The best books about Identity (social science)

3 authors have picked their favorite books about Identity (social science) and why they recommend each book.

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On the Move

By Timothy Cresswell,

Book cover of On the Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World

Geographer Tim Cresswell’s work has helped me convince architectural historians that examining how we move through spaces is vital to understanding the full range of the built environment’s cultural meanings. He states the obvious: we all live in physical bodies. And yet historians emphasize the written word and architects emphasize visualization. What about the other senses? Cresswell argues that mobility is a socially-constructed movement much like place is a socially-constructed space. We can learn so much by paying attention to the ways society controls movement: Who is allowed to occupy which spaces? When? With whom? And how has that changed over time? Cresswell’s ideas helped me analyze the lived experiences of multiple people in the same domestic spaces, and ultimately connect the manipulation of architecture and landscape to modernity’s regulation of bodies and ideas. 

On the Move

By Timothy Cresswell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On the Move presents a rich history of one of the key concepts of modern life: mobility. Increasing mobility has been a constant throughout the modern era, evident in mass car ownership, plane travel, and the rise of the Internet. Typically, people have equated increasing mobility with increasing freedom. However, as Cresswell shows, while mobility has certainly increased in modern times, attempts to control and restrict mobility are just as characteristic of modernity. Through a series of fascinating historical episodes Cresswell shows how mobility and its regulation have been central to the experience of modernity.


Who am I?

When I was a kid I would cut out graph paper to design my ideal house. When I was in college, I walked into a class called American Material Life and had my eureka moment: “This is how I want to learn about people in the past!” I realized. I’ve been doing that ever since, first as a museum curator and now as a history professor. Houses, furnishings, and the way people interact with the built environment can reveal the complexity, diversity, and beauty of human lives.


I wrote...

Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and the Transformation of Michigan's Mining Frontier

By Sarah Fayen Scarlett,

Book cover of Company Suburbs: Architecture, Power, and the Transformation of Michigan's Mining Frontier

What is my book about?

In this book I contrast two types of neighborhoods that transformed Michigan’s mining frontier between 1875 and 1920: paternalistic company towns built for workers and elite suburbs for the region’s network of business leaders. I argue that mining company officers and their partners adapted techniques from both types of neighborhoods—often at the same time in the same places!—to manipulate social hierarchy.

My favorite chapters in the book compare the experiences of homeowners and their families—neighborhood “insiders”—with those of immigrant domestic workers who lived and worked among them as “outsiders.” While Victorian houses used the back doors, butler’s pantries, and maid’s chambers to keep domestic workers “in their places,” they actually provided them with unexpected opportunities to try on new identities.

The Wolf Gift

By Anne Rice,

Book cover of The Wolf Gift: The Wolf Gift Chronicles

While this book was a bit slower-paced than I typically prefer, Anne Rice’s elegant style kept me turning pages. Reuben’s transformation isn’t a painful curse but is, as the title suggests, more like a superpower, a gift to be used for good. As the “Man Wolf” he becomes a popular and controversial media figure, a vigilante who literally devours attempted rapists, muggers, and other criminals. Meanwhile, in his human life, Reuben wrestles with Catholic guilt over the people he has killed. I like that thoughtful, spiritual angle, as well as the rich descriptions—and I also love a certain group of characters who come in later, but that’s a spoiler!

The Wolf Gift

By Anne Rice,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Reuben, otherwise known as Sunshine Boy, was sent to write a piece about the uncertain future of the giant house on the cliff, he wasn't expecting to warm so instantly to elegant heiress Marchent Nideck. Nor was he expecting to get caught up in a violent attack which will leave him changed in ways he could never have imagined ...

Anne Rice's 'Vampire Chronicles' defined a genre, but now she has another age-old story in her sights: the terrifying werewolf legend. The classic monster of horror fiction is here reimagined and reinvented, with all Rice's supernatural sympathy and inventiveness,…

Who am I?

While the werewolf curse isn’t real (as far as we know/thank goodness!), I do know what it’s like to have my life turned upside down by a painful illness that seems like a curse. When I was 23, I almost died from a rare autoimmune disease that tried to devour my lungs. More than a decade later, I’m still here and fighting, and my escapist love of reading fantasy books turned into a passion to write them. I also love metaphors and werewolves, and it all combined nicely with my BA in English! Aside from writing, I help other “underdog” authors as COO for indie publisher Thinklings Books.


