100 books like Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Here are 100 books that Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments fans have personally recommended if you like Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D. H. Lawrence

Emma Darwin Author Of This is Not a Book About Charles Darwin: a writer’s journey through my family

From my list on failing to write a book.

Why am I passionate about this?

Alongside writing, I’ve been running workshops, teaching and mentoring writers for nearly twenty years, helping people get unstuck and keep going. So I spend most of my working life thinking about creativity and writing—then suddenly I, too, couldn’t write the book I needed to write. Every book in this list is about not-writing for different reasons, in different circumstances, but between them they tell us so much about how we write, why we write, how we get writing to happen—and what’s happening when we can’t. These very different stories resonate with each other, and I hope some of them resonate with you.

Emma's book list on failing to write a book

Emma Darwin Why did Emma love this book?

First, because it’s incredibly funny. Geoff Dyer set out—he says—to write a sober, serious study of D. H. Lawrence, but life, travel arrangements, random people and his own inertia kept getting in the way. The story of his odyssey doesn’t just evoke all the things about writing that we’ve always suspected (that it’s hard; that it’s easy; that we often wonder why on earth we do it; that we never question that we want to do it). It also, by stealth, evokes and explains an amazing amount about Lawrence, and why he’s a writer that so many people love—or hate—so passionately. 

By Geoff Dyer,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Out of Sheer Rage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Recounts the author's experiences visiting the places D.H. Lawrence lived while actively not working on a book about Lawrence and not writing his own novel.


Book cover of Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War

David B. Allison Author Of Controversial Monuments and Memorials: A Guide for Community Leaders

From my list on memory that make you question how you see the past.

Why am I passionate about this?

Memory is capricious and impacts our view of the past. That’s why I do what I do! I am a twenty-year museum professional who began my career at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, worked at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science for almost ten years, and am now part of the Arts & History department at the City and County of Broomfield. I have designed and developed programs and events, as well as managed teams in each of these stops. I seek to illuminate stories, elevate critical voices, and advocate for equity through the unique pathways of the arts, history, and museum magic.

David's book list on memory that make you question how you see the past

David B. Allison Why did David love this book?

By turns funny, poignant, and incisive, the late author Tony Horwitz tours the South with a journalist’s eye and a sociologist’s heart.

He bravely takes on the memory of the Civil War through the eyes of reenactors, angry neo-Confederates in bars, and Black museum guides (among many others). I recently re-read this book through the lens of the Black Lives Matter movement and the killing of George Floyd, which touched off numerous protests against monuments to Confederate leaders.

When Horwitz wrote this book in the late 1990s, it seemed unlikely that Monument Avenue in Richmond would ever change. In the case of monuments to problematic historic figures, at least, people’s perspectives have indeed shifted over time. Horwitz’s book is a great reminder that change is possible!

By Tony Horwitz,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Confederates in the Attic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent takes us on an explosive adventure into the soul of the unvanquished South, where Civil War reenactors, battlefield visitors, and fans of history resurrect the ghosts of the Lost Cause through ritual and remembrance.  

"The freshest book about divisiveness in America that I have read in some time. This splendid commemoration of the war and its legacy ... is an eyes–open, humorously no–nonsense survey of complicated Americans." —The New York Times Book Review

For all who remain intrigued by the legacy of the Civil War—reenactors, battlefield visitors, Confederate descendants and other Southerners,…


Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

Kai Storm Author Of That One Voice

From my list on fiction novels that will make you believe they’re real.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m Kai Storm, author of reality-based urban fiction and erotica, erotica blogger, YouTuber, and Podcaster. I love reading books that feel real, that make you feel, and that teach you something as they entertain you.

Kai's book list on fiction novels that will make you believe they’re real

Kai Storm Why did Kai love this book?

This book scared the hell out of me when I was a teenager because its vivid descriptions stayed in my dreams yet it never stopped me from reading and loving the entire book.

It taught me a lot about following your intuition and/or gut feelings. Although it has been a long time since I read it, the main thing I remember is that your intuition is your protector, and listening to that inner voice helps a lot along the way.

