Once again, it is time to hear what Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publisher’s Weekly has read and loved! Here is her Summer List.
Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
The critically acclaimed and Whiting Award–winning author of We Love You, Charlie Freeman returns with an unforgettable story about the meaning of freedom.
Coming of age as a free-born Black girl in Reconstruction-era Brooklyn, Libertie Sampson was all too aware that her purposeful mother, a practicing physician, had a vision for their future together: Libertie would go to medical school and practice alongside her. But Libertie, drawn more to music than science, feels stifled by her mother’s choices and is hungry for something else—is there really only one way to have an autonomous life? And she is constantly reminded that, unlike her mother, who can pass, Libertie has skin that is too dark.
When a young man from Haiti proposes to Libertie and promises she will be his equal on the island, she accepts, only to discover that she is still subordinate to him and all men. As she tries to parse what freedom actually means for a Black woman, Libertie struggles with where she might find it—for herself and for generations to come.
Inspired by the life of one of the first Black female doctors in the United States and rich with historical detail, Kaitlyn Greenidge’s new novel resonates in our times and is perfect for readers of Brit Bennett, Min Jin Lee, and Yaa Gyasi.
Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber
When a man discovers his father in New York has long had another, secret, family—a wife and two kids—the interlocking fates of both families lead to surprise loyalties, love triangles, and a reservoir of inner strength.
Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family—a Thai wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this revelation, Ethan’s mother spends a year working abroad, returning much changed, and events introduce her to the other wife. Across town, Ethan’s half brothers are caught in their own complicated journeys: one brother’s penchant for minor delinquency has escalated, and the other must travel to Bangkok to bail him out, while the bargains their mother has struck about love and money continue to shape their lives.
As Ethan finds himself caught in a love triangle of his own, the interwoven fates of these two households elegantly unfurl to encompass a woman rallying to help an ill brother with an unreliable lover and a filmmaker with a girlhood spent in Nepal. Evoking a generous and humane spirit, and a story that ranges over three continents, Secrets of Happiness elucidates the ways people marshal the resources at hand to forge their own forms of joy.
The Souvenir Museum by Elizabeth McCracken
Award-winning author Elizabeth McCracken is an undisputed virtuoso of the short story, and this new collection features her most vibrant and heartrending work to date
In these stories, the mysterious bonds of family are tested, transformed, fractured, and fortified. A recent widower and his adult son ferry to a craggy Scottish island in search of puffins. An actress who plays a children’s game-show villainess ushers in the New Year with her deadbeat half brother. A mother, pining for her children, feasts on loaves of challah to fill the void. A new couple navigates a tightrope walk toward love. And on a trip to a Texas water park with their son, two fathers each confront a personal fear.
With sentences that crackle and spark and showcase her trademark wit, McCracken traces how our closely held desires—for intimacy, atonement, comfort—bloom and wither against the indifferent passing of time. Her characters embark on journeys that leave them indelibly changed—and so do her readers. The Souvenir Museum showcases the talents of one of our finest contemporary writers as she tenderly takes the pulse of our collective and individual lives.
The Mysteries by Marisa Silver
From the New York Times bestselling author of Mary Coin, a masterful, intimate story of two young girls, joined in an unlikely friendship, whose lives are shattered in a single, unthinkable moment.
Miggy Brenneman is a wild and reckless seven-year-old with a fierce imagination, hellbent on pushing against the limits of childhood. Ellen is polite, cautious, and drawn to her friend’s bright flame. While the adults around them adjust to unstable times and fractured relationships, the girls respond with increasingly dangerous play. When tragedy strikes, all the novel’s characters grapple with questions of fate and individual responsibility, none more so than Miggy, who must make sense of a swiftly disappearing past and a radically transformed future.
Written with searing clarity and surpassing tenderness, The Mysteries limns the painful ambiguities of adulthood and the intense perceptions of an indelibly drawn child to offer a profound exploration of how all of us, at every stage, must reckon with life’s abundant and unsolvable mysteries.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead
Spanning Prohibition-era Montana, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, New Zealand, wartime London, and modern-day Los Angeles, Great Circle tells the unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost.
After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.
A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates–and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times–collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.
The Heavy Hitters
Klara and the Sun by Kazoo Ishiguro
Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.
Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: What does it mean to love?