I wrote...

Hunter's Moon

By Sarah M. Awa,

Book cover of Hunter's Moon

What is my book about?

College was hard enough before Melanie got bitten by a werewolf. Now she has to deal with painful transformations, a secret organization stalking her, and hunters looming on the horizon.

Lady Oracle

By Margaret Atwood,

Book cover of Lady Oracle

Lady Oracle was one of the novels I read in the several years after first having the vague notion that I might like to write a novel akin to Steppenwolf but that would be set in the approximate present day and have a female protagonist. As Lady Oracle’s main character is a writer who, after periodically reinventing herself, now fakes her own death, flees her intellectual, non-dancing husband, and holes up in an Italian village, I saw possible avenues for my own husband-leaving Kari. Would Kari flee to another country? Would she have secret lovers or a history of being fat? Would she, too, fake her own death? Kari ultimately didn’t follow many of Joan Foster’s paths, but she might have.

Lady Oracle

By Margaret Atwood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

By the author of The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace

*

The trick was to disappear without a trace, leaving behind me the shadow of a corpse, a shadow everyone would mistake for solid reality. At first I thought I'd managed it.

Fat girl, thin girl. Red hair, brown hair. Polish aristocrat, radical husband. Joan Foster has dozens of different identities, and she's utterly confused by them all. After a life spent running away from difficult situations, she decides to escape to a hill town in Italy to take stock of her life.

But first she must carefully arrange her…


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by our creative urges and ambitions, and by what makes us who we are and why we make the choices we do. While I’m interested in many aspects of human experience and psychology, from the mundane to the murderous, I’m especially drawn to narratives that probe our deeper psyches and look, particularly with a grain of humor, at our efforts to expand our understanding and create great works—or simply to become wiser and more enlightened beings. What is our place in the universe? Why are we here? Who are we? The books I’ve listed explore some of these matters in ways both heartfelt and humorous.


I wrote...

In Search of the Magic Theater

By Karla Huebner,

Book cover of In Search of the Magic Theater

What is my book about?

In Search of the Magic Theater, narrated alternately by the twentyish Sarah and the fortyish Kari, begins as something of a female version of Hermann Hesse’s renowned Steppenwolf. Why, the rather staid young cellist Sarah wonders, should her aunt rent their spare room to the perhaps unstable Kari Zilke? Like the nephew in Steppenwolf, Sarah finds herself taking an unexpected interest in the lodger, but Sarah is unable to stop at providing a mere introduction to Kari’s narrative of mid-life crisis and self-discovery, and develops her own more troubled tale of personal angst and growth, entwined with the account Kari herself purportedly left behind.

Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Book cover of Passing

Although Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield are only old childhood friends, their relationship has intense sister vibes. Each woman’s mix of jealousy and curiosity about the other’s life, the latent homoerotic desire that serves as an undercurrent for so much of the rising action, a suspected affair, and the explosive ending to Clare’s ruse all illustrate the kind of sibling rivalry I love to explore in my critical as well as my creative work. Not to mention, one of my favorite literary flexes of all time occurs near the end when Irene’s plucky friend Felise has to check a white man who has the audacity to yell the word “nigger” at a house party filled with Black people. It is a moment, as is the entire book. 

Passing

By Nella Larsen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A classic, brilliant and layered novel that has been at the heart of racial identity discourse in America for almost a century.

Clare Kendry leads a dangerous life. Fair, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a white man unaware of her African American heritage and has severed all ties to her past. Clare's childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, but refuses to acknowledge the racism that continues to constrict her family's happiness. A chance encounter forces both women to confront the lies they have told others - and the…


Who am I?

Nobody’s Magic began, not as the series of novellas it became, but as a collection of stories I couldn’t stop telling. And it wasn’t just my characters’ comings and goings that enthralled me. It was the way they demanded I let them tell their own stories. I enjoy reading and writing novellas because they allow space for action, voice, and reflection, and they can tackle manifold themes and conversations in a space that is both large and small. At the same time, they demand endings that are neither predictable nor neat, but rather force the reader to speculate on what becomes of these characters they’ve come to know and love. 


I wrote...

