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Leanne Brown

Sage Cohen

Bette Husted
What Divides Us

Sarah Sloat
Without Category

Patricia Weaver Francisco 

Roberta Ulrich
American Indians

Peter Rock

Robin Rinaldi
Self Knowledge

Ruth Madievsky
Medicine & The Arts

Franny Choi
Body Language

Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer

Ebony Stewart
Sexual Health

Sonja Livingston
Hidden Lives

J.I. Kleinberg

Barbara Crooker

Shawnte Orion
Pop Culture

Amber Keyser

Yolanda Sanchez

Diane Lockward

Nahshon Cook

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone

Shawna Lemay

Fran Kimmel
Troubled Childhood

January Gill O'Neil
Marriage & Divorce

Erin Block
Wild Places

Currie Silver
The Art of Being

Paulann Petersen
Nature Inside & Out

Scott T. Starbuck
Activist Poetry

Shirley McPhillips
Poetry in the Everyday

Rick Campbell
Industrial Cities & Workers

Sandy Longhorn
Midwestern Rural Life

Sharon Bond Brown
Women's Ordinary Lives

Jeff Düngfelder
Absence & Silence

Valerie Savarie
Art Books

Valerie Wigglesworth & Ralph Swain

Ann Staley
Past & Present

Reb Livingston
Oracles & Dreams

Eduardo Gabrieloff
Latino Writers

Lisa Romeo
Personal Essays by Women

Mari L’Esperance
Mixed Heritage

Lee Lee
(Un)Natural Resources

Henry Hughes

Tracy Weil

Penelope Scambly Schott
Strong Women

Allyson Whipple
Roadtrips & Realizations

Hannah Stephenson

Blog Index
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When we read, creativity is stirred.

And when we create, our lives expand.

3 Good Books invites writers & artists to share their favorite books on a given theme.


Yi Shun Lai on Epistolary

Born in Taiwan and raised in the United States, Yi Shun Lai is a copywriter, novelist and writing coach who has written everything from lingerie catalog copy to articles about the great outdoors. Blending humor and insight, her essays appear in a variety of literary journals, and she is the nonfiction editor for the Tahoma Literary Review. She lives in California. 

Her debut novel, Not a Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu, is a comic portrayal told through diary entries of a young woman finding balance between family expectations and her own creative dreams. 

"I love the epistolary form for the way it lays open the letter writer’s intent; for the intimacy of it. I love the voiciness of it, the way a character can really shine within just a few lines," says Lai. "And yes, I love looking at other people’s mail."

Yi Shun Lai shares her three favorite books written in the epistolary form: 

By Stephen King

When I read it the first time, sometime in high school (isn’t that when many of us first encounter Stephen King books?), I didn’t clock it as being epistolary, like I clocked Dracula right away. I just knew that I closed the book feeling rattled for Carrie, super sad for her. 

Many years later, preparing for a lecture I was going to give on the epistolary form, I came across Carrie in a list of epistolary novels. “Surely not,” I thought to myself. “This must be a mistake.” I went back to Carrie at my local library, and there it is, right smack on page 1, an article from the Carrie’s local newspaper. Paging through it, the reader encounters excerpts from psychological texts; graffiti from the Carrie’s high school’s bathrooms, excerpts from more books. 

Oh, sure, it’s all interspersed with more traditional narrative, so this isn’t strictly an epistolary novel — but it’s fascinating to think that I remember it as a straight narrative, and even more interesting when I think of the effect that Steven King’s technique here has on us — we walk away from the book knowing more about what others think of Carrie than what Carrie thinks of herself, and that’s what makes the book utterly tragic—and, in the end, horrifying. 

Letters of Note
edited by Shaun Usher

Editor Shaun Usher curated over a hundred letters that are “deserving of a wider audience,” giving this book a permanent place on my shelf because of the many, many situations the reader encounters as she’s reading these letters. Some of them need no introduction whatsoever; some are between celebrities; some are from people you may never have heard of.

