What it’s about: Tyranny and actions you can take to prevent it.
What made me pick it up: I was looking for new downloadable audiobooks and this one was quite short (less than two hours).
My favorite things: Give to charities, join organizations of shared interests, travel, read. This book has many good, and somewhat unexpected, lessons and suggestions on how to keep your country (any country, although specifically aimed at Americans) from devolving into a tyrannical, fascist state. It leans heavily on examples from pre-WWII Europe, especially Nazi Germany, which can be hard to stomach for the simple fact that it feels so familiar and we know how atrocious it ended up being. This is less political than you might expect, but it does spend some time pointing out behaviors in current American leadership that mimic those that led to disastrous consequences in other countries in the past. It’s short enough and generalized enough to make it worth dipping into by readers on both sides of the aisle.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who feels like we are far too polarized for our own good. Fans of history, politics, current affairs, or international relations
My favorite things: While this doesn’t dip into the supernatural they way that Sing did, it still traces similar themes that I was hoping to find. Each character experiences specific manifestations of systemic racism unique to their era but undeniably tied to those of the other generations. The lines between each are clear, with the desperation escalating in younger characters. The people missing from each character’s life have almost as much of an impact on their stories as do those who are present.
Who it’s great for: Fans of family histories that trace multiple generations. Readers looking for writers telling complex stories of the African-American family; fans of Jesmyn Ward, Tayari Jones, and Angela Flournoy.
What it’s about: Baldwin writing a letter to his young nephew, telling him how it is to be a black man in America.
What made me pick it up: Abby mentioned it was very short, and I’d been meaning to read it so I checked it out. We both finished it in one sitting.
My favorite things: This really reminded me of Between the World and Me (as it should, since that is structured similarly and inspired by this) — beautiful writing, and unfortunately timeless observations about the treatment of black people in this country. I wish this weren’t still so resonant, but that is not the case. Baldwin talks about the difficulties of maintaining relationships with people of all colors during the distrust of the black power movement and his hopes for a more equal standing for African Americans in future America. I also learned a fair amount about the Nation of Islam and the empowering effect the Muslim religion had on African Americans in the 60s.
Who it’s great for: Anyone reading voraciously on the themes of racial justice.
What’s it about: The story of two friends, partners in art and life, creating animated works that bring them a sort of fame while also forcing them to confront difficult truths and traumas in their lives that other people would like to leave in the past.
What made me pick it up: I needed an audiobook to listen to and this one was available, has gotten a lot of good press, and has a cover that makes me want to read it.
My favorite things: Whitaker treats characters suffering addictions almost without judgment in a way that is refreshingly humane. She takes the time to develop every character’s layers and the complexity of their relationships.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for complex relationships between characters or an exploration of identity.
Originally published in: 2016 (North American edition 2017)
What’s it about: This reads like a thought experiment gone very, very right.What would happen in a world where women developed a physical power that men couldn’t match?
What made me pick it up: I think I put this on hold because there was a blurb from Margaret Atwood on the cover. But I’m also just a sucker for speculative work that is (post)apocalyptic and/or dystopian.
My favorite things: Somehow this book is both a very heavy-handed critique of global patriarchy and an electrifying story. The novel is bookended by letters between two writers, Naomi and Neil, whose gendered interactions flip the script in a way that will entertain anyone tired of mansplaining.
Who it’s great for: Fan’s of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Readers looking for unapologetically feminist read that doesn’t sacrifice story for politics.
What’s it about: A variety of writers reflect on specific lines or verses that they find to be particularly profound or informative and discuss how those lines impact their writing processes or the way they approach writing.
My favorite things: This is such an interesting insight into the minds and processes of so many favorite contemporary authors. I would never have connected some of these writers to the pieces that inspire them. There are more than forty contributing authors and each essay is relatively short, which makes this an easy book to dip in and out of as you need inspiration or have the time to pick it up.
Who it’s great for: WriMos in need of a little inspiration through the second half of NaNoWriMo. Anyone interested in reading about the writing that highly regarded contemporary writers find inspirational and formative.
What’s it about: A visual biographical encyclopedia of innovative individuals throughout history.
What made me pick it up: I was intrigued when I stumbled across it while browsing an ebook and downloadable audiobook collection curated to inspire writers during NaNoWriMo.
My favorite things: Hancock believes that the objects and people that individuals surround themselves with can be very revealing. He enhances the understanding of notable historical figures by focusing on these aspects of their lives, rather than simply on their achievements. Hancock’s cartoonish drawings are an engaging jumble of small images that help to paint a picture of each subject’s life.
Who it’s great for: Readers intrigued by the daily lives of famous artists and thinkers. Fans of graphic biographies.
What it’s about: Award-winning surgeon Gawande looks at how medicine approaches death and dying and some new ideas that might provide a more holistic end-of-life experience.
What made me pick it up: I’m curious about medical everything, and already had a place on my death Goodreads shelf to add this. I think anyone who has seen a loved one waste away in a nursing home or hospital has a sense that maybe we aren’t focusing on the right things at the end of life. I really like how much he recognizes the great work of hospice.
My favorite things: I liked how the author recognized that the drive to fix patients comes at the expense of quality of life sometimes in both general medical practice as well as his own professional experience. I also liked his emphasis on how we need to have hard conversations before it’s too late so our wishes can be documented and our loved ones can know what we want. This will make you reconsider how you might want your life to taper and move you to support alternatives in elder care that are just emerging. More than anything it will help you realize that there is more to life than medical sustainability at the end.
Who it’s great for: Adults of any age who are facing or will face end-of-life situations (so, that’s…. let’s see… all of us). It’s never too early to think, plan, and share our wishes.
What’s it about: A woman working a soul-sucking job as a programming for a robotics company is gifted a mysterious, and possibly magical, sourdough starter.
What made me pick it up: I adored Sloan’s first book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, so was delighted to see he had another one coming out. I recommend the audio.
My favorite things: I love how Sloan infuses realistic fiction with tiny fantastical elements that are wonderfully bizarre. I’m so curious where he got the idea for magical sourdough starter. Anyway, this book will have you salivating over the protagonist’s newfound passion for baking delicious bread but also scratching your head while trying to figure out the tiny mysteries. This isn’t as great of a scale as Mr. Penumbra but it is full of zany, enjoyable characters, bits of humor, and low-key high jinks.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for a bit of magic in their reality. Fans of Sloan. Anyone looking for a tiny adventure.
What it’s about: Kolbert talks about how we (humans) may be orchestrating the sixth major mass extinction on Earth and the possible consequences.
What made me pick it up: I tried to read The Ends of the World and while it was good, I didn’t finish it. When I found this book available on audio I remembered it being similar in theme and highly recommended by Jon Stewart a few years ago so picked it up.
My favorite things: I learned so much about past extinction events (the ones before the dinosaurs) as well as the diverse evolutionary backgrounds of humans (I might be 4% Neanderthal). It does a great job of exploring how other extinctions occurred and why our current situation appears to be the same, if happening at a faster clip. It’s horrifying to think that more species than we are aware of are presently dying out without our knowledge, but honestly not all that surprising. Tl;dr – this isn’t good for humans either so let’s get it together.
Who it’s great for: Readers interested in the history of Earth. People concerned for the future of our planet and our species. Animal and plant lovers. Science nerds.