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“I Want Ordinary Americans to Feel Like They Have a Stake in How the Constitution is Interpreted and Developed” – Jamal Greene on the Role Rights Play in the U.S. Legal System

Rights have always been an integral part of the American identity. In his compelling new book, How Rights Went Wrong: Why Our Obsession with Rights Is Tearing America Apart, legal scholar Jamal Greene examines the evolving role rights have played in U.S. legal history. Commencing with how the Framers of the Constitution originally viewed the role of rights in the judicial process, Greene guides the reader through key moments in U.S. legal history to study the increasingly divisive status rights have assumed over time. In considering key cases and historical figures, Greene studies the polarizing effect rights have had on the country’s culture, and posits the changes necessary in order to move away from the current binary definition of rights. Greene, the Dwight Professor of Law at Columbia University’s Law School, has earned high praise for his first book. Of How Rights Went Wrong, Publishers Weekly raved, “Greene delves deeply into the legal, cultural, and political matters behind rights conflicts, and laces his account with feisty legal opinions and colorful character sketches” and past president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen hailed it as “fastidiously researched and immensely readable.”

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Hala Alyan on the Quiet Moments that Comprise Her Devastating New Novel

At first glance, the fiercely loving family at the heart of Hala Alyan’s extraordinary The Arsonists’ City has it all. The parents, Idris and Mazna, lead a life of upper-class comfort in California, while their three children pursue seemingly glamorous careers in Brooklyn, Austin, and Beirut. Yet the family is thrown into disarray when Idris impulsively decides to sell his family home in Beirut following the death of his father. Mazna, a former actress in her native Syria, uses her formidable charm and political skills to summon all three children to the family man for one last visit to the ancestral manse. Yet once reunited, long held family secrets erupt, threatening to upend the fragile peace among family members and causing everyone to reckon with uncomfortable truths in their own personal lives.

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Amy Gentry on Toxic Workplaces, How to Construct the Perfect Plot Twist, and Why Grad School is the Perfect Place to Become a Villain

Amy Gentry’s engrossing Bad Habits digs into the dark recesses of academia, pulling apart the long lasting aftershocks of a toxic relationship among a dynamic professor and the two star students in her graduate program. When we first meet Mac, she’s living a seemingly glamorous life in academia, headlining conferences and on the verge of interviewing for her dream job. Yet she’s brought up short when she unexpectedly runs into her former best friend Gwen at a hotel bar. The two haven’t spoken since Gwen left their graduate program nearly a decade earlier, and the reunion stirs up dark memories of the past that Mac has long since suppressed. As high school students, they formed an intense bond over their shared appreciation of beauty and art, despite coming from wildly different backgrounds. Mac’s childhood was marked by her mother’s struggles with addiction and financial issues, while Gwen came from a world of near unimaginable wealth. Later as doctoral students in an elite graduate program, they fell under the thrall of a brilliant professor, Bethany, whose iron-like grip on her students’ lives shapes the ultimate fates of both Gwen and Mac. With spiky humor and exquisite plotting, Gentry crafts a twisty tale that explores the surprising and brutal ways a person’s past may bump against their present life.

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Te-Ping Chen on the Land of Oz, Writing as a Secret Self, and the Stray Wonderings that Inspire Her Stories

Each of the stories in Te-Ping Chen’s phenomenal debut collection, Land of Big Numbers, plunge the reader into the often fantastical lives of her memorable characters. With wit, grace, and compassion, Chen brings each character fully to life, from a lovestruck flower vender who accidentally comes into possession of an expensive fountain pen to an […]

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Mateo Askaripour on Mob Movies, James Baldwin, and the Book that Gave Him Permission to Not Hold Back

