Sameer Pandya’s Members Only charts a calamitous week in the life of Raj Bhatt, a charming middle-aged anthropology professor at a South Californian university. As part of his tennis club’s membership committee, Raj has long sought to diversify the club’s lily white makeup. He’s thus delighted to meet Bill Brown, a charismatic Black doctor who is applying to the club. Yet during Bill’s membership meeting, Raj makes a racist joke in a disastrous attempt to bond with Bill and his wife. From there, Raj’s week only gets worse. His white colleagues at the club demand to dictate the terms in which Raj should apologize (while blithely ignoring their own past racist comments), while a cohort of Raj’s white students rise up to protest his “reverse racism” in the classroom. Through it all, Pandya navigates Raj’s world with insight and grace, making Raj’s miserable week very, very funny in the process.
Books & More
Diane Cardwell on Surfing, Falling Over and Over Again, and the Danger of Saving Yourself for a Future that Never Comes
Diane Cardwell was in her mid-forties when a chance visit to Rockaway Beach altered the trajectory of her life. A successful journalist for The New York Times, Cardwell was at Rockaway for a story, but found herself transfixed by the surfers on the beach. That fortuitous encounter caused her to sign up for a surf lesson, and soon Cardwell was spending every spare moment at the beach, forging friendships with other surfers, and eventually buying a home there so she could more seriously pursue her newfound passion. Her memoir, Rockaway: Surfing Headlong into a New Life, charts Cardwell’s journey of self-transformation through surfing, providing not only a bighearted exploration of Rockaway, but also exquisite sports writing that plants the readers on top of the surfboard.
Ivy Pochoda’s extraordinary These Women dives into the inner lives of disparate women in the West Adams neighborhood of Southern Los Angeles, whose worlds are upended by a shocking murder in their community. Dorian runs a local restaurant, mired in grief over her daughter’s horrific murder over a decade earlier, while Julianna spends her nights working at a club and her days exploring her newfound passion in photography. As Dorian fights for justice not only for her own daughter but the two most recent victims, unexpected connections emerge among the women, hurtling the reader to a devastating and unexpected conclusion.
In Steph Cha’s compassionate and devastating Your House Will Pay, a shocking crime uproots the lives of two very different Californians. Grace Park exists in a world of ordered routine, living with her parents in the Valley and working in their family-owned pharmacy. In nearby Palmdale, Shawn Matthews’ quiet life of family contentment is forever […]
Sloane Andrews was one of “The Chosen Ones,” five teenagers who used their magical powers to save the world from the Dark Lord. Ten years later, she’s a husk of her teenage self, battling PTSD and apathetic about what direction her life should take. When one of the Chosen Ones unexpectedly dies shortly after the ten-year anniversary of the Dark Lord’s defeat, Sloane finds herself pulled into yet another battle to save the world, one that will call into question everything she has experienced before. Veronica Roth, who surged to success with her Divergent series, has here conjured another arresting world, filled with world-weary heroes making bold, adult choices. Chosen Ones is one of the most eagerly awaited titles of the spring, and has already been labeled a Best Book of April from Time, Entertainment Weekly, and Literary Hub.
National Book Award winner Ibram Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist is a valuable (and highly readable) resource for readers looking to dismantle the racist structures in their lives and communities. Kendi rigorously examines the many ways racism is interwoven into the fabric of our daily existence, and then leads readers through his personal journey of deconstructing the racism present in his own life. An invigorating memoir as well as a fascinating exploration of our country’s history, How Ro Be An Antiracist has been showered with praise by critics. The New York Times Book Review named it one of the Best Books of 2019, and Publishers Weekly hailed it as “a boldly articulated, historically informed explanation of what exactly racist ideas and thinking are.”
In 1959, Kent Garrett was one of eighteen Black students recruited for Harvard’s incoming freshman class, a varied group that included a future New York Times journalist, a research scientist, and experimental jazz musician. Nearly fifty years later, after an award winning career at both CBS and NBC news, Garrett, along with his partner Jeanne Ellsworth, embarked on a project to place his classmates’ experiences at Harvard into a historical context. The resulting book, The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1863 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever, is a remarkable investigation of how these young men forged their identities during a pivotal point in American history.
“I Believe the Proverbial Arc is Bending Towards Justice; It’s Just Going to Need a Lot of Support”—Mimi Lemay on her Memoir
From the time he was two-and-a-half, Mimi Lemay’s son, Jacob, born “Em,” asserted that he was a boy. As Lemay listened to her middle child reckon with his gender identity, it called to mind how as a young woman she struggled against the expectations of the ultra-Orthodox community in which she was raised. In her extraordinary memoir, What We Will Become: A Mother, a Son, and a Journey of Transformation, Lemay skillfully interweaves how her own experience breaking away from her religious community helped inform how she was able to support Jacob’s recognition of his authentic gender identity. The result is a compassionate memoir about family and faith. Library Journal hailed it as “a vital and engrossing book about how to live an authentic life” and Publisher’s Weekly called it “a fascinating, heart-wrenching memoir [that] offers invaluable insights into issues of gender identity.”
