10 books like Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments

By Saidiya V. Hartman,

Here are 10 books that authors have personally recommended if you like Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. Shepherd is a community of 6,000+ authors sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Out of Sheer Rage

By Geoff Dyer,

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

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. 

Out of Sheer Rage

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.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Book cover of Their Eyes Were Watching God

This is the book that, after three years of a long and often turgid English degree, made me fall back in love with reading. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on boardis there a better opening line in the English language? The novel tells the story of Janey, an African American woman in Florida in the 1920s, and her three husbands. A candidate for shaming and marginalisation if ever there was one. But Janey resists every constraint that society seeks to impose on her. I read this book whenever I need a good weep. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God

By Zora Neale Hurston,

Why should I read it?

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


The Quest for Corvo

By A.J.A. Symons,

Book cover of The Quest for Corvo

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.

The Quest for Corvo

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.


The Silent Woman

By Janet Malcolm,

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

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?

The Silent Woman

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.

All We Know

By Lisa Cohen,

Book cover of All We Know: Three Lives

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.

All We Know

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.


The Warmth of Other Suns

By Isabel Wilkerson,

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

Wilkerson embeds us with some of the millions of Black men and women who fled the Jim Crow South between 1915 and 1970, describing communities abandoned and hopes realized or disappointed. Robert Foster left his Louisiana town for Southern California, where he navigated new forms of racism to establish himself as a surgeon and prominent social figure. Ida Mae Gladney took her family from Mississippi to Chicago, where lodging, segregation, and “mind-numbing labor” scarcely improved on that of the South. But it was in Chicago that Ida Mae was first able to vote. Through the lives of people like these, Wilkerson paints a sweeping history of twentieth-century America that tells us as much about a country and an era as Tolstoy did in War and Peace.

The Warmth of Other Suns

By Isabel Wilkerson,

Why should I read it?

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


At the Dark End of the Street

By Danielle L. McGuire,

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

Rosa Parks is one of a handful of American women whose names make it into our textbooks and social studies curriculum. However, the textbook version of Parks tends to sanitize her activism and skim the surface of her remarkable life. As one of my students observed, Parks’ powerful story has been reinterpreted “to make white people feel good about themselves,” as if somehow all the problems exposed by the Civil Rights movement were fixed after Parks refused to give up her seat. Danielle McGuire’s At the Dark End of the Street restores the fullness of Parks’ life and work, and places Black women and their fight against sexual violence at the center of the ongoing Civil Rights movement. This book transforms how we understand ourselves as a nation and as people. 

At the Dark End of the Street

By Danielle L. McGuire,

Why should I read it?

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


Home and Work

By Jeanne Boydston,

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

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.]

Home and Work

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…

The Nickel Boys

By Colson Whitehead,

Book cover of The Nickel Boys

An unflinching and raw look at the early twentieth-century juvenile justice system for two, young Black boys named Elwood and Turner. The Nickel Boys explores how Elwood and Turner come to depend on one another through times of unimaginable trauma, loss of innocence, and grief. Sometimes your family is the one person standing right next to you and that bond not even the evilest of actions can break.

The Nickel Boys

By Colson Whitehead,

Why should I read it?

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


The Buddha in the Attic

By Julie Otsuka,

Book cover of The Buddha in the Attic

The Buddha in the Attic is a novel about early 20th century Japanese “picture brides,” women who came to the United States to be united with husbands they’d never met. Otsuka writes their story in the first-person plural, which you couldn’t imagine would work, but it does—and beautifully. There’s a choral quality here, a sense of a shared history that transcends any one life. Like her (also extraordinary) first novel, When the Emperor Was Divine, it’s written with an almost pointillist perfection. Every word feels chosen, radiant, radical.

The Buddha in the Attic

By Julie Otsuka,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Buddha in the Attic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic, the follow-up to When the Emperor Was Divine was shortlisted for the 2011 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and winner of the Pen Faulkner Award for Fiction 2012.

Between the first and second world wars a group of young, non-English-speaking Japanese women travelled by boat to America. They were picture brides, clutching photos of husbands-to-be whom they had yet to meet. Julie Otsuka tells their extraordinary, heartbreaking story in this spellbinding and poetic account of strangers lost and alone in a new and deeply foreign…


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