Four years after graduating as valedictorian from Bronx High School of Science, Darren Vender coasts through life as manager of a Starbucks in the lobby of a New York skyscraper. He spends his free time hanging out with his childhood sweetheart, Soraya, and best friend, Jason, while evading his mother’s persistent questions about his future. An unexpected career path opens up for him, however, when he impulsively up-sells one of the high profile executives who frequent his store. Soon Darren finds himself thrust into the high-pressure (and very white) start-up world, scrambling to learn a new skill set as a member of their elite sales team while dodging his racist co-workers’ attempts to sabotage him. Darren’s considerable sales acumen quickly vaults him into a world of unimaginable opulence, one that pushes him farther away from his family, friends, and neighborhood. When a tragic event upends Darren’s life, Darren finds unexpected purpose by launching an underground plot to recruit and train a more diverse sales force. With his debut novel Black Buck, Mateo Askaripour has crafted a riotously funny dissection of race, corporate culture, and the American Dream that is also one of the most anticipated books of 2021. The Washington Post called it “an irresistible comic novel about the tenacity of racism in corporate America” and Entertainment Weekly hailed it as “a combination of character study, searing indictment of all the problematics of white corporate culture, and some good old-fashioned enjoyable sarcasm.”

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Deborah Reed on Creative Pilgrimages, Earthquakes, and Being Surrounded By Stories

Violet Swan, the luminous centerpiece of Deborah Reed’s Pale Morning Light With Violet Swan, finds herself at age ninety-three closing down on life, still active as a renowned abstract artist and doted on by her son, Francisco, and his wife, Penny. Yet when an earthquake upends her idyllic community in coastal Oregon, Violet and her family are forced to confront some complicated truths that have long been ignored. Matters are further complicated with the arrival of Violet’s grandson, Daniel, who brings with him his own secrets that force Violet to reckon with traumatic events of her past, the details of which her family is unaware. Through it all, Reed charts the ever-shifting family relationships with wit and compassion, nimbly jumping between past to present, and constructing one of 2020’s most memorable characters with the enigmatic and ethereal Violet. Critics and authors alike have praised Pale Morning Light with Violet Swan. Booklist hailed it as “a poised, multilayered portrait of a complex life,” and Margaret Renkl called it “a beautiful, shimmering, heart-lifting testament to the power of memory and love and art.”

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Darin Strauss on Merging Memoir and Fiction in his Incredible New Novel

Darin Strauss’ The Queen of Tuesday offers a captivating take on one of the most iconic figures of the twentieth century, Lucille Ball, peeling back the layers to show a Lucy only a privileged few would have been able to witness during her lifetime. Beginning with Ball on the brink of her phenomenal television success, […]

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Todd Snyder on the Poet Laureate of Muhammad Ali’s Corner

Most sports fans are familiar with Drew “Bundini” Brown as the charismatic, rhyme-spouting, larger-than-life figure in the background of Muhammad Ali. In the rousing Bundini: Don’t Believe The Hype, Todd Snyder crafts a loving, three-dimensional portrait of this seminal figure on boxing history, showcasing not only Bundini’s linguistic genius and acute boxing strategy, but also the darker moments that haunted Bundini’s extraordinary life. Through rigorous research, as well as unprecedented access to Bundini’s family and friends, Snyder dives into the key moments of Bundini’s life: his childhood in Florida; his service (as a teenager) in the Merchant Marines; his complicated love story with his wife, an Orthodox Jewish woman from Brooklyn; his work with Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali; as well as his post-boxing life, which included a foray in Hollywood with the Shaft films and an appearance in The Color Purple. Critics have lavished praise on Don’t Believe the Hype. The Wall Street Journal stated, “Mr. Snyder writes lyrically, and his research appears to be impeccable: It’s hard to imagine that anyone has slipped through his interview net,” and Foreword Reviews called it, “authoritative and entertaining, Bundini comes through for boxing fans and for those interested in Black American culture.”

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Anne Helen Peterson on Structural Solutions to Tackle Millennial Burnout

Anne Helen Peterson has been a welcome voice for readers of Buzzfeed for years, covering a range of topics from the history of cool girls to refugee resettlement. When she turned her attention to millennial burnout in 2019, the topic struck a nerve, resulting in over seven million views. Now Peterson has expanded the scope of her article with her new book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. Here, Peterson employs her rigorous academic background to dissect the common misconceptions about this generation and focus on how burnout has uniquely affected the ways they work, parent, and socialize. The result is a fascinating look at history, economics, and culture that will profoundly transform the way readers think of this generation.

