My new book, Eat Cake. Be Brave., is a memoir about how all the years of my life led up to the one that changed it, forever. What year was that exactly? The year I turned forty-one. Oh, wait—you assumed we weren’t supposed to change in our forties? That we weren’t supposed to shift gears and get better or sweeter or freer even if we pee a little when we laugh? Even if we have stubborn chin hairs? Oh no, my love… you’ve been believing the lie. I’m living proof that when our hormones begin to rage and hot flashes are staring us down, we are at the perfect age to begin again.
I was forty-one when I blew out enough candles to burn down a small neighborhood—and made a wish to be brave. A woman who once wished at sixteen that her boobs would stop growing (alas, they did not) and had not made a wish in more than twenty years, took a deep breath in… and it was right then… at that inhalation… that I was faced with what’s next. Because life doesn’t change when we inhale, it changes when we exhale. When we breathe in the old and breathe out the new. When we suck in the was, and release the what’s next. When we screw the nay-sayers, the doubters, the haters and the douchebags, and do what we were put on earth to do. (Oh, and by the way, a little gluten and frosting on our journey won’t hurt us.)
So come on, deep breath in!
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
The first time I read Mindy Kaling’s words was in her debut book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? I was laying out beside a pool with my girlfriends—I suggest you read this by a pool with girlfriends, too—but problem was, it wasn’t my book. My friend had just bought it, and I straight up stole it from her and never looked back. Mindy is as shallow and superficial as we want her to be, while also being smart as heck and talented for days. She makes me laugh and challenges me to talk about the absurd without shame.
Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
The first book I ever bought by Glennon Doyle Melton was this one. I then drove five hours to Austin, Texas just to hear her speak. She speaks like she writes, and she writes like vulnerability is a superpower. I didn’t know we had permission to do that. No one ever told me that what makes us weak also makes us powerful—until Glennon did. So I decided to try and write like this, too, and that’s when I realized that our brokenness is a superpower. I use mine often now, because of her.
Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
Probably no other book connects to my new book better than this one. I remember sitting in a bookstore reading and thinking, “YES! THIS IS ME! THIS IS WHAT I’M DOING!” Which led me to the conclusion that I will probably be writing hit shows for a prominent network before you know it. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.) The only thing I like better than Scandal is how Shonda writes in this book. She writes like she talks and that makes her book both personal and conversational. I felt like she was talking to me, directly. Which may be the very reason my “year of yes” changed my life in the very same way it changed hers. I wish I could thank her personally.
Victory Over the Darkness: Realize the Power of Your Identity in Christ by Neil Anderson
The most life changing book I’ve ever read, hands down. I rely heavily on my faith and spirituality. I don’t play. Faith isn’t a carnival ride that I buy a ticket for on occasion. It’s not a chiropractor that I only see when I’m hurting. I am all in, baby. And you can bet if I’m going to buy book after book on how to make a Keto diet work for me then I sure as hell am going to do the same with regard to how to make my faith work for me. I read this book and decided to live free. And everything—absolutely everything—changed after that.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Oh, just shut up! Shut up, Tina, and shut up this book! Bossypants deserves all the praise people have ever given it. The way Fey writes. How do we do it? How do we all learn how to write this way? As a writer, I don’t know if I am in awe or just pissed off about the whole thing. Time will tell. Read this book right now if you are a comedy writer, or reader who loves comedy.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
I had no idea who Jenny Lawson was when I picked up this book. Needless to say, I looked her up immediately. Tears, y’all! Literal tears were rolling down my face. I thought, Wait, this woman, who came from a family of crazy, started writing down all of the stories from her childhood and how they helped shape her and someone let her do it? And she got paid?! A dream was born that day, my friends. Don’t read Jenny Lawson’s second book until you’ve read her first. This is how everyone should meet her for the first time.
We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True by Gabrielle Union
This book has been passed around between the women in my family more than my grandmother’s pecan pie recipe. And every time we pass it off we do it under hushed voices where my momma can’t see: “Here, take it. But put it in your purse so my mother doesn’t get on to us.” Why the cloak and dagger? Because your girl, Gabrielle, gets very real in this book and whereas it made me laugh and holler and cheer, it would make our mothers blush and wince and pray. Union isn’t afraid of her stories and her truth. If it was real enough to happen then it is real enough to write about. Side note: I haven’t shopped in a Payless since reading this book, and I may not ever shop there again. And for me, that’s saying something.
