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Jay's 2016 Summer Reading List for Grown-Ups

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Welcome to summer! Just the other day, a friend posted a meme on Facebook that read, “I’m an archeolibrarianologist. I dig good books.” One of the many aspects of my job that I love is finding good books. I must confess as much fun as it was to compile this list of books, it was also one of the most difficult ones to create. I started with nearly 70 books and have barely managed to whittle it down to half of that. My goal for the list is that there’s something for everyone’s tastes and passions. It is my hope that you will struggle, connect, find information, enjoy and ultimately have fun with whichever of these books you choose to read. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts and opinions at jfung@manhattancountryschool.org. Happy reading!


Into the Forest: A Novel by Jean Hegland - Set in the near-future, Into the Forest is a powerfully imagined novel that focuses on the relationship between two teenage sisters living alone in their Northern California forest home. Over 30 miles from the nearest town, and several miles away from their nearest neighbor, Nell and Eva struggle to survive as society begins to decay and collapse around them. No single event precedes society’s fall. There is talk of a war overseas and upheaval in Congress, but it still comes as a shock when the electricity runs out and gas is nowhere to be found. The sisters consume the resources left in the house, waiting for the power to return. Their arrival into adulthood, however, forces them to reexamine their place in the world and their relationship to the land and each other. Into the Forest is a mesmerizing and thought-provoking novel of hope and despair set in a frighteningly plausible near-future America.

Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray - Now that “The Force Awakens” has been released on Blu-ray, it appears to be an appropriate time to tackle the backstory of one of TFA’s majorly unexplored players–Princess Leia Organa. Bloodline, a new Star Wars novel from writer Claudia Gray, highlights the years after The Return of the Jedi’s conclusion, diving headfirst into Leia’s own emotional turmoil. At the mercy of her ever-growing political responsibilities, Leia’s separated from her son and, frequently, her husband. In the midst of a political process that often feels fruitless, Bloodline opens on Leia grappling with a hope that audiences already understand to be fruitless: escaping from politics. Oh, and she’s still dealing with that whole, “Darth Vader is my father” thing. With Bloodline, fans will watch the growing foundation of the First Order, as well as Leia’s own Resistance—which makes this a fitting tale for Gray to tell. Like Lost Stars, Bloodline shows the birth of a terrifying new regime through characters that are neither pure-Dark Side or pure Light, making Star Wars’ future conflicts all the richer for it.

The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups by Erika Christakis - To a four-year-old watching bulldozers at a construction site or chasing butterflies in flight, the world is awash with promise. Little children come into the world hardwired to learn in virtually any setting and about any matter. Yet in today’s preschool and kindergarten classrooms, learning has been reduced to scripted lessons and suspect metrics that too often undervalue a child’s intelligence while overtaxing the child’s growing brain. These mismatched expectations wreak havoc on the family–parents fear that if they choose the “wrong” program, their child won’t get into the “right” college. But Yale early childhood expert Erika Christakis says our fears are wildly misplaced. Our anxiety about preparing and safeguarding our children’s future seems to have reached a fever pitch at a time when, ironically, science gives us more certainty than ever before that young children are exceptionally strong thinkers. 

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien - Ten years on from her last novel, Edna O’Brien reminds us why she is thought to be one of the great Irish writers of this and any generation. When a wanted war criminal from the Balkans, masquerading as a faith healer, settles in a small west coast Irish village, the community is in thrall. One woman, Fidelma McBride, falls under his spell and in this astonishing novel, Edna O’Brien charts the consequences of that fatal attraction. The Little Red Chairs is a story about love, the artifice of evil, and the terrible necessity of accountability in our shattered, damaged world. A narrative which dares to travel deep into the darkness has produced a book of enormous emotional intelligence and courage. Written with a fierce lyricism and sensibility, The Little Red Chairs dares to suggest there is a way back to redemption and hope when great evil is done. Almost six decades on from her debut, Edna O’Brien has produced what may be her masterpiece in the novel form.

