Fresh from the successful launch of her memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama has been giving her book recommendations, based on her own list of personal favourites.

In an interview with the New York Times, the former First Lady talked about what she’s currently reading, what some of her long-standing favourites are, and why.

The books she’s reading now are:

Educated – Tara Westover

Obama says: “It’s an engrossing read, a fresh perspective on the power of an education, and it’s also a testament to the way grit and resilience can shape our lives. Tara’s upbringing was so different from my own, but learning about her world gave me insight into lives and experiences that weren’t a part of my own journey.”

Image: Penguin Books

White Teeth – Zadie Smith

Obama says: “I love the way the story weaves together so many complex and powerful forces that affect our lives and our relationships – family and parenting, religion and politics, and so much more. Plus, it’s just plain funny. I love books that make me laugh every now and then.”

Conversations With Myself – Nelson Mandela

Obama says: “I like to flip through it from time to time because it always seems to give me an extra boost when I need it. I cherish this both because it was signed by him and because he gave it to me as a gift when my family visited his home in 2011.”

Other books she singles out are:

Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison

One of the greats of modern American literature, the book follows the life of Macon Dead III, also known as Milkman, mostly concerning itself with the period 1930 – 1963. The book has provoked controversy as it confronts many topics some have found uncomfortable, including racism, murder, and abusive relationships.

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

Published in 1939, this story set against the backdrop of economic depression and ecological hardship (the Dust Bowl and prolonged drought of the 1930s) remains hugely popular. It tracks the fortunes of a family as they travel the iconic Route 66 from Oklahoma to California in search of a better life.

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

After the ship containing his family and the animals from the zoo they ran in India sinks in a storm, the protagonist Pi (Piscine Patel) finds himself stranded in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean. His only companion is a tiger, named Richard Parker. This is one of the stories within the plot of the novel, recounted by Pi as an adult discussing the unusual events of his childhood.

An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

A newly married couple, Celestial and Roy, find their lives turned upside down when he is convicted of a crime he did not commit. Left on her own while Roy starts a 12-year prison sentence, Celestial drifts away from him, emotionally. How will things resolve once his conviction is overturned after five years?

Image: Penguin Books

Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

A story of migrants and refugees coping with tumultuous events, combined with elements of magical realism, and examining the pressures of change on people and families. Nadia and Saeed meet when they are students. Their town is caught up in a bloody civil war, eventually forcing them to flee. But for them, escape is through a series of magical doors that act as portals to other parts of the world.

Commonwealth – Ann Patchett

A story influenced by the author’s own life that charts the effects on two families when an affair begins and events unfold across 50 years. It all starts on the day of Franny Keating’s christening, when her mother encounters Bert Cousins. The two embark on an affair that creates a commonwealth of neglected children from the affected families.

Obama also recommends readers try to keep an open mind about what they dip into. “I’m pretty open to any form,” she told the New York Times. “I just want it to be good.”

And she touches on the importance of reading as a means of escape, within reason. “I’ve spent a large part of the last decade reading briefing materials and studying up on issues like global girls’ education, children’s health or military family policies. Those are all interesting topics to me, of course, but when I get time to read on my own, I prefer something that provides a bit of an escape. That said, I don’t need to escape too much – I’m not looking to travel to outer space or a fantasy world. Science fiction isn’t really for me.”

For more recommendations, join the World Economic Forum Book Club on Facebook.