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.”
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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.
In Jami Attenberg’s dynamic family saga All This Could Be Yours, amoral businessman Victor Tuchman lies dying in a hospital bed in New Orleans, leaving his family to reckon with how his monstrous behavior has shaped their lives. While his wife Barbra restlessly paces the halls of the hospital, alert to her Fitbit’s mounting stepcount, […]
Paul Tough on College Admissions, Social Mobility, and the Common Sense Solutions to Current Inequities in Higher Education
Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us builds on the extraordinary journalism of his earlier work, How Children Succeed, and dissects the current state of higher education. Tough dives into the the various components of the college world, introducing the reader to high-priced SAT tutors, admissions directors striving to achieve the perfect balance with incoming freshman classes, and College Board officials facing uncomfortable truths about who the SAT actually benefits. Yet the heart of the book belongs to the students Tough profiles, intelligent and resilient teenagers who courageously navigate the ever-changing college landscape. By combining rigorous research with compelling personal narratives, Tough crafts a work that is not only a status report on the changing world of higher education, but also a revelatory look at how social mobility works in America.
“You Don’t Know How Unique Your Own Mother is Until You’re Out in the World” — Bridgett M. Davis on Her Heartwarming Memoir
In The World According to Frannie Davis: My Mother’s Life in the Detroit Numbers, Bridgett M. Davis traces the extraordinary life of her mother, a glamorous businesswoman who ran a thriving Numbers enterprise in Detroit for over thirty years. Frannie Davis arrived in Detroit in 1958 as a young mother with little prospects to support a growing family. She quickly transformed a $100 loan from her brother into a prosperous Numbers venture, serving as a de facto banker, bookie, and counselor for her neighborhood. With luminous prose, Davis delves into her mother’s life, providing an insider’s look at the Numbers world and a sweeping look at Detroit’s evolving landscape in the sixties and seventies.
Maureen Stanton probes her dark teenage years with compassion and insight in her new memoir, Body Leaping Backwards: Memoir of A Delinquent Girlhood. Stanton grew up in a boisterous family in 1970s Walpole, Massachusetts, a working-class community where the local prison loomed large in each citizen’s life. Yet when her parents divorce, Maureen and her family find themselves reeling not only from the seismic shifts in their personal lives, but from the political and cultural changes in the country as well. Maureen’s mother, a devout woman who puts herself through college as a single mother, soon finds herself resorting to shoplifting in order to put food on the table. Maureen, meanwhile, experiments with angel dust and dabbles in delinquency, skipping school and breaking into nearby homes. Stanton combines rigorous historical research with acute perception, crafting a memoir that takes a clear-eyed look at adolescence.
Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue spins an irresistible premise— what if the son of the U.S. President fell in love with the Prince of Wales— into one of the summer’s most pleasurable reads. Alex Claremont-Davis breezes through life as the son of the United States’ first female President, but he’s brought up short by a contentious relationship with the straight-laced Prince Henry. After a disastrous run-in involving a Royal wedding cake, both men must pose as friends in order to rehabilitate their images. This false friendship soon uncovers very real feelings, and the two men unexpectedly find themselves falling in love. What follows is equal parts swoony romance and adept political comedy that has delighted critics and readers alike.