Nobody's Magic

By Destiny O. Birdsong,

Book cover of Nobody's Magic

What is my book about?

Nobody’s Magic is a triptych novel (a group of three novellas) about Black women with albinism who live in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. Though they range in age from twenty to thirty-four, each of them is facing a coming-of-age crossroads, where they have to decide how they want to live, whom they want to love, and in one case, where they want to be. There’s comedy and tragedy, plenty of intrigue (not to mention a few unsolved crimes), and a few rounds of good sex. In the end, each woman comes a little closer to finding herself, and coming to terms with her complicated—but nevertheless Black—identity.

Everything You Ever Wanted

By Jillian Lauren,

Book cover of Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir

In this exquisitely written poem of a memoir, Jillian Lauren splays her heart wide open, on every page as she transforms from an addict whose used up most of her luck to a mother whose role requires great stores of grit, determination, and love. We’re right there with her as she and her husband decide to adopt a boy from Ethiopia, and we’re along for the bumpy, often painful, occasionally joyful, ride through the challenges of parenting this tiny person who has already lost so much, but has so much to give. Outside of motherhood, she’s so funny and interesting I kind of want to be best friends with her. Not in a weirdo-stalker way, though.

Everything You Ever Wanted

By Jillian Lauren,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everything You Ever Wanted as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Best Memoir of 2015, "This memoir is compulsively readable and full of humor and heart."-AdoptiveFamilies.com

"A punk rock Scheherazade" (Margaret Cho) shares the zigzagging path that took her from harem member to PTA member...

In her younger years, Jillian Lauren was a college dropout, a drug addict, and an international concubine in the Prince of Brunei's harem, an experience she immortalized in in her bestselling memoir, SOME GIRLS. In her thirties, Jillian's most radical act was learning the steadying power of love when she and her rock star husband adopt an Ethiopian child with special needs. After Jillian loses…

Who am I?

I don’t just write stories, I study them. I’ve noticed that nearly every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath. As an adoptive mother and advocate for continuing contact with birth families, I love stories about adoption, because no two are alike. They give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.


I wrote...

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

By Vanessa McGrady,

Book cover of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

What is my book about?

Every family is complicated. None of us has a perfectly linear story. But if we are lucky, our stories are laced with love and compassion and humor. This was most surely the case in Vanessa McGrady’s life. In Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, her deft and moving love letter to her daughter, Grace.

After two years of waiting to adopt—years spent slogging through paperwork and bouncing between hope and despair—a miracle finally happened for Vanessa McGrady. Her sweet baby, Grace, was a dream come true. Then she made a highly uncommon decision: when Grace’s biological parents became homeless, Vanessa invited them to stay. Without a blueprint for navigating the practical basics of an open adoption or any discussion of expectations or boundaries, the unusual living arrangement became a bottomless well of conflicting emotions and increasingly difficult decisions complicated by missed opportunities, regret, social chaos, and broken hearts.

Book cover of Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being

Every now and then I come across a book that I wish I had written, and Quashie’s Black Aliveness is among them. One of the motivating premises of Afro-Nostalgia is the sense that so much of black life is narrated through a trauma, oppression, and death. Black Aliveness operates from a similar premise and is centrally concerned with the “quality of aliveness” in African American poetry and literature. Here is one of my favorite passages in the book: “As necessary as ‘Black Lives Matter’ has proven to be, so efficient and beautiful a truth-claim, its necessity disorients me…I want a black world where matter of mattering matters indisputably, where black mattering is beyond expression.”

Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being

By Kevin Quashie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Black Aliveness, or A Poetics of Being, Kevin Quashie imagines a Black world in which one encounters Black being as it is rather than only as it exists in the shadow of anti-Black violence. As such, he makes a case for Black aliveness even in the face of the persistence of death in Black life and Black study. Centrally, Quashie theorizes aliveness through the aesthetics of poetry, reading poetic inhabitance in Black feminist literary texts by Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Toni Morrison, and Evie Shockley, among others, showing how their philosophical and creative thinking constitutes worldmaking. This…

Who am I?

As a professor of African American literature and culture, I’ve spent my career writing, reading, teaching, talking and thinking about black interiority: feelings, emotions, memory, affect. My publications and lectures focus mostly on the creative and diverse ways that black people have created spaces of pleasure and possibility, even in the most dire times and under extremely difficult conditions. I’ve been told that I’m a natural optimist, so it is fitting that my most recent book and this recommendation list is all about the intentional and creative ways that people cultivate joy and a sense of possibility for themselves and others.


