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Not Your Typical Bookstagram List: 10 Good Summer Reads For Women, By Women

Take a much-needed break and support your favorite lit sistas with these picks.

Good Reads

Summer is looking a bit different this year thanks to 'Rona, and though things have been a bit rough, all is not lost. With all the stress from everyday life and world crises, adding a bit of reading to the mix is always a good look. The benefits of reading a great book are undeniable and includes increasing intelligence, reducing stress, and relieving anxiety and depression. We could all use a bit of escape and brain food right now.

So let's get into 10 books worth checking out this summer and beyond---all raved about by bookstagrammers and lit lovers around the world. And don't worry sis. These aren't all the same ole' titles you've seen on other popular lists---there's a variety of genres and authors to wake up the book geek inside of all of us. (Yes, you sis. She's in there. Trust me.)

*This list is specially curated by the xoNecole team and some links are affiliate links. If you purchase an item from an affiliate link, xoNecole might earn a small commission.

'The Care And Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls' by Anissa Gray

Generational curses. Family drama. Redemption and understanding. If you're into stories about love, unity, transformation, and sisterly bonds, this book might be your pick of the summer. Described as "well-written" and "stunning," it has multiple narratives surrounding three sisters in the aftermath of one of them getting prison time for white-collar crimes. It's been a favorite on 2019 book lists including that of Vogue, Essence and Refinery29. Even Insecure star Issa Rae has "devoured" it.

$18

'Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey to Inner Fitness' by Tina Lifford

This Queen Sugar actress has been dropping jewels of wisdom for a while via her IG, and Auntie Tina, as I like to call her, tells it like it is. Her latest book takes that to a whole 'nother level, with personal stories and insights on how to push through the hurts, dramas, and fears of life. "We must learn to see lies for what they are---distortions that are not the truth---and say no to their limiting lies," she writes. "From this point forward, there is never a justifiable reason to think poorly of ourselves or speak harshly to ourselves, not for any reason, at any time, under any circumstances." Who doesn't need that extra real, cool Auntie perspective in their lives?

$17

'The City We Became' by N.K.Jemisin

Some reviewers have said that this book is an appropriate read for the COVID-19 times we live in, and Jemison's book offers a suspenseful other-world version of New York that has intrigued critics from NPR to The New York Times. This piece deviates from the usual science fiction into a more "rich and generous" alternative reality that resonates in today's environment of tragic deaths, quarantines, and social distancing.

$17

'Transcendent Kingdom: A Novel' by Yaa Ayasi

Any book featuring a central character that is a scholar making sense of the everyday struggles of being a human being and recommitting to faith is worth a try, and this one is set to intrigue. Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Ayasi adds a bit of her own background in the book, writing about a Ghanaian immigrant family in Alabama grappling with issues of depression, grief, faith, religion and love. If you're not going to pre-order, you might want to go ahead and at least put this on your Amazon wish list. This author's debut book, Homecoming landed spots on both The New York Times Best Seller and Oprah's 10 Favorite Books lists.

$20

'Affording Travel: Saving Strategies for Financially Savvy Travelers' by Danielle Desir

There are so many books out there with tips for investing, budgeting, and the like, but this book goes a bit off the beaten path and satisfies that sad wanderluster inside of of all of us. True, COVID-19 has put a boulder-sized dent in our travel plans, but it doesn't hurt to get a head-start this summer in planning that dream Africa tour or European adventure in time for summer 2021 or 2022. Along with advice, Desir shares her own stories of travel, how she was able to get over fears of not being able to afford trips and adventures of living abroad.

$10

'A Tall History of Sugar' by Curdella Forbes

For all my Caribbean history and culture lovers, this is a story that takes one into the history of an industry that shaped Jamaica's economy and the link between the "mother country" and the island. It also infuses the sweet stickiness of a decades-long love story bound by folklore, colonialism, struggle and triumph. Epic, indeed.

$20

'More Myself: A Journey' by Alicia Keys

We all know her signature voice and swag, from "You Don't Know My Name" to New York's classic anthem to her fab no-makeup movement, and this book is an extension of the Harlem-bred phenom's transitions through womanhood and self-actualization. The candid behind-the-scenes insights are intriguing enough, but the refreshing rawness of her storytelling in this book---about life, music, love, and self-confidence--- just shows why our love for Alicia Keys continues to grow. The words in this book are---like her songs---a breath of fresh air, and at the very least, you'll get inspired by a woman constantly on the glow up.

$21

'We Want Our Bodies Back: Poems' by Jessica Care Moore

The title alone draws you in and the poetry is just as strikingly strong, assertive, and honest. Her work prompts the same deep sighs of understanding, empathy, and relatability as Ntozake Shange's classic For Colored Girls, and the subject matter features issues all women can relate to. If you don't see yourself and your own life in the words, you probably see your sister, mother, cousin or best friend.

$15

'90 Days to C.E.O.: A Guide To Avoid Business Pitfalls And Unlock The Secrets Of Entrepreneurship' by Rochelle Graham-Campbell

It's no small feat to take $100 and build a haircare product line from your kitchen and expand into an international company with products on Target's shelves. Sharing the how-to tools and tips is an added bonus and truly a labor of love and service. Along with personal anecdotes about launching a business and tapping into the hustler and entrepreneur within, this book includes an action plan that would light a fire under the tail of anyone who dreams of becoming a self-made boss.

$22

'Bloggers Can't Be Trusted' by Starrene Rhett

We can all relate to a time when we wanted a change---both in love and in career---and Nyela Barnes is both relatable and believable in her plight to find both. The blogger-focused, Internet nostalgia in this book is noteworthy, and if you've been fantasizing about that fine neighbor you never knew you had until you were forced to work from home for weeks on end, this book might spark the urge to shoot your shot. If not, you'll at least find a juicy escape into sticky drama and black love.

$15

Featured image by Shutterstock

You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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