Shelter: A Novel by Jung Yun - Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future. A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage―private tutors, expensive hobbies―but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question– how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child? As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli - Gustavo ‘Highway’ Sánchez is a man with a mission: he is planning to replace every last one of his unsightly teeth. He has a few skills that might help him on his way: he can imitate Janis Joplin after two rums, he can interpret Chinese fortune cookies, he can stand an egg upright on a table and he can float on his back. And, of course, he is the world’s best auction caller– although other people might not realize this, because he is, by nature, very discreet. Studying auctioneering under Grandmaster Oklahoma and the famous country singer Leroy Van Dyke, Highway travels the world, amassing his collection of ‘Collectibles’ and perfecting his own specialty–the allegoric auction. In his quest for a perfect set of pearly whites, he finds unusual ways to raise the funds, culminating in the sale of the jewels of his collection–the teeth of the ‘notorious infamous’– Plato, Petrarch, Chesterton, Virginia Woolf et al. Written with elegance, wit and exhilarating boldness, Valeria Luiselli takes us on an idiosyncratic and hugely enjoyable journey that offers an insightful meditation on value, worth and creation and the points at which they overlap.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman - The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down explores the clash between a small county hospital in California and a refugee family from Laos over the care of Lia Lee, a Hmong child diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Lia’s parents and her doctors both wanted what was best for Lia, but the lack of understanding between them led to tragedy. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Current Interest and the Salon Book Award, Anne Fadiman’s compassionate account of this cultural impasse is literary journalism at its finest. The current edition, published for the book’s fifteenth anniversary, includes a new afterword by the author that provides updates on the major characters along with reflections on how they have changed Fadiman’s life and attitudes.

Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel - The story concerns the before and after of a catastrophic virus called the Georgia Flu that wipes out most of the world’s population. On one side of the timeline are the survivors, mainly a traveling troupe of musicians and actors and a stationary group stuck for years in an airport. On the other is a professional actor, who dies in the opening pages while performing “King Lear,” his ex-wives and his oldest friend, glimpsed in flashbacks. There’s also the man, a paparazzo-turned-paramedic, who runs to the stage from the audience to try to revive him, a Samaritan role he will play again in later years. Mandel is effectively spare in her depiction of both the tough hand-to-mouth existence of a devastated world and the almost unchallenged life of the celebrity—think of Cormac McCarthy seesawing with Joan Didion. The intrigue arises when the troupe is threatened by a cult and breaks into disparate offshoots struggling toward a common haven. Woven through these little odysseys, and cunningly linking the cushy past and the perilous present, is a figure called the Prophet. Indeed, Mandel spins a satisfying web of coincidence and kismet while providing numerous strong moments, as when one of the last planes lands at the airport and seals its doors in self-imposed quarantine, standing for days on the tarmac as those outside try not to ponder the nightmare within. Another strand of that web is a well-traveled copy of a sci-fi graphic novel drawn by the actor’s first wife, depicting a space station seeking a new home after aliens take over Earth, a different sort of artist also pondering man’s fate and future.

For A Little While: New and Selected Stories by Rick Bass - Long considered one of the most gifted practitioners of the short story, Rick Bass is unsurpassed in his ability to perceive and portray the enduring truths of the human heart. Now, at last, we have the definitive collection of stories, new and old, from the writer Newsweek has called “an American classic.” To read his fiction is to feel more alive–connected, incandescently, to “the brief long shot of having been chosen for the human experience,” as one of his characters puts it. These pages reveal men and women living with passion and tenderness at the outer limits of the senses, each attempting to triumph against fate. Bass provides searing insights into the complexity of family and romantic entanglements, and his lush and striking language draws us ineluctably into the lives of these engaging people and their vivid surroundings. The intricate stories collected in For A Little While—brimming with magic and wonder, filled with hard-won empathy, marbled throughout with astonishing imagery—have the power both to devastate and to uplift. Together they showcase an iconic American master at his peak.

Before the Fall: A Novel by Noah Hawley - On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens; the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs-the painter-and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family. With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage. Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature and the inextricable ties that bind us together.

