New Romance Books to Read – The New York Times

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Five delightful new romance novels to savor.

Fittingly enough, as the year winds to a close, we’re looking at second chances. Two of these novels are second books. Two of them feature characters reconnecting with former one-night stands. Two of them feature some of the most delightfully terrible decision-making I’ve seen in some time. All of them are worth a second look, even at one of the busiest times of the year.

We begin with an ending: Olivia Dade’s SHIP WRECKED ( Avon, 403 pp., paperback, $16. 99), the third and final installment in a smart, stellar contemporary trilogy.

No man is an island, but Peter Reedton wishes he were. He’s put most of his energy into his acting career, honing his considerable talent on small background parts. Now he’s landed a meaty romantic role in “Gods of the Gates, ” and filming will send him to a tiny piece of rock off the Irish coast for several years.

Unfortunately, he won’t be alone. His co-star is a Swedish bombshell — and Peter’s most memorable one-night stand.

Maria Ivarsson is built like a Valkyrie and has the same take-no-prisoners approach to life. She’s determined to make their chilly Irish island into a home for as long as they’re there. Although close-up angles and close quarters only stoke the heat between Philip and Maria, they know falling back into bed would be career suicide.

We all love a found family and this book has that — but it also has a tight focus on our two leads’ inner journeys that the current wave of trope-forward contemporaries don’t always deliver. Part of that is the long time span: “Ship Wrecked” is concurrent with both the prior ones in the series, and Dade takes full advantage of having literal years of time to play with. It’s not as epic as, say, Aster Glenn Gray’s spy romance “Honeytrap, ” but it’s pleasing to see a final series book that spans the whole “Gods of the Gates” production schedule. A banger of a finish, and an absolute joy.

Speaking of bangers: MISTAKES WERE MADE (Griffin, 344 pp., paperback, $16. 99) is what the author, Meryl Wilsner, describes as their MILF book, a Sapphic age-gap romance where a brash college senior (Cassie) unwittingly hooks up with her best friend’s divorced mom (Erin) before Family Weekend.

And then again during the a cappella concert.

And then while visiting over winter break. And then — well, you get the idea. It’s a sitcom firehose of problems, self-inflicted as sitcom problems often are, awkward and humiliating and verging on dangerous.

There are gentle approaches to fraught tropes, and then there are books that wallow in the mess. This book is mess with a capital M: I chortled when Cassie’s roommate texted in bafflement: “Also wtf just control yourself? ” Cassie and Erin’s relationship is a string of small but incredibly unwise choices that inevitably pull them into full-blown disaster.

Which is, of course , what makes it so much fun for the reader. “Oh noooo, ” I kept whispering, rapt with secondhand excruciation.

It’s wonderful when a second novel turns out this well. Wilsner’s Hollywood-set debut made me feel a shade more anxiety than I enjoy in my romance, but this one struck just right, with a mix of college-party shenanigans and family-holiday pressure that felt real enough to relate to but escapist enough to enjoy.

Anthony Sabatino/Getty Images

Mess is also not a bug but a feature in OCEAN’S ECHO (Tor, 480 pp., $27. 99) , Everina Maxwell’s second sci-fi romance after her sleeper hit “ Winter’s Orbit. ” Like the first, this new book centers the forced-proximity bond — within space! — surrounded by layers of complex politics. I inhaled this one like I needed it to live.

Tennal is a reader (of minds) and a rebel on the run, since readers are usually conscripted into the army and placed under the mental control of an architect, a mind-manipulator. But when Tennal’s luck runs out and he’s shoved into the service, the architect ordered to sync with him is Lt. Surit Yeni, a man of gentle but unshakable goodness along the lines of “Discworld”’s Captain Carrot or “Disco Elysium”’s Kim Kitsuragi. Surit will not synchronize Tennal unwillingly, no matter who orders it — but if he refuses outright, command will just find someone less scrupulous. So , in true chaos muppet fashion, Tennal proposes they simply fake being synced, and keep their minds to themselves.

Reader, this works beautifully, until it doesn’t. And I could not put it down.

Sci-fi romance is really a high-wire act: An author has to build an unique external world while also establishing the compelling interior landscape. It’s thrilling when it goes well — and I’ve rarely seen it done better than it is here. It’s also rare to see a low-heat guide that also still feels adult and intimate. Rather than being a justification for plot-acceptable sex, the mind-sharing stands in place of it. It felt like a subtle joke about the old “didn’t know where one of us ends and the other begins” cliché — and it also meant the author didn’t have to wave away the extremely good reasons for Tennal plus Surit not to bang (chain of command, injuries, surveillance, imprisonment, active civil war).

After Wilsner’s surfeit of unresisted temptations, this was a perfect palate cleanser of seeing people do the right thing — even if, like Tennal, they just do it to annoy their adversaries.

For even more people-being-adorably-conscientious vibes, I recommend Viano Oniomoh’s CUPID CALLING (Independently published, 415 pp., paperback, $15. 99), where two contestants competing for the same bachelorette on a reality dating show end up falling for each other instead.

Contestant No . 1, Ejiro, is artistic and shy, but trying not to be; contestant No . 2, Obiora, is cocky plus competitive — and, after a tense confrontation early on, grows obsessed with Ejiro. Hard to keep eyes on the prize when your fellow bachelor’s smile is the most gorgeous thing you’ve ever seen. The way Obiora gets wrecked so early simply by lust is absolutely delicious: He’s trapped in torrid dreams and aching awareness whilst Ejiro quietly snubs and snarks at him, as well as the way this plays against type for them both adds some very satisfying depth to the premise.

This is high-drama, low-angst romance at its fluffiest because, honestly, our leads have both been through enough and what they both yearn for is someone offering warmth plus understanding. Satisfying the need to feel seen, to be allowed to be your full self without fighting, can be as stunning as any shocking plot twist. Sexier than the cartoon cover lets on, this one is tailor-made for fans of “The Charm Offensive, ” Alison Cochrun’s queer reality-show hit from last year.

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Cochrun’s latest, KISS HER ONCE FOR ME (Atria, 368 pp., book, $17. 99) , continues her streak for foregrounding characters with mental struggles that are more than window dressing. Ellie, a failed animator, is trapped in a dead-end barista job and an awful apartment she’s about to become evicted from. So when a handsome coffee shop regular offers her a fortune if she poses as his fiancée for a family Christmas trip, Ellie says yes. Money can’t buy happiness, yet happiness can’t pay the particular rent, and it’s not as if Ellie has anyone important in her life. Not since that hot butch baker Jack broke her heart last Christmas.

Of course her fake fiancé’s sister, Jacqueline, turns out to be Jack. Cue snowbound high jinks, four-way romantic entanglements, a hilarious set of relatives and enough musical earworms to last you till January.

That’s right, this is the queer women’s “While You Were Sleeping” you did not know you needed this particular Christmas season. If books were drinks, this one would be a hot toddy: warm and frothy and sweet, along with just the right amount of bite to cut through the sugar. Perfect for warming the heart at the top of the fresh, unwritten pages of the new calendar year.

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The 30 Must-Read Books of Winter 2023 – Town & Country

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winter 2023 books


This season, you have no excuse for being without something good to read. Offerings include explosive novels, revealing memoirs, brilliant biographies, and everything in between. No matter what you like to read, there’s a title coming out this winter that’s sure to be just what you’re looking for.

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Elizabeth Taylor: The Grit & Glamour of an Icon

Young Bloomsbury: The Generation That Redefined Love, Freedom, plus Self-Expression in 1920s England

Finale: Late Conversations with Stephen Sondheim

Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D’

Another Dimension of Us

A Small Affair

Life on Delay: Making Peace with a Stutter

8 Rules of Love: How to Find It, Keep It, and Let It Go

All the Beauty in the World: The Metropolitan Museum associated with Art and Me

The New Life

The Shards

Dior by Sarah Moon

I Have Some Questions for You

The particular Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, plus Survival

Whatever Next?: Lessons from an Unexpected Life

When Broadway Was Black: The Triumphant Story of the All-Black Musical that Changed the World (The Sparkling Story of Broadway’s Black History Heartbreaks and Triumph)

What Napoleon Could Not Do

The Faraway World

My Last Innocent Year

Age of Vice

Blood, Fire & Gold

Maame: A Novel

The Sun Walks Down

The Survivalists

The particular Half Known Life

The End of Drum-Time

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Winter Book Recommendations 2022 | Tufts Now – Tufts Now

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Whether you prefer reading paperbacks or hardcovers, listening to audiobooks, or using Kindles, tablets, or phones, a good book is always a happy find. Whatever your preferred medium, we have you covered with our year-end recommendations from Tufts faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

This winter, the choices are wide-ranging, with fiction including thrillers, classics, sci-fi, magical realism, literary fiction, spy novels, and more. In nonfiction, the range is wide, too: a history of 9/11, memoirs (including a graphic memoir), American history, a French cookbook, books about love, and The Book of Hope, something we could all use.

We even have a surprising pairing—a review of Ruth Ozeki’s new novel The Book of Form and Emptiness and a review of Painting Enlightenment: Healing Visions of the Heart Sutra, the Mahayana Buddhist sutra being centrally concerned with, you guess it, form and emptiness. 

Be sure to also check out the recommendations from a lively group of Tufts authors—faculty and alumni—in our Bookish series, as they chat about their own books, the ones they are reading, and the ones they keep going back to.

Dive in and enjoy. And for faculty, staff, and students, don’t forget that many of these books are available at the Tufts libraries.

If you have book recommendations to add to the list, write to us at [email protected], and we’ll post an update.


Anxious People, by Fredrick Backman. A group of strangers attend an open house when they find themselves in a hostage situation. One by one, we are let into the lives of each person, learning about their inner worlds—some so unlikeable you begin to root for the criminal. As police surround the building and tensions run high, the stories of the hostages turn heartbreaking. What first appears to be lighthearted tale had me in tears toward the end—and there’s an unforgettable twist. This novel asks us to lead with compassion and turn toward one another in times of doubt. Reading anything by Fredrick Backman is like catching up with an old friend at your favorite coffee shop. There is something so comforting and familiar in his prose and freeing in his artful examination of human nature. He is a master storyteller and I highly recommend any of his books. Many of his novels coincide or overlap with one another, so there is a great sense of community and knowing between the characters and readers. —Shanley Daly, events coordinator, Tisch College of Civic Life

The Book of Form and Emptiness, by Ruth Ozeki. Having a book be a character in its own book is a little meta, but that seems to be exactly part of the point in this 2021 novel. And maybe it’s not a surprise, really, because in addition to being a talented novelist (her 2013 A Tale for the Time Being was a finalist for the Booker Prize), Ozeki is also a Zen Buddhist priest. She’s also a filmmaker, which might help to explain the incredibly rich visual images she paints in words. The book, of course, is not the only character in this novel. There’s Kenji Oh, a jazz clarinetist and drug addict who dies in a humiliating accident before the story begins. He remains very much a part of the story, though, mourned and recounted by his wife, Annabelle, whose way of dealing with her grief is to hoard snow globes, craft projects from Michael’s, and newspaper clippings to such an extent that they threaten to overtake the Oh home and get them evicted. Kenji and Annabelle’s only child, Benny, a sensitive boy on the cusp of adolescence, cannot deal with his father’s death and his mother’s descent into consumerist chaos; he starts hearing the voices of the inanimate things that pile up all around him. Their collective voices are literally shouting in his ears, making Benny—and everyone else in his life—wonder and worry about his sanity. Benny’s journeys through a psychiatric hospital, high school, and the curiosities that might or might not be his own mind, lead him to come into contact with a host of memorable characters: “The Aleph,” a slightly older teen who is both a conceptual artist and a dumpster diver with whom Benny falls hopelessly in love; the Bottleman, an elderly man with no clear home who collects and dispenses bottles and is actually the most famous Slovenian poet; the library with its own host of clearly and bizarrely drawn denizens; and of course, the book itself, which alternates between speaking directly to Benny and to us, the audience. The Book of Form and Emptiness is an incredibly creative and engaging novel. It’s an extended parable about our collective love/hate relationship with consumerism and also magical realist fiction that often feels a bit surreal. Its poetic prose brings objects to life and endows animals with sagacity. It humbles us with the knowledge that there are things in this life we simply cannot truly understand. And, of course, there’s the book that infuses this book with a voice and life of its own. This is a 546-page read that will fly by, just like the avian seers within the novel. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development

The Book of Goose, by Yiyun Li. Best friends Agnès and Fabienne live in their own little world in the small French village of Saint Rémy in the 1950s. Fabienne is essentially feral, her mother dead, her father and brother drunks. She doesn’t go to school—she’s outdoors minding livestock, but she’s clever. Agnès narrates the novel we are reading from a distance in time, recalling how Fabienne dictated series of macabre stories to her (she had much better handwriting), and then showed them to the local postal clerk, a sad old man who saw the merit of the stories and pitched them to a Parisian book publisher. Fabienne decides that only Agnès should be the author, and suddenly the less articulate Agnès is thrust in the limelight, becoming a celebrity author not only in France but abroad, too, as a naif genius. It’s the ultimate imposter syndrome, except it also isn’t: Agnès is writing the book we are now reading. There are many layers of meaning here, about the roles we play, who we are with others, what we are meant to do. Likewise, there are endless ironies. Early on we learn that Fabienne has died in childbirth in her late 20s, while the book she dictated contained many stories of children dying young. The Book of Goose is a fast-moving tale—I read it in just a few days—but it lingered in my mind long after. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing

