The best books about writers struggling to find their place in the world

Why am I passionate about this?

My memoir, Circling Home: What I Learned by Living Elsewhere, details my own trajectory in trying to find my voice and métier as a writer. I’ve kept a journal since I was a teenager, trained to be a journalist in college, and worked as an investigative reporter on a newspaper column and a news show in my twenties. When my husband and I moved abroad, I got a book contract for my PhD thesis and also published my research in academic journals. I wrote travel articles and profiles of people I met while living in East and West Africa. Working with a writing group of friends, I finished two novels before embarking on my memoir.


I wrote...

Circling Home: What I Learned by Living Elsewhere

By Terry A. Repak,

Book cover of Circling Home: What I Learned by Living Elsewhere

What is my book about?

When Terry Repak and her husband moved to West Africa with two small children at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1990s, she seized the opportunity to connect with people of other cultures and bear witness to the ravages of the disease. Circling Home chronicles the adventures and challenges of raising children to be global citizens and trying to find home in countries as diverse as Ivory Coast, Tanzania, and Switzerland. Her memoir spotlights the complexity, struggles, and profound lessons at the heart of the expat journey.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Manifesto: On Never Giving Up

Terry A. Repak Why did I love this book?

This memoir and Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning novel, Girl, Woman, Other, opened my eyes to the struggles of writers and actors in the UK—especially women of color and immigrants—as they tried to find their voices and places and in literary circles.

Raised in a big family by a Nigerian father and British mother, Evaristo describes her upbringing and her efforts to find her voice when there were few venues for writers of color. Her theory of unstoppability is deeply inspiring for anyone who faces roadblocks in pursuing their passions, particularly writers who experienced the sting of multiple rejections before having their work accepted.

By Bernardine Evaristo,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the bestselling and Booker Prize–winning author of Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo’s memoir of her own life and writing, and her manifesto on unstoppability, creativity, and activism

Bernardine Evaristo’s 2019 Booker Prize win was a historic and revolutionary occasion, with Evaristo being the first Black woman and first Black British person ever to win the prize in its fifty-year history. Girl, Woman, Other was named a favorite book of the year by President Obama and Roxane Gay, was translated into thirty-five languages, and has now reached more than a million readers.

Evaristo’s astonishing nonfiction debut, Manifesto, is a vibrant…


Book cover of What Comes Next and How to Like It: A Memoir

Terry A. Repak Why did I love this book?

Thomas is a writer who got a late start before blazing trails with her memoirs, written in spare and evocative prose.

Stephen King calls her the “Emily Dickinson of memoirists” and noted that “so much of this book’s wisdom is written between the lines and in the white spaces.” She writes about troubled friendships, the gems she finds each day in the mundane, and the unavoidable pains of growing old. Her understated style is searing and inimitable.

This book and her earlier memoir Safekeeping made me hopeful that my writing style can keep improving even in my sixties and beyond.

By Abigail Thomas,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What Comes Next and How to Like It as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times bestseller from the beloved author of A Three Dog Life-an exhilarating, superbly written memoir on friendship, family, creativity, tragedy, and the richness of life: "If you only read one book this year, make it this one" (Ann Patchett).

In her bestselling memoir A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas wrote about the devastating loss of her husband. In What Comes Next and How to Like It, "a keenly observed memoir...Thomas writes of the changes aging brings us all and of coping through love: of family, dogs, a well-turned phrase. She is superb company" (People).

Thomas was startled…


Book cover of The Story of a New Name

Terry A. Repak Why did I love this book?

The second of Ferrante’s four Neopolitan Novels is a gripping portrayal of the hardships faced by women who grew up in Italy in the 1950s and ‘60s.

The novel is packed with romantic liaisons, incidences of family violence, and the many hurdles that Italian women had to face in forging careers independent of their families. The detailed rendering of a complicated friendship between two women who disappointed each other at times shows how hard women in working-class Naples had to struggle to find their paths.

Being from a big family myself and facing many hurdles before finding my voice, I could relate to the characters in this book and Ferrante’s subsequent novel, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay Behind.

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Story of a New Name as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

OVER 14M OF THE NEAPOLITAN QUARTET SOLD WORLDWIDE

The Story of a New Name, the second book of the Neapolitan Quartet, picks up the story where My Brilliant Friend left off.


Lila has recently married and made her entree into the family business; Elena, meanwhile, continues her studies and her exploration of the world beyond the neighbourhood that she so often finds stifling. Love, jealousy, family, freedom, commitment, and above all friendship: these are signs under which both women live out this phase in their stories. Marriage appears to have imprisoned Lila, and the pressure to excel is at times…


Book cover of Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love

Terry A. Repak Why did I love this book?

Shapiro’s memoir details her shocking discovery that her beloved father was not her father, and the agonizing process of reevaluating her sense of self and identity in her 50s.

Uncovering family secrets and finding deeper connections with the people around us are also themes in her recent novel, Signal Fires. I’ve always believed that family history is a huge determinant of character, identity, and the types of relationships we form, and that uncovering that history leads to better understanding of others and forgiveness of each other’s flaws. 

By Dani Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Inheritance as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the acclaimed author of Inheritance and host of the hit podcast Family Secrets: a memoir about the staggering family secret uncovered by a genealogy test, an exploration of the urgent ethical questions surrounding fertility treatments and DNA testing, and a profound inquiry of paternity, identity, and love.

“Memoir gold: a profound and exquisitely rendered exploration of identity and the true meaning of family.” —People

In the spring of 2016, through a genealogy website to which she had casually submitted her DNA for analysis, Dani Shapiro received the stunning news that her beloved deceased father…


Book cover of Groundskeeping

Terry A. Repak Why did I love this book?

This is a quiet first novel that deals directly with writers’ struggles to find their voices and places in the world.

The main character, an aspiring writer who works as a laborer to pay for classes and for entrée into the literary world, falls in love with a poet who has already won acclaim and doesn’t have to take menial jobs that distract her from her real passion.

Both characters struggle to find their voices and make their ways as writers in a country that doesn’t offer public funding to aspiring artists and writers. Both opt to live modestly in order to pursue their chosen career paths, and ultimately find that they must consider their own career above the other’s.

By Lee Cole,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A TODAY SHOW #ReadWithJenna BOOK CLUB PICK • An indelible love story about two very different people navigating the entanglements of class and identity and coming of age in an America coming apart at the seams—this is "an extraordinary debut about the ties that bind families together and tear them apart across generations" (Ann Patchett, best-selling author of The Dutch House).

In the run-up to the 2016 election, Owen Callahan, an aspiring writer, moves back to Kentucky to live with his Trump-supporting uncle and grandfather. Eager to clean up his act after wasting time and potential in his early twenties,…


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American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

Book cover of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

Brett Dakin Author Of Another Quiet American: Stories of Life in Laos

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Meet Lev Gleason, a real-life comics superhero! Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in World War I in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives—and the files of the FBI—to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise…

American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

By Brett Dakin,

What is this book about?

MEET LEV GLEASON, A REAL-LIFE COMICS SUPERHERO!

Gleason was a titan among Golden Age comics publishers who fought back against the censorship campaigns and paranoia of the Red Scare. After dropping out of Harvard to fight in France, Gleason moved to New York City and eventually made it big with groundbreaking titles like Daredevil and Crime Does Not Pay.

Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives-and the files of the FBI-to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise to the top of comics,…


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