“This is a Tour of My Brain and My Heart” — Meredith Hall on her Magnificent New Novel

In Meredith Hall’s Beneficence, readers are immersed in the lives of the Senter family, dairy farmers in the fictional town of Alstead, Maine, as their lives are upended by an unimaginable crisis. In the early 1930s, Tup and Doris are devoted parents to their three children: the charismatic Sonny, introspective Dodie, and fiercely loyal Beston. Over the next two decades, they pour their hearts into restoring the neglected farm and the family remains a compact, devoted unit. When tragedy befalls, each member is rocked in a different way. With lyrical precision, Hall dissects how grief reshapes each member and pushes them into newfound territory. The result is a profoundly moving family saga that provides an engrossing reading experience.

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Nancy Pearl on How Reading Informs the Person That You Are

Whether it’s through her beloved Book Lust series, her frequent appearances on NPR’s Morning Edition, or her own critically acclaimed novel, George and Lizzie, Nancy Pearl has been providing readers with impeccable reading options for many years. With The Writer’s Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives, Pearl has taken it one step further. She and her collaborator, playwright Jeff Schwager, interviewed a wide-ranging group of twenty-three American authors about the books that made them who they are today. From Susan Choi on The Borrowers to Amor Towles on The Honorable Schoolboy, the result is a series of illuminating conversations that reveal your favorite writers in surprising and intimate ways.

Magda Newman and Nathaniel Newman photo

Magdalena Newman on Kindness Momentums and Her Aha Moment

Magdalena Newman’s Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey, beautifully details her oldest son Nathaniel’s experience with Treacher Collins syndrome, a congenital disorder that causes craniofacial deformities. At birth, Nathaniel’s ears, eyes, cheekbones, and jawbone were not properly formed, necessitating hearing aids, a gastrointestinal tube, a tracheostomy tube to assist breathing, and over sixty surgeries the first fifteen years of his life. Newman, who had been a professional concert pianist in her native Poland, was totally unprepared to care for a baby with such enormous medical needs, Yet she immediately rose to the challenge, becoming laser focused on ensuring Nathaniel could lead a normal life. Magdalena and her husband Russel’s fierce advocacy serve as a guiding light for their family and community, navigating through Nathaniel’s complicated medical procedures (as well her own bouts with both non-Hodgkins and Hodgkins lymphoma diagnoses) with grace and dignity. Newman charts her family’s journey with raw honesty, while Nathaniel’s perspective pops up throughout the memoir, emerging as a clever and funny teenager with his wry commentary. Magdalena and Nathaniel’s journey take them to unexpected places, including a friendship with R.J. Palacio, who saw a picture of Nathaniel while doing research for Wonder.

Tiffany D. Cross Author Photo

“I Had Grown Too Big to Shrink”: Tiffany D. Cross on her Journey from the Control Room to the Green Room

Tiffany D. Cross has been a major player in the news media for nearly two decades, first working as an Associate Producer for CNN, then founding the influential newsletter The Beat DC, to her current appearances as an on-air political analyst on MSNBC. In her new book, Say It Louder: Black Voters, White Narratives, and Saving Our Democracy, Cross digs into the current landscape of the news media, exploring how a lack of diversity in newsrooms shapes not only what stories are covered but also how they are reported, and then examining the resultant effect on day-to-day life in the United States. Through comprehensive data analysis as well as exploring key moments in U.S. history, Cross investigates the critical role Black voters have played in past elections, and how that role has been misunderstood and under-reported by the media. The result is an illuminating look at the current political moment that profoundly shapes how readers consume and examine news media.

Author photo of David Nicholls

David Nicholls on the Fond Embarrassment of First Love and Community Theater

In David Nicholl’s hilarious and tender Sweet Sorrow, the impending marriage of thirty-eight year-old Charlie causes him to look back on his formative first relationship, a summer romance with the ebullient Fran, a fellow cast member in a community theater production of Romeo and Juliet over twenty years earlier. As the present-day Charlie recalls the highs of falling in love and the many embarrassments of his first foray into acting, he also recounts the darker moments of that summer: the loneliness of being left behind as his school friends prepared to leave for university and his recently divorced dad grappling with the collapse of his beloved record shop. The result is an emotionally rich look at a man reckoning with his past and the relationships that guided him to his present, one that stands proudly alongside Nicholls’ previous books, which include the beloved One Day and Starter for Ten.

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Sameer Pandya on Digging into the Everyday Lives of Characters and Opening Up the Campus Novel

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.