Who Rules the World? by Noam Chomsky - In an incisive, thorough analysis of the current international situation, Noam Chomsky argues that the United States, through its military-first policies and its unstinting devotion to maintaining a world-spanning empire, is both risking catastrophe and wrecking the global commons. Drawing on a wide range of examples, from the expanding drone assassination program to the threat of nuclear warfare, as well as the flashpoints of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Israel/Palestine, he offers unexpected and nuanced insights into the workings of imperial power on our increasingly chaotic planet. In the process, Chomsky provides a brilliant anatomy of just how U.S. elites have grown ever more insulated from any democratic constraints on their power. While the broader population is lulled into apathy―diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable―the corporations and the rich have increasingly been allowed to do as they please. Fierce, unsparing, and meticulously documented, Who Rules the World? delivers the indispensable understanding of the central conflicts and dangers of our time that we have come to expect from Chomsky.

In the Country We Love: My Family Divided by Diane Guerrero - Diane Guerrero, the television actress from the mega-hit “Orange is the New Black” and “Jane the Virgin,” was just 14 years old on the day her parents were detained and deported while she was at school. Born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education, depending on the kindness of family friends who took her in and helped her build a life and a successful acting career for herself, without the support system of her family. In the Country We Love is a moving, heartbreaking story of one woman’s extraordinary resilience in the face of the nightmarish struggles of undocumented residents in this country. There are over 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., many of whom have citizen children, whose lives here are just as precarious, and whose stories haven’t been told. Written with bestselling author Michelle Burford, this memoir is a tale of personal triumph that also casts a much-needed light on the fears that haunt the daily existence of families likes the author’s and on a system that fails them over and over.

Ladivine: A Novel by Marie NDiaye - On the first Tuesday of every month, Clarisse Rivière leaves her husband and young daughter and secretly takes the train to Bordeaux to visit her mother, Ladivine. Just as Clarisse’s husband and daughter know nothing of Ladivine, Clarisse herself has hidden nearly every aspect of her adult life from this woman, whom she dreads and despises but also pities. Long ago abandoned by Clarisse’s father, Ladivine works as a housecleaner and has no one but her daughter, whom she knows as Malinka. After more than twenty-five years of this deception, the idyllic middle-class existence Clarisse has built from scratch can no longer survive inside the walls she’s put up to protect it. Her untold anguish leaves her cold and guarded, her loved ones forever trapped outside, looking in. When her husband, Richard, finally leaves her, Clarisse finds comfort in the embrace of a volatile local man, Freddy Moliger. With Freddy, she finally feels reconciled to, or at least at ease with, her true self. But this peace comes at a terrible price. Clarisse will be brutally murdered, and it will be left to her now-grown daughter, who also bears the name Ladivine without knowing why, to work out who her mother was and what happened to her. A mesmerizing and heart-stopping psychological tale of a trauma that ensnares three generations of women, Ladivine proves Marie NDiaye to be one of Europe’s great storytellers. Translated from the French by Jordan Stump.

Filmish: A Graphic Journey Through Film by Edward Ross - Cartoonist Edward Ross uses comics to illuminate the ideas behind our favorite movies. In Filmish, Ross’s cartoon alter ego guides readers through the annals of cinematic history, introducing some of the strange and fascinating concepts at work in the movies. Each chapter focuses on a particular theme—the body, architecture, and language—and explores an eclectic mix of cinematic triumphs, from A Trip to the Moon to Top Gun. Like other bestselling nonfiction graphic novels such as Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Filmish tackles serious issues—sexuality, race, censorship and propaganda with authority and wit, throwing new light on some of the greatest films ever made.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby - Rob is a pop music junkie who runs his own semi-failing record store. His girlfriend, Laura, has just left him for the guy upstairs, and Rob is both miserable and relieved. After all, could he have spent his life with someone who has a bad record collection? Rob seeks refuge in the company of the offbeat clerks at his store, who endlessly review their top five films (“Reservoir Dogs”…); top five Elvis Costello songs (”Alison“…) and top five episodes of Cheers (“the one where Woody sang his stupid song to Kelly”…). Rob tries dating a singer whose rendition of “Baby, I Love Your Way” makes him cry. But maybe it’s just that he’s always wanted to sleep with someone who has a record contract. Then he sees Laura again. And Rob begins to think, awful as it sounds, that life as an episode of “thirtysomething,” with all the kids and marriages and barbecues and k.d. lang CD’s that this implies, might not be so bad. The perfect summer read.