I love this book, and its corresponding web site, for the obvious voyeuristic joy we all get out of reading someone else’s mail, but I also love it for its regular reminder that the greatest stories can arise from imagining a situation. Each of these letters arose from a situation. From there, if we ask ourselves, “and then what?” we can easily lose ourselves in as long or as short a story as we like.  

The Courtship of Eva Eldridge
by Diane Simmons

This book demonstrates the great breadth and depth of epistolary materials. It's subtitled “A Story of Bigamy in the Marriage-Mad Fifties,” and its tagline says that Simmons drew from over 800 letters and papers in order to write the book. Her diligence is evident, but although I was prepared to enjoy the book for baser reasons (c.f. “voyeurism,” above), I also found myself deeply impressed by the detective work that Simmons had done using the masses of paper she waded through. What we get is a story that goes far beyond the marriage of one woman to a six-time bigamist.

Simmons crafted such a complete picture of what it was like to live as a woman in the 1950s, from these papers. Diaries, dry-cleaning slips, tickets from movies and car washes, grocery lists — nothing, it seems, was discarded from the over 800 pieces that she pressed into service to write this book.

Of course, we’d have to ask Simmons herself, and if we ever meet, I will, but I feel she was able to see the significance of even the smallest piece of paper. And I’m better informed because of her vision and scope.  





Leanne Brown on Eating

Leanne Brown, a food studies scholar and avid home cook, is the author of Good and Cheapa cookbook for people on tight budgets, particularly those on SNAP/food stamp benefits.

After the free PDF version went viral (downloaded more than one million times!), she launched a fundraising project to print the book, using a "get one, give one" system in which people who bought a book for themselves would then give another copy to a family in need.  

The project was a huge success, with over 70,000 printed copies given to people in need. The book has been distributed to organizations serving low-income families, such as food banks and community gardens. Combining practical recipes and appealing photographs with a communal approach, Good and Cheap emerged as an engaging meal guide — and a New York Times bestseller.

“I think everyone should eat great food every day,” Brown says. "Eating well means learning to cook. It means banishing the mindset that preparing daily meals is a huge chore or takes tremendous skill. Cooking is easy — you just have to practice.”

Leanne Brown offers three good books she see as "kind of peers, that fill out and touch on themes that I care about in my work and have influenced my thinking": 


The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
by Tracie McMillan

Journalist Tracie McMillan goes undercover to answer the question, how can you eat in America when you don’t make a living wage? And to do this she works in three parts of America’s food industry that are most low paid and vulnerable. First in the fields alongside mostly Mexican laborers picking garlic, grapes and peaches, next in Detroit Walmart stocking produce, and finally in the kitchen at an Applebee’s in Brooklyn. Throughout her experiences McMillan vividly describes the tension between class and race and who gets to eat what and why in America. Her experiences working are fascinating, but it’s her life trying to get by on the wages she earns at these jobs that are even more inflaming. This is the complicated, deeply unfair food system we live in. Understanding it is essential for trying to make a difference within it.


Kitchens of the Great Midwest
by J. Ryan Stradal

Yes, this is a piece of fiction, not a cookbook or a self-help book or exposé. But food is personal! And in some ways fiction is the best way for us to express the personal. For the characters in Kitchens of the Great Midwest, especially the main character and her father, food is a language. It is the way they connect with others and express vulnerability and love. The only way to get through hard times is to eat as well as you can and love as much as you can. Stradal’s warm and funny book is satirical, yet loving as it contrasts and skewers the unpretentious midwest and the rise of foodie culture with it.


A Girl Called Jack: 100 Delicious Budget Recipes
by Jack Monroe

Jack Monroe is a kindred spirit from across the pond in England. I didn’t actually find out about her until after I released Good and Cheap but I’m so glad I did. Since writing the best-selling, A Girl called Jack, Jack has transitioned and now identifies as a man so I’ll use male pronouns for the duration of this write-up. A Girl Called Jack is full of recipes that grew out of his situation living on just £10 a week with a son to support. The recipes are inventive, filling, delicious and practical and throughout are Jack’s tips and anecdotes. The book was born of Jack’s wonderful blog which is still active today. 