Desert Star, by Michael Connelly. This is the latest Bosch story about solving cold cases using DNA testing and other technology not available at the time of the actual murders. For some of the cases Bosch is working on, both ones assigned to him and ones he is haunted by, there isn’t an easy answer but to keep investigating. In this compelling, highly engaging story, there is none of the romance that Bosch had in other books, but there is a mini-botany lesson. There is also a fascinating subtext of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The father of one of the murdered women died of COVID. To collect DNA, Bosch uses a face mask to disguise himself as he pretends to bus a table to collect a suspect’s coffee cup. On the one hand, these references were subtle and plausible, and the mask as a disguise was quite clever. On the other, I read for entertainment and part of me wants to immerse myself in this world of crime and detection and forget about the pandemic along with grading, course prep, and the rest of reality. While I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend the book, I wonder to what extent our daily reality cannot be escaped even when engaged in an escapist activity. —Lisa Gualtieri, associate professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine

Don’t Cry for Me, by Daniel Black. This novel is guaranteed to break your heart. It is composed of a series of letters from a father, Jacob Swinton, to his son Isaac when confronted with his own mortality. In recounting his life experiences as a Black man raised in the Jim Crow South, Jacob explains all the ways in which Isaac, who is gay, fell short in Jacob’s view of what makes a man. Jacob violently rejects the idea that a man can love another man. But from across the chasm that separates them, as death nears, Jacob reckons with the diverse forms that love can take. Though the author’s note makes clear—from the beginning, no spoilers here—that there will be no bridging the distance between them in the end, the result is at once a desperate plea for understanding and a compelling love letter from a father to his son. This is the best LGBTQ+ family story from the parent’s point of view I have read since Robb Foreman Dew’s The Family Heart—Dave Nuscher, executive director, content and planning, University Communications and Marketing

The Hero of This Book, by Elizabeth McCracken. How do we remember those we love who have passed? In McCracken’s case, it’s by writing. This novel, framed as a memoir revolving around her recently deceased mother and a trip to London that brings back memories of being there with her, is a lesson in the possibilities and impossibilities of knowing another person. There’s more truth—more memoir—than fiction here, and I know, because McCracken’s mother was my boss and friend for more than two decades. She was truly remarkable. Well under five feet tall, walking with canes most of the time I knew her, and riding a motorized scooter in her later years, she was in fact indomitable. She used to say that “bodies are such a bother,” and hers was for her, but there was no challenge she backed away from, physical or otherwise. She had, as McCracken says, “weapons grade self confidence” and was immensely kind and smart. We see McCracken’s mother as a daughter, sister, wife, theater Ph.D., mother, boss—and we meet a fictionalized but also quite real McCracken, daughter and teacher, with her own strong views on life, just as her mother had. In an age of bloated books, there’s not a wasted word in this slender volume, which left me recalling many memories of my own, and will leave you, who will be meeting Natalie McCracken for the first time, marveling at the character she was. Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. Back in the day, my Tufts children’s literature professor told us that “the sign of a good book is that it is enjoyable at all ages.” That statement of fact has always remained with me. If you are looking for a heartwarming family read, why not come along and join the adventure of 10-year-old Lucky and her faithful dog as they navigate life and meaning in the remote desert of Hard Pan, California? Lucky lives with her guardian Brigitte, as her mom and dad are out of the picture. Will Lucky ever find the perfect mom? And can she be the perfect daughter? You’ll have to read her story to find out. The Higher Power of Lucky received the Newbery Medal, which is awarded each year for the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children, in 2007. And if you are still on the fence after reading this brief review, know that P.D. Eastman’s classic book Are You My Mother? is part of Lucky’s story too. —David Bragg, senior IT client support specialist, Tufts Technology Services

Horse, by Geraldine Brooks. Rarely have I found an author who can develop characters so fully and authentically as Brooks, who is masterful in the historical fiction genre. I often want to flip to the author’s notes before I’m done to find out which parts are historically accurate and when I do, I am amazed to find out how much actually occurred and how she weaves them into her story. Horse is absolutely fascinating from beginning to end. The story, which centers on a thoroughbred racehorse from the 1850s named Lexington, is told from the viewpoints of four different narrators who span more than 150 years. The first narrator is Jarrett, Lexington’s groom, from whom we learn about Lexington’s racing days and the trials of enslaved Black people during that time and the early years after emancipation. This theme is further explored via another narrator, along with a focus on the importance of art as a historical record. I tore through this book the first time, and am now planning to read it again at a more leisurely pace and look forward to savoring Brooks’ incredible blending of the storylines between narrators as she moves the main story along. —Maria Conroy, associate director of stewardship and donor relations, University Advancement

How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water, by Angie Cruz. I was unable to stop reading this fabulous new book by the Dominican-American Angie Cruz. The book is structurally organized in 12 sections, each reflecting the 12 sessions of the senior workforce program that the protagonist Cara Romero participates in as she seeks employment, which will also extend her unemployment benefits for 12 more weeks. I was captured by the structure of the novel and mesmerized by Angie Cruz’s use of language. Like other contemporary Latine writers, Angie Cruz blends Spanish and English, but takes this further by mirroring, in English, the structure of the Spanish language which Cara uses. In fact, the title of the book refers to a common Spanish phrase, “no te ahogues en un vaso de agua.” The novel is sweet, sad, and funny, and you will end up loving Cara and her life in Washington Heights. It’s a tender reminder of the challenges immigrants face, as well of their tenacity and resilience. — Bárbara M. Brizuela, dean, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, professor of education 

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. At its heart, Susanna Clarke’s novel is about the relationship between the title characters: Gilbert Norrell, a dour aristocrat, and the younger, flashier Jonathan Strange, two men with nothing in common but the fact they are the only two magicians in England. Clarke is an author of many and varied interests, and her masterpiece—set in an alternative 19th-century England where magic, once very real, has faded from the world—takes its time exploring a world’s worth of characters, themes, and ideas. Its 800 pages contain a magical version of the Napoleonic wars; a society wife and her husband’s Black butler under the sway of a dangerous fairy; a magician with a manuscript tattooed on his skin; and a mythological figure known only as the Raven King. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is part Austenian comedy of manners, part study of the complex relationship between its prickly leads, and part Arthurian fantasy. Clarke’s evocative, often hilarious prose will draw you in; her beautifully drawn characters and detailed world building will keep you hooked until the myriad plot threads draw together in a virtuosic climax. If you want to spend this winter immersed in magic, wonder, danger, and some of the best one-liners in literature, pick up Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. And, whatever you do, don’t skip the footnotes. —Alex Israel, event planner and marketing specialist, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. When you begin this book, it first appears as though you are reading a series of engaging but disparate short stories, set in different countries and inhabited by unrelated characters. However, as the text unfolds, it becomes apparent that what appeared to be separate tales are related, albeit by tenuous threads. Introduced and eventually intermingled are characters representing a wide swath of humanity, all grappling with similar life crises. Ultimately, as time moves on and events play out, the threads that bind the tales shorten, causing the people and stories to converge across generations. Alice H. Lichtenstein, Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, Freidman School; director and senior scientist, Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts

Maggie Cassidy, by Jack Kerouac. Tucked in among my dad’s collection of Jack Kerouac novels, Maggie Cassidy called out to me from the bookshelf one night early in the quarantine—I had routinely overlooked it before. The Dharma Bums was the first in Kerouac’s catalogue I really grew to love, thanks to my dad who encountered an excerpt from it in a college English lit class and years later instituted a family tradition of reading it aloud every Christmas Eve. Maggie Cassidy focuses on Kerouac’s modest beginnings in the former mill town of Lowell, Massachusetts, and portrays his relationship with real-life high school sweetheart, Mary Carney.  Their tumultuous teenage romance radiates warmth and a brooding tenderness. Unlike many of Kerouac’s female characters in his other works, who are frustratingly limited and objectified (a major drawback of On the Road, despite its cult status and powerful lure of discovering America), Maggie is profoundly whole. She speaks her mind with great spirit and passion while grappling with love’s complexities. The story is also a poignant ode to the city where Kerouac grew up, especially its historically French-Canadian neighborhoods, which my dad, of French-Canadian descent himself, and I discovered this fall during a guided tour of Kerouac’s Lowell. Kerouac lovingly depicts his Québécois immigrant parents as hard-working and exuberant souls, if not also wearied by life’s many troubles. We see “Ti Jean” as a young, athletic high schooler struggling to get up at dawn in the freezing New England winter, then making his way through the bustling halls of Lowell High, palling around with raucous friends and finding sweet little notes from Maggie in class, and finally trudging back home through the snowy streets after track practice. Here is a refreshing version of Jack in contrast to his drunkenly manic incarnations in the later California novels. As this year marks the 100th anniversary of Kerouac’s birth in a simple duplex in Lowell, Maggie Cassidy, a poetic and moving hometown tribute, is a fitting read. —Julia Keith, program coordinator, International Center

My Monticello, by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson. Consisting of a novella and five short stories, Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s remarkable debut work of fiction explores issue of race and gender in America. Startlingly clear-eyed, somewhat dystopian, and always sharply drawn, Johnson’s characters find themselves in situations that are ripped from the plethora of disturbing headlines that mark contemporary life. The two most riveting pieces of this book for me were the short story “Control Negro” and the title novella. “Control Negro” is a dark satire about a professor at a college in Virginia who wishes to better understand the extent to which race and racism matter. The Black professor fathers a child whom he supports and observes from a distance throughout his childhood and adolescence. He gives his “control negro” all the advantages he never had. But in the end, we learn that both father and son are victims of a racist culture in different ways. Without giving away the ending of this story, let me just say that the echoes of George Floyd and so many others ring very loudly and very true. “My Monticello” is set in a dystopian future that feels just a little too close to our present. Out-of-control wildfires, extreme temperatures, and extremists protesting after an apocalyptic election set the stage for the rise of the white supremacists who take over Charlottesville, Virginia, setting fire to homes, hunting down Black and Brown people and anyone associated with them, and shouting racist slogans as they blast “The Star Spangled Banner” from their car and truck radios. The protagonist, Da’Naisha Hemings Love, a descendant of Sally Hemings and a UVA student who’d interned at Monticello, flees her home along with her white boyfriend, her grandmother, and several neighbors. They take refuge at Monticello, which has been shuttered and abandoned amidst the local chaos. They forge a small collective community, raiding the gift shop for food and clothing, turning Jefferson’s home and estate into an escapist haven. Johnson imbues her plots and characters with irony upon irony. They all work. Having some of Sally Hemings’ descendants take refuge from white supremacists in the house their ancestors were forced to build, and the collision of climate change and racialized injustices that result in the burning of Charlottesville are powerful images. And the hypocrisies of the Jeffersonian promise of justice and freedom for all seem all the more pointed as the refugees at Monticello try to figure out how they can free themselves from the rancor and chaos that such “freedoms” have wrought. —Julie Dobrow, director, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies; senior lecturer, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development

The Ones We Burn, by Rebecca Mix. A New York Times bestselling young adult fantasy debut, The Ones We Burn follows Ranka, a bloodwitch from the north whose coven has a treaty with the human kingdom Isodal, forcing her to become betrothed to their prince. When she rejects her duty and her friend Yeva is taken in her place, Ranka’s coven convinces her to journey to Isodal and complete two tasks: rescue Yeva and assassinate the human prince. But when she arrives, she finds the prince is not what he expected—Galen is kind, a boy who, like her, has been forced to grow up too fast and who doesn’t want to marry Ranka or rule at all. And his sister, the hauntingly beautiful Princess Aramis, doesn’t immediately trust Ranka. But when witches begin succumbing to a mysterious plague, Ranka begins working with the royals to develop a cure in exchange for Aramis’ help to understand her terrifying magic. As the day she’s supposed to kill Galen nears, Ranka finds herself questioning what she thought she knew about herself, her past, and what she truly wants—especially as she falls for Aramis, who shows her that for the first time, she can be more than the monster she was raised to be. The Ones We Burn is a rich, high-octane ride from start to finish, but at its heart it’s a book for abuse survivors about hope, forgiveness, and the messy but rewarding process of healing. Ranka’s story is a testament that it’s never too late. —Layla Noor Landrum, A24

Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir. This book, like its author, seems to be in a category of its own. If you read Weir’s The Martian, or saw the movie, you understand his ability to blend real science, science fiction, humor, and adventure. The story was fun, fascinating, and really got me invested in the final outcome. Ryland Grace is on a last chance Hail Mary mission to possibly save humanity. As his adventure starts, though, he is not aware of those consequences. All alone, millions of miles away in space, he investigates his ship, deceased crew mates, and his slowly returning fuzzy memory, to do this on his own. Perhaps, though, he’ll get some help. If you enjoy a good adventure with a lot of science mixed in (think Michael Crichton), with a dose of humor and heart, this is surely the book for you. —Josh Cooper, associate dean of student services, public health and professional degree programs, School of Medicine

Real Bad Things, by Kelly J. Ford. In Real Bad Things, Jane Mooney returns to the rural town of Maud Bottoms, Arkansas, 25 years after confessing to the murder of her stepfather; she was never prosecuted for the crime, as his body wasn’t found. After years of waiting for the other shoe to drop, she gets the news that police have found a body after all, and it’s time to face the music: not just the prospect of being arrested, but reuniting with her mother (who is hellbent on revenge), an old lover, a sibling, and friendships wrecked in the aftermath of the fateful night of the murder. Ford is sneaky as she spools out the mystery (did Jane actually do it, or was it one of any number of others?) but also at plunging us into a setting rife with poverty and violence. As someone who grew up poor and had some rough characters in the family, I found the world-building spot on and the characterizations horrifyingly on the money. And I loved that every time I thought I knew where the book wanted to take me, I was wrong. No surprise that Publisher’s Weekly called it “gripping” and said that “Ford delivers the goods.” —David Valdes, lecturer, Department of English