Karen McManus on Thorny Sibling Relationships, Gender Stereotypes, and Teenagers with Main Character Potential
Karen McManus’ twisty One Of Us Is Next kicks off a year and a half after the events of her bestseller thriller One Of Us Is Lying. Bayview High School is recovering from the havoc unleashed by Simon Kelleher’s gossip app when an unknown student launches a phone-based game of Truth or Dare. Yet what begins as harmless teenage fun soon grows more sinister. The mysterious person behind the game reveals dark secrets about its players, and the dares grow increasingly dangerous. When the game targets Maeve Rojas, who played an integral part in solving the mystery of One Of Us Is Lying, she teams up with her best friend, Knox, and the game’s first victim, Phoebe, to unmask the anonymous game master before things turn deadly.
Shannon Pufahl on Luck, the Social Avant-Garde, and the “Interesting Fictional Problem” at the Heart of Her New Novel
In Shannon Pufahl’s luminous On Swift Horses, newlywed Muriel whiles away her days at the local diner where she waitresses. There, she becomes a careful student of the horse trainers and jockeys who eat there, learning the intricacies of the horse racing world by eavesdropping on their conversations. When this newfound knowledge yields an unexpected windfall at the track, Muriel finds herself at a crossroads, tentatively exploring this newfound financial freedom and its impact on her marriage. Meanwhile, her beloved brother-in-law Julius has found work at a Las Vegas Casino, where he has fallen deeply in love with his co-worker (and card cheat), Henry. Both Muriel and Julius soon find themselves on unexpected quests, and Pufahl masterfully tracks their journeys through Tijuana and the queer spaces of mid-century San Diego.
For over fifty years, Paul Theroux has set the gold standard for travel writing. Now in his seventies, he remains as curious and fearless as ever, as evidenced in his new book, On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican Journey. The book is an extraordinary chronicle of a hugely ambitious trip Theroux undertook, where he drove the entire length of the US-Mexican border, and then deeper into Oaxaca and Chiapas. Along the way, Theroux spends time with Zapotec mill workers, attends a Zapatista party meeting, and teaches a creative writing class in Mexico City. Through it all, Theroux lends his formidable powers of observation to these areas of Mexico rarely visited by its northern neighbors.
When wildlife expert Julie Zickefoose received a photo of a dehydrated blue jay, she had no idea the profound effect the bird, who Zickefoose named Jemima, would quickly have on her life. What followed was a herculean effort on the part of Zickefoose and her family, where they nursed Jemima back to health, released it back into the wild, and then strategized how to give Jemima medical attention when the bird came down with a dangerous disease. Zickefoose’s memoir about this human-avian relationship, Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-Luck Jay, serves as both love letter to this resilient blue jay as well as a fascinating long term analysis of a species that rarely permits itself to be studied. Zickefoose, who might be familiar to readers from her frequent appearances on National Public Radio, is the author of numerous books, including Baby Birds: An Artist Looks into the Nest and The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds. Of her latest book, Booklist stated, “Zickefoose has produced another hard-to-put-down winner” while Library Journal hailed it as “a heartwarming account for all interested in natural history, especially birds, animal behavior, and wildlife rehabilitation.”
In Return to the Reich, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eric Lichtblau tells the incredible story of Freddy Mayer, a Jewish refugee who escaped Nazi Germany as a teenager only to venture into Nazi-occupied Austria years later as an OSS agent. Mayer’s mission was to go undercover as a Nazi officer in Innsbrook, Austria, where he was able to gather intelligence that proved invaluable to the Allies in the waning days of World War II. Mayer’s exploits read like scenes from an Ian Fleming novel—from secretly skiing down an ice-covered mountain in the middle of the night to brazenly posing as a Nazi officer in an officer’s club—made all the more thrilling because it actually happened.
When Adrienne Brodeur was fourteen, her mother, Malabar, woke her up from a sound sleep to confide that she had just kissed Ben, the best friend of Adrienne’s stepfather. That small moment would ultimately send shockwaves through the lives of both families, as Malabar and Ben embarked on a secret relationship and enlisted Adrienne’s assistance in hiding it from their spouses. In Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me, Brodeur reflects on her complicated relationship with her mother with unflinching pose and bracing wit. What results is a compassionate examination of knotty family ties and an incisive portrayal of how one woman was able to end her family’s cycle of deception.
In Mamta Chaudhry’s stunning Haunting Paris, Sylvie, a musician mourning the recent death of her beloved Julien, listlessly prepares for Paris’ bicentennial as she opens her home to vacationing American academics. Yet Sylvie is hurled out of her routine when she chances upon a mysterious letter in Julien’s desk. This discovery sparks a thrilling investigation, as Sylvie plunges into Julien’s family’s heretofore unknown experiences during World War II. While Sylvie races through the streets of Paris, the ghost of Julien watches on, providing a panoramic view of the city’s tumultuous history and revealing the painful moments from his past he could not share during their life together.