May Day: Poems by Gretchen Marquette - May Day is both a distress call and a celebration of the arrival of spring. In this rich and unusually assured first collection, the poet Gretchen Marquette writes of the losses of a brother gone off to war in Afghanistan and Iraq and a great love—losses that have left the world charged with absence and grief. But there is also the wonder of the natural world–the deer at the edge of the forest, the dog reliably coaxing the poet beyond herself and into the city park where by tradition every May Day is pageantry, a festival of surviving the long winter. “What does it mean to be in love?” one poem asks. “As it turns out/the second best thing that can happen to you/is a broken heart.” May Day introduces readers to a new poet of depth and power.

Lab Girl: A Memoir by Hope Jahren - Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. It is told through Jahren’s remarkable stories about her childhood in rural Minnesota with an uncompromising mother and a father who encouraged hours of play in his classroom’s labs, about how she found a sanctuary in science and learned to perform lab work done “with both the heart and the hands” and about the inevitable disappointments, but also the triumphs and exhilarating discoveries, of scientific work. Yet at the core of this book is the story of a relationship Jahren forged with a brilliant, wounded man named Bill, who becomes her lab partner and best friend. Their sometimes rogue adventures in science take them from the Midwest across the United States and back again, over the Atlantic to the ever-light skies of the North Pole and to tropical Hawaii, where she and her lab currently make their home. Jahren’s probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. Lab Girl opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan - Barbarian Days is William Finnegan’s memoir of an obsession, a complex enchantment. Surfing only looks like a sport. To initiates, it is something else entirely–a beautiful addiction, a demanding course of study, a morally dangerous pastime and a way of life. Raised in California and Hawaii, Finnegan started surfing as a child. He has chased waves all over the world, wandering for years through the South Pacific, Australia, Asia and Africa. A bookish boy, and then an excessively adventurous young man, he went on to become a distinguished writer and war reporter. Barbarian Days takes us deep into unfamiliar worlds, some of them right under our noses—off the coasts of New York and San Francisco. It immerses the reader in the edgy camaraderie of close male friendships annealed in challenging waves. Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Autobiography.

Trail of Echoes: A Detective Elouise Norton Novel by Rachel Howzell Hall - On a rainy spring day in Los Angeles, homicide detective Elouise “Lou” Norton is called away from a rare lunch date to Bonner Park, where the body of thirteen-year-old Chanita Lords has been discovered. When Lou and her partner, Colin Taggert, take on the sad task of informing Chanita’s mother, Lou is surprised to find herself in the apartment building in which she grew up. Chanita was interested in photography and, much like Lou, a black girl destined to leave the housing projects behind. Her death fits a chilling pattern of exceptional African-American girls—dancers, artists and honors scholars gone recently missing in the same school district, the one Lou attended not so long ago. Lou is valiantly trying to make a go of life after her divorce and doing everything she can to avoid her long-estranged father. She races to catch a serial killer, but he remains frustratingly out of her reach, sending cryptic cyphers and taunting clues that arrive too late to prevent the next death. This one is personal, and it’s only a matter of time before he comes after Lou herself. Hall gives voice to a rare figure in crime fiction—a highly complex, fully imagined black female detective.