The Committed by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The long-awaited new novel from one of America’s most highly regarded contemporary writers, The Committed follows the Sympathizer as he arrives in Paris as a refugee. There he and his blood brother Bon try to escape their pasts and prepare for their futures by turning their hands to capitalism in one of its purest forms: drug dealing. No longer in physical danger, but still inwardly tortured by his reeducation at the hands of his former best friend, and struggling to assimilate into a dominant culture, the Sympathizer is both charmed and disturbed by Paris. As he falls in with a group of left-wing intellectuals and politicians who frequent dinner parties given by his French Vietnamese “aunt,” he finds not just stimulation for his mind but also customers for his merchandise―but the new life he is making has dangers he has not foreseen, from the oppression of the state, to the self-torture of addiction, to the seemingly unresolvable paradox of how he can reunite his two closest friends, men whose worldviews put them in absolute opposition.
Both literary thriller and brilliant novel of ideas, The Committed is a blistering portrayal of commitment and betrayal that will cement Viet Thanh Nguyen’s position in the firmament of American letters.
My Year Abroad by Chang-are Lee
From the award-winning author of Native Speaker and On Such a Full Sea, an exuberant, provocative story about a young American life transformed by an unusual Asian adventure – and about the human capacities for pleasure, pain, and connection.
Tiller is an average American college student with a good heart but minimal aspirations. Pong Lou is a larger-than-life, wildly creative Chinese American entrepreneur who sees something intriguing in Tiller beyond his bored exterior and takes him under his wing. When Pong brings him along on a boisterous trip across Asia, Tiller is catapulted from ordinary young man to talented protégé, and pulled into a series of ever more extreme and eye-opening experiences that transform his view of the world, of Pong, and of himself.
In the breathtaking, “precise, elliptical prose” that Chang-rae Lee is known for (The New York Times), the narrative alternates between Tiller’s outlandish, mind-boggling year with Pong and the strange, riveting, emotionally complex domestic life that follows it, as Tiller processes what happened to him abroad and what it means for his future. Rich with commentary on Western attitudes, Eastern stereotypes, capitalism, global trade, mental health, parenthood, mentorship, and more, My Year Abroad is also an exploration of the surprising effects of cultural immersion—on a young American in Asia, on a Chinese man in America, and on an unlikely couple hiding out in the suburbs. Tinged at once with humor and darkness, electric with its accumulating surprises and suspense, My Year Abroad is a novel that only Chang-rae Lee could have written, and one that will be read and discussed for years to come.
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
A marvelous new novel from the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Lowland and Interpreter of Maladies–her first in nearly a decade.
Exuberance and dread, attachment and estrangement: in this novel, Jhumpa Lahiri stretches her themes to the limit. The woman at the center wavers between stasis and movement, between the need to belong and the refusal to form lasting ties. The city she calls home, an engaging backdrop to her days, acts as a confidant: the sidewalks around her house, parks, bridges, piazzas, streets, stores, coffee bars. We follow her to the pool she frequents and to the train station that sometimes leads her to her mother, mired in a desperate solitude after her father’s untimely death. In addition to colleagues at work, where she never quite feels at ease, she has girl friends, guy friends, and “him,” a shadow who both consoles and unsettles her. But in the arc of a year, as one season gives way to the next, transformation awaits. One day at the sea, both overwhelmed and replenished by the sun’s vital heat, her perspective will change.
This is the first novel she has written in Italian and translated into English. It brims with the impulse to cross barriers. By grafting herself onto a new literary language, Lahiri has pushed herself to a new level of artistic achievement.
Sleep Donation by Karen Russell
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Swamplandia!, and finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, an imaginative and haunting novella about an insomnia epidemic set in the near future.
A crisis has swept America. Hundreds of thousands have lost the ability to sleep. Enter the Slumber Corps, an organization that urges healthy dreamers to donate sleep to an insomniac. Under the wealthy and enigmatic Storch brothers the Corps’ reach has grown, with outposts in every major US city. Trish Edgewater, whose sister Dori was one of the first victims of the lethal insomnia, has spent the past seven years recruiting for the Corps. But Trish’s faith in the organization and in her own motives begins to falter when she is confronted by “Baby A,” the first universal sleep donor, and the mysterious “Donor Y.”
Sleep Donation explores a world facing the end of sleep as we know it, where “Night Worlds” offer black market remedies to the desperate and sleep deprived, and where even the act of making a gift is not as simple as it appears.
How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue
From the celebrated author of the New York Times bestsellerBehold the Dreamers, comes a sweeping, wrenching story about the collision of a small African village and an America oil company.
“We should have known the end was near.”
So begins Imbolo Mbue’s powerful second novel, How Beautiful We Were. Set in the fictional African village of Kosawa, it tells the story of a people living in fear amidst environmental degradation wrought by an American oil company.