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This novel a fun and surprisingly emotional (in a good way) read that I couldn’t put down. Monique Grant is a young journalist trying to make a name for herself and jumpstart her somewhat stagnated career, all while also navigating a recent separation from her husband. But when she is specifically chosen to interview the famous and reclusive Hollywood icon Evelyn Hugo, Monique’s big break seems to have fallen into her lap—but why her? Evelyn has no reason to know Monique’s name, let alone request that she write a tell-all article about her life rather than giving the assignment to more established journalists who have been chasing for decades. Monique proceeds to Evelyn’s swanky New York City apartment with the cautious optimism that this will be moment to turn her life and career around. As the reader learns more about Evelyn’s life through Monique’s interviews, you are torn between feeling uncomfortable by the movie star’s unflinching ambition and angry at the cultural and societal pressures that necessitated that ambition necessary for Evelyn’s survival. The more you learn about Evelyn’s life, the more you appreciate that nothing is black and white and that the best parts of all stories are the complexities that defy labels. Nothing is as it seems—including why Evelyn sought out Monique in the first place. This book will make you think about all types of love and relationships, our very definition of marriage, and the importance of being able to tell our own stories. And a bonus: it’s currently in production to become a Netflix movie. —Jess Byrnes, A12, program manager, Tisch College

The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, by John Le Carré. Whether you’re picking it up for the first time or rereading it years later, John Le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold intrigues and impresses. Its fame is justified if for no other reason than its establishment of the archetype for all subsequent spy fiction. Le Carré enshrines two essential elements of that genre: an endlessly twisting plot and a jaded, shop-soiled professional fighting for ideals he can scarcely bring himself to believe in. The plot worms its way into the deepest levels of intrigue in the East German secret police (and in the British secret service), and if Le Carré’s hero, Alex Leamas, has, as one might expect, a heart of gold, it’s buried under so many layers of anger and cynicism as to be barely detectable. Remarkably, the book remained as fresh as it did 40 years ago when I first read it.  And as we enter our new Cold War, it promises, alas, to seem fresher still. Kevin Dunn, vice provost for faculty

Still Life, by Sarah Winman. For the last few years—with the pandemic, political turmoil, and the systematic marginalization of people on the basis of their race, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religious beliefs—I have gravitated to dark books, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, science fiction, horror. Lots of horror. Somehow, those types of books gave me hope that in the darkest of times, good people fighting for what is right. Sarah Winman’s glorious book Still Life is the opposite of dark. Still, it added to my hope—hope in the ability to recover from trauma, in the power of chosen family, in the ability of even ordinary people to make the world a better place in small ways. Winman writes in simple, straightforward sentences of such elegance and beauty, and the prose is always in service of her characters, who are fully realized, three-dimensional, and complicated humans in the aftermath of World War II England and Florence. These characters are people you expect to meet the next time you’re at the pub or taking your child to the park. Still Life is one of those books that rearranged my mental furniture, changing the way I see the world, and it reminded me of the joy of humanity. —Amy Gantt, director of research development, Office of the Vice Provost for Research


All About Love: New Visions, by bell hooks. This book is a meditation on freedom, interdependence, and social change. I find myself returning to it because it serves as a reminder that to practice love is to practice a particular ethics of robust care and understanding about the world that illuminates the possibilities of turning against the violent structures and habits that govern society. Love, for hooks, does not concern merely romanticism, pleasantries, or sentimentalism, but rather endeavors to humanize and make vulnerable the interstitial lives we lead. Instead of relying on the established matrices of power to guide our efforts of social justice, a practice of love requires an active engagement with who we are and how we want to be, including what we know and what we do not know. Loving deliberately is difficult because it demands of us an inquiry of our state of reality and of our relationships, and critiquing social conditions to realize a world where all can flourish. —Anthony Cruz Pantojas, Humanist Chaplain

All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days: The True Story of the American Woman at the Heart of the German Resistance to Hitler, by Rebecca Donner. All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days follows the publishing trend of books resurrecting the historically ignored accomplishments of women: in this case, Mildred Harnack, of Wisconsin, who moves to Berlin with her German husband in the days of the Weimar Republic, and ends up a leader in the resistance to Hitler. She also ends up, after she and her husband are caught, as the only American woman executed by Hitler during the war (this is not a spoiler: it’s spelled out quite clearly in the first pages of the book). Her story is simply remarkable, as world events intersect with the life of a seemingly ordinary person who gradually becomes surrounded by evil and is able to see it for what it is. There are some sections that drag, as the author, a descendant of Harnack’s, includes far too much about Harnack’s acquaintances in Berlin (really, just skip the whole part about Thomas Wolfe). But the examination of Harnack’s inner life, and the spy-thriller details of her underground work are too good to miss. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

Around My French Table, by Dorie Greenspan. Cookbook reviews are hard to trust, so rather than buy solely on the opinions of others, I tend to pick up the cuisine-packed books at the library, peruse recipes and the stories behind them, and if they seem worthy, I’ll even give a recipe a shot. More often than not, I return the heavy tomes to the library, and never revisit them. And very rarely do I buy a cookbook without first looking through it. On a sporadic trip to a thrift store, I made an exception for James Beard award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table when I found a copy for a whopping two bucks. I knew of Greenspan’s acclaim and was a subscriber to her newsletter, but had yet to peruse any of her books. So I spent a few minutes leafing through it in the store, and was immediately drawn to her approachable take on classic French cuisine, the anecdotes attached to the delicious food she chose to share, and of course, the so-good-you-can-almost-smell-it photography. It was obvious why Julie Child, my personal idol, said Greenspan wrote her recipes just like she did. So far, the recipes I’ve tried include a simple but sumptuous apple cake, and a time-consuming but rewarding boeuf à la mode (pot roast) that required an overnight marinade and lots of attention (perfect for a weekend activity). Everything has been a hit and I’m looking forward to a cool winter—and cool kitchen—so that I can dig into as many stories and recipes of Greenspan’s French Table as possible. —Emily Wright Brognano, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up (and no I don’t consider myself a grown up yet), I usually say that I want to be Jane Goodall. That’s mostly so I could hang out with chimps all day, but also to break barriers for women, empower underserved children around the world, and leave an everlasting impact on the conservation of so many species. In The Book of Hope, we glimpse an intimate view of Goodall that makes the reader feel that they are a third friend in the room, enjoying tea with Jane and the interviewer. Guided by a series of open-ended questions like “What is truly different now than before, different enough to give us hope for change?”, she reveals her reasons for maintaining hope for people and the planet. She discusses the capacity of human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of youth, the indomitable human spirit. Goodall pulls stories from her own work, like a community youth program that builds the foundation of environmental stewardship through community gardening. Amidst the backdrop of COVID and climate change, she reminds us to look for the small things, the quieter headlines, and the million ways that people every day are working together against seemly inevitable disasters. For me, reading this in pieces a few nights a week provided brief moments of reflection and perspective in an often-tumultuous news cycle. —Jennifer Reilly, communications specialist, Office of Sustainability

Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir, by Daniel R. Day. Better known as Dapper Dan, Daniel Day is a name synonymous with luxury streetwear and hip-hop culture, having created custom clothing for musicians, athletes, and gangsters alike out of his Harlem tailor shop during the 1980s and 1990s, ascending to near-mythical status as a style tastemaker and cultural icon. His unique pieces incorporated designs from prominent luxury brands like Gucci, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton, resulting in countless lawsuits and raids on his operation over the years. However, a more recent formal collaboration with Gucci, after claims that they plagiarized one of his original designs, has reintroduced him to a new generation of fans, reinvigorated his brand, and provided a new platform to express his stylistic vision. Made in Harlem: A Memoir was an absolute page-turner, filled with colorful anecdotes of Dan’s life and career, his triumphs and tragedies, and the perseverance and ingenuity it took to evolve and reinvent himself, regardless of how dire the circumstance. Nuggets of life wisdom gleaned from Dan’s past are sprinkled throughout, and anyone who enjoys stories of self-made individuals will be delighted by this read. —Stephen Barber, associate director of development, University Advancement

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11, by Mitchell Zuckoff. There are, of course, thousands of stories of 9/11, from the doomed passengers and crew on the planes; the people in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the first-responders; and all their loved ones, just for starters. In Fall and Rise, Zuckoff, a master of the art of narrative nonfiction, tells several dozen of those stories, weaving them together almost seamlessly and yet preserving the distinct personalities and humanity of all his subjects, both those who survived, and especially those who perished. There are several 9/11 books out there whose retellings overlap with Zuckoff’s, particularly Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn’s 102 Minutes and Garrett Graff’s The Only Plane in the Sky—and, of course, readers of Fall and Rise will know the broad, terrible outlines of that day in September, even if they’re not old enough to remember it. Zuckoff’s luminescent, careful, detail-sprinkled prose makes his version well-worth experiencing. It would be dishonest for any 9/11 book to have an “uplifting” ending: but the brilliant storytelling of Fall and Rise leaves you grateful for the lives that were spared; awed by the many instances of extraordinary bravery; and aching for those who were lost. —Helene Ragovin, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman. Think this book is just about romantic relationships? Think again. Think you only need to read/listen to it once and be done with it? Not necessarily. Yes, this book does focus on “how to express heartfelt commitment to your mate,” but it goes beyond that. Chapman outlines what he calls five love languages, which are 1) words of affirmation (compliments), 2) quality time, 3) receiving gifts, 4) acts of service, and 5) physical touch. I revisited this book after reading it many years ago, not because I had any issues with my love relationship, but just to learn more about others around me (in particular, my son and his soon to be wife). I share it with you because I feel this book is more about relationships in general and what motivates people. If you think about people you work with, if you understand what motivates them and then approach them on their level, the relationship goes much smoother. For example, a person whose love language is “words of affirmation” might thrive in an environment where they receive a lot of verbal praise. And for someone who is motivated by “quality time,” they might need more one-on-one time or to be taken to lunch. Maybe physical touch is a stretch for a work relationship, but I can see how the others, when looked at as motivational drivers, can impact all relationships. If you want practical advice on relationships, check out this book—you won’t regret it. —Christine Fitzgerald, manager of marketing and communications, Tufts Technology Services 

The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere., by James Spooner. This powerful graphic memoir tells Spooner’s story of his early teenage years, trying to figure out his place in the world. His mother is white, his father Black—and after moving frequently with his mother, he had landed back in Apple Valley, California, in the desert country east of LA for the start of high school in the early 1990s. He’d last been there in fifth grade, but knows no one now. An outsider, he makes friends with the confident Ty, one of the few Black kids in the school, and soon adopts a punk persona like Ty—skateboard, flannel, music, and all. He hangs out with other outsider kids, has run-ins with skinheads, and tries to navigate the complexities of high school. Spooner is brutally honest about his new friends, all suffering in their own ways, and about his alienation from his mom, who is trying her best, but is unable to really understand her son’s life. The emotional honesty here is raw, the hazards very real, the story compelling. It does end on a hopeful note: punk becomes Spooner’s identity and ethos—and salvation. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing

In the Dream House, by Carmen Maria Machado. You might remember Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties. It was the cool, weird one that subtly gaslit you as you pieced together its many fragments into one horrifying, hypnotic whole, which haunted you for days—and also left you thinking deeply and seeing more clearly. In the Dream House does much the same thing, but instead of our society’s and media’s treatment of women (the focus of Her Body), the subject is a toxic relationship from Machado’s own life. Over the course of these micro-essays, many of which are just a few paragraphs (and some no more than a few lines), Machado whirls us through her initial infatuation with the magical, charismatic Woman in the Dream House—and then pulls us down a rabbit hole, in which her world, her work, and her very reality and identity are thrown into disarray. It’s disturbing and bizarre to watch love gradually warp into confusion, shame, and terror, and it will be painfully familiar to anyone who has experienced psychological abuse in an intimate relationship. The Dream House is an apt and striking metaphor, with its tilted floors, mismatching furniture, and looming, claustrophobic maze of unpacked boxes. But Machado’s lucid prose illuminates the dark with flashes of beauty and insight, grounding us in the heart of her nightmare as witnesses and companions. And it’s worth it for the twist at the end, which even after Machado’s harrowing journey will make you believe in fate—and love—once again. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University Communications and Marketing

Last Call at the Hotel Imperial: The Reporters Who Took on a World at War, by Deborah Cohen. With a narrative that reads more like a novel than history, Cohen introduces us to a different world—the 1920s and 30s, almost a full century ago, and yet with an immediacy that makes the story feel surprisingly current, following the lives and exploits of four American reporters who become media stars at a time when politics and nations are fracturing. The three men and one woman whom Cohen recounts rise to prominent roles in the media landscape as they report on the conflicts that burgeon into World War II. She tells the story of America’s rise to power, the lure of Communism, the danger of fascism, and above all the power of nationalistic populism in Europe. She has delved deep into the archives to tell the parallel story of the men and women who are writing this first version of history—their weaknesses, desires, hopes, and sometimes crushing losses. Psychoanalysis is the new hip thing, and we listen in as our reporters and the objects of their desire talk about their inner lives, realizing yet again there’s nothing new under the sun. Cohen expertly weaves the tales of work lives and personal lives into one tapestry, as the world hurtles toward total war. This is history as it should be written, never less than captivating. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing

Maria Baldwin’s Worlds: A Story of Black New England and the Fight for Racial Justice, by Kathleen Weiler. Chances are that you have never of heard of Maria Baldwin. Born in 1856 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she was the first Black person appointed principal of an integrated school in New England, the Agassiz Elementary School in Cambridge, in 1889. To say Baldwin’s appointment was a remarkable feat is putting it mildly. At a time when discrimination and violence against the Black community was rampant and few Black women held positions of authority, Baldwin may have been the only Black woman to head an entirely white staff and an almost entirely white middle-class school in the nation. The complexity and gravity of her life, navigating and exceling in a leadership role in a white community while also working to advance civil rights among Black Americans, are beautifully captured in this biography by Kathleen Weiler, a Tufts professor emerita of education. In addition to Baldwin’s work at the Agassiz School, where she was a master educator, incorporating such innovative approaches in her classrooms as social-emotional learning techniques and a parent/teacher group, Baldwin also coordinated a literary group featuring civil rights activists W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter, who were students at Harvard College. My own introduction to Baldwin came through my role as president of the League of Women for Community Service, a women’s club that she co-founded in 1919 and served as the first president of until her sudden death in 1922. Despite the lack of personal writings to draw from, the biography offers a compelling picture of Baldwin’s life and the astounding courage she exhibited to resist in her own way the devastating systems of oppression that so severely restricted Black people and women from reaching their full potential. Her persistence and ability to survive and thrive in many ways amid overwhelming odds is an inspiration, and worthy of broader recognition. —Kalimah Knight, senior deputy director, Office of Media Relations

