watch her teacher go mad. Later, she trims her dead mother’s yard with sewing scissors while neighbors do the real work of laying out the body and receiving mourners. The heat presses forward. What day is it? What hour? This is weird, experimental Welty, and the payoff is sweet.

By Eudora Welty,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Golden Apples as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1949, THE GOLDEN APPLES is an acutely observed, richly atmospheric portrayal of small town life in Morgana, Mississippi. There's Snowdie, who has to bring up her twin boys alone after her husband, King Maclain, disappears one day, discarding his hat on the banks of the Big Black. There's Loch Morrison, convalescing with malaria, who watches from his bedroom window as wayward Virgie Rainey meets a sailor in the vacant house opposite. Meanwhile, Miss Eckhart the piano teacher, grieving the loss of her most promising pupil, tries her hand at arson.

Eudora Welty has a fine ear for…


Book cover of We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Melanie McGee Bianchi Why did I love this book?

I’m 51 and my twin sister and I have always lived together, which some people find peculiar. Sisters Merricat and Constance Blackwood also live together, shut off in infamy after one of them is accused of murdering their parents, aunt, and brother. They spend tranquil days in the remnants of the family estate, a place that was spooky even before the old house burned half to the ground and got ransacked by villagers. Shirley Jackson’s slim novel, one of her lesser-known works, is a primer of introvert goals disguised as a gothic fairy tale. Even though there’s a 50% chance of guessing the “mystery,” you’ll still be surprised when you find out which sister put arsenic in the table sugar.

By Shirley Jackson,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked We Have Always Lived in the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Living in the Blackwood family home with only her sister, Constance, and her Uncle Julian for company, Merricat just wants to preserve their delicate way of life. But ever since Constance was acquitted of murdering the rest of the family, the world isn't leaving the Blackwoods alone. And when Cousin Charles arrives, armed with overtures of friendship and a desperate need to get into the safe, Merricat must do everything in her power to protect the remaining family.


Book cover of Jesus' Son

Melanie McGee Bianchi Why did I love this book?

For uptight readers like me who can barely handle a stiff drink, the Druggy Road Trip genre can feel dumb and snobbish. But Johnson’s close, lucid prose is, well, addictive. Strung out in small-town ’70s America, a young guy called F**khead navigates unreality in 11 intertwined stories. The collection is just over 100 pages, and by the end, F**khead finds himself across the country and in rehab. But sobriety isn’t even the point. Passages like this are: “Georgie and I had a terrific time driving around. For a while the day was clear and peaceful. It was one of the moments you stay in, to hell with all the troubles of before or after. The sky is blue and the dead are coming back.”

By Denis Johnson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Jesus' Son as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jesus' Son is a visionary chronicle of dreamers, addicts, and lost souls. These stories tell of spiralling grief and transcendence, of rock bottom and redemption, of getting lost and found and lost again. The narrator of these interlinked stories is a young, unnamed man, reeling from his addiction to heroin and alcohol, his mind at once clouded and made brilliantly lucid by these drugs. In the course of his adventures, he meets an assortment of people, who seem as alienated and confused as he; sinners, misfits, the lost, the damned, the desperate and the forgotten. Our of their bleak, seemingly…


Book cover of Selected Stories

Melanie McGee Bianchi Why did I love this book?

Now 91, the Canadian short-story guru won The Nobel Prize for Literature in 2013. She also made “Southern Ontario Gothic” a genre. Where to start in Selected Stories’ canon of genius? At the end, with “Vandals,” the last, long story in this important early anthology. Under the guise of house sitting, a rootless young woman, Liza, desecrates the home of Bea and Ladner, an older couple whose taxidermy-filled rural property was her childhood playground. Ladner has recently died, and Bea and Liza have maintained a friendly correspondence—and so Liza’s violent act seems bizarre and random. Her reasons for wrecking the place are proven emotionally valid, but the reveal is so subtle, so masterful, it might make everything else you’ve ever read (or written) feel overdone.

By Alice Munro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This first-ever selection of Alice Munro's stories sums up her genius. Her territory is the secrets that cackle beneath the facade of everyday lives, the pain and promises, loves and fears of apparently ordinary men and women whom she renders extraordinary and unforgettable.


Book cover of Homesick for Another World: Stories

Melanie McGee Bianchi Why did I love this book?

Moshfegh revels in gross bodily functions, using them almost as an artistic palette. If it stinks, bleeds, sweats, erupts, or otherwise makes you gag, it shows up in her celebrated book of short stories, individually published in Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Granta before being collected in Homesick. Just by its title, the story “Slumming” could stand for the whole. A depressed, middle-aged, New York City schoolteacher sleeps all her summers away, holing up and doing hard drugs in an equally depressed Upstate hamlet, where the local “zombies,” i.e. young opioid dealers, emerge as the most stable element, always there to sell sweet oblivion. The story lambasts sentimental rural regionalism but also serves as a surreal paradigm of self-care.

By Ottessa Moshfegh,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Homesick for Another World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2017

An electrifying first collection from one of the most exciting short story writers of our time

"I can't recall the last time I laughed this hard at a book. Simultaneously, I'm shocked and scandalized. She's brilliant, this young woman."-David Sedaris

Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel Eileen was one of the literary events of 2015. Garlanded with critical acclaim, it was named a book of the year by The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and won…


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Hayley and the Hot Flashes

By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer,

Book cover of Hayley and the Hot Flashes

Jayne Jaudon Ferrer Author Of Hayley and the Hot Flashes

New book alert!

Who am I?

I grew up in a small town, with wonderful librarians who introduced me to books I remember fondly to this day. The Flicka, Ricka, Dicka series, the Bobbsey Twins, Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and, of course, Little Women shaped my love for stories about relationships and the simple pleasures of daily life. Whether it’s a mystery or a memoir, I want interesting interactions between the main characters, meaty descriptions of daily activities and affairs, and, of course, a happy ending. As I’ve gotten older, I like books with older protagonists; those are hard to come by—one reason I wrote a novel about the adventures of five middle-aged girlfriends!

Jayne's book list on entertaining stories about relationships

What is my book about?

Country music diva Hayley Swift has fallen off the charts and into a funk. Desperate to regain her place in the limelight, she agrees to a low-budget tour of Southern venues, starting with her 35th high school reunion.

There, in an unexpected but fortuitous reconnection, The Girls Next Door —who sang together in their teens--become Hayley and the Hot Flashes as they embark on a road trip that will forever change their lives. You'll laugh out loud as the ladies deal with stage fright, stalkers, attitudes, egos, harmonies, hormones, and more. Middle age has never been moodier—or more melodic!

Hayley and the Hot Flashes

By Jayne Jaudon Ferrer,

What is this book about?

When five middle-aged girlfriends trade in carpools and casseroles for microphones and music halls, look out!

Hayley Swift, a country music diva who has slipped out of the limelight, gets more attention when she's mistaken for Taylor Swift's mom than for her former glory days. When she's invited to perform at her 35th high school reunion, a bus accident puts her back-up singers in a hospital, Hayley begs her long-gone-domestic quartet from high school to join her onstage for the gig. They're such a hit that she invites the women to fill in on a low-budget tour for a couple…


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