Pipeline spills have rendered farmlands infertile. Children are dying from drinking toxic water. Promises of clean-up and financial reparations to the villagers are made—and ignored. The country’s government, led by a brazen dictator, exists to serve its own interest. Left with few choices, the people of Kosawa decide to fight back. Their struggle would last for decades and come at a steep price.
Told through the perspective of a generation of children and the family of a girl named Thula who grows up to become a revolutionary, How Beautiful We Were is a masterful exploration of what happens when the reckless drive for profit, coupled with the ghost of colonialism, comes up against one community’s determination to hold onto its ancestral land and a young woman’s willingness to sacrifice everything for the sake of her people’s freedom.
“The unforgettable story of a community on the wrong end of Western greed, How Beautiful We Were will enthrall you, appall you, and show you what is possible when a few people stand up and say this is not right. A masterful novel by a spellbinding writer engaged with the most urgent questions of our day.”—David Ebershoff, bestselling author of The Danish Girl.
The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan
Author of SALT HOUSES, winner of the 2018 Dayton Literary Peace Prize Hala Alyan’s THE ARSONISTS’ CITY, the story of a fractured family returning to Beirut to sell their ancestral home, tracing their allegiances and betrayals across decades and continents, again to Lauren Wein at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Summerwater by Sarah Moss
On the longest day of the summer, twelve people sit cooped up with their families in a faded Scottish cabin park. The endless rain leaves them with little to do but watch the other residents.
A woman goes running up the Ben as if fleeing; a retired couple reminisce about neighbours long since moved on; a teenage boy braves the dark waters of the loch in his red kayak. Each person is wrapped in their own cares but increasingly alert to the makeshift community around them. One particular family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, starts to draw the attention of the others. Tensions rise and all watch on, unaware of the tragedy that lies ahead as night finally falls.
Who is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews
Florence Darrow is a small-town striver who believes that she’s destined to become a celebrated writer. When she stumbles into the opportunity to become the assistant to “Maud Dixon,” a celebrated-but anonymous-novelist (think: Elena Ferrante), she believes that the universe is finally providing her big chance. The arrangement feels idyllic; Helen can be prickly, but she is full of pointed wisdom on both writing and living. She even invites Florence along on a research trip to Morocco, where her new novel is set. Florence has never been out of the country before; maybe, she imagines, she’ll finally have something exciting to write about herself.
But when Florence wakes up in the hospital after a terrible car crash, and Helen is dead, she begins to imagine what it might be like to ‘upgrade’ into not only Helen’s life, but also that of Helen’s bestselling pseudonym, Maud Dixon…
Outlawed by Anna North
The Crucible meets True Grit in this riveting adventure story of a fugitive girl, a mysterious gang of robbers, and their dangerous mission to transform the Wild West.
In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.
The day of her wedding, 17 year old Ada’s life looks good; she loves her husband, and she loves working as an apprentice to her mother, a respected midwife. But after a year of marriage and no pregnancy, in a town where barren women are routinely hanged as witches, her survival depends on leaving behind everything she knows.
She joins up with the notorious Hole in the Wall Gang, a band of outlaws led by a preacher-turned-robber known to all as the Kid. Charismatic, grandiose, and mercurial, the Kid is determined to create a safe haven for outcast women. But to make this dream a reality, the Gang hatches a treacherous plan that may get them all killed. And Ada must decide whether she’s willing to risk her life for the possibility of a new kind of future for them all.
Featuring an irresistibly no-nonsense, courageous, and determined heroine, Outlawed dusts off the myth of the old West and reignites the glimmering promise of the frontier with an entirely new set of feminist stakes. Anna North has crafted a pulse-racing, page-turning saga about the search for hope in the wake of death, and for truth in a climate of small-mindedness and fear.
Trio by William Boyd
A producer. A novelist. An actress.
It is summer in 1968, the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. While the world is reeling our trio is involved in making a rackety Swingin’ Sixties British movie in sunny Brighton. All are leading secret lives.
As the film is shot, with its usual drastic ups and downs, so does our trio’s private, secret world begin to take over their public one. Pressures build inexorably – someone’s going to crack. Or maybe they all will.
From one of Britain’s bestselling and best loved writers comes an exhilarating, tender novel that asks the vital questions: what makes life worth living? And what do you do if you find it isn’t?
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
An exhilarating and laugh-out-loud debut novel from a prize-winning new talent which chronicles the misadventures of a lovelorn Victorian lexicographer and the young woman put on his trail a century later to root out his misdeeds while confronting questions of her own sexuality and place in the world.
