Top Reads for May

Spring is in full swing, and we’ve been basking in the sun with these reads: Our second Scribd Original (naturally!), some self-help via moving memoirs, a highly Instagramable book for perfectly normal people, and more.

The Devil and Harper Lee

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Stephanie: We all love — and think we know — Harper Lee. But how much do we know about the stranger-than-fiction story that almost became her second book?

Our second Scribd Original, The Devil and Harper Lee, is a thrilling Southern Gothic story of murder, magic — and of racism — one that transfixed Harper Lee. It seemed like a story she was fated to write, but ultimately, she never finished.

In 1978, Harper Lee’s fame had reached a fever pitch following the remarkable success of her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, but she had written little of consequence in the nearly two decades since. She was searching for her next book when the perfect story landed in her lap. A call from back home in Alabama lit the match: A reverend — described as “six-feet-four-inches of majesty and dread” — allegedly murdered five of his family members, without detection. Each time, he got rich off their life insurance policies but was never convicted of a crime.

Vanity Fair’s special correspondent, Mark Seal, retraces the legendary novelist’s return home to Alabama to chase down a true crime mystery for the ages in The Devil and Harper Lee.

Also available as an audiobook.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

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Katie: For anyone who’s ever been to therapy (or thought about it) and wondered what’s going on in their therapist’s head, this is your chance to find out. When therapist Lori Gottlieb gets dumped out of the blue by the man she thought she would marry, she needs to talk to a fellow professional to help her deal. So she starts seeing Wendell, a seasoned therapist with some offbeat methods. Reeling from the painful breakup and working through it with Wendell to try to understand why her boyfriend left, Gottlieb still has to help her own patients, like the young newlywed trying to come to grips with her terminal cancer diagnosis, the young woman who always picks the wrong guy (including hooking up with a patient she meets in the waiting room), and the hard-to-like angry guy who thinks everyone’s an “idiot.” Gottlieb opens up about her experiences on both sides of the couch in such a personal and revealing way that it’ll resonate with anyone grappling with finding bigger meanings in their own life. And it’s an eye-opening reminder that not all wounds can be healed with a quick fix, like rushed 15-minute doctors’ appointments or popping prescription pills. Gottlieb shows how all of us, therapists and patients alike, need to know that our lives have meaning and to feel understood.

Normal People

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Alex: Normal People is one of the most compulsively readable novels I’ve consumed in months; I finished it in one sitting. Sally Rooney — the horrifically young and acclaimed author of Conversations With Friends — has a way of writing so concisely and so sharply about love and social status and neuroses that you feel, at times, as though she’s cut you open, and you’re staring at your own innards on the page.

The novel is primarily concerned with the on-again, off-again relationship of two preternaturally intelligent Irish teenagers, as they're brought together by an almost magnetic fascination with one another, only to be driven apart by everything from high school hierarchies to emotional and physical trauma. Their obsessive love is, strangely, a good analogy to the novel’s reception; people have feted Rooney as the voice of her generation, the novel debuted at number 3 on the New York Times Bestseller list, and, somewhat horrifyingly, Refinery29 published a trend piece noting that photos of the book have become the "perfect Instagram cool-girl symbol.” To be clear, you don’t need to be an influencer to enjoy the excruciating beauty of Normal People. In fact, I’d go so far as to say — much as the title implies — the more “normal" you are, the more this novel will resonate.

I Miss You When I Blink

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Ashley: Based on the beauty of the title alone, I expected this hybrid of memoir and self-help essays to be great. When I cried after reading only the introduction, I knew it was going to be special.

Mary Laura Philpott writes with humor and sorrow about losing yourself despite having loving friends and family and a rewarding career. The “you” and the “I” of the title are one and the same — a nostalgic longing for who you once were and can never be again. A reluctant acceptance that here and now will soon be there and gone. A triumphant realization that you are still the maker of your own story. We’re so used to being told tales where all the twists and turns are still carefully plotted to paint this perfect picture that we forget or gloss over the finer details. Philpott encourages you not to: “The picture you get at the end of a connect-the-dots activity really depends on which dots you decide to use. So try things, and go through phases. Put down a lot of dots. Later, you can go back and pick any of those dots to create a picture of how you became who you are. And if you don’t like the picture you end up with, you can always choose different dots.”

Also available as an audiobook.

A Woman of No Importance

Katie (again!): Books about women spies during World Wars I and II are having a moment. And I can’t wait to read them all, from the biography Madame Fourcade's Secret War, about a young, privileged French mother who led a pivotal spy network against Hitler to The Alice Network, a fictionalized account of a group of women spies in enemy-occupied France during the Great War.

I started with A Woman of No Importance. Like the others, this new biography tells the story of a woman hero overlooked by the history textbooks. Virginia Hall, a bold and high-spirited young socialite from Baltimore, heads to Europe in 1931 after being barred from joining the Foreign Service due to her gender. There, despite having lost half her leg in a hunting accident, she drives ambulances for the French Army until she joins the French Resistance. As part of the Resistance, Hall runs a massive underground spy network that plays a vital part in changing the tide of the war. This is riveting forgotten history, and Purnell’s account makes it clear why the Gestapo called Hall “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.”

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