I wrote...

Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture

By Badia Ahad-Legardy,

Book cover of Afro-Nostalgia: Feeling Good in Contemporary Black Culture

What is my book about?

Afro-Nostalgia is about returning to a black historical past in ways that de-center a traumatic narrative of blackness. Despite the fact that it was once thought that African-descended people could not experience nostalgia, Afro-Nostalgia examines how romantic recollections of the black historical past show up in popular culture as a way to inspire “good feelings.” I explore the concept of “Black historical pleasure” through a variety of art forms, specifically literature, music, visual art, performance, and culinary culture, to show that nostalgia is a functional form of memory that is crucial to our emotional health and psychological well-being.

Be Your Own Brand

By David McNally, Karl D. Speak,

Book cover of Be Your Own Brand: A Breakthrough Formula for Standing Out from the Crowd

I am a person branding coach. I help people build their person (aka individual) brands. I know that the single most potent asset of every entrepreneur is their person brand. The more distinctive this is, and the more convincingly the person communicates it, the better for them and their business. Your person brand signals who you are, what you do, your core values, and why someone should work with you, instead of with someone else. David McNally and Karl Speak examine this concept threadbare and, in simple language, explain how you can build your brand as an individual.

Be Your Own Brand

By David McNally, Karl D. Speak,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Be Your Own Brand as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I left the corporate pigeonhole in 2015 and flew out into the Great Expanse. Ever since, I have been a catalyst for people’s self-expression across different media and formats. My work is a direct consequence of this motivation. I am a person branding coach, writer, editor & book coach and voiceover artist. I prefer depth over width, silence over noise, calm over chaos. My thinking is a blend of structure and free flow. My work is more than just work to me: it is a core part of my being. Being of a contemplative nature, I often ask myself big questions about value- creation, impact, empathy, collaboration, etc. I live in the Indian city of Bangalore (Bengaluru) with my family.


I wrote...

The Underage CEOs: Fascinating Stories of Young Indians Who Became CEOs in Their Twenties

By Ganesh Vancheeswaran,

Book cover of The Underage CEOs: Fascinating Stories of Young Indians Who Became CEOs in Their Twenties

What is my book about?

The Underage CEOs tells the stories of eleven youngsters in India who became entrepreneurs right after college/university, thereby becoming CEOs in their twenties itself! They rejected conventional career paths, fought off pressure from society, peers and parents, and took charge of their destinies. They have changed the lives of several people through their ventures. What's more, they are having a lot of fun!

These young men and women are not exceptions. Today, the business climate in India offers multiple opportunities to those with good ideas. If you have a strong vision, drive and patience, you can make a difference in your chosen field. The Underage CEOs is a call to action to take a leap of faith and rewrite your destiny at a young age!

Strong Is the New Pretty

By Kate T. Parker,

Book cover of Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is indeed what got me! I immediately wished someone had captured an image of me looking amazing and strong like the girl featured. I mean, how cool to have a picture that really reflects oneself, so unlike the stiff and awkwardly posed school pics that decorated my home growing up. Her stance and expression just spoke to me and I immediately loved that this book celebrated her strength and presence.  And not just hers! Many, many girls of various ages and backgrounds are photographed doing something that makes them feel good or strong or real. This book is a catalog of photos and words that celebrate girls being their authentic selves. I want that for all the little girls, and all the little girls who have grown up too. 

Strong Is the New Pretty

By Kate T. Parker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Strong Is the New Pretty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inspired by the popular photo project of the same title that went viral in the spring of 2015, Strong Is the New Pretty is a photo-driven book comprised of 100 high-quality black-and-white and color images (with minimal text) of fierce and joyful girls--a celebration of what it means to be strong (whether athletic, bookish, brainy, brave, loyal, or courageous). The photographs champion the message that girls are perfect in their imperfection; beautiful in their chaotic, authentic lives; and empowered by their strength instead of their looks. They are messy. They are loud. Wild. Full of life. Adventurous. Silly. Funny. Strong.

Who am I?

