Even if you don’t know Faith Salie’s name, you’ve probably heard her voice. The comedian and journalist is a panelist on NPR’s quiz show Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me, as well as an Emmy-winning contributor to CBS News Sunday Morning and host of the PBS show, Science Goes To The Movies. A self-proclaimed “approval junkie,” Faith has written a hysterical collection of essays that chronicle her adventures as she, yes, seeks approval from those around her. To celebrate the publication of Approval Junkie in paperback, Faith shares the books she’s enjoyed reading recently—all imbued with her signature humor, honesty, and grace.
Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much by Faith Salie
In Faith Salie’s side-splittingly funny memoir, her genuine voice shines as she takes readers on a journey through her approval-seeking past, writing with touching truthfulness about that thing we all know a little something about: wanting to be liked, be listened to, understood. She goes on a spiritual retreat at the behest of her ex (her “wasband”), tries to win over Bill O’Reilly by one-upping him on live TV and strives single-mindedly for four years to be crowned the winner of her high school’s beauty pageant. Salie’s memoir is poignant and relatable, and by the time you finish reading, you’ll feel like she’s your new best friend.
Aciman writes in the first person, in five chapters that are really novellas about the narrator’s near misses with love. He lusts after men and women, but this is not remotely a study in bisexuality. Aciman manages to get to the heart of desire with aching vulnerability while reminding us constantly that love is a mystery.
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I’m hosting the Audible series Authorized in which I interview writers about sex and love in literature. James’s novels are…sparkling. Funny, feminist, sexy. A touch highbrow, but entirely accessible. James herself is a real-life feminist heroine: a Shakespeare professor and mother who’s also become one of the romance genre’s bestselling authors.
Suede writes gay romance, and most of his readers are straight women. Hot Head is the tale of two NYC firefighters who are as close as brothers and can’t resist getting closer. I thought I knew the basic ins and outs of gay sex, but I was pretty much in the dark until tasting Suedes’ oeuvre—for work!
This is an erotic mind-f*ck novella. I thought I’d read it over the course of a few nights for my Audible series, but I couldn’t put it down. First, because it engaged my brain, then, disturbingly, it engaged my body. Then it stunned me with its ending.
Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe
“This book is a collection of letters to home that novelist Stibbe wrote while she was a nanny to London literati in the 1980s. One of my literary heroes, Caitlin Moran, mentioned in an interview that she loved it, so I bought it, and it turned out to be my favorite book of the past year—for lots of non-literary reasons. The book is unbelievably funny and surprisingly touching, and as someone who has experienced severe childcare woes for well over a year, I found that it read a bit like a fantasy. Many of the chapters are basically dialogues between nanny Nina and her wards or her bone-dry employer or her neighbor, the famous playwright Alan Bennett. Twentysomething Nina offers an honest outsider’s view of upper-middle-class London society, even as she becomes part of the family. With their support, she decides to go to university and falls in love with literature. As readers, we witness her evolution before our eyes, as well as her irresistible candor and wit.”
On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
“I’d never read Stephen King before because I have no interest in volunteering to be scared. However, King clearly knows a lot about writing. I’m so interested in the secret lives of writers, and the “secret” really is that all of us have to do the same thing: sit our butts down and write. I love his humor and frankness in this book. What rang truest for me was his advice to strive for clarity. What did not ring true, and, in fact, made me chuckle with some wry feminism, was his prescription to write regularly, in a dedicated space, for untold consecutive hours, producing thousands of words a day. I wrote my book in an apartment with no desk, a two-year-old, a grumpy nanny, and a newborn that I was breastfeeding up to 16 times a day. This past year, on January 1st, I was out for a morning run while visiting my father in Florida. I ran past Stephen King, out for a walk in the neighborhood. I wanted to thank him for his book or sprint home and foist on him one of the galleys of my book. Instead, he spoke first and said, ‘Happy New Year.’ And I, being an approval junkie and wanting to win his favor, panted only, ‘May this be a better year for the Red Sox!’ and kept running.”
Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
“I’d been meaning to read Our Mutual Friend my whole adult life. I write in Approval Junkie about how, since I was a tiny child, my father and I have connected with each other through literature, and how we share a love of Dickens. Bleak House was my favorite in college, but once I left graduate school, I never devoted the time to picking up all 700-plus pages of Our Mutual Friend. The night I came home from the hospital having learned that I’d had my second miscarriage, I put my 9-month-old son to bed and then asked my husband to take away the copy of What To Expect When You’re Expecting that was beside my bed since I’d lost what I was expecting. I opened Our Mutual Friend, which had been waiting patiently, for decades, for me to pick it up. It engrossed me, broke my heart and made me laugh, and left me in renewed awe of Dickens’ genius. It was the fiction I needed during my very sad reality.”
One of the beauties of having kids is that you’re always reading them 30 books a week in addition to whatever’s on your bedside table. This book was given to my son before he was born. Now, as he turns 5, he’s learning about constellations at the American Museum of Natural History, and he wants to read the stories behind the stars.
My son is really into chapter books, and we love this series. Hank is an 8-year-old mensch who has dyslexia and the wit of a mid-century Catskill comedian. And bonus: Hank lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan like we do. City kids rarely see their lives reflected in children’s books.
Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty
“I can’t get enough of this book, and I can’t give it to enough children. It’s the tale of a little girl who designs fantastic contraptions like helio-cheese-copters that fly and then sputter and crash. She’s about to give it all up when her great-great-aunt Rose (who just happens to be Rosie the Riveter) laughs so hard at one of Rosie’s failures that she cries. She tells the mortified niece that young Rosie’s ‘brilliant first flop was a raging success’ and teaches her that, ‘the only true failure can come if you quit.’ Also known as my life story. I pray that my children live their lives with whimsy and grit.”
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
“I never watched the show or read the Little House series when I was a kid. My father’s girlfriend, who is basically my children’s grandmother, never had children of her own. When my daughter Minerva was born, she gave me an original 1932 edition of Little House in the Big Woods, and said, ‘this was my favorite book when I was a girl and I saved my copy. I thought maybe someday I’d have a daughter or granddaughter to pass it on to, and now I have you and I have Minerva.’ She gave me that book, complete with a beautiful inscription inside. So I’ve been reading it slowly, savoring it. It’s a very sweet book and such a kind gift.”
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Author Photo: © Sharon Schuster