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Shelf Life: Elizabeth Warren

Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.

When she first ran for senator in the 2012 election in Massachusetts, Elizabeth Warren would tell little girls she was running because that’s what girls do and make pinkie promises they’d always remember that. She would make similar promises during her Senate re-election campaign in 2018 and her presidential run in 2020. Now the tradition is the subject of her first children’s book, Pinkie Promises (Godwin Books), which comes out today.

The senator, who taught law for more than 30 years including at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School, has written 12 books, the most recent being Persist, a reference to Mitch McConnell’s attempt to silence her while speaking out against Jeff Sessions’s nomination for Attorney General.

A champion for middle class families (at 50, her mother got her first job outside the home at Sears to support the family after her father had a heart attack), the progressive politician who helped establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ran on universal child care, a wealth tax, and canceling student loan debt. She plans to run for re-election in 2024.

The Oklahoma-raised, Cambridge, MA-based Warren nicknamed Betsy by her dad was a star debater in high school; taught special education; might possibly be our only Shelf Lifer with an action figure; did the “Flip the Switch” TikTok challenge with Kate McKinnon (her impersonator on SNL); watches Casablanca every New Year’s Eve; has a golden retriever named Bailey after George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life; and loved the taking selfies part on the presidential campaign, the cold food, not so much. Likes: Michelob Ultra, Patsy Cline, Ballers and The Rock, tea over coffee, Mounds candy bars, organized closets, Halloween. Treat yourself to one of her favorite reads.

The book that:

…helped me through tough times:

Harry Bosch, from the series by Michael Connelly. Harry makes mistakes, but he sticks to his principles—and he always works it out in the end. That was a very comforting series of books to read when I was a first-time candidate thrown into a bruising, uphill race for the United States Senate.

…kept me up way too late:

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan. My family survived that Depression and Dust Bowl, and I was so caught up in the story, I couldn’t leave them until it finally rained and the country started to heal.

…made me weep uncontrollably:

Old Yeller by Fred Gipson. I tear up even now when I think about the boy shooting his dog.

…I recommend over and over again:

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. So much truth in that book.

…shaped my worldview:

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. The opening paragraphs knocked me flat.

…I swear I’ll finish one day:

The Chickenshit Club by Jesse Eisinger. It makes me so furious to read that I have to put it down for long stretches.

…currently sits on my nightstand:

I’m re-reading America’s War for the Greater Middle East by Andrew J. Bacevich, because it is full of lessons we have not yet learned.

…made me laugh out loud:

Frank by Barney Frank. Years later, I think of some of the things Barney or his supporters said, and I still laugh out loud.

…I’d like turned into a Netflix show:

The John Rain series by Barry Eisler. Rain is my favorite assassin, a loner who, bit by bit, falls in love with a friend, a father, lover, a son.

…I first bought:

Comic books.

…I last bought:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Lyrical.

…has the best opening line:

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Yeah, I know we all learned it in high school, but even now, when the world seems runaway, I recite the beginning of the sentence and think of upheaval, the French Revolution, love and sacrifice—and it all seems more manageable.

…should be on every college syllabus:

$2.00 a Day by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer. Everyone should get a close look at how the poorest Americans live.

…I brought on a momentous trip:

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. Bruce [husband Bruce Mann] and I listened to it on a road trip through Yellowstone and across Montana and Wyoming.

…I’ve re-read the most:

Cases and Materials on Contract Law by Robert Hamilton, Alan Rau, and Russell Weintraub. I taught the course for 25 years, and this was the book I used.

…I consider literary comfort food:

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. I put it on my headphones when I’m really stressed, and I drift into another world.

…everyone should read:

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert. In the midst of a growing climate crisis, this book simultaneously urges action and teaches caution.

…fills me with hope:

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. People—even people who are badly damaged—get better.

…surprised me:

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi because it wasn’t a sermon; it was a journey that unfolded a bit at a time.

…I’d want signed by the author for my library:

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. C’mon—it’s mythic.

…I asked for as a kid:

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I lived multiple lives in reading and re-reading that book across many summers. I was Jo. Then Meg. Then Beth (I imagined my own great death). Then back to Jo. (Never Amy—what a priss!).

…that holds the recipe to a favorite dish:

The 1972 copy of Yvonne Young Tarr’s The New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook that my husband bought used as a college student and brought with him to our marriage years later. The Mexican oatmeal soup has become a staple of our lives; I make it every Christmas Eve.

…taught me this Jeopardy!-worthy bit of trivia:

How to make a “barmaid’s gin and tonic” to serve people who are already drunk. I’ve never needed to know this, but knowing it is like being let in on a cool little secret. Thank you, Ann Patchett, Commonwealth.

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