I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron is famous for the line, “Everything is copy.” This means keep your eyes and your ears peeled because everything can be used as material. As both a writer and motivational speaker, I love this statement! Which is why I bought, I Feel Bad About My Neck. This once-in-a-lifetime author died far too early, so hold on to her words. She is all of us, writing about all of us, making all of us feel less alone and more normal. She was a gift to words.
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
I remember reading Wally Lamb’s book She’s Come Undone when Oprah’s Book Club had only recently started, so maybe twenty years ago? The heroine was fat. And unkempt. And depressed. And sad. And the most perfectly imperfect narrator of the most perfectly imperfect subject matter. And I not only loved her, I identified with her. This book helped me realize that I could write about my size and my pain and people might still cheer for me.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
In her latest book, Gilbert gives everyone permission to dream and explore and go beyond. She would probably hate that I used the phrase “gives permission” because she is a firm believer—as am I—that no one needs to ask permission. Permission to be ourselves is uniquely “in” us and the world is missing out on our wonder if we keep it from them. Like a lunatic, I believed her… and look at me now!
How to Fix a Broken Record: Thoughts on Vinyl Records, Awkward Relationships, and Learning to Be Myself by Amena Brown
I’m torn over which of Amena Brown’s books to mention in this piece because both are so good, but I’m going to go with How to Fix a Broken Record because it came out the very month my own book had to be turned in. I turned my book in to my editor full of anxiety and nerves and fear. What if what I said was stupid? What if I really didn’t know myself at all? What if everything I thought God had been teaching me was silly and illogical? Then I picked up this book and I breathed deep. Brown reaffirmed what I knew to be true about past lies, hurts, intimidation, and abuse. I didn’t have to live under that anymore! She reminded me that the truths of God are eternal and for all of us. I never fretted over turned in chapters again. I knew my words mattered and would be a salve for someone just as hers had been for me.
People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jenn Mann
There is a chapter in my book entitled “People That Might Not Want to Ask Me for Money.” I wrote this chapter as a nod to Jenn Mann and this book. Her book is so funny and so honest, and I figured if she could make a book out of people we want to see take a flying leap off a high perch, then by George, I could make a chapter out of it! Like Jenn, I regret nothing. (Except that maybe my list wasn’t long enough.)
Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have by Annie F. Downs
I doubt that anyone has ever recommended a book that they have not read. Yet here I am, doing that very thing. Here’s why: several years ago, at my lowest point, I was in a bookstore when I walked past this book. I would’ve bought it then had I two pennies to rub together, but I didn’t. But that title—her title was magical to me. It invoked something in me. It hit me between the eyes, and I thought on it for years. I couldn’t erase it from my mind. What if all of us just one day decided to be brave? What might happen? Now I watch Annie, I listen to her, and I see bravery etched all over her. Have I bought the book? No! I can’t. Y’all can. In fact, I encourage you to. But I can’t. That book, its title, and sweet, sweet Annie will all stay right here in my heart where they first made an appearance—on a day when it felt as if it might stop beating altogether.
At Wit’s End by Erma Bombeck
When I was in high school I turned in an essay to my English teacher who later whispered in my ear, “Erma Bombeck. Look her up. You write like her… that’s a good thing.” Shortly thereafter, I was the only junior in high school reading At Wit’s End. I didn’t care! I own every book Bomback has written and can quote from most of them. Erma wrote in a style and in a voice that both felt familiar to me, and still do, even after all these years. Her work remains timeless. That is the mark of a good writer.
And to close out this list, we just had to include Melissa’s new memoir, Eat Cake. Be Brave., available now from Grand Central Publishing! – Ed.
Eat Cake. Be Brave. by Melissa Radke
In Melissa’s own words: “I wrote this book because when I turned forty-one I made a decision to be brave. To live brave—bolder and freer. You see, I thought our lives were supposed to change when we turned forty… but mine didn’t. Yet every piece of it changed when I turned forty-one; when I set out to prove that it wasn’t too late for me, that careless words wouldn’t stunt me and rejection would not stop me. And maybe, just maybe, it will take you reading about the journey I took to finding my sense of self-worth in order for you to rightfully believe in yours. This book is about how all the years of my life led up to the one that changed it. So, cut a big slice and raise a fork…”