Sage Cohen on Fierce

Sage Cohen wants to rev up your writing. She's the author of Fierce on the PageThe Productive Writer, Writing the Life Poetic, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World.

"Words are the tools I use to pry the lids off of old ideas," she writes on her blog. "I write in hopes of recognizing myself and seeing you more clearly. I want to know when truth turns from solid to liquid to gas in the alchemy of language. Who do we become when we say something new? Where does beauty live, and to what name does it answer?"

As she set out to write her latest book, Fierce on the Page, she cleared a space on the bookshelf facing her desk.

"There I carefully curated what I call my ancestor pile of fierce books that have inspired and informed me about what’s possible in the craft and practice of writing."

These books, she says, shaped her, "in the way that water shapes stones, almost imperceptibly over time. These are the poets and writers whose work whispers directly into my ear to penetrate my being and reveal what I need to know about being a person and a writer."

"The three books that I consider the most important markers on the path of my evolution as a fierce writer are the ones that have taught me how to integrate my writing practice with my life practice — and steer myself intentionally in writing."    

Here, Sage Cohen shares her "Fierce Field Guides":

Bird by Bird
by Anne Lamott

I read this in my mid-20s when I was just starting to investigate and inhabit my identity as a writer. With Lamott’s signature mix of extreme intimacy, vulnerability, hilarity, and scathing insight, this book illuminated a path through my own fear and uncertainty. It invited me into the realm of writing and publishing. In Lamott’s exquisite company, I felt a new kind of belonging. Like I could be a writer, too. I had permission. I didn’t understand until recently how significantly the imprint of Lamott’s personal essay style has informed my own practice of telling stories about my life as a means of inviting writers to move from impossible to inevitable in their work.


Wild Mind 
by Natalie Goldberg

This book initiated me into the practice of freewriting which has been the anchor of my writing practice for 25 years. I spent years studying her examples and following her prompts into the wilderness and freedoms of my own, unedited subconscious. This has been an essential practice in discovering my themes, my truths, my words that are as yet undisturbed by my editing and sculpting mind. Wild Mind taught me to inhabit the unknown, become receptive to what is coming through, and honor it by getting it down on paper as a daily discipline. I don’t know if I’d still be writing poems today if I hadn’t established this direct line to my own source. 


Saved By a Poem
by Kim Rosen

This is a more recent but equally important discovery. Despite the fact that I’ve spent 30+ years saving my own life again and again with poems, this book deepened, affirmed, and illuminated my lifelong practice of poetry as sacred medicine, as a path of inquiry, and as the threshold through which we reach deeper into universal human truths. I fell in love all over with the practice of learning a poem by heart, with the alchemies of allowing language all the way in to our nervous system, and thereby more completely inheriting ourselves. Rosen’s voice in my ear invites stillness and steeping in the poems that matter most to me. This book is one of my favorite ways to inhabit grace.




Bette Husted on What Divides Us

Bette Husted, an Oregon writer, poet and teacher, knows poverty and the divisions it can create. And she know financial differences are just the beginning.

"I grew up in a poor family on land taken from the Nez Perce (Nimi’ipuu) People through the Allotment Act — and I was a girl in the 1950s. So there it was, all around me," she explains. "I suppose it was inevitable that my writing has reflected my questions about class, what we call race, and gender issues. Even the titles of my books: Above the Clearwater: Living on Stolen Land, Lessons from the Borderlands, and At This Distance, carry echoes of the confusion I felt as a child. Why are some people marginalized and dismissed as inferior, or perceived as a threat and attacked for their 'otherness'? Or all but erased from our awareness, as I could see that our master narrative had done to indigenous peoples?"

These questions threaded her years, she says, and seem as relevant as ever.

"Now, decades later, we are hearing anguished voices on the news and seeing images we can’t forget on social media," she says. "Eighty percent of Americans think there is a racial divide in our society, I read this morning. Income inequality is at an all-time high. Women still earn less than men and rape on college campuses and elsewhere is all too common; we’re even arguing about who gets to use which bathroom. Can we learn to see through the eyes of others, as our president asked us to do today?"