Move, by Caroline Williams. What are you doing right now? Get up! The simple act of standing boosts blood flow to your brain. Stretch! You’ll flush toxins out of your muscles. Stroll around the block! It’ll make you more creative and cheerful. This collection of cutting-edge research, statistics, personal stories, and practical tips by health sciences journalist Caroline Williams reminds us that humans didn’t evolve to sit around all day—and when we do, we pay the price, from higher rates of disease to poorer mood to slower and foggier thinking (with the result that our average IQ is dropping generation after generation, even after accounting for other factors). Luckily, Williams reminds us, there’s a bright side: when we do get moving, the benefits aren’t just better physical and mental health—they range from healing after trauma and greater artistic creativity, to a deeper sense of connection with fellow humans and our world. Particularly fascinating are her points about the central role physical movement plays in our language and even our thinking, which is likely because our ability to think sequentially and plan ahead evolved to help us swing through the trees. Williams’ writing is quick, clear, and entertaining, and she capably takes a piece of health advice you’re probably sick of hearing and resigned to never putting into practice, and turns it into an exciting new frontier that you can’t wait to explore—case in point: I am literally writing this while walking around and around an airport. —Monica Jimenez, senior content creator/editor, University of Communications and Marketing

Painting Enlightenment: Healing Visions of the Heart Sutra, by Paula Arai. The Heart Sutra, a Mahayana Buddhist scripture, is considered to contain the essence of nondual wisdom: it is chanted daily in Zen Buddhist temples throughout the world, and transcribed as a meditative art. The painter-calligrapher Iwasaki Tsuneo, whose body of work is the focus of this book, worked the 260 Chinese characters of the Heart Sutra into image after luminous image. Arai begins the journey with a compelling story that has been told to her by one of the women with whom she has been researching Buddhist healing. “Paula-san, I finally understand. Emptiness is not cold. It is what embraces us with compassion, enabling us to live, move, breathe, even die. . . Upon seeing them I felt how warm and wonderful emptiness is. You must see for yourself.” Arai goes to see an exhibit of Iwasaki’s work and immediately her mind opens to perceive the deep compassion that is at the root of emptiness as well. Perhaps it is exactly a war-weary veteran such as Iwasaki that can give such exacting and luminous labor on behalf of compassion. As Arai notes, “Each brushstroke was a prayer for healing.” Seeing the Heart Sutra calligraphy reappear in the form of autumn leaves, carp, and through atoms, galaxies, and double helixes of DNA, one grasps instinctively the interwoven nature of time and being. This book provides its reader with a window into the artist’s journey, which answers the chaos and pain of the postmodern era by tapping into the deep cultural resources within traditional Japanese brush painting, infused with Iwasaki’s sacred vision of wholeness, experienced as vast and subtle interconnection—the universe in a blade of grass, by another name. —Ji Hyang Padma, Buddhist chaplain, priest in the Soto Zen tradition 

Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the Course of Human History, by Kyle Harper. From the earliest times, humans generally haven’t died of old age: they have died of infectious disease. Only in the last 100 years or so have infectious diseases—caused by helminths (worms), protozoa (think malaria), bacteria, and viruses—been pushed back to become secondary causes of mortality. Harper had earlier written about how climate and disease affected the fate of the Roman Empire, and before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, decided to investigate the role of disease on all of human history. Here he details the progression of our species out of Africa, hand in hand with the bacteria, viruses, worms, and viruses that try to hijack our bodies’ energy and use us to reproduce and spread. Some parasites come to specialize in homo sapiens as perfect homes, while for others we are an accidental source of nutrients. Though we remember diseases like the Black Death—a bacteria that killed up to 50% of some of the populations it ravaged in the 1300s and afterwards—in fact, helminths like the worm that causes the dreadful disease schistosomiasis have caused probably at least as much suffering and death over the centuries. Infectious disease has shaped human history in so many ways—affecting which countries have stagnated economically while others marched ahead—and at the same time, humans in their astounding adaptive success have created environments for parasites to thrive where they wouldn’t otherwise. It could make for depressing reading, but Harper is such a skillful writer that I found it fascinating instead. This is Big History of the sort Jared Diamond writes, but on a much higher plane: smart, humane, perceptive—in a word, fascinating, and very well written to boot. —Taylor McNeil, senior news and audience engagement editor, University Communications and Marketing

Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks, by Patrick Radden Keefe. Sometimes, you can judge a book by its cover. Rogues grabbed my attention in the new arrivals section of my local library. The book is a collection of essays first published in the New Yorker and is the perfect book for anyone who loves a good true crime podcast. Each chapter tells a story about criminals big (cartel bosses) and small (wine forgers) as well those who buck convention (Anthony Bourdain and a death penalty attorney). Each of Keefe’s stories is immaculately researched and provides little known details to even some of the most famous stories, like the Marathon bombing. Each chapter is about 20 pages, and you never want to put it down until you finish reading about that particular rogue. The book does not lionize the rogues, but points out their human qualities, and highlights those in law enforcement who pursue and challenge them. —Stephen Muzrall, senior director of development & alumni engagement, School of Dental Medicine

What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848, by Daniel Walker Howe. I could put this book down, and did, often, across 10 years. Daniel Walker Howe’s Pulitzer-winning history traces an era that echoes through our own, and it was weirdly steadying to read the early 19th century at almost the pace I was living the early 21st. Revisiting nearly two centuries’ scholarship, Howe recasts the “Jacksonian age” as a period of fast change—with technology producing a communications revolution, with religious and social movements proliferating, and, centrally in Howe’s interpretation, with political parties and their supporters contesting whose America this would be: an America for a violent white hierarchy, or an America for us all. If you are sometimes repelled by political characters whose cynical nonsense fills our newsfeeds, Howe will remind you that your grandparents’ great-grandparents once endured Martin Van Buren. If long ago you had opened Twitter or Facebook and thought ‘What hath God wrought!’ as you discovered far-flung connections, Howe relates that this same awe gripped members of Congress witnessing the telegraph for the first time, Samuel Morse instantly transmitting that very phrase from the U.S. Capitol all the way to Baltimore. And if you are sickened by the continuing political salience of white supremacy and gendered violence, colonial devastation, and widespread meanness, this book underscores that we are not the first to face the question of what we have wrought—and of whether we will commit ourselves to the work of repair and internal improvements of justice and transformation. —Laura C. Lucas, knowledge strategy & operations, Office of the Provost

Categories: books

The Best Books of 2022 – The New York Times

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You don’t need to have read Egan’s Pulitzer-winning “ A Visit From the Goon Squad ” to jump feet first into this much-anticipated sequel. But for lovers of the 2010 book’s prematurely nostalgic New Yorkers, cerebral beauty and laser-sharp take on modernity, “The Candy House” is like coming home — albeit to dystopia. This time around, Egan’s characters are variously the creators and prisoners of an universe in which, through the wonders of technology, people can access their entire memory banks plus use the contents as social media currency. The result is a glorious, hideous fun house that feels more familiar than sci-fi, all rendered with Egan’s signature inventive confidence and — perhaps most impressive of all — heart. “The Candy House” is of its moment, with all that will implies.

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Bennett, a British writer who makes her house in Ireland, first leaped onto the scene along with her 2015 debut novel, “ Pond . ” Her second book contains all of the first’s linguistic artistry and dark wit, but it is even more exhilarating. “Checkout 19, ” ostensibly the story of a young woman falling in love with language in a working-class town outside London, has an unusual setting: the human mind — a brilliant, surprising, weird and very funny one. All the words one might use to describe this book — experimental, autofictional, surrealist — fail to convey the sheer pleasure of “Checkout 19. ” You’ll come away dazed, delighted, reminded of just how much fun reading can be, eager to share it with people in your lives. It’s a love letter to books, and an argument for them, too.

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Kingsolver’s powerful new novel, a close retelling associated with Charles Dickens’s “David Copperfield” set in contemporary Appalachia, gallops through issues including childhood poverty, opioid addiction and rural dispossession even as its larger focus remains squarely on the question of how an artist’s consciousness is formed. Like Dickens, Kingsolver is unblushingly political and works on a sprawling scale, animating her pages with an abundance of charm and the presence of seemingly every creeping thing that has ever crept upon the earth.

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After losing her brother when she was 12, one of the narrators of Serpell ’s second novel keeps coming across men who resemble him as she works through her trauma long into adulthood. She enters an intimate relationship with one of them, who’s also haunted by his past. This richly layered book explores the nature of grief, how it can stretch or compress time, reshape memories plus make us dream up alternate realities. “I don’t want to tell you what happened, ” the narrator says. “I wish to tell you how it felt. ”

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Diaz uncovers the secrets of an American fortune in the early 20th century, detailing the particular dizzying rise of a New York financier and the enigmatic talents of his wife. Each of the novel’s four parts, which are told from different perspectives, redirects the narrative (and upends readers’ expectations) while paying tribute to literary titans from Henry James to Jorge Luis Borges. Whose version of events can we trust? Diaz’s spotlight on stories behind stories seeks out the dark workings behind capitalism, as well as the uncredited figures behind the so-called Great Men of history. It’s an exhilarating pursuit.

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Yong certainly gave himself a formidable task with this book — getting humans to step outside their “sensory bubble” and consider how nonhuman animals experience the world. But the enormous difficulty of making sense of senses we do not have is a reminder that each one of us has a purchase on only a sliver of reality. Yong is really a terrific storyteller, and there are plenty of surprising animal facts to keep this book moving toward the profound conclusion: The breadth of this immense world should make us recognize exactly how small we really are.

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In this quietly wrenching memoir, Hsu recalls starting out at Berkeley in the mid-1990s as a watchful music snob, fastidiously curating his tastes plus mercilessly judging the tastes of others. Then he met Ken, a Japanese American frat boy. Their friendship was intense, but brief. Less than three years later, Ken would be killed in a carjacking. Hsu traces the course of their own relationship — one that seemed improbable at first but eventually became a fixture in his life, a trellis along which both young men could stretch and grow.

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In this rich and nuanced book, Aviv writes about people in extreme mental distress, beginning with her own experience of being told she had anorexia when she was 6 years old. That personal history made her especially attuned to how stories can clarify as well as distort what a person is going through. This isn’t an anti-psychiatry book — Aviv is too aware of the specifics of any situation to succumb in order to anything so sweeping. What she does is hold space for empathy plus uncertainty, exploring a multiplicity of stories instead of jumping at the impulse to explain them away.

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Through case histories as well as independent reporting, Villarosa’s remarkable third guide elegantly traces the effects of the legacy of slavery — and the doctrine of anti-Blackness that sprang up to philosophically justify it — on Black health: reproductive, environmental, mental and more. Beginning with a long personal history of her awakening to these structural inequalities, the particular journalist repositions various narratives about race and medicine — the soaring Black maternal mortality rates; the rise of heart disease and hypertension; the oft-repeated dictum that Black people reject psychological therapy — because evidence not of Dark inferiority, but of racism in the health care system.

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O’Toole, a prolific essayist and critic, calls this inventive narrative “a personal history of modern Ireland” — an ambitious project, but one he pulls off with élan. Charting six decades of Irish history against his own life, O’Toole manages to both deftly illustrate a country in drastic flux, and include the sly, self-deprecating biography that infuses his sociology along with humor and pathos. You’ll be educated, yes — about increasing secularism, the particular Celtic tiger, human rights — but you’ll also be wildly, uproariously entertained by a gifted raconteur at the height of his powers.

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The 10 Best Books of 2022: An Event Announcing Our List – The New York Times

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On Nov. 29 at The Times Center in New York City, Occasions readers are invited to be the first to find out which books we’ve selected as the year’s best.

Each year, the editors of The New York Times Book Review publish their highly anticipated 10 Best Books of the year .

Join the Book Review’s editorial team for the reveal of these 10 titles and a behind-the-scenes look at how this year’s list was selected. We’ll hear about which fiction and nonfiction books were chosen and why, and which of the editors’ personal favorites didn’t make the cut this time.

For those unable to attend, the event will be broadcast and available virtually on this page.

Categories: books

7 CEOs on the ‘innovative’ and ‘timely’ books everyone should read this winter – CNBC

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In addition to gathering with friends and family, the holiday break is a good time to take a breather and unwind with a good book or two.

Many of the world’s most successful CEOs and business leaders swear by their reading habit. In fact , when a group of Columbia Business School students asked Warren Buffett the key to success in 2000, he said, “Read 500 pages like this every day, ” while reaching toward a stack of manuals plus papers. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it. ”

CNBC Make It asked 7 CEOs to share their favorite reads for the holiday season. From inspirational non-fiction to deep-dives on the latest trends in business, consider these titles to expand your reading list:  

‘Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail’

By Ray Dalio  

Recommended by Cathy Tie, CEO and founder of Locke Bio:  

“It’s a timely book to read during a changing time in the world economy and shifting political landscapes. Ray Dalio explores the patterns of empires and nations in the last 500 years, and describes economic, political and societal indicators correlated with their rise plus falls. They say that the best way to predict the future is by studying the past, and this book provides a crisp perspective into history that is especially relevant today in the United States. ” 

‘Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know’

By Adam Grant  

Recommended by Dr . Rosina Racioppi, president and CEO of WOMEN Unlimited, Inc.:  

“I am a huge fan of Adam Grant. In ‘Think Again, ‘ Grant leverages research and stories to help us understand how to build the intellectual plus emotional muscle needed to stay curious about the world around us to help us actually change it! It is so timely and necessary given the pace of work and the amount of distractions. It’s also important for leaders to understand how to think again as they are leading in these challenging times. ”

‘Embrace the Work, Love Your Career’

By Fran Hauser  

Suggested by Tiffany Dufu, founder and CEO of The Cru:  

“Last year when I received the particular advanced manuscript for ‘Embrace The Work, Love Your Career, ‘ I immediately found the book innovative. She encourages the reader to foster ‘evidence-based confidence’ to cultivate their own self-assurance.