Mountweazel n. the phenomenon of false entries within dictionaries and works of reference. Often used as a safeguard against copyright infringement.
Peter Winceworth, Victorian lexicographer, is toiling away at the letter S for Swansby’s multivolume Encyclopaedic Dictionary. His disaffection compels him to insert unauthorized fictitious entries into the dictionary in an attempt to assert some sense of individual purpose and artistic freedom.
In the present day, Mallory, a young intern employed by the publisher, is tasked with uncovering these mountweazels before the work is digitized. She also has to contend with threatening phone calls from an anonymous caller. Is the change in the definition of marriage really that upsetting? And does the caller really intend for the Swansby’s staff to ‘burn in hell’?
As these two narratives combine, both Winceworth and Mallory discover how they might negotiate the complexities of the often nonsensical, relentless, untrustworthy, hoax-strewn, and undefinable path we call life. An exhilarating debut novel from a formidably brilliant young writer, The Liar’s Dictionary celebrates the rigidity, fragility, absurdity, and joy of language.
V for Victory by Lissa Evans
In this witty, charming follow-up to the acclaimed Crooked Heart, the life of lies a small time scammer and her adopted son have constructed in London becomes endangered during the tumultuous final months of World War II. It’s late 1944. Hitler’s rockets are raining down on London with vicious regularity and it’s the coldest winter in living memory. The Allies are gaining ground, but victory is certainly dragging its feet.
In a large house next to Hampstead Heath, Vee Sedge is barely scraping by with a herd of lodgers to feed and her young charge Noel, almost fifteen now, to clothe and educate. When she witnesses an accident and finds herself in court, the repercussions are both unexpectedly marvelous and potentially disastrous. Because Vee is not actually the person she’s pretending to be, and neither is Noel.
Victory is coming. Yet the end of the war won’t just mean peace, but discovery . . .
With caustic wit and artful storytelling, Lissa Evans summons a time when the world could finally hope to emerge from the chaos of war. As witty as Old Baggage and poignant as Crooked Heart, V for Victory once again reveals Evans to be one of the most original and entertaining writers at work today.
Should We Stay or Should We Go by Lionel Shriver
When her father dies, Kay Wilkinson can’t cry. Over ten years, Alzheimer’s had steadily eroded this erudite man into a paranoid lunatic. Surely one’s own father passing should never come as such a relief.
Both medical professionals, Kay and her husband Cyril have seen too many elderly patients in similar states of decay. Although healthy and vital in their early fifties, the couple fears what may lie ahead. Determined to die with dignity, Cyril makes a modest proposal. To spare themselves and their loved ones such a humiliating and protracted decline, they should agree to commit suicide together once they’ve both turned eighty. When their deal is sealed, the spouses are blithely looking forward to another three decades together.
But then they turn eighty.
By turns hilarious and touching, playful and grave, Should We Stay or Should We Go portrays twelve parallel universes, each exploring a possible future for Kay and Cyril. Were they to cut life artificially short, what would they miss out on? Something terrific? Or something terrible? Might they end up in a home? A fabulous luxury retirement village, or a Cuckoo’s Nest sort of home? Might being demented end up being rather fun? What future for humanity awaits—the end of civilization, or a Valhalla of peace and prosperity? What if cryogenics were really to work? What if scientists finally cure aging?
Both timely and timeless, Lionel Shriver addresses serious themes—the compromises of longevity, the challenge of living a long life and still going out in style—with an uncannily light touch. Weaving in a host of contemporary issues, from Brexit and mass migration to the coronavirus, Shriver has pulled off a rollicking page-turner in which we never have to mourn perished characters, because they’ll be alive and kicking in the very next chapter.
The Code Breaker by Walter Isaacson
When Jennifer Doudna was in sixth grade, she came home one day to find that her dad had left a paperback titled The Double Helix on her bed. As she sped through the pages, she became enthralled by the intense drama behind the competition to discover the code of life. Even though her high school counselor told her girls didn’t become scientists, she decided she would.
Driven by a passion to understand how nature works and to turn discoveries into inventions, she would help to make what the book’s author, James Watson, told her was the most important biological advance since his co-discovery of the structure of DNA. She and her collaborators turned a curiosity of nature into an invention that will transform the human race: an easy-to-use tool that can edit DNA. Known as CRISPR, it opened a brave new world of medical miracles and moral questions.
The development of CRISPR and the race to create vaccines for coronavirus will hasten our transition to the next great innovation revolution. The past half-century has been a digital age, based on the microchip, computer, and internet. Now we are entering a life-science revolution. Children who study digital coding will be joined by those who study genetic code.