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked Their Eyes Were Watching God as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Cover design by Harlem renaissance artist Lois Mailou Jones

When Janie, at sixteen, is caught kissing shiftless Johnny Taylor, her grandmother swiftly marries her off to an old man with sixty acres. Janie endures two stifling marriages before meeting the man of her dreams, who offers not diamonds, but a packet of flowering seeds ...

'For me, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD is one of the very greatest American novels of the 20th century. It is so lyrical it should be sentimental; it is so passionate it should be overwrought, but it is instead a rigorous, convincing and dazzling piece…


Book cover of The Quest for Corvo

R. A. Sinn Author Of Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality

From my list on reimagining biography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of sexuality who is fascinated by unknown stories that reveal the past to be way more complicated than we expect. I’ve written about same-sex marriage in early America, a teenage female poet of the American Revolution, a masculine woman who founded her own college, and a notorious British pederast. Now I’m working on the tale of a forgotten American sexual adventuress and jewel thief. I also have a longstanding research project about the history of food and sex from the eighteenth century to the present day.

R. A.'s book list on reimagining biography

R. A. Sinn Why did R. A. love this book?

Before Symons published The Quest for Corvo in 1934, many biographies were little more than hagiographies, or boring tomes about unblemished saints. Symons redefined biography by writing a mystery story, featuring himself as a historical detective seeking to understand how a character as disagreeable as Frederick Rolfe, a.k.a. Baron Corvo, could have authored beautiful novels like Hadrian the Seventh.

By A.J.A. Symons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Quest for Corvo as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One day in 1925 a friend asked A. J. A. Symons if he had read Fr. Rolfe's Hadrian the Seventh. He hadn't, but soon did, and found himself entranced by the novel -- "a masterpiece"-- and no less fascinated by the mysterious person of its all-but-forgotten creator. The Quest for Corvo is a hilarious and heartbreaking portrait of the strange Frederick Rolfe, self-appointed Baron Corvo, an artist, writer, and frustrated aspirant to the priesthood with a bottomless talent for self-destruction. But this singular work, subtitled "an experiment in biography," is also a remarkable self-portrait, a study of the obsession and…


Book cover of The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes

R. A. Sinn Author Of Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality

From my list on reimagining biography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of sexuality who is fascinated by unknown stories that reveal the past to be way more complicated than we expect. I’ve written about same-sex marriage in early America, a teenage female poet of the American Revolution, a masculine woman who founded her own college, and a notorious British pederast. Now I’m working on the tale of a forgotten American sexual adventuress and jewel thief. I also have a longstanding research project about the history of food and sex from the eighteenth century to the present day.

R. A.'s book list on reimagining biography

R. A. Sinn Why did R. A. love this book?

In my secret heart of hearts, I wrote my most recent book, Unspeakable, for an audience of one: Janet Malcolm. All her prose is sharp, but her anti-biography of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes is spectacular in its exploration of the question: is it even possible to write a truthful biography?

By Janet Malcolm,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Is it ever possible to know 'the truth' about Sylvia Plath and her marriage to Ted Hughes, which ended with her suicide?

In The Silent Woman, renowned writer Janet Malcolm examines the biographies of Sylvia Plath, with particular focus on Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame, to discover how Plath became an enigma in literary history.

The Silent Woman is a brilliant, elegantly reasoned inquiry into the nature of biography, dispelling our innocence as readers, as well as shedding a light onto why Plath's legend continues to exert such a hold on our imaginations.


Book cover of All We Know: Three Lives

R. A. Sinn Author Of Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality

From my list on reimagining biography.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian of sexuality who is fascinated by unknown stories that reveal the past to be way more complicated than we expect. I’ve written about same-sex marriage in early America, a teenage female poet of the American Revolution, a masculine woman who founded her own college, and a notorious British pederast. Now I’m working on the tale of a forgotten American sexual adventuress and jewel thief. I also have a longstanding research project about the history of food and sex from the eighteenth century to the present day.

