Welcome to Shelf Life, Book category of ELLE.com, in which the authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re looking for a book to comfort you, move you deeply, or make you laugh, consider recommendations from the writers in our series who, just like you ( since you’ve been here), claim. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Angie Cruz was studying to be a fashion designer at FIT and working at a cashmere store on Madison Avenue when she turned to English literature, eventually earning an MFA at NYU. (Edwidge Danticat is her instructor.) She just released her fourth novel, How not to drown in a glass of water? (The Flatiron Book), which she have worked on the Google docs on her phone while going to work. Her last book, 2019 Dominicanatook a decade to write and four years to sell, was shortlisted for the Women’s Fiction Award, shortlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Outstanding Fiction, and selected the first of the GMA Book Club.
Born, raised and based in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, Cruz is also the founder and editor of the arts and literature magazine. Aster (ix)an associate professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, and the creator of @dominicanasnyc on Instagram, a digital archive featuring Dominicans in New York.
Cruz is a visual arts major at LaGuardia High School, interning as an assistant archivist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is considered earned a doctorate in history, taught in Texas and Chile, has accomplished something creative to help her with her writing (drawing pictures, cooking, learning to sing on YouTube), collect wooden and ceramic dolls from her travels; and presented at Brooklyn Community College, where her single mother (who inspired Dominicana) studied accounting by night and worked in a lamp factory during the day to support two children.
Prefer: NYC Subway, research, photography, rain, tequila and dark chocolate. Dislikes: Camping.
…Helped me through a breakup:
Leaving me by Melissa Febos helped me breathe when I was filled with pain, feeling hopeless. She writes beautifully and honestly about a long distance love and all the ways she lost herself in it. I finished the book and read it again. That’s medicine.
… Made me miss a train stop:
Why you do not talk to me? by Carmen Rita Wong. She’s a great storyteller, and I immediately found myself invested in the family drama. It’s an important story that explores being Chinese and being Afro-Latinx, complicating the way we think about identity.
… I recommend repeating:
I see myself introduced Basquiat’s Widow by Jennifer Clement all the time. It’s the perfect gift for anyone who loves Basquiat, but also for anyone interested in combined memoirs and great literature. I also recommend her novel Prayer for the Stolenespecially for students because of the economics of her statement.
… Currently sitting on my nightstand:
…Makes me laugh:
One night I read When we make it by Elisabet Velasquez with my niece around the kitchen table and we laughed because the story of Sara growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn was so familiar. What do people say? Reir para no llorar?
… I want to turn into a Netflix show:
Dealing with dreams by Lilliam Rivera will make a fantastic Netflix sci-fi series about Las Mal Criadas, a group of girls who must find a way to survive in the dingy streets of Mega City.
… Last time I bought:
… has the best title and … has the best opening line…:
I like this title: The man who can move the clouds, Memoir by Ingrid Rojas Contreras.
And the first line: “They say the accident that caused me to temporarily lose my memory is my legacy. Not a single house or plot or mailbox, just a few weeks forgotten.”
… has the best ending:
Are from Infinite country by Patricia Engel: “When a cumbia appeared, he asked our mother to dance, and we watched our parents sway and find each other’s rhythms as if they had never lost their way, as if it had been fifteen years. just a dance. interrupted waiting for the next song to play. I wonder about the matrix of separation and fragmentation, our years bound by the ghostly pain of a lost homeland, because now that we are together again, the pain and The feeling of missing something has faded. And there may be no nation or citizen; they’re just territories mapped out for family, for love, for endless country. “
… has the most amazing book jacket:
By Chinelo Okparanta Harry Sylvestor Bird.
… There is a love scene that will make you blush:
Cantoras by Carolina De Robertis focuses on the pleasure and sensuality of five Uruguayan gay women who find refuge in their intimate relationships while living under an oppressive dictatorship.
… Made me cry uncontrollably:
I read Giovanni’s room by James Baldwin while a resident at the La Napoule Art Foundation in the south of France. I read aloud the last 30 pages to the sea crying and crying.
… Should be in every college curriculum:
My broken language by Quiara Alegría Hudes is an excellent storyteller. The rise of Hudes from playing music to the stage to writing this memoir is inspirational and useful to anyone still trying to figure out his or her life. It’s proof that in a lifetime, a lot can happen.
… I consider literature as comfort food:
The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir by Vivian Gornick. I usually carry this book with me because when I read it, I want to write. I like the way she tells a story and also the way she writes about New York.
… Forged a friendship:
The professor’s daughter by Emily Raboteau. I struggled with the way she wrote and asked her to tell her how much I loved it. We have been good friends ever since. I can’t wait until her new book, Lessons for survival, launched in 2023 on the climate emergency and motherhood.
… holds the recipe of a favorite dish:
Love you by Sarah Gambito is a collection of poems that also teach us something about cooking, eating, and living in community. While reading it, I was introduced to one of my favorite dishes: Chicken adobo. This is a poem of Gambito to read, cook, then eat.
Riza Cruz is an editor and writer based in New York.