Should we use our new evolution-hacking powers to make us less susceptible to viruses? What a wonderful boon that would be! And what about preventing depression? Hmmm…Should we allow parents, if they can afford it, to enhance the height or muscles or IQ of their kids?
After helping to discover CRISPR, Doudna became a leader in wrestling with these moral issues and, with her collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier, won the Nobel Prize in 2020.
The Age of Acrimony by Jon Grinspan
A penetrating, character-filled history “in the manner of David McCullough” (WSJ), revealing the deep roots of our tormented present-day politics.
Democracy was broken. Or that was what many Americans believed in the decades after the Civil War. Shaken by economic and technological disruption, they sought safety in aggressive, tribal partisanship. The results were the loudest, closest, most violent elections in U.S. history, driven by vibrant campaigns that drew our highest-ever voter turnouts. At the century’s end, reformers finally restrained this wild system, trading away participation for civility in the process. They built a calmer, cleaner democracy, but also a more distant one. Americans’ voting rates crashed and never fully recovered.
This is the origin story of the “normal” politics of the 20th century. Only by exploring where that civility and restraint came from can we understand what is happening to our democracy today.
The Age of Acrimony charts the rise and fall of 19th-century America’s unruly politics through the lives of a remarkable father-daughter dynasty. The radical congressman William “Pig Iron” Kelley and his fiery, Progressive daughter Florence Kelley led lives packed with drama, intimately tied to their nation’s politics. Through their friendships and feuds, campaigns and crusades, Will and Florie trace the narrative of a democracy in crisis. In telling the tale of what it cost to cool our republic, historian Jon Grinspan reveals our divisive political system’s enduring capacity to reinvent itself.
The Agitators by Dorothy Wickenden
From the author of the New York Times bestseller Nothing Daunted, The Agitators chronicles the revolutionary activities of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward, and Martha Wright: three unlikely collaborators in the quest for abolition and women’s rights.
In Auburn, New York, in the mid-nineteenth century, Martha Wright and Frances Seward, inspired by Harriet Tubman’s rescues in the dangerous territory of Eastern Maryland, opened their basement kitchens as stations on the Underground Railroad.
Tubman was enslaved, Wright was a middle-class Quaker mother of seven, and Seward was the aristocratic wife and moral conscience of her husband, William H. Seward, who served as Lincoln’s Secretary of State. All three refused to abide by laws that denied them the rights granted to white men, and they supported each other as they worked to overturn slavery and achieve full citizenship for blacks and women.
The Agitators opens when Tubman is enslaved and Wright and Seward are young women bridling against their traditional roles. It ends decades later, after Wright’s and Seward’s sons—and Tubman herself—have taken part in three of the defining engagements of the Civil War. Through the sardonic and anguished accounts of the protagonists, reconstructed from their letters, diaries, and public appearances, we see the most explosive debates of the time, and portraits of the men and women whose paths they crossed: Lincoln, Seward, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and others. Tubman, embraced by Seward and Wright and by the radical network of reformers in western New York State, settled in Auburn and spent the second half of her life there.
With extraordinarily compelling storytelling reminiscent of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s No Ordinary Time and David McCullough’s John Adams, The Agitators brings a vivid new perspective to the epic American stories of abolition, the Underground Railroad, women’s rights activism, and the Civil War.
The Doctors Blackwell by Janice P. Nimura
Elizabeth Blackwell believed from an early age that she was destined for a mission beyond the scope of “ordinary” womanhood. Though the world at first recoiled at the notion of a woman studying medicine, her intelligence and intensity ultimately won her the acceptance of the male medical establishment. In 1849, she became the first woman in America to receive an M.D. She was soon joined in her iconic achievement by her younger sister, Emily, who was actually the more brilliant physician.
Exploring the sisters’ allies, enemies, and enduring partnership, Janice P. Nimura presents a story of trial and triumph. Together, the Blackwells founded the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children, the first hospital staffed entirely by women. Both sisters were tenacious and visionary, but their convictions did not always align with the emergence of women’s rights—or with each other. From Bristol, Paris, and Edinburgh to the rising cities of antebellum America, this richly researched new biography celebrates two complicated pioneers who exploded the limits of possibility for women in medicine. As Elizabeth herself predicted, “a hundred years hence, women will not be what they are now.”
Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Notes on Grief is an exquisite work of meditation, remembrance, and hope, written in the wake of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s beloved father’s death in the summer of 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged around the world, and kept Adichie and her family members separated from one another, her father succumbed unexpectedly to complications of kidney failure.