R. A.'s book list on reimagining biography

R. A. Sinn Why did R. A. love this book?

Through sheer magic, Lisa Cohen manages to combine three lives that defy biography into a beautifully written group portrait of mid-century lesbian modernism. Although Cohen writes that “every biography is a disappointment of some kind,” her book about Esther Murphy, Mercedes de Acosta, and Madge Garland thrilled me from start to finish.

By Lisa Cohen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

All We Know is one of Publishers Weekly's Top 10 Best Books of 2012

A revelatory biography of three glamorous, complex modern women

Esther Murphy was a brilliant New York intellectual who dazzled friends and strangers with an unstoppable flow of conversation. But she never finished the books she was contracted to write―a painful failure, and yet a kind of achievement.
The quintessential fan, Mercedes de Acosta had intimate friendships with the legendary actresses and dancers of the twentieth century. Her ephemeral legacy is the thousands of objects she collected to preserve the memory of those performers and to document…


Book cover of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Author Of Let's Talk Race: A Guide for White People

From my list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should.

Why we are passionate about this?

We grew up in predominantly white communities and came of age during the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. As academics, we focused on issues of race in our research and teaching. Yet, despite our reading and writing about race, we still hadn’t made a connection to our own lives and how our white privilege shielded us and made us complicit in perpetuating racial inequities. We didn’t fully see our role in white supremacy until we adopted our sons. Becoming an interracial family and parenting Black sons taught us about white privilege and the myriad ways that Blacks confront racism in education, criminal justice, health care, and simply living day-to-day. 

Marlene and Fern's book list on the experiences of Black people in the US that white people don’t know but should

Marlene G. Fine and Fern L. Johnson Why did Marlene and Fern love this book?

Growing up, Marlene learned about the Holocaust through stories about members of her mother’s family who died in the Holocaust. As a Lutheran growing up in Minnesota, Fern learned little about the Holocaust. As whites, neither of us learned much about the Jim Crow era in the US or the northern migration of southern African Americans during that era.

Isabelle Wilkerson grew up knowing the stories of her parents’ migration north to Washington, DC. Those stories shaped her desire to chronicle the Great Migration (1915-1970), in which millions of African Americans left the Jim Crow South for better lives in northern cities. Although many achieved success that would not have been possible, they experienced the same interpersonal and institutional racism in the North that they thought they were escaping from.

Wilkerson, a journalist, gives us the sweep of history grounded by the stories of four African Americans. 

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked The Warmth of Other Suns as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER • NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • In this beautifully written masterwork, the Pulitzer Prize–winnner and bestselling author of Caste chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

From 1915 to 1970, this exodus of almost six million people changed the face of America. Wilkerson compares this epic migration to the migrations of other peoples in history. She interviewed more than a thousand people, and gained access to new data and official…


Book cover of At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power

Why am I passionate about this?

I started my career teaching high school. I attended amazing professional development institutes, where scholars showed me how the stories I’d learned and then taught to my own students were so oversimplified that they had become factually incorrect. I was hooked. I kept wondering what else I’d gotten wrong. I earned a Ph.D. in modern US History with specialties in women’s and gender history and war and society, and now I’m an Associate Professor of History at Iowa State University and the Coordinator of ISU’s Social Studies Education Program. I focus on historical complexity and human motivations because they are the key to understanding change.

Amy's book list on books about twenteith-century U.S. History that make you rethink something you thought you already knew

Amy J. Rutenberg Why did Amy love this book?

We live in a time when personal convenience seems to trump everything else. So how is it that virtually the entire Black community of Montgomery, Alabama, stayed off the city buses for over a year in the mid-1950s?

The first three chapters of this book answer that question in a completely new way that made the realities of the Jim Crow South and the dangers of the struggle for racial justice snap into focus for me. The boycott was tangentially about segregation on buses, but really, argues McGuire, it was a fight for bodily integrity, safety, and self-respect.

Because it deals with rape and sexual assault, this can be a hard book to read, but it literally gave me a different understanding of what “equality” means.

By Danielle L. McGuire,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked At the Dark End of the Street as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here is the courageous, groundbreaking story of Rosa Parks and Recy Taylor—a story that reinterprets the history of America's civil rights movement in terms of the sexual violence committed against Black women by white men.