Unlike reading a typical book, which can feel passive, ‘Embrace The Work, Love Your Career’ is an experiential journal. There are meditations, reflections and even blank pages for doodling. I recommend lighting a candle, pour yourself a glass of wine or cup of tea, plus preparing to be fully immersed and active as Hauser takes you on a journey of self-discovery. ”

‘Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box’

By The Arbinger Institute  

Recommended by Timothy Chi, CEO of The Knot Worldwide:

“We have all heard that being a better listener is the hallmark of a good leader and business owner. This book is a quick read that really helped me connect to the particular ways we tend to tell ourselves stories to self-justify our thoughts and actions. Understanding how we can be more self-aware about our own innate motivators as well as those you are interacting with, whether it’s in a manager-employee relationship or an owner-potential customer relationship, can really help lead to better outcomes. ”

‘The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon’

By Kevin Federko  

Recommended by Jim Szafranski, CEO of Prezi:  

“This is a really fun read for anyone who enjoys adventure storytelling. And, while it’s primarily a way to take a break over the holidays, it also has some relevance to the world we live in today. It’s set in the American West, which is facing historic climate challenges and the scale of the challenge really comes to life with the story taking place during a glut of water in the West.  

But , it’s not a climate book — I find that it’s a story of achievement and craftsmanship, told through the eyes of adversaries, and it weaves together the building associated with America’s great dams as well as the adventurers who become conservationists due to their connection with the natural world. ” 

‘A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy’

By William B. Irvine  

Recommended by Daragh Murphy, co-founder and CEO of Imprint:

“This book helps me put the day-to-day in perspective, but through a philosophical versus a cosmological lens. It’s full of reminders that the frustration, impatience and hurt we feel every day is mostly self created rather than inflicted by those around us … which can be very helpful around the Thanksgiving dinner table! But I have to admit that I always tell friends to skip the first three chapters on the history of Stoic philosophy, which can get pretty dry and are much less helpful than the latter chapters on stoic lessons for everyday life. ” 

‘Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food, from Sustainable to Suicidal’

By Mark Bittman

Recommended by Geneva Long, founder and CEO regarding Bowlus:  

“On its face, this book is about humanity’s relationship to food. But from a business and economics perspective, it’s a fascinating case study in externalities and unintended consequences. As business leaders, we’re constantly thinking about the second and third-order effects of our immediate decisions and this book is a great reminder to carefully consider which activities you are trying to incentivize in your organization and amongst your customers. ” 

Check out:

Here are Bill Gates’ 5 new book recommendations for your holiday reading list

3 books that will change your mindset about work and success, according to a career coach

The 5 best books to help you live the happier, more balanced life in 2022, according to a new burnout coach

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Categories: books

Top Ten Business Books For 2022 – Forbes

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Each year I read 40-50 books and peruse dozens more. While most of my reading focuses on customer service and customer experience (CX), I occasionally stray into leadership, marketing and other business topics. So , if you’re struggling to find a gift for your boss, a colleague or a friend in business, look no further. Books are the perfect gift. Here are my Top Ten picks for 2022.

1 . The Frictionless Organization: Deliver Great Customer Experiences with Less Effort by Bill Price and David Jaffe. I’m a big fan of creating an easy, convenient and frictionless experience. I even wrote a book about this very topic in 2018 ( The Convenience Revolution ). If anyone is qualified to write about this topic, it’s the person who was Amazon’s first global vice president of customer service. To me, Amazon is the poster child for convenience and low/no friction. (Two-word review: Eliminate rubbing. )

2 . The Metail Economy: Six Strategies for Transforming Your Business to Thrive in the Me-Centric Consumer Revolution by Joel Bines. Our customers are smart when it comes to customer service. With their heightened expectations, they are literally rewriting the rules of business, specifically the customer experience. (Eleven-word review: The customer thinks, “It’s all about me, ” and it should be. )

3. Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture that Drives Value for Your Business by Annette Franz. No decisions should ever be made without first thinking of the customer and the impact the decision has on him/her/them. This book focuses a lot on people, both your customers and employees. Principle Three is a favorite and is about putting customers first … and putting employees more first. (Six-word evaluation: Ten principles to drive customer value. )

4. From Impressed to Obsessed: 12 Principles for Turning Customers plus Employees into Lifelong Fans by Joe Picoult. Don’t just create a satisfying customer experience. Create memorable ones! Picoult shows you how to turn your customers into brand ambassadors who sing your praises to their friends, colleagues and family members. (Nine-word review: You can do more than just impress your customers. )

5. The Leader’s Playlist: Unleash the Power of Music and Neuroscience to Transform Your Leadership and Your Life by Susan Drumm. Whether we know it or not, we have a “playlist” of words in our heads. It comes from our past experiences, and sometimes it can hold us back from reaching our potential as a leader. Drumm coaches billionaire CEOs, politicians and Fortune 100 executives, transforming their leadership capabilities by changing the songs and words that subconsciously hold them back. (Six-word review: The rhythm is gonna get you! )

6. The Culture Playbook: 60 Highly Effective Actions to Help Your Group Succeed by Daniel Coyle. While this book is about any culture you’re trying to create inside your organization, I found it particularly helpful for companies that want to be customer-focused. What’s happening on the inside will be felt on the outside by the consumer. Creating the right culture is important to customers and employees. This book will get you on the right track. (Eight-word review: The right culture is more important than ever! )

7. Employees First: Inspire, Engage, and Focus on the Heart of Your Organization simply by Donna Cutting. I’m a big Donna Cutting fan. This latest book veers from her customer service strategies into employee strategies. If you’re struggling to get and keep employees, get this book today. (Seven-word review: Employees, not customers, are your top priority. )

8. The Hawke Method: The Three Principles of Marketing that Made Over 3, 000 Brands Soar by Erik Huberman. The author’s client list includes some of the biggest brands on the planet. He breaks his model into three areas: awareness, nurturing and trust. Expanding on this “Marketing Tripod, ” he explains what you need to know to launch a successful marketing campaign. (Six-word review: Marketing doesn’t have to be complicated. )

9. Blueprint for Customer Obsession by B. A. Marbue Brown. The author has worked for some of the most iconic brands in the world such as Amazon, Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase. He knows the “secret sauce” that fuels the success of these brands (and others) is their obsession with their customers, and he shares eight “Hallmarks” that will help you emulate that success. (Fourteen-word review: Learn from a guy on the inside of the biggest brands on the planet. )

10. Do B2B Better: Drive Growth through a Game-Changing Customer Experience by Jim Tincher. Customer experience is not just for consumer-focused companies. Businesses that sell to other businesses can’t just make their customers happy. They must also build trust and confidence. Deliver the right B2B customer experience, and you begin to bulletproof your organization from competition. (Seven-word review: Customer experience is not just for B2C. )

There you have it. These are my ten picks for the year. If you need even more suggestions, here’s a link to last year’s list . And, I would be remiss if I did not mention my latest book. If you want to learn more about my customer service philosophy, concepts and practical applications, check out I’ll Be Back: How to Get Customers to Come Back Again and Again . So , head over to your favorite bookstore or click on the links provided and start your holiday shopping today.

Categories: books

Here are Bill Gates’ 5 new book recommendations for your holiday reading list – CNBC

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This holiday season, billionaire Bill Gates is gifting you a list of five books to read while you’re hopefully enjoying some much-deserved downtime.

Gates, a voracious reader who reads at least 50 publications each year , regularly releases lists of the best books he’s read each year — alongside seasonal recommendations for holiday books and summer beach reads.

This year, the 67-year-old seems to be leaning into nostalgia: Gates’ 2022 vacation reading list , published Monday on his blog, includes a mix of new releases and some of his favorite textbooks of all time.

That includes a 1960s sci-fi classic that helped spark Gates’ childhood friendship with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and a book on tennis that Gates first read in the 1970s — which he says helped him eventually learn not to obsess over mistakes at work.

As a special bonus, he says a copy of each of his selections has been placed in 100 Little Free Libraries around the world.

Here are the five books on Gates’ holiday reading list this year:

‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ by Robert Heinlein

This 1961 sci-fi classic holds a special place in Gates’ memory.

“I met Paul [Allen] around [that] time, and we got to know each other by talking about sci-fi, ” Gates wrote of his late friend and Microsoft co-founder. “I thought I had read a lot of it, but Paul way outdid me. ”

“Stranger in a Strange Land” — Gates’ favorite sci-fi book from his youth, he noted — is the story of a human who was raised on Mars, by Martians. The young man travels to a futuristic Earth, where he struggles to understand human concepts of religion and war.

“I love sci-fi that pushes your thinking about what’s possible in the future, ” Gates wrote, noting that Heinlein’s book correctly predicted some aspects of the future at the time, including “hippie culture” and waterbeds.

“He also does the classic sci-fi thing of using an obviously fictional setting to ask profound questions about human nature, ” Gates added.

‘Surrender’ by Bono

Gates called the autobiographical book released this month by U2 frontman Bono “the best memoir by a rock star I actually know. ”

The billionaire and the 62-year-old rocker, whose given name is Paul Hewson, have been friends for more than a decade. They often work together on philanthropic efforts , raising awareness and funds around common areas of interest like climate change and global health.

Gates praised the book’s behind-the-scenes look at how U2 created “some of their most iconic songs, ” plus what’s kept Bono and his bandmates close for more than four decades.

“They share the same values. All four of them are passionate about fighting poverty and inequity in the world, and they’re also aligned on maintaining their integrity as artists, ” Entrance wrote.

‘Team of Rivals’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Gates wrote that he was “blown away” upon reading this 2005 non-fiction work by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin.

“Team of Rivals” is a critically acclaimed biography associated with Abraham Lincoln and the men who served in his first Cabinet, several of whom had previously opposed Lincoln in the 1860 presidential election.  

The guide highlights Lincoln’s ability to reconcile opposing viewpoints among his own advisors, and “has a lot of insights about Lincoln that will leaders can learn from today, ” Gates wrote.

“Lately I’ve been thinking about Goodwin’s book because it feels very relevant in 2022, ” he added. “There are significant parallels between the current moment and the 1860s, when the nation was dealing with violent insurrection, difficult questions about race, and ideological divides between states and regions. ”

‘The Inner Game of Tennis’ by Robert Gallwey

More than a book about how to improve your forehand, Gallwey’s 1974 work aims to be “a guide to the mental side of peak performance. ”

Gates first read the book more than four decades ago, and has since read it multiple times, he wrote — adding that he still gifts it to friends nowadays because “its profound advice applies to many other parts of life. ”

Gallwey, a tennis coach, published about how a player’s state of mind could affect their performance on the court as much as their athletic ability. Gates said those insights have assisted in his career, especially focusing on constructive criticism rather than getting hung up on mistakes.

“For most of us, it’s too easy to slip into self-criticism, which then inhibits our overall performance even more. We need to learn to learn from our mistakes without obsessing over them, ” Entrances wrote.

It’s a lesson that Gates has previously admitted he needed to be taught, noting that in Microsoft’s early days, his high standards for himself plus employees often made him an intense boss .

In 2019, Gates expressed regret over the approach: “Some of it helped us be successful, but I’m sure some of it was over the top. inch

‘Mendeleyev’s Dream’ by Paul Strathern

If you visit Gates’ office in Seattle, you’ll see a huge wall display filled with samples of each entry in the periodic table associated with elements.

The billionaire’s interest in the period table continues with “Mendeleyev’s Dream, ” a 2000 history of chemistry written by an academic named Paul Strathern.

The name comes from Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleyev , who formulated the first version of the periodic table in 1869. It’s “the best book I’ve ever read on the regular table, ” Gates had written.

“Aside from being a neat piece of art, the particular periodic table reminds me personally of how one discovery can lead to countless others, ” this individual continued. “All the complexity of the universe comes from the properties on that chart. Because we understand atoms, we can make chips, and therefore we can make software, and for that reason we can make AI. Everything goes back to the periodic desk. ”

Want to earn more and work less?   Register for the free CNBC Make It: Your Money virtual event   on Dec. 13 at 12 p. m. ET to learn from money masters how you can increase your earning power.

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Warm Up With Winter Books From Duke Authors – Duke Today

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Long winter nights make for good reads. Duke publications from the fall and winter include attractions for readers of many interests.   For history buffs, there’s new history of the American West and a timely assessment of economic sanctions. For politicos, there’s a blueprint for protecting democracy and a study of the contributions of migrants to various cultures. Movie fans can read about the history of Asians in theater and cinema  and  a surprising look at the politics of Marvel movies.

Many of the books, including new editions of previous titles, can be found on the “Duke Authors” display shelves near the circulation desk in Perkins Library. Some are available as e-books for quick download. Most can also be purchased through the Gothic Bookshop.

[If you are a member of the Duke faculty or staff who will be publishing a book of interest to a general audience, send us a message at  [email protected]  along with your publisher’s brief description.]


Stanley Abe : Imagining Sculpture: A Short Conjectural History. (University of Chicago Press)

The concept of sculpture is a particularly European idea, write Abe, associate professor of art and art background. In China statues, stele, and other figural objects were made for millennia but were not categorized as sculpture. In his new book, Abe explains how these were seen in China as objects beyond the European definition of sculpture.