Expanding on her original New Yorker piece, Adichie shares how this loss shook her to her core. She writes about being one of the millions of people grieving this year; about the familial and cultural dimensions of grief and also about the loneliness and anger that are unavoidable in it. With signature precision of language, and glittering, devastating detail on the page–and never without touches of rich, honest humor–Adichie weaves together her own experience of her father’s death with threads of his life story, from his remarkable survival during the Biafran war, through a long career as a statistics professor, into the days of the pandemic in which he’d stay connected with his children and grandchildren over video chat from the family home in Abba, Nigeria. In the compact format of We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, Adichie delivers a gem of a book–a book that fundamentally connects us to one another as it probes one of the most universal human experiences. Notes on Grief is a book for this moment—a work readers will treasure and share now more than ever–and yet will prove durable and timeless, an indispensable addition to Adichie’s canon.
Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz
A quest to explore some of the most spectacular ancient cities in human history—and figure out why people abandoned them.
In Four Lost Cities, acclaimed science journalist Annalee Newitz takes readers on an entertaining and mind-bending adventure into the deep history of urban life. Investigating across the centuries and around the world, Newitz explores the rise and fall of four ancient cities, each the center of a sophisticated civilization: the Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük in Central Turkey, the Roman vacation town of Pompeii on Italy’s southern coast, the medieval megacity of Angkor in Cambodia, and the indigenous metropolis Cahokia, which stood beside the Mississippi River where East St. Louis is today.
Newitz travels to all four sites and investigates the cutting-edge research in archaeology, revealing the mix of environmental changes and political turmoil that doomed these ancient settlements. Tracing the early development of urban planning, Newitz also introduces us to the often anonymous workers—slaves, women, immigrants, and manual laborers—who built these cities and created monuments that lasted millennia.
Four Lost Cities is a journey into the forgotten past, but, foreseeing a future in which the majority of people on Earth will be living in cities, it may also reveal something of our own fate.
Mike Nichols by Mark Harris
A magnificent biography of one of the most protean creative forces in American entertainment history, a life of dazzling highs and vertiginous plunges–some of the worst largely unknown until now–by the acclaimed author of Pictures at a Revolution and Five Came Back
Mike Nichols burst onto the scene as a wunderkind: while still in his twenties, he was half of a hit improv duo with Elaine May that was the talk of the country. Next he directed four consecutive hit plays, won back-to-back Tonys, ushered in a new era of Hollywood moviemaking with Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and followed it with The Graduate, which won him an Oscar and became the third-highest-grossing movie ever. At thirty-five, he lived in a three-story Central Park West penthouse, drove a Rolls-Royce, collected Arabian horses, and counted Jacqueline Kennedy, Elizabeth Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, and Richard Avedon as friends.
Where he arrived is even more astonishing given where he had begun: born Igor Peschkowsky to a Jewish couple in Berlin in 1931, he and his younger brother were sent to America on a ship in 1939. The young immigrant boy caught very few breaks. He was bullied and ostracized–an allergic reaction had rendered him permanently hairless–and his father died when he was just twelve, leaving his mother alone and overwhelmed.
The gulf between these two sets of facts explains a great deal about Nichols’s transformation from lonely outsider to the center of more than one cultural universe–the acute powers of observation that first made him famous; the nourishment he drew from his creative partnerships, most enduringly with May; his unquenchable drive; his hunger for security and status; and the depressions and self-medications that brought him to terrible lows. It would take decades for him to come to grips with his demons. In an incomparable portrait that follows Nichols from Berlin to New York to Chicago to Hollywood, Mark Harris explores, with brilliantly vivid detail and insight, the life, work, struggle, and passion of an artist and man in constant motion. Among the 250 people Harris interviewed: Elaine May, Meryl Streep, Stephen Sondheim, Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Tom Hanks, Candice Bergen, Emma Thompson, Annette Bening, Natalie Portman, Julia Roberts, Lorne Michaels, and Gloria Steinem.
Mark Harris gives an intimate and evenhanded accounting of success and failure alike; the portrait is not always flattering, but its ultimate impact is to present the full story of one of the most richly interesting, complicated, and consequential figures the worlds of theater and motion pictures have ever seen. It is a triumph of the biographer’s art.
Walking With Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne
As a young boy growing up in the outskirts of Dublin, Gabriel Byrne sought refuge in a world of imagination among the fields and hills near his home, at the edge of a rapidly encroaching city. Born to working class parents and the eldest of six children, he harbored a childhood desire to become a priest. When he was eleven years old, Byrne found himself crossing the Irish Sea to join a seminary in England. Four years later, Byrne had been expelled and he quickly returned to his native city. There he took odd jobs as a messenger boy and a factory laborer to get by. In his spare time, he visited the cinema where he could be alone and yet part of a crowd. It was here that he could begin to imagine a life beyond the grey world of 60s Ireland.