"If what divides us is fear — and surely the root of hatred and greed and the lust for power over others is fear — telling our truths and seeing ourselves reflected in the stories of the 'other' might be not just the best answer but the only answer to the questions I began to ask as a child."

Bette Husted shares three good books addressing the theme of division:

Citizen: An American Lyric
by Claudia Rankine

What does it mean to be a black citizen at this time in United States history? The powerful stories in Claudia Rankine’s poems are told in second person; everything happens to “you.” And what happens—in stories ranging from the deaths of Trayvon Martin and James Craig Anderson and the deaths in Hurricane Katrina to the most “normal” interactions between people — shocks readers into awareness. Here’s an example: “Your” new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only talked on the phone. When you knock at the door of her home office for your first appointment, the door opens and you hear her yell, “at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house! What are you doing in my yard?”


Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writings of North America
edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird

“Kill the Indian and Save the Man” was the motto of the Indian Boarding Schools—and how better to kill “Indianness” than to forbid the use of Native languages? English, “the enemy’s language,” is reinvented in these stories and poems by Native women, many of them known writers, many whose words are published here for the first time. Each writes her own introduction, who she is and why she writes, and then shares her words in her own human voice. Readers look, listen, laugh, cry with these stories. One of many favorites is Dian Million’s “The Housing Poem.” Minnie’s relatives gradually move in with her until the landlord

was surprised to find Minnie, Ruper and Onna, Sarah and
Elsie, Shar and Dar all singing around the drum next
to the big stove in the kitchen
and even a baby named Lester who smiled waving a big greasy
piece of dried fish.

When he goes to court to evict them,

he said the house was designed for single-family occupancy
which surprised the family
because that’s what they thought they were.

All Over But the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg

New York Times journalist Rick Bragg was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996 — but this memoir isn’t about leaving the poverty of his childhood behind as he celebrates his own success. It’s about what it was like to be dirt-poor in the American South and how that life affected him and his brothers and especially his mother, whom he honors as the real hero of the story — she picked cotton and did ironing and went without to make sure her children had the minimum she could give them. It’s the most honest account I know of what it feels like to be so poor that you are shunned and scorned and sometimes shamed into behaviors you’re not proud of. It’s also about how those childhood lessons continue to affect Bragg: why, for example, he couldn’t buy his mother a house by making payments, why he had to wait until he had saved the total price of a house. This honesty leads him to laugh, sometimes, at himself, but what moves me most is his respect for and sensitivity to others, especially his family. The night before he leaves for a nine-month Nieman Fellowship for journalists at Harvard, he’s standing around with his brother Sam and a group of Southern men.

“Ricky’s goin’ to Harvard,” he [Sam] said, and I swear to God he said it proud.

There was a long silence.

“Well, one of the young men said, from under the bill of his cap. “That’s good.”

Then they started to talk about the mill, about layoffs and slow-downs, and for reasons I am not quite sure of, I was ashamed.





Sarah Sloat on Without Category

Sarah Sloat is a poet and a journalist. Born in New Jersey, she has lived in Germany for over 20 years. 

As a poet, her work is smart, sharp, dry, and sometimes tender. Confessional yet fanciful. She cannot be pinned, and is not easily explained. She is without category.  

Sarah works in news, spends a lot of time reading, and prefers Sexton to Plath, she says. Of one of her book choices below, she writes, "the book is like a museum of solitude, curated by someone who’s spent his life reading."  This, too, could serve to sum Sloat's own keenly observed and irreverent poems. 

Sloat is the author of four poetry chapbooks: Inksuite, Excuse Me While I Wring this Long Swim out of My Hair, and Heiress to a Small RuinIn the Voice of a Minor Saint, is online and completely free. 

Sarah Sloat offers her three favorite books that are Without Category:

Reader’s Block
by David Markson

I love everything I’ve read by David Markson. I single this book out because it’s the first I read. Four years ago, on a visit to New Mexico. April 12, 2012 / Santa Fe, it says in the front flap. It’s not categorisable because what is it. Is it a novel? Is it a meditation? Is it a compendium of anecdotes?

