One duo is on a mission to give the traditional bookstore a new set of wheels.
Since 2017, Alexa Trembly and Emory Harkins have picked 20 books a month. Instead of putting them on a book club list or posting them online, they load them into the back of their renovated 1987 vintage van. Known as Twenty Stories, the van is a traveling bookstore, completely mobile, and has been crossing the country since its establishment in Los Angeles, California.
Rather than featuring a large selection of books, which could quickly become overwhelming, they decided on a smaller, personally-picked selection. The choices often include contemporary authors, authors of color, queer authors, and female authors; the genre selections are wide but tend to focus on fiction works, memoirs, and nonfiction pieces.
The pair, who were featured on the 3rd hour of TODAY, shared their list of stories for March. Read on below for this month's picks — maybe you'll find a new favorite!
Twenty Stories' March Book Selections
- 1. Heartbreaker, $18, Amazon
Claudia Dey's novel is brash and imaginative, combining the best parts of "The Handmaid's Tale," "Stranger Things," and "Twin Peaks." With a dramatic mystery and told from three different perspectives, this novel is a great read above love, family, and reinvention.
- 2. Lucky Boy, $10, Amazon
Shanthi Sekaran's book is deeply moving and heartbreaking at points, focusing on narratives of immigration, motherhood, and impossible decisions.
"'Lucky Boy' is told from alternating perspectives, a big trend right now in publishing, and one that we love at Twenty Stories," the founders told TODAY.
- 3. The New Me, $11, Amazon
"Halle Butler creates humor in the mundane," Trembly and Harkins told TODAY. "Writing with wit and spirit, she gives us a sharp and candid satire of the American workplace. This one is for the readers who like to laugh." No matter which generation you're in, this dark, psychological comedy is a must-read.
- 4. Gingerbread, $18, Amazon
Taking its cue from classic fairy tales and children stories, Helen Oyeyemi turns a commonplace dessert into a surprising, beautiful family legacy in her newest novel. Trembly and Harkins described it as, "a family saga unlike any other."
- 5. The Tiger's Wife, $11, Amazon
Full of subtle plotting and rich details, Tea Obreht's debut book dances on the border of historical fiction and magical realism, focusing on families, legends, and the stories we tell ourselves.
"Set in the Balkans, Obreht weaves multiple stories into one and follows narrator Natalia, a young doctor, on her journey to understanding her family and country's history," they explained.
- 6. The Far Field, $18, Amazon
"We read the first sentence of Madhuri Vijay's debut and knew it had to be on our list," Trembly and Harkins said. The sweeping novel brings to life the complex, complicated politics of Kashmir, a remote village in the Himalayas in a narrative of grief, guilt, and compassion.
- 7. Frankenstein in Baghdad, $11, Amazon
"This retelling of a cult classic is an eye-opening look at contemporary Iraq set against a surrealist landscape," the founders explained. Part horror, part politics, part surreal comedy, this profound, gripping book refreshes a centuries-old scary story into today's landscape.
- 8. Small Country, $14, Amazon
Gael Faye's novel takes the standard coming of age story and puts it amidst war and genocide in Burundi and Rwanda, Africa. The 1992-placed novel focuses not only on the tragic years that its characters grow up in, but also on the brighter days that came before.
- 9. Rutting Season, $17, Amazon
"This short story collection checks off two big marks for a memorable read," Trembly and Harkins said. "Desperate characters and punchy writing. It was one of our 'new release' picks this month."
Mandeliene Smith traces the lives of families on the brink of collapse and in moments of crisis as characters fight for love, survival, or simple happiness in this collection of short stories.
- 10. Birthday, $10, Amazon
In this serene, meaningful memoir, Cesar Aira remembers the most significant events during his first 50 years of life and considers what it means to have more past than future. Filled with meditations on ignorance and knowledge and life and death, it's a sweet, thoughtful read.
- 11. Sympathy, $10, Amazon
Olivia Sudjic's debut novel focuses on how the Internet shapes our lives, especially when it's used to force an emotional connection. With a riveting mystery and emotionally-driven choices, it's an insightful read to what it means to live a life online.
"'Sympathy' makes us feel present with its tale of unrequited love in a digital world," the founders said when asked about this pick.
- 12. A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, $10, Amazon
"Lucia Berlin is a unique voice in fiction, and a powerhouse we couldn't imagine not carrying," Trembly and Harkins told TODAY. "In this collection of stories we see why she's one of the most lauded writers of her time, and why she continues to gain popularity even years after her death."
- 13. Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across, $13, Amazon
This collection of poems from Mary Lambert deals with sexual assault, mental illness, and body acceptance, bringing strength and resilience to those who have been knocked down and picked themselves up once more.
- 14. Indecency, $12, Amazon
Justin Phillip Reed's poems experiment with language as a form of exploring inequality and injustice while critiquing social orders and a culture of supremacy. At once political and personal, his poems take on dozens of topics and structures that surround audiences.
- 15. A Cruelty Special to Our Species: Poems, $17, Amazon
Poet Emily Jungmin Yoon focuses on the histories of sexual violence against women, especially the acts committed against Korean "comfort women" during World War II. Her lyrical, sweeping poetry brings life to those who have been erased and overlooked, especially during war.
"Yoon's poems asks questions that others won't, exploring themes of race, gender, and violence during wartime," the founders said.
- 16. Look: Poems, $9, Amazon
"Thoughtfully written and carefully crafted, these poems shouldn't be missed," Harkins and Trembly lauded. Solmaz Sharif's first book puts the cost of war into poetry. Assembling her own family's history into narratives that talk about discrimination, death, and loss, she creates a poignant series of prose.
- 17. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, $18, Amazon
"T. Kira Madden has been on our radar for a few months now, and to finally read her debut is a privilege," they said. "Both gripping and beautiful written, she tackles race, identity, and trauma with skill and grace. Read this book."
- 18. My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir, $12, Amazon
"This memoir is like being a fly on the wall during the inner circle parties and meetings of activism and intellect during the '70s in New York City," they explained. The memoir captures Harris' memories of growing up in early-70s Manhattan, debating and dancing alongside figures like Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison, and recalls their shared commitments to activism, engagement, and each other in poignantly-remembered moments.
- 19. Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present, $12, Amazon
Peter Vronsky fills the gap between academic studies and over-sensationalized true crime stories in this investigative history piece. He examines society's understanding of serial killing and what he calls sexual serial killers - murderers with their own unique motives who have captured public fascination for decades.
- 20. Figuring, $19, Amazon
"Each chapter is a revelation," Harkins and Trembly said of this book. It dives deep into the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning across four centuries. She chronicles the public contributions of mostly female, mostly queer figures whose work comes from their hard-to-define relationships, and questions whether love, or acclaim, or achievement can ever be enough.
For more book recommendations, check out:
- The greatest love stories of all time
- The best books of 2018, according to Goodreads readers
- 16 life-changing books to read in 2019
- 12 of the best books to read on a long flight