He reveled in the theatre and poetry of Dublin’s streets, populated by characters as eccentric and remarkable as any in fiction, those who spin a yarn with acuity and wit. It was a friend who suggested Byrne join an amateur drama group, a decision that would change his life forever and launch him on an extraordinary forty-year career in film and theatre. Moving between sensual recollection of childhood in a now almost vanished Ireland and reflections on stardom in Hollywood and Broadway, Byrne also courageously recounts his battle with addiction and the ambivalence of fame.
Walking with Ghosts is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking as well as a lyrical homage to the people and landscapes that ultimately shape our destinies.
The Copenhagen Trilogy by Tove Ditlevsen, Tiina Nunnally
Called a masterpiece by The New York Times, the acclaimed trilogy from Tove Ditlevsen, a pioneer in the field of genre-bending confessional writing
Tove Ditlevsen is today celebrated as one of the most important and unique voices in twentieth-century Danish literature, and The Copenhagen Trilogy (1969-71) is her acknowledged masterpiece. Childhood tells the story of a misfit child’s single-minded determination to become a poet; Youth describes her early experiences of sex, work, and independence. Dependency picks up the story as the narrator embarks on the first of her four marriages and goes on to describe her horrible descent into drug addiction, enabled by her sinister, gaslighting doctor-husband.
Throughout, the narrator grapples with the tension between her vocation as a writer and her competing roles as daughter, wife, mother, and drug addict, and she writes about female experience and identity in a way that feels very fresh and pertinent to today’s discussions around feminism. Ditlevsen’s trilogy is remarkable for its intensity and its immersive depiction of a world of complex female friendships, family and growing up–in this sense, it’s Copenhagen’s answer to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels. She can also be seen as a spiritual forerunner of confessional writers like Karl Ove Knausgaard, Annie Ernaux, Rachel Cusk and Deborah Levy. Her trilogy is drawn from her own experiences but reads like the most compelling kind of fiction.
Born in a working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen in 1917, Ditlevsen became famous for her poetry while still a teenager, and went on to write novels, stories and memoirs before committing suicide in 1976. Having been dismissed by the critical establishment in her lifetime as a working-class, female writer, she is now being rediscovered and championed as one of Denmark’s most important modern authors, with Tove fever gripping readers.
Festival Days by Jo Ann Beard
A searing and exhilarating new collection from the award-winning author of The Boys of My Youth and In Zanesville ,who “honors the beautiful, the sacred, and the comic in life” (Sigrid Nunez, National Book Award–winner for The Friend)
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
When “The Fourth State of Matter,” her now famous piece about a workplace massacre at the University of Iowa was published in The New Yorker, Jo Ann Beard immediately became one of the most influential writers in America, forging a path for a new generation of young authors willing to combine the dexterity of fiction with the rigors of memory and reportage, and in the process extending the range of possibility for the essay form.
Now, with Festival Days, Beard brings us the culmination of her groundbreaking work. In these nine pieces, she captures both the small, luminous moments of daily existence and those instants when life and death hang in the balance, ranging from the death of a beloved dog to a relentlessly readable account of a New York artist trapped inside a burning building, as well as two triumphant, celebrated pieces of short fiction.
Here is an unforgettable collection destined to be embraced and debated by readers and writers, teachers and students. Anchored by the title piece––a searing journey through India that brings into focus questions of mortality and love—Festival Dayspresents Beard at the height of her powers, using her flawless prose to reveal all that is tender and timeless beneath the way we live now.
Patch Work by Claire Wilcox
A linen sheet, smooth with age. A box of buttons, mother-of-pearl and plastic, metal and glass, rattling and untethered. A hundred-year-old pin, forgotten in a hem. Fragile silks and fugitive dyes, fans and crinolines, and the faint mark on leather from a buckle now lost. Claire Wilcox has worked as a curator in Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum for most of her working life. Down cool, dark corridors and in quiet store rooms, she and her colleagues care for, catalogue and conserve clothes centuries old, the inscrutable remnants of lives long lost to history; the commonplace or remarkable things that survive the bodies they once encircled or adorned. In Patch Work, Wilcox deftly stitches together her dedicated study of fashion with the story of her own life lived in and through clothes. From her mother’s black wedding suit to the swirling patterns of her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in luminous prose the spellbinding power of the things we wear: their stories, their secrets, their power to transform and disguise and acts as portals to our pasts; the ways in which they measure out our lives, our gains and losses, and the ways we use them to write our stories.
