Jasmine Guillory’s Book Recommendations

Fitness

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.

For those who dream of trading in one career for another, let Jasmine Guillory be your guide. The Stanford Law School graduate practiced both corporate and public interest law for more than 10 years before—looking for a creative outlet that no amount of baking could fulfill—taking part in National Novel Writing Month. Though her first attempt, a YA romance novel, was never published, she persevered through over a hundred rejections and went on to become a New York Times-bestselling author whose first four books have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine. She wrote the romance novels she wanted to read: ones that showed Black women falling in love, enjoying successful careers, cultivating deep friendships. Her sixth book, While We Were Dating (Berkley), was published this month.

The Oakland-based Guillory once worked on Capitol Hill for Senator Barbara Boxer’s office, reads 200-300 romance novels a year, and was the answer to a Jeopardy! clue (our third Shelf Lifer with that distinction). A Libra, night person and Team Sussex member, she started gardening during the pandemic and has a kitchen hack if your face starts burning if you touch it after handling chilis.

Likes: peonies, Atomic Owl nail art, Sarah Kieffer’s pan-banging cookies, Sydney Hale candles, Hawaiian vacations. Dislikes: waking up early, cold weather, scary movies, pudding. Like her books, her Substack newsletter often includes food—and now her questionnaire does, too.

The book that…

…kept me up way too late:

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel. I opened this book one night when I got in the bathtub around 10 p.m. I didn’t close the book until I finished it sometime after 2 a.m. after adding more hot water to my bath multiple times.

…made me weep uncontrollably:

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson. Jacqueline Woodson is somehow able to tear your heart in two pieces but also make your heart grow three sizes. I don’t know how she does it.

…I recommend over and over again:

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson. I’ve recommended this book dozens of times and to so many different people, and I can’t stop doing it. I loved everything about it, and it made me smile from ear to ear when I finished.

…made me rethink a long-held belief:

Good Talk by Mira Jacob. Before I read Good Talk, I thought I didn’t like, or that I didn’t get, graphic novels. But wow, this book made me realize how incredible this form could be.

…I swear I’ll finish one day:

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I read the first three quarters of this book during the pandemic and loved everything about it. But the thing is, I know what happens at the end, and as soon as I could tell we were getting there, I stopped reading. My emotions were too fragile. Someday, I’ll have the strength to finish! (But…is it that bad to just decide they lived happily ever after?)

…currently sits on my nightstand:

Sometimes I Trip on How Happy We Could Be by Nichole Perkins [August 2021]. I recently got an advance copy of this upcoming memoir, and I’m very excited to start it.

…I’d gift to a new graduate:

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers. This book captures the feeling of graduating, and then wondering what you’re going to do with the rest of your life, and how to go about becoming your own person.

…made me laugh out loud:

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby. Be careful reading this book! I laughed so hard while reading it I almost passed out in the bathtub. (Yes, I do most of my reading in the bathtub!)

…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:

Intercepted by Alexa Martin. I adore all of Alexa Martin’s books, and they’re all so ripe for the big or small screen!

…I last bought:

Snacking Cakes by Yossy Arefi. I love snacks, and I love to bake, so the title of this book got me from the very beginning. The recipes are all for those kinds of cakes you can bake spontaneously when you’re procrastibaking, which is something I frequently do.

…has the best title:

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw. This title alone made me want to pick up the book, even though I think of myself as a person who doesn’t like short stories. I might be wrong about that, because I loved every single one of these short stories.

…has the best opening line:

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Don’t you just get chills?

…has the greatest ending:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. I love absolutely everything about this book, and the ending filled me with so much joy and wonder.

…should be on every college syllabus:

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. This book delves into so much about America: race, class, and family, especially. It’s an incredible read, with so much that a college class could talk about.

…everyone should read:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I learned so much about not only American history, but about my own family and why my grandparents and great-grandparents made the choices they did. An incredible book.

…I’d want signed by the author:

How To Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee. This collection of essays is about writing, and life, and life as a writer and as a person, and I reread it frequently. It’s meant so much to me, and I can’t wait to get a signed copy one day.

…I asked for one Christmas as a kid:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. I asked for—and got—this for Christmas as a kid, it’s an enormous leather volume with gold tipped pages, and I was thrilled about it. I was a very nerdy kid!

…that holds the recipe to a favorite dish:

Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen by Paul Prudhomme. His Cajun Seafood Gumbo with Andouille Smoked Sausage recipe is the one my mom and I always make together (with our own edits). Just the smell of it cooking makes me happy.

Bonus question:

If I could live in any library or bookstore in the world, it would be: The library from the Beauty and the Beast, of course!


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