Sarah Jean Barton : Becoming the particular Baptized Body (Baylor University Press)

Barton, an assistant professor in orthopaedic surgery, brings theologians of disability, biblical accounts of baptism, baptismal liturgies, and theological voices from across the ecumenical spectrum in conversation with Christians shaped by intellectual disability.


Robert J. Bliwise : The Pivot One Pandemic, One University (Duke University Press) November 2022

Bliwise, executive editor emeritus associated with Duke Magazine, traces Fight it out University’s response to the pandemic to show how higher education broadly met challenges head-on. He interviews people across the campus: from bus drivers and vaccine researchers to student activists, dining hall managers, and professors in areas from English to ecology. Read more in Duke Today.


Bruce Caldwell : co-author: Hayek: A Life, 1899–1950 (University of Chicago Press)

Bruce Caldwell and co-author Hansjoerg Klausinger draw on never-before-seen archival and family material to produce an authoritative account of the first five decades in the life of Friedrich Hayak, an economist, social theorist, leader of the Austrian school of economics, and champion of classical liberalism. Caldwell is research professor of economics.


Nicholas Carnes : co-editor, The Politics of the Wonder Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas) Dec. 23, 2022

This is the first book to look expansively at politics in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and asks the question, “What lessons are this entertainment juggernaut teaching audiences about politics, society, power, gender, and inequality? ” Carnes is Creed C. Black Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy.


Aaron K. Chatterji , co-editor: The Role of Innovation plus Entrepreneurship in Economic Growth (University associated with Chicago Press)

This volume presents studies from experts in 12 industries, providing insights into the future role of innovation and entrepreneurship in driving economic growth across twelve different sectors. Currently on leave as chief economist of the United States Department of Commerce, Chatterji is Mark Burgess & Lisa Benson-Burgess Distinguished Professor


Susan Colbourn : Euromissiles The Nuclear Weapons That Nearly Destroyed NATO (Cornell University Press) Nov. 15, 2022

Associate director from the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, Colbourn takes a long view of the strategic crisis — from the emerging dilemmas of allied defense within the early 1950s through the aftermath of the INF Treaty 35 years later. The result is really a dramatic tale that changes the way we think about the Cold War and its culmination.  


Michael D’Alessandro:   Staged Readings: Contesting Class in Popular American Theater and Literature, 1835-75 (University of Michigan Press)

Staged Readings presents an examination of mid-19th century leisure and amusement. It examines best-selling novels, such as Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin plus George Lippard’s The Quaker City. But it also analyzes a series of sensational melodramas. The guide will be particularly appealing to those interested in histories of popular theater, literature and reading. D’Alessandro is assistant professor of English.


Sally Deutsch : Making a Modern U. S. West (University of Nebraska Press),

The professor of history surveys the history of the U. S. West from 1898 to 1940. Deutsch writes about the region’s role within constructing U. S. racial formations and argues that the West as a region was as important as the South in constructing the United States as a “white man’s country. ”


Philipe De Brigard and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong editors: Neuroscience and Philosophy (MIT Press)

The two Duke philosophy professors edit a volume that offers 14 chapters that address matters relating to consciousness, perception, behavior, and moral judgment, each written by a team that includes at least one philosopher and one neuroscientist who integrate disciplinary perspectives and reflect the latest research in both fields.


Joseph Donahue: Infinite Criteria (Black Square Editions)

The newest collection of poetry from Joseph Donahue, professor of the practice of English, is inspired initially by free-style haiku of the 19th century.


Esther Gabara : Non-Literary Fiction Art of the Americas Under Neoliberalism (University of Chicago Press)

A new form of fiction emerged in the late-20th hundred years in the Americas, writes Esther Gabara, professor of Romance studies. Reacting to the rise of neo-liberal regimes across the two American continents, this fiction depart from familiar literary narrative structures and emerge in the new mediums and practices that have revolutionized contemporary art.


Gary Gereffi , co-editor: China’s New Development Strategies (Springer)

The book explores how and why Chinese supply chains aren’t easily replicable and forecasts how COVID-19 and digital transformations might change global economic structures. Gereffi will be professor emeritus of sociology.


Polly Ha , chief editor: Reformed Government Puritanism, Historical Contingency, and Ecclesiatical Politics in Late Elizabethan England (Oxford University Press)

This recovery of an alternative vision of a reformed society in the late sixteenth century offers an alternative model for reading church history. Reformed Government is essential reading for the study of ecclesiastical tradition alongside confessional documents and summative statements. Ha is Divinity College associate professor of the good Christianity.


Richard Lischer : Our Hearts Are Restless: The Art of Spiritual Memoir (Oxford University Press), Dec. 1, 2022

The Divinity School James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Lischer takes readers on a guided tour of the spiritual autobiography, examining the life writings of 21  figures through Thomas Merton to Wayne Baldwin; and from Julian of Norwich and Emily Dickinson to Anne Lamott.


Bruce Jentleson : Sanctions: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford University Press)

William Preston Few Professor of Public Policy, Jentleson offers a concise, authoritative overview of a little-understood yet extremely important phenomenon in world politics: the use of financial sanctions by one country to punish another. This individual demonstrates that examining sanctions is key to understanding international relations and explains how and why they will likely continue to bear on worldwide politics.


Esther Kim Lee : Made up Asians: Yellowface During the Exclusion Era (University of Michigan Press)

Theater Studies Professor Esther Kim Lee  traces the history of yellowface from 1862 to 1940. She focuses on the English origins of non-Asian actors putting on makeup and costumes to look East Asian and how lingering effects of Asian exclusionary laws can still be found today. Read more in a Trinity College story.


Alexander S. Kirshner : Legitimate Opposition (‎Yale University Press)

Legitimate opposition came under assault at the American capitol upon Jan. 6, 2021. Alexander Kirshner, an associate professor associated with political science, as one reviewer noted “offers the definitive account of how we should understand the ‘legitimate opposition’— one that is usually realistic, skeptical, and yet preserves the most demanding aspirations with regard to democracy. ”


Randy Maddox,   co-editor: The Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, Volume 14: Doctrinal and Controversial Treatises III (Abingdon Press)

This volume completes the three-volume subset of The Works associated with John Wesley devoted to his doctrinal and controversial treatises. It includes sections on Wesley’s critical engagement with the Moravians, Roman Catholic doctrine plus practice, William Law, Emanuel Swedenborg, and others. Maddox is definitely William Kellon Quick Professor of Church History and Wesley Studies at the Divinity School.


John Jeffries Martin : A Beautiful Ending (Yale University Press)

The book provides a survey of Early Modern European history from the Age of Discovery to the French Revolution. Professor of History John Martin views modernity through the enduring dream of the Apocalypse plus compares the Christian viewpoint of the Apocalypse to the views of Judaism and Islam.


Kathryn Mathers : White Saviorism and Popular Culture Imagined Africa as a Space regarding American Salvation (Routledge)

An associate professor of the practice within international comparative studies and cultural anthropology, Kathryn Mathers explores how America continues to present an imagined Africa as a space for its salvation in the 21st century. Mathers focuses on exactly how an era of new media technologies is reshaping encounters between Africans and westerners in the 21st century.


Henry Petroski : Force: What it Means to Push and Pull, Slip and Grip, Start and Stop ( Yale University Press )

Author of 19 books, Henry Petroski explores the range of daily human experience whereby we feel the sensations of push and pull, resistance and assistance. In the wake of a prolonged global pandemic that warned us about contact with the physical world, Petroski, an engineering professor emeritus, offers a new perspective on the importance of the sensation and power of touch. Read more in Duke Today.


Thomas Pfau : Incomprehensible Certainty: Metaphysics and Hermeneutics of the Image (University of Notre Dame Press)

In his latest publication, Pfau, the Alice Mary Baldwin Distinguished Professor associated with English, reflects on the nature of images and the phenomenology of visual experience. Pfau draws upon both Platonic metaphysics and modern phenomenology to advance several ideas that will interest students and scholars of philosophy, theology, literature, and art history.


Orrin H. Pilkey,   co-author: Vanishing Sands Losing Beaches to Mining (Duke University Press) December 2022

The particular book tracks the devastating impact of legal plus illegal sand mining over the past twenty years and why beach, dune, and river ecosystems are in danger of being lost forever. James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Pilkey and co-authors call for immediate and widespread resistance to sand mining and demonstrate that will its cessation is paramount for saving not only beaches, dunes, and associated environments, but also lives and tourism economies everywhere.


H. Jefferson Powell : The Practice of American Constitutional Law (Cambridge University Press)

Professor associated with Law Jefferson Powell describes how lawyers and judges identify constitutional problems by using a specifiable method of inquiry that allows them to agree on what the questions are, and thus what any plausible answer must address, even when disagreement over the most persuasive answers remains.


Jedediah Purdy : Two Cheers intended for Politics Why Democracy Is Flawed, Frightening—and Our Best Hope (Seal Press)

Americans throughout the political spectrum agree that our  democracy is in problems.   We view our political opponents with disdain, if not terror, and an  increasing number  of us are willing to consider authoritarian alternatives.   Professor of law Jed Purdy argues that  this  heated political culture is a symptom  not of too much democracy but too little.  


Sarah Quesada : “The African Heritage of Latinx and Caribbean Literature (Cambridge University Press)

An assistant teacher of Romance studies, Dorothy Quesada examines the Africa colonial and imperial inheritance of Latinx literature. She explores how the African Atlantic haunts modern Latinx plus Caribbean writing and examines the disavowal or distortion of the African subject in the constructions of national, ethnic, sexual, and spiritual Latinx identity.


Carlos Rojas , co-editor: The Worlds of Southeast Asian Chinese Literature (Duke University Press)

The reserve examines a wide-ranging body of literature produced by ethnically Chinese populations of Southeast Asia. Edited by professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies Carlos Rojas, the book also engages literature from Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines and other regions where Chinese culture is extensive


Carlos Rojas , translator: Yan Lianke: Discovering Fictional (Duke University Press)

Rojas also provides a new translation of a non-fiction book by noted Chinese author Yan Lianke that offers insights into his views on books and realism, the major works that inspired him, and his theories of writing.


Bill Seaman , editor: The Architecture of Ideas: The Life and Work of Ranulph Glanville, Cybernetician (Imprint Academic)

Seaman, professor of art, art history and visual research, collected essays about the life and work of Ranulph Glanville, an Anglo-Irish design theorist and architect.


Harris Solomon: LifeLines The Traffic of Trauma (Duke University Press)

Harris Solomon, professor of cultural anthropology and global health, takes readers into the trauma ward of one of Mumbai’s busiest public hospitals, narrating the stories of the patients, providers, and families who encounter and care for traumatic injuries due to widespread traffic accidents. Read more in Duke Today .


Helen Solterer (co-editor): Migrants Shaping Europe, Past plus Present: Multilingual Literatures, Arts, and Cultures (Manchester University Press)

The volume explores the particular contribution of migrants to European culture from the early modern era to nowadays. It juxtaposes early modern and modern work with contemporary, reconceiving migrants as crucial agents of change. Solterer, who co-edited with Vincent Joos, is professor of Romance studies.


Margaret Sullivan : Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life.   ( Macmillan Publishers )

Veteran journalist and New York Times columnist Margaret Sullivan chronicles her years within the trenches battling sexism and throwing elbows in a highly competitive newsroom. She requires us behind the scenes of the nation’s most influential news outlets to explore how Americans lost trust in the news and what it will take to regain it. In January, Sullivan will be the 2023 Egan Visiting Professor at the Sanford School of General public Policy.


Avner Vengosh and Erika Weinthal : Water Quality Impacts of the Energy-Water Nexus (Cambridge College Press)

Avner Vengosh and Erika Weinthal, both professors at the Nicholas School of the Environment, focus on how water use, plus wastewater and waste solids produced from fossil fuel energy production affect water quality and quantity. They highlight the growing evidence that will fossil fuel production leads to water quality degradation, while regulations remain fractured and highly variable across plus within countries.


Norman Wirzba : Agrarian Spirit Cultivating Faith, Community, and the Land   (University associated with Notre Dame Press)

Divinity School Teacher Norman Wirzba demonstrates just how agrarianism continues to have vital significance for spiritual existence today. The book offers a compelling account of religious life that is both attuned to ancient scriptural sources and keyed to addressing the pressing social and ecological concerns of today.


Gwendolyn L. Wright, Lucas Hubbard, plus William A. Darity Jr. : The Pandemic Divide How COVID Increased Inequality in America (Duke University Press) November 2022

The writers from the Samuel DuBois Cook Center for Social Equity explore COVID-19’s impact on multiple arenas of daily life—including wealth, health, housing, employment, and education—while highlighting what steps could have been taken to mitigate the full force of the outbreak. They also offer concrete solutions that would allow the nation to respond effectively to future crises and improve the long-term well-being of all Americans.

Categories: books

All the 2022 National Book Award winners and nominees, reviewed –

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Every year, the National Book Foundation nominates 25 books to be eligible to win a National Book Award. The nominations highlight fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translated literature, and young adult books. For the past 9 years, the Vox staff has read them all, and we’ve shared our thoughts on what’s worthy.

The winners were announced on Wednesday, November 16. Our musings on the 2022 nominees and winners are below.

A book cover with an anatomically correct heart with an arrow through it.
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty.
Penguin Random House

The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty — WINNER

Tess Gunty’s debut novel features the misfit residents of an affordable housing complex in Vacca Vale, Indiana, a dying post-industrial city in the Midwest. At its center is Blandine Watkins, an ethereal child of the foster care system with a terrifying brilliance and an affinity for Christian mystics. Or maybe its true central character is Vacca Vale, with its crumbling infrastructure and its unspoiled park, under threat from a proposed economic revitalization effort. Over the course of a week, the residents intersect in ways that reveal the extent of their alienation.