One of the epigraphs is Borges: “First and foremost, I think of myself as a reader.”

And so we are launched into the solitary musings of a narrator who calls himself “Reader,” who is considering writing about “Protagonist.” The plot is the barest of frames, and mostly serves as a storehouse for Reader’s collection of cultural and literary trivia.

Anna Wickham committed suicide.

Stephen Foster died after a fall from a rooming house on the Bowery. He owned thirty-seven cents.

Seneca was an anti-Semite.

And so it goes. Who died how. Who worked where. Who had typhus, or malaria. Who hated Jews. Who screwed whom. It is greatly preoccupied with death and disease and genius.

After I read it, my mother picked it up. I thought she wouldn’t take to it, but she loved it, and continued on to other Markson. She said, “You know why I liked it? Because I spend a lot of time alone.”

I knew what she meant because the book is like a museum of solitude, curated by someone who’s spent his life reading. It’s a fragmented and seemingly random collage of clipped entries, like thought itself, striding or jumping from one thing to next. It’s obsessive and fascinating. Dear Reader, how are you going to die whole unless you’ve read David Markson?


The Waste Books
by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

This book is without category not because it isn’t clear what it is — a collection of aphorisms and short writings — but because Lichtenberg takes on anything, from snowballs to lust to the weather in Göttingen, where the witty hunchback was a scientist at the university.

If you want to take the rainwater cure you should come to Göttingen, where there is a fresh supply at all times.

The Waste Books is inspiring not only because of its insight and charm, but because it came of the author’s diligence in writing down his stray thoughts. The title is taken from business — ‘waste books’ being ledgers used to record transactions as they occurred. You never know what riches this discipline might yield, and the book has been admired by many writers, including Susan Sontag, Friedrich Nietzsche and André Breton.

A sampling:

Nothing can contribute more to peace of soul than the lack of any opinion whatever.

There are countries where it is not uncommon for officers who have served well in a war to be reduced in rank when peace arrives. Would it not be a good thing if in certain departments of government the officials, or some of them, were reduced in rank whenever war breaks out?

You can take the first book you lay your hands on and with your eyes closed point to any line and say: A book could be written about this. When you open your eyes you will seldom find you are deceived.

Lichtenberg died in 1799 but his aphorisms defy age. I’m afraid you’d be missing a very good and inexpensive education by passing up The Waste Books. Take it from Lichtenberg himself:

Let him who has two pairs of trousers turn one of them into cash and purchase this book.

Samuel Johnson is Indignant
by Lydia Davis

If we have to pigeonhole Lydia Davis somewhere, the short story might as well be the place. But many of her stories verge on prose poems. Plenty have no discernible plot. Some are like accounting exercises, like “Finances,” or linguistic romps, if a romp can be conducted in 10-20 words. And why not?

Many of Davis’s ultrashort stories are less narrative than terse observation that take on an oddness by being thrown down onto the page in isolation. Some are single sentences, which can hardly count as stories in a traditional sense. In Samuel Johnson is Indignant, for example, “Information From the North Concerning the Ice” consists only of:

“Each seal uses many blowholes and each blowhole is used by many seals.”

Davis says part of the inspiration for her stories came from translating the expansive, meandering sentences of Marcel Proust. She wanted to write something very short that still managed to hang together and have a point. She also credits the prose poet Russell Edson with challenging her to try a new style.

“The floor is something we must fight against,” Edson wrote.

One of the standout pieces in Samuel Johnson is “A Mown Lawn,” which was included in Best American Poetry anthology in 2001. It begins:

“She hated a mown lawn. Maybe it was because mow was the reverse of wom, the beginning of the name of what she was — a woman. A mown lawn had a sad sound to it, like a long moan.”

Readers admire Davis’s playful wit and tone. I find her aloof recounting of everyday happenings almost like an out-of-body experience. And lord knows that is something I like to have.