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Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
A few weeks ago, first-time author Michelle Zauner celebrated a major milestone: 52 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list (and still going strong) for her memoir, Crying in H Mart (Knopf), about navigating her grief after losing her mother to cancer by cooking Korean food. Since publication, she’s been in seemingly perpetual motion. Releasing her third album, Jubilee, with her indie pop band Japanese Breakfast. Playing Coachella, SXSW, Bonnaroo. Appearing in a Rodarte pre-fall campaign and a Levi’s x Free People ad. Making Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. Covering her single “Be Sweet” in Simlish and composing the soundtrack for the Sable video game (she also has a game called BreakQuest). Attending the Grammys as a Valentino-clad double nominee. Performing on SNL’s finale. Throwing out the first pitch at a New York Mets game. She’s also writing the film adaptation of her book for Orion Pictures and in the middle of a world tour.
The Seoul-born, Eugene, Oregon-raised, Brooklyn-based Zauner is an Aries, was the editor of her middle school newspaper (she thought she’d pursue journalism); was a competitive chess player from fourth to seventh grade; has done Tiny Desk Concert; once worked coat check at Union Transfer in Philadelphia, which she sold out five nights in a row; studied creative writing at Bryn Mawr; worked in advertising sales; got her first guitar—a Yamaha acoustic—as a Christmas gift from her mom; and danced to the Carpenters’s Rainy Days and Mondays at her wedding.
Likes: Wilco, Cibo Matto, and Karen O; dried cuttlefish and Kewpie mayo (the latter is one of her tattoos), Gwangjang Market in Seoul; Michael Imperioli (who appears in JBrekkie’s “Savage Good Boy” video); ReAnimator Coffee Keystone Blend. Dislikes: Fusion cuisine, hiking.
The book that:
…should be on every college syllabus:
Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping. I read this book in a novel writing course at Bryn Mawr, and it absolutely changed me.
…helped me become a better writer:
Richard Ford’s Rock Springs. I’ve reread this book so many times. At one point, while I was revising Crying in H Mart, I picked it back up and underlined all the sentences about the weather to figure out how to inject more atmosphere into my prose. It is truly a master class in short fiction.
…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face. This novel is such a page-turner. It reads like a TV series, richly detailed and visually evocative.
…features a character I love to hate:
Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. In my opinion, John Willoughby is the ultimate fuckboy.
…grew on me:
Megha Majumdar’s A Burning. I’m not sure why this didn’t grab me from the beginning, but a few chapters in and I was hooked. I couldn’t put it down.
…helped me through a loss:
Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. A gorgeous book on grief by a true master.
…features the most beautiful jacket:
Last year on tour I picked up a beautiful vintage hardcover of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which features such illustrations as Procession of Lowood Orphan Girls in Gothic Dress.
…has the best title:
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. Iconic. Unforgettable.
…made me laugh out loud:
George Saunders’s Civilwarland in Bad Decline. George Saunders is hands down the funniest writer on the planet and an exceptional reader. I attended one of his readings in college and was practically in tears.
…kept me up way too late:
Jhumpa Lahiri’s In Other Words. I just adore Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing so deeply. Her ruminations on language, education, and belonging resonate so strongly with my current interests. Another book I couldn’t put down.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
I’m currently reading a galley copy of The 12th Commandment by my former Creative Writing professor, Daniel Torday. Daniel has been such a great friend and mentor to me. It’s a thrill to read him at his prime. The novel is an incredibly suspenseful detective story revolving around a Jewish-Islamic cult in Columbus, Ohio.
…I recommend over and over again:
M.F.K. Fisher’s The Gastronomical Me. M.F.K. Fisher’s food writing is spectacular and was deeply inspiring to me while I was working on Crying in H Mart. She is so delightful, sensual, funny. Ahead of her time.
Riza Cruz is an editor and writer based in New York.