While the story has elements familiar to a certain microgenre of literary fiction (the quirky child genius, the multi-character viewpoint, the build-up to a cataclysm, etc.), Gunty wields these elements with such freshness and sophistication that the book feels thrilling and new. As a daughter of the Rust Belt who’s read enough literary fiction about elite New Yorkers to last a lifetime, I couldn’t get enough of the world she built. Gunty’s writing is impressionistic and original — a technicolor kaleidoscope of the earthly and otherworldly. —Marin Cogan, senior correspondent

The Birdcatcher by Gayl Jones

Sometimes the sun warms, sometimes the sun stings, and sometimes the sun just flat-out burns. In this novel, Gayl Jones sweeps readers away to the isle of Ibiza and pours upon them all three of these sensations in the most artistic of ways.

Amanda, an older expat on the island of Ibiza and a “self-proclaimed” divorcee, is an erotic novelist turned travel guide writer. Jones colors the life of this peregrine traveler in a way that maintains her anonymity while providing slices of herself to the reader throughout the text. Gathered like little treats for later, Jones sweetly provides payoff for each inciting action in glorious and unconventional ways.

This novel takes a generous and sometimes scathing look at the various manifestations of an artist’s life, dreams, and liminal station. Kaleidoscoping from dreams into reality, to giving readers a choice in deciding the protagonist’s fate, you never know what’s coming next — but isn’t that just the thing to keep somebody going? —Tonika Reed, editorial coordinator

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak and Other Stories by Jamil Jan Kochai

The Haunting of Hajji Hotak is a book of shape-shifting. Kochai constantly experiments with form and voice, deftly stepping between photorealism and fantasy to create a vivid, surreal short-story collection that is both a modern parable of American imperialism and a testament to Kochai’s skill as a writer. Afghanistan — particularly the province of Logar, where Kochai’s family is from and his debut novel is also set — and the legacy of the War on Terror ripples through the background of this collection. Many of Kochai’s characters are Afghans or Afghan Americans who experience transformations of their own, whether they are Californian college students enduring months-long hunger strikes in solidarity with Palestine or an Afghan teen on the eve of her wedding.

Violence and upheaval are constantly apparent in the book, but so is a sort of fragile tenderness that seems to hold everything together. About halfway through the collection, I found myself catching my breath as I finally realized what Kochai had assembled. As Afghanistan fades into the background of American discourse, Kochai’s voice is essential. We may not wish to see what we have wrought; Kochai, it seems, will ensure we do not forget. —Neel Dhanesha, science & climate reporter

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews.
Penguin Random House

All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

Sarah Thankam Mathews has written a character-driven novel that explores the power of friendship, navigating one’s sexuality, and being a young immigrant. It follows Sneha, a queer, first-generation Indian American who graduates from college during the Great Recession. Sneha miraculously lands an entry-level corporate job that takes her to Milwaukee, where she navigates new friendships, dating women for the first time and living in the shadow of her family.

I wanted to be totally immersed in the world that Mathews created, but for me, the door would not open so wide. The novel was somewhat of a slow burn, but radiant all the same. The plot trudged along very slowly. At times, I wanted to put it down completely, but knew I shouldn’t. And I really couldn’t. Mathews’ writing is daring, sharp, and authoritative. She’s a master in building rich characters that are imperfect and complicated, charismatic and lovable. At times, the prose felt luxurious and welcoming in the way that the scent of your favorite candle might slowly fill up an ever-expanding room. —Shira Tarlo, senior social media manager

The Town of Babylon by Alejandro Varela

The Town of Babylon is a magnificent debut from Alejandro Varela. The novel tells the story of Andrés, a queer Latino American man who grew up in a small suburban town on Long Island. Andrés left his hometown for college and cut off contact with all his neighbors and friends, never looking back until 20 years later, when he visits to take care of his ailing father and ends up going to his 20th high school reunion. As Andrés reconnects with old friends, enemies, and first loves, Varela deftly chronicles several elements of the modern American experience that we rarely see represented in popular culture: the experience of being a child of immigrants who strives to move up in society, being a person of color in predominantly white spaces, being a queer person in predominantly straight spaces. It’s a beautiful story about community, friendship, and figuring out one’s place in the world. —Nisha Chittal, managing editor

South to America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation by Imani Perry — WINNER

In the opening of Imani Perry’s lyrically gutting travelogue, she asks us to remember the choreography of the French quadrille — a dance where two couples face each other in a square, a progenitor of American line dancing. Refrain, figure, refrain, figure. That rhythm haunts the history of the American South, she posits. South to America chronicles Perry’s journey across several notable places in the South, dissecting the politics, pop culture, and pressing yet occasionally unspoken rules that dictate life for Black Americans living below the Mason-Dixon Line. The underlying thread, beyond the thump-thump-thump of history, is the charge to bear witness. When no one is thinking beyond their God of Masters, who is thinking of those who time and time again are pushed to the margins? Perry weaves the narration of her own history beautifully alongside escaped slaves, prideful rappers, and architects of universities. From Appalachia to the Caribbean, Perry’s dutiful analysis brings a more honest perspective to the South. —Izzie Ramirez, Future Perfect deputy editor

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke.
Penguin Random House

The Invisible Kingdom: Reimagining Chronic Illness by Meghan O’Rourke

The Invisible Kingdom is a remarkably frustrating book to read, which I say as a compliment. This book is about the failures of the medical system in coping with chronic illness, about the number of patients who go to their doctor with symptoms and are roundly dismissed, ignored, and told that they’re lying or that their symptoms are all in their head. Reading about these issues should be frustrating.

Journalist and poet Meghan O’Rourke spent about a decade nearly incapacitated by a mysterious autoimmune disorder that wouldn’t be diagnosed for years. The first doctors she saw brushed aside her complaints when diagnostic tests failed to turn up any explanation. Perhaps the reason she had electric pains shooting up and down her limbs every morning, one suggested, was dry skin. As a defensive measure of sorts, O’Rourke began to research chronic illnesses and all the ways in which our siloed medical system is poorly equipped to deal with them — a major problem, she points out, as about 7.5 percent of American adults are facing down long Covid. The resulting knowledge O’Rourke has compiled into this lucid, at times lyrical, and always outrage-inspiring book. —Constance Grady, senior correspondent and book critic

Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus by David Quammen.
Simon & Schuster

Breathless: The Scientific Race to Defeat a Deadly Virus by David Quammen

Breathless is an apt name for David Quammen’s latest book. In what can only be described as a rapt, whirlwind tour of the scientific landscape behind the experts and professionals working to stop Covid-19, Quammen masterfully untangles the often mired narratives surrounding the virus. Quammen — best known for his 2012 book Spillover, which explains how viruses jump from animals to humans — homes in on the basic questions that haunt scientists today: Exactly where did SARS-CoV-2 come from?

When it feels as though the pandemic has been litigated, analyzed, and turned on its head in literature, Quammen brings a refreshing perspective that’s rooted in the technical. There’s little about lockdowns, politics, or social factors. Rather, Quammen breaks down the nitty-gritty in a way anyone can understand. Admittedly, in terms of prose and narrative, the book pales in comparison to his previous work (which benefited greatly from in-person reporting). But if you’re not afraid of getting elbow-deep in bat guano or genetic material, Breathless is an illuminating read. —Izzie Ramirez, Future Perfect deputy editor

The Man Who Could Move Clouds: A Memoir by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ grandfather was a curanderoa spiritual healer who could cure ailments and converse with the dead. In Colombia, where the author was born, these powers, known colloquially as “the secrets,” were meant to be the purview of men. But after falling down a well and suffering amnesia as a child, Rojas Contreras’ mother uncovered that she was as supernaturally gifted as any man, capable of appearing in two places at once and able to see ghosts walking among the living.

Years later, after the family has fled political violence in their home country, Rojas Contreras crashes into a car door on her bicycle and temporarily loses her memory. As she attempts to reconcile the fragments of her memory post-accident, she discovers that she is more a part of the family lineage than she’d previously realized. After several family members report that her grandfather has been visiting them in dreams, asking for his body to be exhumed, Rojas Contreras and her mother travel to Colombia to honor her Nono’s final wishes. With gorgeous, dream-like prose, Rojas Contreras excavates a story about family secrets, colonialism and violence, magic and memory. —Marin Cogan, senior correspondent

His Name Is George Floyd: One Man’s Life and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa

Things that happened last year, last month, can feel like events long past. Something that happened at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic might as well have taken place in ancient Rome. And yet, being reminded of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in May 2020 brings up the same shock, horror, and rage as though it were happening today.

His Name Is George Floyd presents a history of an ordinary life. Floyd wasn’t famous; he wasn’t known outside his small community. He was, in this account, just a Black man getting by, struggling to stay off drugs, trying to keep his life from falling apart. He certainly wasn’t a hero. But circumstances made his name, his life, and his death into something extraordinary.

Told with incredible attention to detail, the story covers Floyd’s life as well as the history of his family from slavery to the Jim Crow South to Minneapolis. We see Floyd attempting to get a rap music career off the ground; we watch him being hassled by police for minor drug offenses and for merely existing. The story dives sideways to talk about Derek Chauvin, the officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck. It continues into the aftermath of Floyd’s death, Chauvin’s trial, and the mingled outpourings of grief and activism that accompanied them. In all, the book takes the mundane and meticulous details of one man’s life and seems to make the argument that his experience is a microcosm of the Black experience in America. Whether it is or not, it’s a well-told story that brings nuance to the news. —Elizabeth Crane, senior copy and standards editor

Punks: New & Selected Poems by John Keene — WINNER

This collection from MacArthur genius John Keene is wide-ranging in all the ways — bringing together decades of work, rendered in a variety of poetic forms, examining the many facets of queer Black life in America. Keene’s description of the volume as a mixtape is apt, and the poems layer on top of one another to compose a picture of the poet in full.

Keene is never vague or coy, whether he’s expounding on the urgent (as in “Pulse,” dedicated to the victims of the 2016 Orlando nightclub massacre) or the meta (one poem is literally titled “A report on the ‘What’s American about American poetry?’ conference at the New School”). His work is so clear in its intentions and its language, though Keene never trades precision for lyricism.

Take this passage, which just about knocked me out: “You have smallish hands for a brother, he says,” starts a poem of the same name, “but beautiful. Manly; compact; soft as chamois, velvety but copper-woven, almost golden-red, the Indian blood glows in them; the veins so large they snake beneath the skin like fresh creeks; full nails, white-tipped, not nicotined, not streaked with melanin and fungus like his own, and pale half-moons in each thumb appear to be setting.” —Julia Rubin, editorial director, features & culture

Look at This Blue by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke.
Coffee House Press

Look at This Blue by Allison Adelle Hedge Coke

For a person who can’t stand not knowing exactly what’s being discussed, this chronicle of the bygone or nearly bygone wonders of Native California might be best read with Google close at hand. Every page of Look at This Blue, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke’s lament for the state she loves, surfaces a tragedy or tragedies that our culture has largely written off, from catalogs of ravaged wildlife to the Camp Fire deaths to her own mother’s schizophrenia.

Take, for example, a list of 32 massacres. They’re all simply named, right in a row, starting with the Sacramento River Massacre and ending with the Kingsley Cave Massacre. The former, which happened in 1846, resulted in somewhere between 125 and 900 Wintu deaths; the latter, in 1871, saw a man named Kingsley murdering 30 of the remaining 45 Yahi tribesmen in a cave. Early in the poem, Hedge Coke invokes a man called Ishi (which is approximately Yahi for “man”), who was supposedly the “last wild Indian” and last of that tribe. Forty years after that massacre, Ishi spent the final few years of his life living in a San Francisco museum, only to have his brain pickled and put on display for white people to ogle. In 1999, it was returned to his closest possible relatives, the Yana people, as the Yahi were thought long gone.

Throughout, the poem is densely packed with allusions to the flora, fauna, and humanity decimated or near-decimated by colonization, corporatization, selfishness, and fear. One beautifully broken line at a time, Hedge Coke opens up a disappeared and disappearing world, a kind of Rosetta Stone for understanding what we’re losing and what we’ve lost. —Meredith Haggerty, senior editor, culture

Balladz by Sharon Olds

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds has assembled a collection of poems that ruminate in ways that will be familiar to any reader who spent quarantine lost in their own head. The works reflect thought patterns in the style of the early pandemic days, where there was much time to think about the painfully ancestral and familial, as in “What Came Next After Our Father’s Death (“my sister, with the power to ensure / that I would not know, during his life, / the worst of our father, that I’d never know him / until he was safely dead, so that for his / whole life I had been safe from the knowledge / of him, and he had been safe from the knowledge of him.”), the lucid morbid truths of reality, as in “Ballad Torn Apart” (“Now that I understand / that the world / as we know it / is going to end”) or inescapable awareness of the physical self, as in “Spotted Aria” (“just outside — I see myself, / spotted as a salamander, an / albino newt speckled with golden oval spots.”)

While the ballad poems she includes don’t feel particularly gripping to me, and her unpacking of race made me wince with exasperation (“I lay a curse on every person of no / color who had kneeled on the throat of a person / of color.”), Balladz is a worthy read that runs a silk thread through the lonely and joyous realizations that come with solitude. —Melinda Fakuade, staff editor, culture and features

Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves.
W.W. Norton & Company

Best Barbarian by Roger Reeves

Roger Reeves once said of his poetry that he was “interested in troubling my reader–nothing easy, nothing without a little blood and bleeding.” His new collection, Best Barbarian, often drops devastating, cold clarity on the reader about the stakes: “Empathy will not end / Genocide. It won’t / Even delay it.” He opens with an image of Beowulf’s Grendel seeking out human companionship, “Bringing humans the best vision of themselves, / Which, of course, must be slaughtered.”

