Tressie McMillan Cottom’s Book Recommendations
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com Books Column, in which the authors share their most memorable readings. Whether you’re looking for a book to console you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the authors of our series, who, like you (since you’ve been here), love books. Maybe one of their favorite tracks will become one of yours as well.
Currently in its 15th edition, Dr Tressie McMillan Cottom is highly praised Thick (The New Press), eight incisive essays on Navigating the World as a Black Woman, was a non-fiction National Book Award finalist, won the 2019 Brooklyn Public Library Literary Award, and was named one of Lit Hub’s Top 10 Essays. collections of the decade. Her critically acclaimed 2016 book on For-Profit Colleges (she was once a recruiter for two of them), Lower ed, was based on a thesis research for his Ph.D. from the Laney Graduate School of Emory University in Sociology.
McMillan Cottom is Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill iSchool, Principal Investigator at the Center for Information, Technology and Public Life (UNC), Associate Professor at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, and a 2020 MacArthur Fellow.
In his nonexistent free time, McMillan Cottom co-hosts the Webby Award-nominated black feminist podcast of your dreams, Hear to kill, with Roxane Gay and writes the newsletter Trial for “the people who ruin movies for their friends.” She told Gay to Guernica that his life’s work was to “raise a very good hell for those who cannot.” His work appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and as she’s delighted to say, she appeared on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah thrice.
This introverted-turned-extrovert Libran is fundamentally allergic to spring (trees, plants, dander), roasts her own peanuts, recently got a guitar after a lesson 30 years ago, painted as a pandemic hobby, and doesn’t make resolutions (Her Lesson 2021 is, “Love those who love you.”) Likes: REI and Smartwool leggings, Dolly Parton, Hallmark Christmas movies, Peloton, turmeric drinks, three wheels, Target, her Jura coffee maker. Dislikes: badly scented candles and the general concept of e-mail. She is not alone.
The book that:
… Made me sob uncontrollably:
Yaa Gyasi Back home. I was not ready for this emotional experience.
… I recommend again and again:
Jesmyn ward’s Sing, not buried, sing.
… Shaped my vision of the world:
I probably started going into what we would consider a worldview with Angela Y. Davis Women, race and class.
… Currently on my bedside table:
The stakes are high by Mychal Denzel Smith.
… I would pass on a child:
Gwendolyn Brooks has a children’s book, Bronzeville Boys and Girls, which I remember loving and think is really great for kids. Images [by illustrator Faith Ringgold] really resonated with me.
… I would give a new graduate:
Brit Bennett’s Half gone. I think it’s good for young people. There is a message about the consequences and the tensions of your identity and your relationship to the world, and it is a very good message to resolve all these questions.
… Made me laugh out loud:
Wow, no thanks by Samantha Irby.
… I would like to become a Netflix show:
Jacqueline Woodson’s Red to the bone.
… I bought for the last time:
A tangled mercy by Joy Jordan-Lake. I’ll start reading this.
… With the best title:
There are more beautiful things than Beyoncé, a collection of poems by Morgan Parker. I bought it for its title.
… To the best opening line:
I cheat. This is not the first line. It’s lines four and five, but it’s Heavy by Kiese Laymon. And they say, “I didn’t mean to write about us. I wanted to write an American memoir. Right there you know it’s on.
… I reread the most:
Gloria Naylor’s books. Mother’s day, the Women of Brewster Place, and Linden Hills.
… I consider literary comfort food:
Oh, let’s see, comfort food. Olive kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, for the genre. I come back a lot to its structure, to the loosely linked short stories. And also The Women of Brewster Place, probably for the same reason.
… Presents the most beautiful book cover:
The most amazing and striking coverage is absolutely Cool muslim by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer. I probably bought this book four times just because of the cover. And if I believed in such blasphemy, I would probably cut it off and turn it into a pastiche or something. I really love this blanket.
… surprised me:
Autobiography of Mariah Carey [The Meaning of Mariah Carey].
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