The Sellout: A Novel by Paul Beatty - The provocative author of Slumberland (2008) is back with his most penetratingly satirical novel yet. Beatty has never been afraid to stir the pot when it comes to racial and socioeconomic issues, and his latest is no different. In fact, this novel is his most incendiary, and readers unprepared for streams of racial slurs and hilarious vignettes about nearly every black stereotype imaginable in the service of satire should take a pass. The protagonist lives in Dickens, “a ghetto community” in Los Angeles, and works the land in an area called “The Farms,” where he grows vegetables, raises small livestock and smokes a ton of “good weed.” After being raised by a controversial sociologist father who subjected him to all manner of psychological and social experiments, the narrator is both intellectually gifted and extremely street-wise. When Dickens is removed from the map of California, he goes on a quest to have it reinstated with the help of Hominy Jenkins, the last surviving Little Rascal, who hangs around the neighborhood regaling everyone with tales of the ridiculously racist skits he used to perform with the rest of the gang. It’s clear that Hominy has more than a few screws loose, and he volunteers to serve as the narrator’s slave—yes, slave—on his journey. Another part of the narrator’s plan involves segregating the local school so that it allows only black, Latino and other nonwhite students. Eventually, he faces criminal charges and appears in front of the Supreme Court in what becomes “the latest in a long line of landmark race-related cases.” Readers turned off by excessive use of the N-word or those who are easily offended by stereotypes may find the book tough going, but fans of satire and blatantly honest and often laugh-out-loud funny discussions of race and class will be rewarded on each page. Beatty never backs down, and readers are the beneficiaries.

The Piano Shop on the Left Bank: Discovering a Forgotten Passion in a Paris Atelier by Thad Carhart - Walking his two young children to school every morning, Thad Carhart passes an unassuming little storefront in his Paris neighborhood. Intrigued by its simple sign—Desforges Pianos—he enters, only to have his way barred by the shop’s imperious owner. Unable to stifle his curiosity, he finally lands the proper introduction, and a world previously hidden is brought into view. Luc, the atelier’s master, proves an indispensable guide to the history and art of the piano. Intertwined with the story of a musical friendship are reflections on how pianos work, their glorious history, and stories of the people who care for them, from amateur pianists to the craftsmen who make the mechanism sing. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is at once a beguiling portrait of a Paris not found on any map and a tender account of the awakening of a lost childhood passion.

Modern Lovers: A Novel by Emma Straub - Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch of sexuality, independence and the ineffable alchemy of cool to their own offspring. Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity and start sleeping together, the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed. Straub packs wisdom and insight and humor together in a satisfying book about neighbors and nosiness, ambition and pleasure, the excitement of youth, the shock of middle age, and the fact that our passions, be they food, friendship or music, never go away, they just evolve and grow along with us.

The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path by Ethan Nichtern - In The Road Home, Ethan Nichtern (MCS Class of 1992), a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, investigates the journey each of us takes to find where we belong. Drawing from contemporary research on meditation and mindfulness and his experience as a Buddhist teacher and practitioner, Nichtern describes in fresh and deeply resonant terms the basic existential experience that gives rise to spiritual seeking―and also to its potentially dangerous counterpart, spiritual materialism. He reveals how our individual quests for self-awareness ripple forward into relationships, communities and society at large. And he explains exactly how, by turning our awareness to what’s happening around us and inside us, we become able to enhance our sense of connection with others and at the same time, change for the better our individual and collective patterns of greed, apathy and inattention. In this wise and witty invitation to Buddhist meditation, Nichtern shows how, in order to create a truly compassionate and enlightened society, we must start with ourselves. And this means beginning by working with our own minds—in whatever state we find them.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds: Poems by Ocean Vuong - Ocean Vuong sets a high bar for a debut collection. This dazzling volume displays the breadth of the poet’s skill in utilizing form, diction and other poetic devises to express a range of emotions. All the while he remains accessible, never overwrought, and revealing the searing truth of what it’s like to live with the echoes of war, displacement, and dangerous loves. Vuong reveals the power of submission. From the opening poem where the speaker says, “I lost it all with eyes wide open” to the closing lines, “Only feel this fully, this entire, the way snow touches bare skin and is, suddenly, snow no longer,” Vuong shows us what it means to be vulnerable, to be wide awake to pain as well as pleasure, beauty as well as ugliness. Identity plays large here. To be an immigrant, refugee, Asian American and homosexual is to live on the edge in multiple dimensions. The largeness of Vuong’s poetry is that it eschews sentimentality or nostalgia; it is brutal in its embrace of the facts, and plays with danger despite the threat of being burned. “My mother said I could be anything/ I wanted– but I chose to live,” he writes. This is a poetry that is deeply affirmative, a voice that rises above the efforts to silence it.