But Best Barbarian also seeks out the best of humanity, tripping across a pantheon of Black cultural inspiration from Baldwin to Beyoncé. He enacts a familiar poetics within an epic tradition, with fixations on nature and small serendipitous moments drawn in a sharply imagist style. But in this performance, his attempt to deliver a Whitman-y, arms-outstretched view of America instead constantly constricts, doubling over from grief and PTSD. The death of Reeves’s father, acts of police brutality, slavery, generational trauma, and the climate crisis all become intrusive poetic thoughts. Sometimes this trauma verges on funny (“It turns out however that I was deeply / Mistaken about the end of the world”) but it often simply resides, acknowledged and lived with and directly observed.

But, still, a wry form of hope — for “what is not dead in your death” — persists in drowning out the despair. “Life, it is at every window,” he writes. “It’s what rots the Senators’ teeth.” —Aja Romano, culture writer

The Rupture Tense by Jenny Xie

Jenny Xie’s second collection, The Rupture Tense, prods at the silence of the Asian diaspora, attempting to glean meaning and memory from things that are seen but unseen, heard but not spoken, told but not shown.

With lyrical and devastating language, Xie begins The Rupture Tense with clear reflections on the photography of Li Zhensheng, a Chinese photojournalist who documented the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These sequences are more than just captions to frames missing from these pages, they are a guided tour; Xie beckons us from the foreground to the background of these important images, taking readers into time and place and depositing us into the yawning silences that have been left in the wake of our ancestor’s forging ever forward.

As readers leave the photographs, Xie examines her and her family’s history with the diaspora. What does it mean to be from a place? What does it mean to leave and to come back? All of this intertwines with the long gaze back to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the inheritance of generational trauma, and the poet’s familial history. Finally, The Rupture Tense concludes with an elegy for Xie’s grandmother, moving readers seamlessly from foreground to background to foreground once more, like a camera’s lens unfocusing and refocusing on a single point. —Jayne Quan, social media manager, video

Seven Empty Houses by Samanta Schweblin; translated by Megan McDowell — WINNER

Samanta Schweblin, a Berlin-based Argentinian writer who broke out in the US with 2017’s Fever Dreams, flourishes in the liminal space between the everyday and the uncanny. In the seven short stories that make up her new book Seven Empty Houses, no one does anything supernatural or unearthly, but they frequently behave in ways that feel confusing, unsettling, and just a little bit off.

That creeping, unsettling sense comes across most clearly in “Breath From the Depths,” the longest and richest story in the collection. There, an old woman engaged in a frenzied form of Swedish death cleaning spends her days boxing up all of her possessions so no one else will have to do it for her when she dies. She suspects, spitefully, that her husband is making friends behind her back, and she’s haunted by her own rasping breath, which seems to fill her house like a monster. With longtime translator Megan McDowell, Schweblin renders the old woman’s cramped and vengeful life into prose so precise it will haunt you when you close the book. —Constance Grady, senior correspondent and book critic

A New Name: Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse.
Fitzcarraldo editions

A New Name: Septology VI-VII by Jon Fosse; translated by Damion Searls

Jon Fosse is one of those writers who is a giant in their own language and little read in English. In Norway, Fosse is considered one of the country’s greatest writers. He taught Karl Ove Knausgaard, who considers him a major influence, and he’s a perennial favorite for the Nobel Prize. But in the Anglophone world, Fosse hasn’t had a breakout until now, with the final volume of his Septology.

In English, the Septology is also a trilogy, translated by Damion Searls into three parts. Each volume begins and ends the same way: The elderly artist Asle is trying to figure out how to complete a painting of one purple line and one brown line intersecting into an X to form a St. Andrew’s cross. After much reflection and memory, Asle falls into prayer, and each volume finishes in the middle of his Latin incantations. There are no periods, so the whole 800-page Septology is a single sentence.

In A New Name, some of Asle’s questions resolve themselves. He decides he will never finish his St. Andrews’s cross, and that in fact he is done with painting altogether. Art has brought him what it needed to bring him, which is the ability to get closer to God. Now, it gradually becomes clear, Asle is ready to die.

Fosse’s single sentence unspools in rhythmic, melodic waves, ebbing and flowing with Asle’s memories until it finally explodes into a virtuosic burst of images in the final pages. The sentence is a whole life, and it ends where a life ends. —Constance Grady, senior correspondent and book critic

Kibogo by Scholastique Mukasonga; translated by Mark Polizzotti

Kibogo is a fable of colonization and of what colonization does to fables. It concerns Kibogo, a Rwandan prince said to have volunteered to be struck by lightning in order to bring down a rain that would end a famine. Over the course of this spare, sly novella, we watch Kibogo’s story rewritten, revised, repressed, and resurgent.

In the 1940s Rwandan village where Kibogo takes place, Christian evangelizers don’t care for the story of Kibogo. They decry it as pagan nonsense, and since the village chief has converted to Christianity after being well paid for it, the villagers agree to forget Kibogo. Some of them express some skepticism as to the utility of Christianity, however, when the village is hammered by the twin blows of a vicious drought and a Belgian regime that forces farmers to redirect their crops and manpower to European wars. Kibogo, some villagers note, at least knew how to bring down the rain.

Meanwhile, some of the Europeans around them are trying to preserve the story of Kibogo. They’re writing it down so that, they explain, they can tell it back to the Rwandans later, when the villagers have become “civilized” enough to understand Kibogo’s story as a metaphor. But which version of the story are they getting? It seems to keep changing.

In an interview with Le Monde, Mukasonga referred to her books as “paper tombs” for a Rwandan way of life that has been crushed by colonization and genocide. In Kibogo, that lost world comes to vivid, sardonic life. —Constance Grady, senior correspondent and book critic

Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda.
Coffee House Press

Jawbone by Mónica Ojeda; translated by Sarah Booker

If you’ve ever pondered the overlap between Catholic schools and weird queer horror, Mónica Ojeda’s Jawbone was made for you. Ojeda’s swirling, nonlinear narrative, superbly translated by Sarah Booker, manages the paradox of feeling both sprawling and claustrophobic. On one level, it’s a classic dark academia tale of private school girls pushing one another to the psychosexual brink, this time set in present-day Ecuador; it’s also a sharp meta-study, replete with pop horror references, of the forces that create queer villainy.

Ojeda slowly composes a heated, cacophonous death dance between intimately entwined opposites: fear and desire, pleasure and pain, mothers and daughters. (“Fear was much like always being outside of a mother’s room.”) The enigmatic student Fernanda, her horror-obsessed frenemy Annelise, and their repressed teacher Miss Clara make a fantastic set of antagonists — an erotically charged trio of deranged queer gals in the grand tradition of mad lesbians. Uniting them all: a yearning for maternal acceptance, queer kinship, and — of course — a little blood-letting. —Aja Romano, culture writer

Scattered All Over the Earth by Yoko Tawada; translated by Margaret Mitsutani

Pretty much the last things I want to read about right now are large-scale disasters and their aftermaths, and yet Yoko Tawada’s 2018 novel (translated and published in the US in 2022) is so wide-ranging in its interests and so light in its tone that I forgot that was precisely what I was doing.

The novel, the first in a trilogy, follows a handful of characters as they traverse the world in search of, among other things, language. Their driving force is a woman named Hiruko, who comes from a country never named as Japan, only ever referred to as “the land of sushi,” which we come to realize has been permanently lost or destroyed, likely in some sort of climate catastrophe (it’s clear that this is a world that has been rocked by recent major events). As such, Hiruko’s native language has been cast asunder, and so while living in Norway she’s cobbled together an entirely new dialect she refers to as Panksa (which comprises “pan” and “Scandinavia”). She meets a number of other finely drawn characters, including Knut, a boy who loves her and hates being tailed across greater Europe by his overbearing mother; Akash, a trans student from India who loves Knut; and Tenzo, whose name is not really Tenzo.

They form a ragtag band in search of someone who will be able to speak Hiruko’s native language, and in the process raise questions about what language is and is not for, what limitations and possibilities it can contain, and what constitutes “native” speaking in the first place. The book is told from almost every named character’s point of view, switching off from chapter to chapter, and while that could become exhausting or hard to follow in a different context, in a novel so concerned with speech and words and expression, it feels paramount to be able to see just how each character deploys their own. Now all I can hope for is that the next book in the trilogy doesn’t have to wait four years for a US release. —Alanna Okun, senior editor, culture & features

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir — WINNER

Having shot to the top of the bestseller list with her fantasy series An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir’s latest is her first contemporary YA novel. The book is inspired by her own experience growing up in a motel “in the barren wasteland of the Mojave”; last year, she wrote an essay for Vox about her difficult childhood in the desert.

All My Rage finds its protagonists Salahudin (whose parents also run a motel in the Mojave) and Noor nearing the end of high school, uncertain about their individual futures, as well as their collective one. Are they in love? Are they just friends? What happens if they want different things? But the will-they-won’t-they — that most delicious of teen romance tropes — is overshadowed by the almost unimaginably bleak family histories and current circumstances of the pair.

Tahir weaves their stories in alternating chapters, also inserting some from the point of view of Salahudin’s mother Misbah, who immigrated to California from Pakistan with her husband following one of the book’s many tragedies. All My Rage is a difficult read with much-substantiated content warnings, but Tahir’s tenderness for her characters shines through. —Julia Rubin, editorial director, culture & features

An ogress by her kitchen fire hands a human-sized bowl of soup to a small child.
The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill.
Workman Publishing

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill

“Listen,” as the long-unidentified narrator of The Ogress and the Orphans might say. This is not a tale — fairy in both nature and spirit — that breaks terrifically new ground. That’s the point, though. Instead, it says a lot of things very worth saying again and again, in a lovely way.

From Newberry medal winner Kelly Barnhill, this fable about a little town called Stone-in-the-Glen and its community that isn’t a community anymore has some not entirely subtle parallels with modern life. We have a flashy, inexplicably beloved leader who says “I, alone, can fix it,” an untrusting citizenry locked away and apart in their homes, and a host of winning orphans reminding themselves and one another that “Facts matter.” It’s not simply a parallel to America circa 2020, but, as the book makes clear, it’s a terribly old story, one we tell again and again, in different ways and with different villains and heroes, but always the same vital lessons: that fellowship with our neighbors is invaluable, that libraries rule, that doing good is more important than any fuzzy idea of “being” good, and that you should not throw rocks at birds. —Meredith Haggerty, senior editor, culture

The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School by Sonora Reyes

This was a good year for the NBA and Latina lesbians in private schools (see also: Jawbone). Yamilet, still reeling from being outed by her ex-girlfriend, views her new school — rich, white, and very Catholic — as a new start. With her Papi deported, her brother Cesar constantly getting into fights, and her mom trying to hold the family together, Yamilet’s goals are simple: “1. Find a new best friend. 2. Don’t be gay about it.” But that’s before she meets bouncy, adorable Jenna and badass Bo Taylor.

What Reyes’ sparkling, wry voice captures so well is the burbling feeling of a teenager who’s in love with love, newly awakened to the possibility of romance around every corner. Yamilet’s excited crush spills over and threatens to ruin all her efforts to stay closeted despite her best efforts. Watching her struggle to suppress her bold, exuberant love while trying to protect her family is a painful, relatable reminder that coming out is the ultimate trust fall. —Aja Romano, culture writer

Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes, and Dawud Anyabwile

At the 1968 Olympics, the gold and silver medalists in the 200-meter event held up black-gloved fists as the US national anthem played to protest racial inequality. It’s a famous event given new life in Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist For Justice, a graphic memoir by the gold medalist, Tommie Smith; writer Derrick Barnes; and artist Dawud Anyabwile.

Tales from Smith’s childhood and early running career form the core of the book; they’re interspersed purposefully throughout a taut retelling of the gold medal-winning race. Challenges Smith faces in his dash summon memories that conclude with a lesson that helps spur him on to victory.

Those memories serve as poignant vignettes into Black life in the early 20th century; reminiscent of the Langston Hughes classic Not Without Laughter, they show how faith, family, and early experiences with racism shaped Smith into one of the greatest athletes — and activists — of his time.

It’s a compact, tightly written volume. The simplicity of its prose makes you feel as though you’re sitting with your eyes closed, imagining the past as you listen to Smith reflect. It’s an effect magnified by Anyabwile’s sharp and sinewy linework, and his deeply expressive faces, all rendered in crisp black and white.

Those looking for a deep dive into Smith’s life might be better served by his autobiography or other books about him. However, those seeking the highlights or a strong introduction to Smith’s work to give to young readers will be well served by this volume that is a brief look into a significant battle in the ongoing fight against white supremacy. —Sean Collins, news editor

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance is a book I wish I had while I was growing up. Part mystery novel, part historical fiction, the book follows Chen, the 12-year-old protagonist, as she navigates a temporary move from Los Angeles, California, to Last Chance, Minnesota, where her grandparents own a restaurant called The Golden Palace. Geared toward younger readers, the novel offers an illuminating primer on Chinese American history, US immigration policy, and the rise of present-day anti-Asian hate crimes, providing an education that’s often missing from traditional textbooks.

The novel is far from a stuffy history lesson, however. It’s filled with vibrant characters including Maizy, an endlessly curious writer who’s eager to trace the origins of her family’s journey in the US, and Lucky, Maizy’s great-great-grandfather, who pursued his goals of working in and then owning a restaurant amid rampant discrimination in both California and Minnesota in the 1800s. By telling their stories in parallel, author Lisa Yee introduces readers to policies like the Chinese Exclusion Act while commenting on the enduring nature of anti-Asian sentiment, which Maizy experiences in the form of micro-aggressions from classmates in her grandparents’ predominately white Minnesota town.

Despite its weighty subject matter, the novel manages to strike a creative — and entertaining — balance that’s a nail-biter to the finish. When a hate crime takes place against her family’s restaurant, Maizy sets out to figure out who the perpetrator is, with unexpected and startling results. —Li Zhou, politics reporter

Updated November 17, 2022, to reflect the winners of the 2022 National Book Awards.

Categories: books