Diane Ackerman
In a true tale of people, animals, and subversive acts of compassion, Jan Zabinski, director of the Warsaw Zoo, and Antonina, his empathic wife, lived joyfully on the zoo grounds during the 1930s with their young son. When the zoo was badly damaged by the Nazi blitzkrieg, the resourceful and courageous Zabinskis turned their decimated home into a refuge to save the lives of several hundred imperiled Jews.
The Zookeeper’s Wife
Bonnie Jo Campbell
Bonnie Jo Campbell’s unforgettable heroine is sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, a beauty with an uncanny ability with a rifle. After the violent death of her father, she takes to the Stark River—her childhood paradise, now a dangerous place. Using her knowledge of the natural world and ability to look unsparingly into the hearts of others, Margo’s odyssey leads her beyond self-preservation to realize the price she’s willing to pay for her choices.
Once Upon a River
Bonnie Jo Campbell
Da Chen
Da Chen
Born in 1962—the Year of the Great Starvation—Da Chen tells us of his family’s struggles against poverty and danger during the brutal communist regime of Mao Zedong. Belonging to the despised landlord class, Chen’s father and grandfather were routinely sent to labor camps. Despite this background, he grows up to be resilient and tough, funny and full of heart. Chen’s is a classic story of triumph over adversity.
Colors of the Mountain
Nick Flynn
Now a feature film starring Robert DeNiro, Nick Flynn’s memoir of his tumultuous childhood and family life—and the uncanny trajectory that ultimately led his homeless father to seek lodging at the Pine Street Inn while Nick worked there—is a book that “succeeds in a way most writers can only dream of: it is intense, lyrical, moving, and ultimately enlightening” (SF Chronicle).
Being Flynn
Nick Flynn
Pam Houston
Pam Houston
In Contents May Have Shifted, we follow Pam Houston’s narrator around the globe in search of love, spiritual fulfillment, and freedom from the past. However, she soon comes to understand—asking “How did I ever think I’d get to freedom, without my arms swung wide open?”—that the greatest journey is not to Alaska or Tibet or the Kingdom of Bhutan, but into the unmarked terrain of the human heart.
Contents May Have Shifted
Gish Jen
Drawing on a rich array of sources—including her father’s striking account of his childhood in China—this accessible book not only illuminates Jen’s own development and celebrated work but also explores the aesthetic and psychic roots of the independent and interdependent self in the Western and Eastern narrative forms. Tiger Writing radically shifts the way we understand ourselves and our art-making.
Tiger Writing
Mat Johnson
Pym is a comic journey into the ultimate land of whiteness, and a riveting adventure novel and a cutting, insightful meditation on race, literature, and obsession by an unlikely band of African American adventurers. Riffing on The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Edgar Allan Poe’s strange and only novel, Johnson gives us an epic journey under the permafrost of Antarctica, beneath the surface of American history, and behind one of literature’s great mysteries.
Of her heroine, Precious Jones, Sapphire said, "I wanted to show that this girl is locked out by literacy. She's locked out by her physical appearance. She's locked out by her class, and she's locked out by her color." Push tells the story of an obese, illiterate, African-American girl who is pregnant by her father, at 16. Challenged by a literacy teacher, Precious learns to read and write and her development and growth are astonishing.
George Saunders
One of the most important and blazingly original writers of his generation, Saunders writes brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, cutting to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human. 
Tenth of December
Philip Schultz
In My Dyslexia, Philip Schultz traces a childhood with undiagnosed dyslexia, in which he was exiled to the “dummy class” and largely ignored by his teachers and peers. Not until years later, when his son was diagnosed with the same condition, did Schultz realize that he was dyslexic. This moving memoir shows how a boy who did not learn to read until he was eleven became a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet by sheer determination. 
My Dyslexia
Philip Schultz
Danzy Senna
Set in riot-torn Boston in the 1970s, this is one of the most profound books about being biracial and growing up in race-conscious America. Birdie, who looks white, and Cole, her sister with brown skin, become caught up in the drama as each parent goes on the run with the child who most resembles him or her. Birdie ultimately searches for her lost sister—and in the end she finds her own true identity. 
Patricia Smith
In minute-by-minute detail, Smith tracks Hurricane Katrina from Tropical Depression to Category 5 Storm and through to the heartbreaking aftermath. Her poetry evokes the horror that unfolded in New Orleans as Americans watched on TV—a reminder that poetry can still be “news that stays news.” Blood Dazzler is a necessary step toward national healing.  
Blood Dazzler
Natasha Trethewey
Trethewey’s poems interweave the mistreatment and murder of the Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first black regiments mustered into Civil War service, and the life of her mother, whose 1966 interracial marriage was illegal and who was later murdered by her second husband. As a public and personal testament, this lyrical monument to forgotten voices explores the complex and cultural memory of the American South—and its subsequent historical erasure.
Native Guard
Brian Turner
Here, Bullet is a harrowing, beautiful first-person account of the Iraq war by a soldier-poet. Turner’s affecting and honest poetry of witness is based upon his year-long tour in Iraq as an infantry team leader. This gracefully-rendered, unflinching collection is essential reading and valuable to all, regardless of political affiliation. It can be paired with Phantom Noise, his collection about returning from the war.
Here, Bullet