8 Books for the Recovering Nice Girl

Mia Mercado wants you to fly free and spread your nasty little wings

Photo by Batu Gezer on Unsplash

Let us begin with the traditional greeting of Nice Girls: omg, hi!! Thank you for being here! As a lifelong Nice Girl, I need to be clear: I don’t wish to rid myself entirely of the trappings of “niceness.” I’m more than happy to hold the door for you. Yes, I’ll share my fries. However, I’ve started to question why I’ve spent so much of the past three decades of my life sitting quietly, waiting my turn, prioritizing others’ comfort above my own, all in the hopes that I won’t be seen as “mean.”

In She’s Nice Though, my new collection of funny essays and stories about goodness, kindness, and agreeability, I ruminate on the recurring chorus that’s been in my head since before I can remember: am I actually nice or am I just performing a role I’m expected to play? (Spoiler: I still don’t fully know!)

If you, too, grew up thinking obedience and goodness were one and the same, are in the process of examining your own intentions, or have wondered why you have the kind of vibe that makes strangers trust you to watch their stuff while they go pee: hey, hello, welcome. Here is some required reading for fellow nice girls who are learning to spread their nasty little wings. Fly free, girlies. Make sure to knock over a few gorgeous vases in the process.

Little Weirds by Jenny Slate

Weird girls and nice girls have a symbiotic relationship. For those of us who followed the rules to our own demise, there is an undeniable charm to someone who eschews cultural mores in favor of their own whimsy. Little Weirds by Jenny Slate is a collection of poems, essays, stories, dreams, and hopeful squeals about the intricacies and oddities of being alive today. “A Letter from the Committee for Evening Experiences,” for example, traces Slate’s confusing, occasionally anxious, and sometimes overwhelmingly mundane dreams. The collection is poetic and dreamy, soothing and intimate, like whispered secrets between childhood friends.

Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Fellow Midwest sweetie Samantha Irby is the patron saint of funny essays for depressed people. In her most recent collection, she gives us a realistic daily routine, stories about the things that make you horny as an adult (being fully asleep by 10 p.m.), and a celebration of the delicious mundanity of modern adulthood.

Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting

Nutting, who also wrote Made for Love, is a master of all things dark, gross, and messy—my personal holy trinity. Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls is a collection of satirical short stories about, as the title suggests, women and girls with surreal, disturbing, and impossible jobs. There’s “Ant Colony,” which is about a woman who hosts an ant farm in her body after “space on earth became limited.” The collection opens with a woman being cooked in a giant pot of soup. Unclean Jobs is grounded by the women we follow who, despite their unbelievable circumstances, have reactions, thoughts, and feelings that are all too familiar.

Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou

In Elaine Hsieh Chou’s debut novel, we meet Ingrid Yang, a Taiwanese American PhD student struggling to finish her dissertation on poet Xiao-Wen Chou. During her research, she discovers a secret that would unravel her work, her school’s East Asian studies department, and her understanding of race in the literary world as a whole. The book is a smart, satirical look at everything from the fetishization of Asian women to who is celebrated in modern academia. Smart girl vibes!

Hysterical by Elissa Bassist

Hysterical is a memoir about being heard or, more often, not being heard. It follows Bassist’s experience with mystery ailments (and doctors who couldn’t make sense of her pain), the #MeToo movement (and men who couldn’t make sense of female rage), and the frustrating and liberating experience of finding one’s own voice. Bassist manages to be funny, precise, and intimate while dissecting the mess of modern feminism—wow, women can have it all!

The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West

“It took me two decades to become brave enough to be angry,” West writes in her essay collection, The Witches Are Coming. Per usual, West is incisive and smart as she explores the cultural climate in the wake of the #MeToo movement. She asks questions like “Is Adam Sandler funny?” and “Ted Bundy was not charming: are you high?” while bringing to light the exhausting persistence of misogyny.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Machado expertly blends science fiction, comedy, and fantasy with the horror of being a woman in this short story collection. In “The Husband Stitch,” a story about female bodily autonomy, she retells and expands the urban legend of The Girl with the Green Ribbon. “Especially Heinous,” a personal favorite, is a wryly humorous reimagining of Law and Order SVU episodes. The book is a macabre and fantastical salve to the festering wound that is chauvinism.

How to Weep in Public by Jacqueline Novak

Jacqueline Novak’s writing feels like falling dramatically onto a fainting lounge for an audience of one (your cat). How to Weep in Public: Feeble Offerings on Depression From One Who Knows is part advice column, part memoir, and a wholly honest account of what it’s like when the murder call is coming from inside the house that is your head. It’s funny, cozy, and raw, like taking Lexapro for the first time.

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Thank You!