I love getting lost in books because I get to experience more adventures than I could possibly fit into one lifetime. Books invite the exploration of limitless possibilities—for everyone. When a book can fire my imagination, make me feel a connection, or just make me think deeplythat’s magic, whether it was meant to be fiction or not. I want to write books that do that for others. For this list specifically, I wanted to pick books that encourage girls to embrace the notions that they are allowed to dream really big dreams, that the goals they set for themselves are worth pursuing, and that we all deserve room to be our authentic selves.


I wrote...

Strut, Baby, Strut

By Amika Kroll, Ebony Glenn (illustrator),

Book cover of Strut, Baby, Strut

What is my book about?

From baby to toddler to big girl to teen to young lady, and finally, a confident woman, this lyrical, rhyming story teaches little girls to reach high, be bold, and love big at any and every stage of their life. Full of inspiring life lessons every parent strives to teach their child from day one, this story, written for little girls everywhere, is about growing up, loving yourself, and embracing your womanhood.

Probably Ruby

By Lisa Bird-Wilson,

Book cover of Probably Ruby: A Novel

I’d be remiss if I shared books from Canada with you and didn’t point you towards some of the amazing writing coming out of Saskatoon, Treaty 6 Territory, and the Homeland of the Métis. Lisa-Bird Wilson's newest book is a beautiful novel about an Indigenous woman’s search for identity after her adoption. Living in Saskatchewan as Canada wrestles with truth and reconciliation, books like Probably Ruby give me a path to understanding and learning. The voice of this novel is searing and gorgeous, filled with heart and light, and I believe anyone who reads it will feel changed by the experience.

Probably Ruby

By Lisa Bird-Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I moved to Canada because I fell wildly in love eighteen years ago. It wasn’t Canada I loved, but a man, and it’s taken me years to get over my homesickness for the country of my birth. I've found as I’ve grown older that the stories of this place have given me a sense of home and belonging—perhaps that’s why so many of the books I’ve recommended are about identity and what it means to the authors. I’m lucky enough to share my favourite books every month on CTV here in Saskatoon, and I focus almost exclusively on Canadian and local books. I hope you love these books as much as I do!


I wrote...

Always Smile: Carley Allison's Secrets for Laughing, Loving and Living

By Alice Kuipers,

Book cover of Always Smile: Carley Allison's Secrets for Laughing, Loving and Living

What is my book about?

Always Smile is a memoir of teen Carley Allison, a creative and inspiring young woman who was diagnosed with an incredibly rare form of cancer. Through her story, her friends and family share their love and experiences of Carley, and everything she taught them and the world. Writing this book taught me so much about listening to other people’s stories. The generosity of the people who loved Carley in sharing their words helped make this book keep Carley’s memory alive.

Book cover of The Importance of Being Earnest

Jack pretends to be his brother, Earnest, blaming the made-up man for all mishandled affairs. But when Jack's friend "becomes" the infamous Earnest and begins to woo Jack's ward Cecily, all sorts of craziness ensues. This classic play is perhaps the best example of wacky characters creating mayhem in a world where even bad things turn out to be only silly mishaps.  

The Importance of Being Earnest

By Oscar Wilde,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I teach writing and children's literature at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, and for many years worked as a librarian. (Once a librarian, always a librarian!) First and foremost, I'm a reader. The real world can be an unpleasant and depressing place, so I regularly escape inside books. Although serious books are great, it's also nice to escape to a world where you can laugh and not worry about anything too bad happening.


I wrote...

Wilde Wagers

By Elizabeth Caulfield Felt,

Book cover of Wilde Wagers

What is my book about?

Oscar Wilde bets that actress Olivia Snow can fool a group of country bumpkins into believing she is Genevieve Lamb, the wealthy beauty of the recent Season. The weekend will prove a challenge for the old-fashioned actress and Genevieve’s handsome and old-fashioned brother, Philip, because the manor is filled with ridiculous and eccentric characters, as well as one murderous criminal. While Olivia pretends to be Genevieve, Genevieve wagers on her own performance–as Olivia Snow. She and Oscar Wilde go out on the town, a decision that will have both wishing they’d stayed at home. These two charades take unexpected turns during a wild weekend of kidnapping, cucumber sandwiches, bee stings, and love. This Oscar Wilde-esque romantic comedy mystery will keep you guessing–and craving teacake.

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