The Stories of Richard Bausch - A 2004 PEN/Malamud Award winner, this collection celebrates the work of American artist Richard Bausch, a writer the New York Times calls “a master of the short story.” By turns tender, raw, heartbreaking, and riotously funny, the many voices of this definitive forty-two-story collection (seven of which appear here for the first time) defy expectation, attest to Bausch’s remarkable range and versatility, and affirm his place alongside such acclaimed story writers as John Cheever, Flannery O’Connor, Raymond Carver and Grace Paley.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi - Playful, ambitious and exquisitely imagined, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is cleverly built around the idea of keys, literal and metaphorical. The key to a house, the key to a heart, the key to a secret—Oyeyemi’s keys not only unlock elements of her characters’ lives, they promise further labyrinths on the other side. In “Books and Roses” one special key opens a library, a garden, and clues to at least two lovers’ fates. In Is Your Blood as Red as This? an unlikely key opens the heart of a student at a puppeteering school. “Sorry” Doesn’t Sweeten Her Tea involves a “house of locks,” where doors can be closed only with a key—with surprising, unobservable developments. And in If a Book Is Locked There’s Probably a Good Reason for That Don’t You Think, a key keeps a mystical diary locked for good reason. Oyeyemi’s tales span multiple times and landscapes as they tease boundaries between coexisting realities. Is a key a gate, a gift or an invitation? What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours captivates as it explores the many possible answers.

Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China by Eddie Huang - Can a politically charged, wildly successful chef find love and happiness in the new millennium? The author was determined to find out after bumping into Dena at a popular bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. But before he could take that leap into the foreign land of commitment, he decided that he had to address something else that had been eating at him for a while. Sure, he has been able to conquer hipster palates with his Taiwanese steamed buns, but what Huang truly hungers to know is what Chinese people living in the homeland think of his cooking—“I’m Chinese, but I grew up in America. What if I’m a fraud?” With his romance with Dena still blossoming, Huang corralled his brothers and headed for China. His initial impression of the city of Chengdu isn’t necessarily appetizing, but it’s vivid—“a disgusting mummy lair accented with a touch of pre–Cory Booker Newark, neatly encased in a delicious cocoon of coal smog…the views are so spectacularly putrid that it makes West Philly feel like Queen Anne’s world.” Huang possesses a fiery descriptive flair capable of splicing disparate cultural references with the acuity of a yakitori grill master—“Paris’ll put you to bed with butter and burgundy; Houston’ll drip it up in au jus and drape it out with horseradish; and Chengdu’ll set your mouth on fire, then extinguish it with Newport [cigarettes] guts.” The lingo is dense and can veer wildly from delicate descriptions of the author’s all-time culinary favorites to his decidedly eccentric bathroom habits. But when he reaches full boil, Huang’s exchanges between family and friends can be laugh-out-loud funny. Once fully communed with his Chinese roots, Huang realized that he needed Dena by his side, and what began in Brooklyn finally came to fruition in China. A challenging author continues to bravely bare his soul along with his best dishes.

Call It Sleep: A Novel by Henry Roth - When Henry Roth published his debut novel Call It Sleep in 1934, it was greeted with considerable critical acclaim though, in those troubled times, lackluster sales. Only with its paperback publication thirty years later did this novel receive the recognition it deserves―and still enjoys. Having sold to date millions of copies worldwide, Call It Sleep is the magnificent story of David Schearl, the “dangerously imaginative” child coming of age in the slums of New York. Schearl arrives in New York in his mother’s arms to begin his new life as an immigrant in the ‘Golden Land.’ David is hated by his father—an angry, violent man unable to find his niche in the New World—but is fiercely loved and protected by his Yiddish-speaking mother. An innovative, multi-lingual novel, Call It Sleep subtly interweaves the overwhelming love between a mother and son with the terrors and anxieties David experiences, as he seeks to find his own identity amidst the cultural disarray of early twentieth-century America.

