“A Snug Life Somewhere” by Jan Shapin

Penny Joe Copper, the daughter of a shingle weaver more interested in labor movements than in putting food on the table, is determined to make a “snug life somewhere” for herself. In this pursuit, she moves to Seattle, where her younger brother is attending college. But a few months later, when her brother is killed in a labor demonstration, Penny finds herself the face of grief—propelled into the spotlight by no small degree by the slick, fast-talking Gabe Rabinowitz.

“The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin

I am among the 44 percent of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions. I tend to think of my goals in more seasonal terms: each spring, summer, fall, and winter I rethink areas of my life that could use improvement. But Gretchen Rubin takes this idea much, much further. And her goal, although multifaceted, is simple: In one year, she wanted to find ways to make herself happier.

“Habana Libre” by Tim Wendel

Pilar has everything a young Cuban woman could want: she’s the most beautiful and talented performer at a luxe resort; she’s newly married to Omar Silva, Cuba’s star baseball player; and her uncle is one of the most prominent businessmen in the country. But she wants more. She dreams of a life outside of Cuba, in “El Norte,” and she will do anything to get there.

“Goodwill Tour”: An Interview with Keith Maginn

In July 2011, Keith Maginn and his close friend, Emily, left Cincinnati, Ohio, for a 3,000-mile road-trip through the southeastern United States. Along the way, Keith and Emily had a simple goal: give away their own money to strangers, who then had to pay the money forward to someone else. Because of my abiding interest in travel, and because of the unique angle of this memoir, I asked Keith a few questions about his book, Goodwill Tour: Paying It Forward.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

When she was out in the world, the world as it had been Before, she hadn’t known how free she was. She was free to marry her lover, Luke, and they were free to have a daughter together. She was free to hold down a job, to have money of her own, to wear whatever she liked and go wherever she wanted whenever she pleased.

“Quiet” by Susan Cain

I was what you might call a high-reactive baby. The slightest disturbance would leave me wailing. I was picky about sound, about food, about the way fabric touched my skin. When I was a year or so old and still cried like it was my full-time job, my mom took me to the doctor and said, “There has to be something wrong with her.” My mother herself cried when she found out she was pregnant with the brother who arrived after me, and her best friend comforted her by saying, “Don’t worry. When God made Melody, he broke the mold.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Set in fictional Maycomb County in 1930s Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by young Scout Finch, who is generally more interested in finding treasures and scrapping with her brother, Jem, than in the Great Depression or Jim Crow. But tension in the Deep South is unavoidable, especially when your dad is Mr. Renaissance Man himself. Atticus Finch is representing Tom Robinson, a black man accused of sexual assault by an impoverished white girl. Scout is young, but already she struggles with biases inherited from members of this insular community. As she observes the tumult caused by the trial, and as she deals with her own demons, Scout learns that people aren’t always as they appear.