The Ravine by Wendy Lower
A single photograph—an exceptionally rare “action shot” documenting the horrific final moment of the murder of a family—drives a riveting process of discovery for a gifted Holocaust scholar
In 2009, the acclaimed author of Hitler’s Furies was shown a photograph just brought to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The documentation of the Holocaust is vast, but there are virtually no images of a Jewish family at the actual moment of murder, in this case by German officials and Ukrainian collaborators. A Ukrainian shooter’s rifle is inches from a woman’s head, obscured in a cloud of smoke. She is bending forward, holding the hand of a barefooted little boy. And—only one of the shocking revelations of Wendy Lower’s brilliant ten-year investigation of this image—the shins of another child, slipping from the woman’s lap.
Wendy Lower’s forensic and archival detective work—in Ukraine, Germany, Slovakia, Israel, and the United States—recovers astonishing layers of detail concerning the open-air massacres in Ukraine. The identities of mother and children, of the killers—and, remarkably, of the Slovakian photographer who openly took the image, as a secret act of resistance—are dramatically uncovered. Finally, in the hands of this brilliant exceptional scholar, a single image unlocks a new understanding of the place of the family unit in the ideology of Nazi genocide.
The Light of Days by Judy Battalion
One of the most important stories of World War II, already optioned by Steven Spielberg for a major motion picture: a spectacular, searing history that brings to light the extraordinary accomplishments of brave Jewish women who became resistance fighters—a group of unknown heroes whose exploits have never been chronicled in full, until now.
Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, a cadre of Jewish women in Poland—some still in their teens—helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis. With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these “ghetto girls” paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, and helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with German soldiers, bribed them with wine, whiskey, and home cooking, used their Aryan looks to seduce them, and shot and killed them. They bombed German train lines and blew up a town’s water supply. They also nursed the sick and taught children.
Yet the exploits of these courageous resistance fighters have remained virtually unknown.
As propulsive and thrilling as Hidden Figures, In the Garden of Beasts, Band of Brothers, and A Train in Winter, The Light of Days at last tells the true story of these incredible women whose courageous yet little-known feats have been eclipsed by time. Judy Batalion—the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors—takes us back to 1939 and introduces us to Renia Kukielka, a weapons smuggler and messenger who risked death traveling across occupied Poland on foot and by train. Joining Renia are other women who served as couriers, armed fighters, intelligence agents, and saboteurs, all who put their lives in mortal danger to carry out their missions. Batalion follows these women through the savage destruction of the ghettos, arrest and internment in Gestapo prisons and concentration camps, and for a lucky few—like Renia, who orchestrated her own audacious escape from a brutal Nazi jail—into the late 20th century and beyond.
Powerful and inspiring, featuring twenty black-and-white photographs, The Light of Days is an unforgettable true tale of war, the fight for freedom, exceptional bravery, female friendship, and survival in the face of staggering odds.
Shakespeare in a Divided America by James Shapiro
From leading scholar James Shapiro, a timely exploration of what Shakespeare’s plays reveal about our divided land, from Revolutionary times to the present day
Read at school by almost every student, staged in theaters across the land, and long highly valued by both conservatives and liberals alike, Shakespeare’s plays are rare common ground in the United States. For well over two centuries now, Americans of all stripes–presidents and activists, writers and soldiers–have turned to Shakespeare’s works to address the nation’s political fault lines, such as manifest destiny, race, gender, immigration, and free speech. In a narrative arching across the centuries, James Shapiro traces the unparalleled role of Shakespeare’s 400-year-old tragedies and comedies in making sense of so many of these issues on which American identity has turned. Reflecting on how Shakespeare has been invoked–and at times weaponized–at pivotal moments in our past, Shapiro takes us from President John Quincy Adams’s disgust with Desdemona’s interracial marriage to Othello, to Abraham Lincoln’s and his assassin John Wilkes Booth’s competing obsessions with the plays, up through the fraught debates over marriage and same-sex love at the heart of the celebrated adaptations Kiss Me Kate and Shakespeare in Love. His narrative culminates in the 2017 controversy over the staging of Julius Caesar in Central Park, in which a Trump-like leader is assassinated.
Extraordinarily researched, Shakespeare in a Divided Americashows that no writer has been more closely embraced by Americans, or has shed more light on the hot-button issues in our history. Indeed, it is by better understanding Shakespeare’s role in American life, Shapiro argues, that we might begin to mend our bitterly divided land.