"An important step to finally facing the terrible legacies of race and gender in this country.” —The Washington Post

Rosa Parks was often described as a sweet and reticent elderly woman whose tired feet caused her to defy segregation on Montgomery’s city buses, and whose supposedly solitary, spontaneous act sparked the 1955 bus boycott that gave birth to the civil rights movement. The truth of…


Book cover of Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic

Lori D. Ginzberg Author Of Elizabeth Cady Stanton: An American Life

From my list on that will blow your mind about US women’s history.

Why am I passionate about this?

When I started college in 1974 as a young radical feminist I had zero interest in history—it was all wars and men. But in a course about the Russian Revolution I learned the most thrilling thing: historians don’t simply relay facts, they argue with one another. I fell in love, and I never looked back. I am especially fascinated by what societies label “unthinkable,” and how that shapes, contains, and controls radical ideas. I've always been intrigued by what is "out of the question" and then poke at it, see what lies underneath, and try to figure out why things remain, or are kept, invisible.

Lori's book list on that will blow your mind about US women’s history

Lori D. Ginzberg Why did Lori love this book?

On one level, this is a book about housework in the pre-Civil War northern United States. Much more profoundly, it shatters ideas about unpaid labor in early industrial capitalism. It completely changed myand many readers’ideas of what constitutes “work,” what it means to contribute to a household economy, and how ideas about wages (and, especially, work done by men outside the home) obscured early capitalists’ dependence on women’s unwaged work. After reading this, you’ll never refer to “women who worked” and “women who didn’t” again.  It should be essential reading not only for women’s historians, but for anyone interested in ideologies of labor, capitalism, and the history of work.

[Full disclosure: I met Jeanne Boydston on my second day of graduate school and we collaborated closely on our dissertations (later books). She was my best friend and best teacher until her much-too-early death in 2008.]

By Jeanne Boydston,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Home and Work as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Over the course of a two hundred year period, women's domestic labor gradually lost its footing as a recognized aspect of economic life in America. The image of the colonial "goodwife," valued for her contribution to household prosperity, had been replaced by the image of a "dependent" and a "non-producer." This book is a history of housework in the United States prior to the Civil War. More particularly, it is a history of women's unpaid domestic labor in the context of the emergence of an industrialized society in the northern United States. Boydston argues that just as a capitalist economic…


Book cover of The Nickel Boys

Ginger Pinholster Author Of Snakes of St. Augustine

From my list on featuring Florida in a big way.

Why am I passionate about this?

My second novel, Snakes of St. Augustine, describes an unconventional love story served up with a large side of Florida weirdness. My first novel, City in a Forest, received a Gold Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writers Association in 2020. My short fiction and essays have appeared in Pangyrus, Eckerd Review, Northern Virginia Review, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. I earned my bachelor’s degree in English from Eckerd College and the M.F.A. in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte. Currently, I’m a writer for a university in Daytona Beach, Florida. A resident of Ponce Inlet, I began volunteering with the Volusia-Flagler Sea Turtle Patrol in 2018.

Ginger's book list on featuring Florida in a big way

Ginger Pinholster Why did Ginger love this book?

The devastating story of two boys unjustly sentenced to serve time in a nightmarish juvenile reform school, The Nickel Boys won a Pulitzer Prize and became a New York Times bestseller.

It is a must-read for anyone sampling literary works featuring Florida. The boys in the story, Elwood and Turner, endure and witness hellish abuse at the Nickel Academy. The boys’ haunting story, exquisitely told by Colson Whitehead, is based on Florida’s real-life Dozier school where thousands of children were tortured, raped, and murdered for more than a century.

Whitehead’s unflinching descriptions of terror and abuse can be tough to take, but they serve an important purpose, by forcing the reader to confront the hellish reality that was America under Jim Crow laws. Long after the last page is turned, if ever, this novel won’t leave you.

By Colson Whitehead,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Nickel Boys as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • In this Pulitzer Prize-winning follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.
 
When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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