Your Song Changed My Life: From Jimmy Page to St. Vincent, Smokey Robinson to Hozier, Thirty-Five Beloved Artists on Their Journey and the Music That Inspired It by Bob Boilen - From the beloved host and creator of NPR’s All Songs Considered and Tiny Desk Concerts comes an essential oral history of modern music, told in the voices of iconic and up-and-coming musicians, including Dave Grohl, Jimmy Page, Michael Stipe, Carrie Brownstein, Smokey Robinson and Jeff Tweedy, among others—published in association with NPR Music. “Is there a unforgettable song that changed your life?” NPR’s renowned music authority Bob Boilen posed this question to some of today’s best-loved musical legends and rising stars. In Your Song Changed My Life, Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), St. Vincent, Jónsi (Sigur Rós), Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Cat Power, David Byrne (Talking Heads), Dave Grohl (Nirvana, Foo Fighters), Jeff Tweedy (Wilco), Jenny Lewis, Carrie Brownstein (Portlandia, Sleater-Kinney), Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Trey Anastasio (Phish), Jackson Browne, Valerie June, Philip Glass, James Blake and other artists reflect on pivotal moments that inspired their work. For Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, it was discovering his sister’s 45 of The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn.” A young St. Vincent’s life changed the day a box of CDs literally fell off a delivery truck in front of her house. Cat Stevens was transformed when he heard John Lennon cover “Twist and Shout.” These are the momentous yet unmarked events that have shaped these and many other musical talents and ultimately the sound of modern music. A diverse collection of personal experiences, both ordinary and extraordinary, Your Song Changed My Life illustrates the ways in which music is revived, restored and revolutionized. It is also a testament to the power of music in our lives and an inspiration for future artists and music lovers.

Sudden Death: A Novel by Álvaro Enrigue - A daring, kaleidoscopic novel about the clash of empires and ideas, told through a tennis match in the sixteenth century between the radical Italian artist Caravaggio and the Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, played with a ball made from the hair of the beheaded Anne Boleyn. The poet and the painter battle it out in Rome before a crowd that includes Galileo, Mary Magdalene, and a generation of popes who would throw the world into flames. In England, Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII execute Anne Boleyn, and her crafty executioner transforms her legendary locks into those most-sought-after tennis balls. Across the ocean in Mexico, the last Aztec emperors play their own games, as the conquistador Hernán Cortés and his Mayan translator and lover, La Malinche, scheme and conquer, fight and f**k, not knowing that their domestic comedy will change the course of history. In a remote Mexican colony, a bishop reads Thomas More’s Utopia and thinks that it’s a manual instead of a parody. And in today’s New York City, a man searches for answers to impossible questions, for a book that is both an archive and an oracle. Álvaro Enrigue’s mind-bending story features assassinations and executions, hallucinogenic mushrooms, bawdy criminals, carnal liaisons and papal schemes, artistic and religious revolutions, love and war. A blazingly original voice and a postmodern visionary, Enrigue tells the grand adventure of the dawn of the modern era, breaking down traditions and upending expectations, in this bold, powerful gut-punch of a novel. 

The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engel - Reina Castillo is the alluring young woman whose beloved brother is serving a death sentence for a crime that shocked the community, throwing a baby off a bridge—a crime for which Reina secretly blames herself. With her brother’s death, though devastated and in mourning, Reina is finally released from her prison vigil. Seeking anonymity, she moves to a sleepy town in the Florida Keys where she meets Nesto Cadena, a recently exiled Cuban awaiting with hope the arrival of the children he left behind in Havana. Through Nesto’s love of the sea and capacity for faith, Reina comes to understand her own connections to the life-giving and destructive forces of the ocean that surrounds her as well as its role in her family’s troubled history, and in their companionship, begins to find freedom from the burden of guilt she carries for her brother’s crime. Set in the vibrant coastal and Caribbean communities of Miami, the Florida Keys, Havana, Cuba and Cartagena, Colombia, with The Veins of the Ocean Patricia Engel delivers a profound and riveting Pan-American story of fractured lives finding solace and redemption in the beauty and power of the natural world and in one another.

