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.
Edgar Allan Poe made Erika L. Sánchez want to be a poet at 12, and she published her first poetry collection in 2017 to wide acclaim. A producer reading her “Oh Hells Nah!” blog asked her about a novel at 28, and also in 2017, she published the NYT bestseller I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, a National Book Award finalist and a forthcoming Netflix film directed by America Ferrera. (Sánchez is a co-producer; the YA title was also adapted as a play and audio play by the Steppenwolf Theatre). Now she’s out with her memoir-in-essays Crying in the Bathroom (Viking).
The daughter of Mexican immigrants, the Chicago-based author and poet went to the University of Illinois at Chicago, got her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico, wrote poems and taught junior high English in Madrid as a Fulbright Scholar, was a Princeton Arts Fellow, and teaches in the Latin American and Latino Studies Department at DePaul University.
An advocate and activist on reproductive rights, immigration and mental health, she is a Buddhist, once wrote a sex and love advice column for Cosmopolitan for Latinas, has a dog named Snow Princess and a cat named Simone, is launching a podcast called “No Chingues,” sews/collages/paints/makes jewelry, and has a sandwich named after her at Chicago Bagel Authority called the Erika L. Sancheez, featuring prosciutto and Swiss, blue, Muenster, and Gouda (tagline: This is not your perfect Mexican bagel.)
Likes: Lisa Simpson, slides/sneakers with dress socks, 5 Rabanitos, Chicana artist Judithe Herandez, Bad Bunny; 90 Day Fiancé spinoffs, rage naps. Just can’t: Nut cheeses, sweet tamales, Chicago’s enthusiasm for issuing speeding/parking tickets. Jump start your TBR list with her recs below.
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky because it’s devastating and poetic. Boy, those Russians can write.
Animal by Lisa Taddeo. I may have neglected my family during that time!
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward because I loved the protagonist and her family so much and was afraid of what would happen to them all through the novel.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez because it’s flawlessly written.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin because it reframed the way I understood race in America.
Hopscotch by Julio Cortázar. I have stopped and started many times, but I think I wasn’t in the right headspace.
A House of My Own by Sandra Cisneros because I want her to see that though a life in the arts is not easy for a woman, it is very much possible.
We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby because she’s a comedic genius who has made her butthole a fascinating character.
Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow. I’m almost finished, but I like to stretch out the end when I enjoy a book.
“They shoot the white girl first, but the rest they can take their time. No need to hurry out here,” from Paradise by Toni Morrison. How do you not keep reading after that?
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. It’s so poetic and perfect and I can’t seem to get it out of my head.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck because I hated school and was too broke to buy it for myself. (I read this for fun.)
Paradise because the desire was so forbidden and visceral.
For Brown Girls with Sharp Edges and Tender Hearts by Prisca Dorcas Mojica Rodríguez because it’s the first book of nonfiction that really breaks down the trauma that many of us, the children of immigrants, experience and can’t articulate.
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön because it taught me how to make meaning out of despair.