Collected Poems: 1974 – 2004 by Rita Dove - Three decades of powerful lyric poetry from a virtuoso of the English language in one unabridged volume. Rita Dove’s Collected Poems 1974–2004 showcases the wide-ranging diversity that earned her a Pulitzer Prize, the position of U.S. poet laureate, a National Humanities Medal and a National Medal of Art. Gathering thirty years and seven books, this volume compiles Dove’s fresh reflections on adolescence in The Yellow House on the Corner and her irreverent musings in Museum. She sets the moving love story of Thomas and Beulah against the backdrop of war, industrialization and the civil rights struggles. The multifaceted gems of Grace Notes, the exquisite reinvention of Greek myth in the sonnets of Mother Love, the troubling rapids of recent history in On the Bus with Rosa Parks and the homage to America’s kaleidoscopic cultural heritage in American Smooth all celebrate Dove’s mastery of narrative context with lyrical finesse.

A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World by Jay Griffiths – While traveling the world in order to write her award winning book Wild, Jay Griffiths became increasingly aware of the huge differences in how childhood is experienced in various cultures. One central riddle in particular captured her imagination–why are so many children in Euro-American cultures unhappy, and why is it that children in traditional cultures seem happier? In A Country Called Childhood, Griffiths seeks to discover why we deny our children the freedoms of space, time and the natural world. Visiting communities as far apart as West Papua and the Arctic as well as the United Kingdom, and delving into history, philosophy, language and literature, she explores how children’s affinity for nature is an essential and universal element of childhood. It is a journey deep into the heart of what it means to be a child, and it is central to all our experiences, young and old.

The Queue: A Novel by Basma Abdel-Aziz - Set against the backdrop of a failed political uprising, The Queue is a chilling debut that evokes Orwellian dystopia, Kafkaesque surrealism and a very real vision of life after the Arab Spring. In an unnamed Middle Eastern city, a centralized authority known as the Gate has risen to power in the aftermath of the “Disgraceful Events,” a failed popular uprising. Citizens are required to obtain permission from the Gate for even the most basic of their daily affairs, yet the building never opens, and the queue in front of it grows longer and longer. Citizens from all walks of life wait in the sun–a revolutionary journalist, a sheikh, the cousin of a security officer killed in the clashes with protestors and a man with injuries The Gate would prefer to keep quiet. Written with dark, subtle intelligence, The Queue describes the sinister nature of authoritarianism and illuminates the way that absolute authority manipulates information, mobilizes others in service to it and fails to uphold the rights of even those faithful to it.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis - In these newly collected essays, interviews, and speeches, world-renowned activist and scholar Angela Y. Davis illuminates the connections between struggles against state violence and oppression throughout history and around the world. Reflecting on the importance of black feminism, intersectionality and prison abolitionism for today’s struggles, Davis discusses the legacies of previous liberation struggles, from the Black Freedom Movement to the South African anti-Apartheid movement. She highlights connections and analyzes today’s struggles against state terror, from Ferguson to Palestine. Facing a world of outrageous injustice, Davis challenges us to imagine and build the movement for human liberation. And in doing so, she reminds us, “Freedom is a constant struggle.”  “Angela Davis’ new book made me think of what Dear Nelson Mandela kept reminding us, that we must be willing to embrace that long walk to freedom. Understanding what it takes to really be free, to have no fear, is the first and most important step one has to make before undertaking this journey. Angela is the living proof that this arduous challenge can also be an exhilarating and beautiful one.”     —Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu - With his debut novel The Grace of Kings taking the literary world by storm, Ken Liu now shares his finest short fiction in this collection. It features all of Liu’s award-winning and award-finalist stories, including “The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary” (Finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Theodore Sturgeon Awards), “Mono No Aware” (Hugo Award winner), “The Waves” (Nebula Award finalist), “The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species” (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), “All the Flavors” (Nebula award finalist), “The Litigation Master and the Monkey King” (Nebula Award finalist) and the most awarded story in the genre’s history, “The Paper Menagerie” (The only story to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards). A must-have for every science fiction and fantasy fan, this beautiful book is an anthology to savor.